Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Experiments in Lucid Dreaming

A series of experiments published in Nightlight (1992) were conducted in order to enhance understanding of the elusive process of lucid dreaming. 

Inducing Lucid Dreaming
The primary experiment was designed to test the effectiveness of a range of lucid dream induction techniques, diving subjects into 4 categories of condition: (1) no induction techniques; (2) auto-suggestion, by writing out an intention to lucid dream before sleep (a condition which was assumed to be ineffective as inducing lucidity and therefore was considered to be a form of 'control' condition); (3) reality checks - asking 'am I dreaming?' throughout the day and visualising what it would feel like to be gaining lucidity within a dream state; and (4) use of the MILD technique - mnemonic induction of lucid dreaming, developed by Stephen LaBerge.

The researchers hypothesised that reality checks (or 'reality testing') and MILD technique would be more effective than no induction or auto-suggestion, and indeed the results of the experiment revealed that this was partially correct, although it was difficult to assess the effectiveness of reality checks as there were too few subjects using this form of induction for solid determinations. Each of the subjects used one form of induction for a week.

Reality checks resulted in 29% of the subjects experiencing at least one lucid dream. MILD techniques resulted in 26% of the subjects having lucid dreams. Only 20% of the subjects in the control groups (no induction method or auto-suggestion) reported lucid dreams. Further, reality checks proved to be more effective in inducing lucid dreams when they were conducted more often during the day. Half of the reality check group subjects carried out 5 or more reality checks during the day and experienced twice as many lucid dreams per dreams recalled (0.64) than the half of the group who carried out 2 or fewer reality checks per day.

Discovering Dreamsigns
The concept of 'dreamsigns' was developed in LaBerge & Rheingold, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (1990) in order to describe the presence and character of anomalous events, common in dreams, which tend to stimulate the realisation that the dreamer is in fact dreaming. The definition of a dreamsign is 'a peculiar event or object in a dream that can be used as an indicator that you are dreaming'. The first study into dreamsigns was used to categorise and classify which peculiarities were most common and which were most effective in leading to the increased reflectiveness necessary to cause lucidity. A large number of dream reports were analysed and events were selected on the basis that they were likely to precede or precipitate lucidity. The myriad of dream peculiarities were grouped into 20 preliminary categories. Subjects were then asked to record their own dreamsigns and group the peculiarities and then rate them on a scale based on how much the dreamer had wondered about, or questioned, the dreamsign when dreaming. They also recorded any incidences of lucidity. 227 dreams were collected from 44 subjects and 964 dreamsigns were recorded. 

Table of dreamsigns

Watching for Dreamsigns
This experiment used the data collected in the 'Discovering Dreamsigns' experiment and examined the relationship between dreamsign occurrence and lucidity in dreams. This enabled condensation of the larger categorisation of 20 dreamsign types down to a more concise list of 4, focusing on the characteristics of those most relevant for stimulating lucidity:

(1) Inner awareness - peculiar thoughts, strange emotions, unusual perceptions or strange sensations
(2) Actions - dreamer, dream character or object does something peculiar or impossible
(3) Form - dreamer. dream character or object has an odd form or the form changes in an unusual way
(4) Context - the setting or situation in the dream is anomalous 

The subjects were asked to alternate between induction techniques of visualisation of lucidity in a remembered dream (because of noticing a dreamsign) and visualisation of lucidity in a dream without focusing on a dreamsign. There was no initial indication that either of these techniques was likely to be more effective than the other and the results bore this out. A larger sample size is necessary to improve on this experiment. 

On result that was found was that subjects were more likely to become lucid in a dream which contained a large number of dreamsigns. There was a high correlation between lucidity and Inner Awareness and Action type dreamsigns occurring in the dream. This suggests that increasing our knowledge and awareness of dreamsigns might enhance the ability to notice them in dreams and therefore the ability to achieve lucidity. 

