Friday, 1 April 2016

Binaural Beats & Lucid Dreaming

This is a comprehensive article explaining binaural beats and how they can be used in lucid dreaming. This article attempts to take a balanced view of using binaural beats for lucid dreaming and therefore presents the evidence for and against their successfulness in lucid dream induction. Here are a list of the contents of this article, in chronological order, for your guidance:

CONTENTS
  1. Introduction & history of research
  2. Cortical oscillation and electroencephalography (EEG)
  3. Brainwave frequency bands
  4. Neurophysiological origin of binaural beat perception
  5. Brainwaves & mental state
  6. Brainwave entrainment
  7. Binaural beats & brainwave entrainment
  8. Binaural beats – the brain, mind & consciousness controversy
  9. Binaural beats - the sceptics view
  10. The neuroscientific evidence for brainwave synchronization & lucid dreaming
  11. Advantages of brainwave entrainment & altered states of consciousness for lucid dreamers
  12. Instructions for inducing lucid dreams using binaural beats

Introduction & history of research
A binaural beat is an auditory illusion which is perceived by the listener when 2 different pure-tone sine waves - both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, with less than a 40 Hz difference between them - are presented ‘dichotically’ (this means one through each ear). For example, if a 530 Hz pure tone is presented to a listener’s right ear and a 520 Hz pure tone is presented to the listener’s left ear, the listener will perceive the auditory illusion of a third tone, in addition to the 2 pure-tones presented to each ear. The third sound is called a ‘binaural beat’, and the example, presented above, would have a perceived pitch correlating to a frequency of 10 Hz, this being the difference between the 530 Hz and 520 Hz pure tones presented separately to each ear.

Binaural basically means ‘to hear with 2 ears’. Binaural beats were originally discovered in 1839 by physicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove and the term was first introduced in 1856. The phenomenon was investigated extensively by German philosopher and psychologist, Carl Stumpf (1848 – 1936), in 1916. Stumpf distinguished between diotic listening – the simultaneous stimulation of both ears with the same stimulus; and dichotic listening – the stimulation of both ears with different stimuli. Subsequently, it became known that binaural listening is the means of determining geolocation and the direction of sound.

Binaural hearing was first studied by Scottish-American physician, William Charles Wells (1757 – 1817) in 1792, following his earlier research into binocular vision and how the eyes perceive and mix colours. He wanted to explain how listening with both ears affected the perception of sound. From 1792 – 1802, Italian physicist, Giovanni Battista Venturi (1746 - 1822) conducted a series of experiments which were intended to prove the nature of binaural hearing. He found that the unequal impressions of sound perceived at the same time by both ears is what determined the correct direction of sound. Venturi's experiments were repeated and confirmed by Lord Rayleigh (1842 - 1919), almost 75 years later.

German physicist Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni (1756 - 1827), a contemporary of Venturi who is cited as the ‘father of acoustics’ conducted experiments to investigate the behaviour of vibrating strings and plates and the ways in which sound was perceived. He agreed with Venturi’s conclusion, claiming that the location and direction of sound was determined by detecting differences in a sound between before ears (including amplitude and frequency). He used the term ‘interaural differences’.

English scientist Charles Wheatstone (1802 - 1875); German physicist Ernst Heinrich Weber (1795 – 1878); and August Seebeck (1805 – 1849) also researched the phenomenon of binaural hearing. It was found that binocular vision and binaural hearing did not work the same way; when a different colour was presented to each eye, the colours did not follow the laws of the combination of colours from the different bands of the spectrum, but rather they competed for perceptual attention. Wheatstone found that when the 2 different sounds are presented to each ear, the third sound which results from the coincidence of their vibrations (the ‘grave harmonic) is a form of perceptual fusion.

Binaural hearing received attention from physicist Louis Trenchard More (1870 – 1944);and chemist Harry Shipley Fry (1878 - 1949, both of the University of Cincinnati; scientists H A Wilson and Charles Samuel Myers, of King's College London; and American physicist Alfred M Mayer (1836 – 1897), each of whom conducted experimental investigations with intent to discover the means by which human subjects ascertain the location, origin, and direction of sound, believing this to be in some way dependent on dichotic hearing - listening to sound through both ears.

It was in fact the invention of the stethoscope by René Théophile Hyacinthe Laennec (1781 - 1826), which presented a huge leap in our understanding of binaural hearing. Based on the stethoscope, Somerville Scott Alison, who coined the term ‘binaural’, developed the differential stethophone. Unlike the stethoscope which used 2 separate sound-source pieces which enabled the listener to hear and compare sounds from 2 discrete locations, the stethophone has a single sound-source piece which would be placed on the chest, allowing the listener to identify the source of a sound through the process of binaural hearing. Alison referred to his device as a ‘binaural stethoscope’.


Cortical oscillation and electroencephalography (EEG)
Neuron activity generates electrical currents in the brain. The synchronous action of neural ensembles in the cerebral cortex, producing macroscopic oscillations, can be monitored and recorded on a graph by an electroencephalogram (EEG). These oscillations are commonly known as ‘brainwaves’. Neural oscillations – or brainwaves – are rhythmic or repetitive electrochemical activity which happens in the brain and the central nervous system. Neural tissue produces activity within individual neurons, or through interactions between different neurons. Brainwave frequency can also be adjusted to synchronize with the periodicity of an external visual or acoustic stimuli. This is important to remember when we consider how binaural beats might work in practice. 

The technique of recording brainwaves from electrochemical readings taken from the scalp was developed by Richard Caton in 1975 and furthered by the work of Hans Berger (who invented EEG) in the 1920s. Berger first described the frequency bands Delta, Theta, Alpha, and Beta.