Prolonging Lucid Dreams
One of the most typical obstacles to the achievement of goals in lucid dreams tends to be the brevity of the lucid dreaming experience. Therefore, it would be beneficial to develop a reliable technique for prolonging lucid dreams. The experiments which were conducted were based on the assumption that the dreamer is usually aware that they are awakening and can predict the end of the lucid dream because the dream begins to 'fade'. This 'fading' of the dream is characterised by a loss of visual image clarity, brightness, dimensionality. However, the universality and reliability of this phenomenon is unproven as there had not been a systematic empirical investigation of dream fading. 

The following methods of prolonging lucid dreaming were used:
(1) Spinning: twirling. LaBerge discovered and refined this method during his doctoral thesis and found that it could be effective in postponing awakening
(2) Going with the flow - continuing with the action taking place in the dream. This was intended to be a neutral control and assumed to be an ineffective method of prolonging the lucid dream state
(3) Singular visual focus - focusing attention on a single point. This was developed by Dr Paul Tholey as a method for causing awakening from a lucid dream

14 subjects participated in this study and it was found that spinning and going with the flow were more effective (70%) at prolonging lucidity than singular visual focus techniques (29%). Spinning was found to be the most successful method of prolonging a lucid dream. The results from the study were found to be inconclusive, because too few of the subjects submitted usable data and therefore it would be necessary to repeat the study with a larger sample of subjects.

Time of Sleep
This experiment investigated the effect of timing of sleep on lucid dreaming. Both laboratory and home studies have indicated that lucid dreams are not evenly distributed throughout sleep. In a full  night of sleep, lucid dreams are shown to cluster towards the end of the period of sleep, becoming more likely with each successive REM stage of the night. LaBerge found that lucid dreams were more likely to occur during afternoon naps. 

The experiment intended to discover why afternoon naps might increase the chance of lucid dreaming. One theory was that a period of wakefulness preceding the dream and attempts at lucidity may stimulate attention on the goal. It may also be that during afternoon naps, brain and bodily conditions are optimal for attaining lucidity.

Subjects maintained the same amount of nightly sleep, but shifted the last 2 hours of sleep to a later stage - this final 2 hours of sleep was taken either 2 or 4 hours after waking. Therefore in the 2 hour condition, the subjects returned to sleep at their normal time of waking and in the 4 hour condition, the subjects returned to sleep for a 2 hour nap 2 hours after their normal waking time. This can be illustrated as follows:

Group A and Group B usually sleep for 8 hours from 12:00 am until 8:00 am
Group A is the 2 hour condition group and Group B is the 4 hour condition group
Group A goes to sleep at 12:00 am and wakes at 6:00 am. They return to sleep at 8:00 am and wake again at 10:00 am
Group B goes to sleep at 12:00 am and wakes at 6:00 am. They return to sleep at 10:00 am and wake up again at 12:00 pm

The experiment revealed that lucid dreams were 10 times more likely to occur during nap periods than at night.One factor may be because dreams are more likely to occur at the tail end of sleep. The experiment found that the number of dreams per hour of sleep was 4 times higher during the naps than at night. However, the ration of lucid dreams to number of dreams recalled was 3 times higher during the naps than at night. This meant that 3 out of 10 dreams during naps were lucid dreams, while only 1 out of 10 dreams during the night were lucid dreams. It was also found that the 2 hour condition was better for lucid dreaming than the 4 hour condition, but the sample size of subjects was too small for these findings to be conclusive. 

A second study on napping was conducted, in which the time at which the subjects took their final 90 minutes of sleep was manipulated and these results were compared to a group of subjects who spent an extra 90 minutes asleep. The study was designed to test whether the time of day when sleep took place was relevant, or whether lucid dreaming was more likely when a gap between waking and the final period of sleep was inserted. There were 3 test conditions:

(1) Wake up 90 minutes early, stay awake for 90 minutes then return to sleep for 90 minutes
(2) Sleep for the usual amount of time, but wake up 90 minutes early, use the MILD technique for 5 minutes, then return to sleep for 90 minutes
(3) Sleep for the usual amount of time, wake up at the normal time, use the MILD technique for 5 minutes, then sleep for an additional 90 minutes

The study found that almost 90% of the lucid dreams reported occurred in the final 90 minutes of sleep, with most of these occurring in the delayed nap condition. Twice the number of subjects experienced lucid dreams in the delayed nap condition than did in the no delayed nap condition/additional 90 minutes sleep condition - this group of subjects had 3 times more lucid dreams. Further, an analysis of the number of lucid dreams per dreams recalled showed that the delayed nap condition frequency was 6 times higher, showing that the delay contributes significantly to lucidity. It also ruled out the notion that prolonging sleep by 90 minutes is sufficient for causing lucidity - in fact, this turned out to the the worst period for lucid dreaming and was characterised by low dream recall also.

15 Minutes to Lucid Dreaming
This experiment tested whether lucid dreaming could be induced by short periods of intense focus. The idea was to ascertain whether these intense periods of concentrated attention for a circumscribed period of time could provide the same (or increased) benefit as periods of lesser attention scattered throughout the day. The results of this experiment were limited because only 20 subjects participated. However, the study did find that intense focus for 15 minutes in the evening was more likely to cause lucid dreaming the following night than if the intense focus occurred in the morning. 

The Dream Clock
During this experiment, subjects were asked to note the times at which they awoke during the night and whether they had awakened from a normal dream or a lucid dream. The aim of the experiment was to determine the relationship between lucid dreaming and the biological clock cycles. 64 subjects participated, recording a data set of thousands of awakenings. In 79%, the subjects woke from normal dreams. 7.6% of awakenings (90 in total) were from lucid dreams. This leads to the conclusion that simply setting the intention to lucid dream is enough to induce a lucid dreaming state in some people. At least 60% of the subjects had at least one lucid dream during the period of the study. On average, the lucid dreams happened later in the night than normal dreams and normal dreams happened later than awakenings where no dreams were recalled. These findings correspond to previous findings which suggest that the probability of lucid dreaming increases with later periods of sleep. In this study 90% of lucid dreams happened after 4 hours of sleep, with 50% of this number occurring after 6.5 hours of sleep. This is significant - if we assume that lucid dreaming induction techniques work best when applied closest to the time in which we hope to stimulate lucidity, then we should utilise the lucidity induction methods after around 6 - 7 hours of sleep, as close to the optimal time for lucid dreaming as possible. Therefore, the Wake-Back-to-Bed technique of back to nap method should be used after 6 -7 hours of sleep for the best results. 

Biological Rhythms and Nasal Cycles
When studying the relationship between lucid dreaming and the daily cycle of sleeping and waking, it is essential to consider biological rhythms. In addition to the 24 hour circadian rhythms, there are other, shorter cycles, known as ultradian cycles. One of these appears in the shifting dilation of the nasal passage. If you hold one nostril closed and breathe through the other, and then switch sides, it is typical to find that one side of the nose is easier to breathe through than the other. The switch from left to right seems to follow an approximate 90 minute cycle. Research has found that the nasal cycles is related to brain activity and cognitive abilities. Further, a shift in nostril dilation can be caused by applying pressure to a reflex point on the side, beneath the armpit. Technically, this means that one could elicit a change in cognitive activity by deliberately applying pressure to this point on the body. 

In the oldest known accounts of lucid dreaming, a thousand year old text on Dream Yoga in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, advises that in order to induce lucid dreaming, one should sleep on their right side, presumably to encourage the correct brain activity conducive to the lucid state. 

An experiment was conducted to test sleep postures on stimulation of lucid dreaming and assess if nostril laterality was related to posture and had any measurable effect on lucidity. The results were complex and difficult to interpret and would be best replicated in a sleep laboratory under controlled conditions. The subjects were asked to record their awakenings during the night, whether they had been dreaming or lucid dreaming and which nostril was open. They had to rate their dreams on several scales. The results revealed that the subjects had 3 times more lucid dreams when sleeping on their right side than when sleeping on their left side. 

Dream Re-entry
There are two main types of lucid dream - DILD (dream induced lucid dreaming, where the dreamer becomes lucid during an established dream) and WILD (wake initiated lucid dreaming, where the dreamer enters REM sleep and the dream lucid, directly from a wakeful state, with continued consciousness). The latter type of lucid dream shares many common features with the phenomenon known as out-of-body-experiences (OBEs). Both WILD lucid dreams and OBEs are thought to occur during the transition from wakefulness into sleep. In the former, the dreamer is aware that they are asleep and dreaming, while in the latter, the dreamer believes themselves to be awake. 

Some of the phenomenological characteristics shared by WILDS and OBEs are vibrations, strange noises and electrical sensations; feelings of a weight on the chest, difficulty breathing and experience of floating - sometimes with the feeling of peeling out of the body. An experiment was designed to see if these sensations could be induced by attempting to initiate WILDs, and also determine the frequency of their occurrence. Another intention was to compare different methods of WILD induction. The procedure was carried out in the context of attempts to re-enter a previous dream state, under the assumption that the best time to try to enter the REM state is directly after one has awakened from it. 

The first method was to continue sleep. The subjects were asked to sleep with the intention of noticing when they awoke from a dream. Upon awakening, the subject was asked to count '1 I'm dreaming, 2 I'm dreaming, 3 I'm dreaming...' etc until they returned to sleep. The second method was a body-orientated method of passing attention around various points of the body in an orderly sequence. Both techniques were based on the principle of maintaining physical vigilance while the body's physiological systems transitioned from a waking state into the REM sleep state. 

The most surprising result from this experiment was that 1 in 5 attempts to re-enter the dream state resulted in a lucid dream. In total, there were 191 attempts of re-entering the dream state from the 30 subjects who took part. 61% of these attempts were successful and a third of re-entered dreams was lucid. Two thirds of the subjects reported lucid dreams as a direct result of the dream re-entry procedure. 62% of the subjects experienced at least 1 of the physical sensations on their questionnaire. These were paralysis, vibrations, weight on chest, buzzing or other noises, floating or sinking. These feelings are not weird or anomalous and can happen to anyone - therefore, sleep paralysis and OBE-type experiences are normal and not linked to mental illness as previously conjectured. 

Creativity in Dreams and Waking Life 
Dreams are usually weird and bizarre - but are they more unusual than other mental processes such as fantasizing, remembering or imagining? This has been debated by many dream researchers who suggest that the consciousness and insight involved in lucid dreaming may be the same as that which occurs during many waking activities. An experiment was conducted to test this theory, using creative output in various waking mental activities and in normal and lucid dreams. The 5 types of mental activities analysed were:

1. Lucid dreaming
2. Normal dreaming (non-lucid dreaming)
3. Fantasizing (daydreams)
4. Storytelling
5. Remembering

Subjects were asked to write a report of each activity. One of the problems experienced during the study was misunderstanding by the subjects - for example, some of them deliberately constructed a fantasy, rather than capturing a spontaneous daydream. The memory task was also confounded because the subjects were not asked to first remember an event and then report the memory, which would have been parallel to the other tasks. Memory is an inadvertent process and therefore considering the remembering activity as a separate task and not a spontaneous event which occurs at random was erroneous. The clearest result came from the frequency of bizarre elements. The reports were studied without it being revealed to the researchers which group of activity the report related to. They then assessed discontinuities (such as sudden scene or topic shift) and inconsistencies (anomalous combinations of events, places or things). Normal and lucid dreams contained more bizarre elements than memories and fantasies/daydreams, as was expected. The stories collected were stories made up about dreams - they were found to contain as many inconsistencies as dreams, but this is likely to be because the subjects, when making up stories about dreams, expect dreams to be bizarre and inconsistent and therefore consciously contained these elements to make them appear more dreamlike in quality. The experiment proved that dreams are certainly more bizarre than the other forms of consciousness and mental activity analysed in the experiment.

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