Brainwave frequency bands
The fluctuating frequency of oscillations generated by the synchronous activity of cortical neurons, measurable with an electroencephalogram (EEG), via electrodes attached to the scalp, are conveniently categorized into general bands, in order of decreasing frequency, measured in Hertz (Hz) as follows:
  • Gamma: 30 - 50 Hz (Transition into the waking state) - increased intelligence and higher mental activity, perception formation of ideas and problem-solving, linguistics, control and willpower, heightened sensory awareness, increased compassion and happiness, fear-responses
  • Beta: 14 - 30 Hz (Waking state) - concentration, attention, alertness, arousal, increased energy, emotional stability, cognition, logic, reasoning & critical thinking, anxiety-response/paranoia, ‘fight or flight effect’
  • Alpha: 8 - 14 Hz (Awake, but relaxed, meditative or drowsy state – just prior to sleep or upon waking) - unconscious or detached/relaxed focus, relaxation, meditation, light trance, super-learning, increased creativity, serotonin production, pre-sleep & pre-wake drowsiness, beginning to access subconscious mind in the conscious state, heightened intuition, receptiveness to suggestion/hypnosis, increased imagination and visualization, increased motivation, happiness
  • Theta: 4 - 8 Hz (During REM/dream sleep) - hypnagogia, trance, deep meditation, heightened receptivity, access to the subconscious mind, increased production of catecholamines (for memory & learning), increased creativity, integrative emotional experiences, inner peace and emotional wellbeing, 
  • Delta: 0.1 - 4 Hz (During deep (slow-wave), dreamless sleep) - production of the human growth hormone, production of melatonin, restful and restoration healing of the body, loss of bodily/physical awareness, trance, deep detached meditation, access to the deep subconscious 
In addition, three further wave forms are often differentiated in electroencephalographic studies:
  • Mu: 8 - 12 Hz
  • Sigma (sleep spindle): 12 - 14 Hz
  • SMR (sensory motor rhythm): 12.5 - 15.5 Hz

Neurophysiological origin of binaural beat perception
Binaural beat perception originates in the inferior colliculus of the midbrain and the superior olivary complex of the brainstem. This is where auditory signals from each ear are integrated and precipitate electrical impulses, along neural pathways through the reticular formation up the midbrain to the thalamus, auditory cortex, and other cortical regions.

Brainwaves & mental state
Following the ability to measure such brainwaves, developed by Berger, there has been a ubiquitous consensus that EEG readings depict brainwave wave form patterns which alter over time. 

It has been established that these brainwave patterns correlate with the aspects of the subject's mental and emotional state, mental status, and degree of consciousness and vigilance. EEG measurements, including frequency and amplitude of the brainwaves, correlate with different perceptual, motor and cognitive states. Furthermore, brainwaves alter in response to changes in environmental stimuli - including sound and music. 

The degree and nature of alteration is partially dependent on individual perception - the same stimulus may cause different changes in brainwaves and EEG readings in different people. The process of changing the frequency of brainwaves by synchronizing them with external acoustic of photic stimuli, causing alterations in the cognitive and emotional state of the individual is called neuronal or brainwave entrainment. This is the process we are hopefully performing when we use binaural beats for lucid dreaming.

Brainwave entrainment
Entrainment was originally derived from complex systems theory. It denotes the ways in which 2 or more independent, autonomous autonomous oscillators (with different rhythms of frequencies) interact and mutually influence each other to the degree that they both adjust and start to oscillate at the same frequency. 

The concept of entrainment was first identified by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens in 1665, who conducted an experiment into the synchronization of clock pendulums. He found that entrainment occurs because small amounts of energy are transferred between the 2 systems which begin out of phase, and this produces negative feedback. As the 2 systems (i.e. the pendulums) assume a more stable relationship the negative energy is gradually reduced to zero – one pendulum (with the greater frequency) slows down and the other (with the lesser frequency) speeds up.

The term entrainment has subsequently been used to refer to a shared tendency of many physical and biological systems which synchronize their periodicity and rhythm through this form of interaction and influence. The main body of research centres on music and acoustics. One of the most familiar examples of neuro-motor entrainment to acoustic stimuli is tapping a foot spontaneously to the rhythm of a song.

Exogenous rhythmic entrainment occurs outside of the body and in many different ways. For example, when we speak, we adjust the rhythm of out speech patterns to the person we are communicating with; and when an audience claps hands, it is usually in rhythmic unison – i.e. ‘in time with everyone else’. 

Research has also shown that even amongst groups of complete strangers, breathing rates, locomotive and subtle expressive motor movements and speech patterns synchronize and entrain in response to acoustic stimuli – such as music with a consistent rhythm. In both humans and some animals (cats and monkeys, for example), repetitive tactile stimulation (i.e. stroking) has been shown to cause changes in brainwaves and EEG readings. Endogenous entrainment occurs within the body and includes the synchronization of human circadian sleep-wake cycles to the 24-hour cycle of light and dark; and the synchronization of a heartbeat to a cardiac pacemaker.

Binaural beats & brainwave entrainment
Brainwaves (neural oscillations) share the fundamental constituents with acoustic and optical wave forms - including frequency, amplitude, and periodicity. Brainwave entrainment is a layman’s term for such 'neural entrainment'. This denotes the way in which brainwaves synchronize with external stimuli, such as light or sound. 

The scientific term for what happens is known as ‘Frequency Following Response effect’ (FFR). This happens when your brain begins to resonate with the binaural beat, or ‘follow’ the beat, and this phenomenon was thoroughly researched and tested in 1973 by biophysicist Gerald Oster at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. His research on binaural beats and the Frequency Following Response was published in Scientific American and paved the way for further development in the area of auditory stimulation to enhance brain functioning.

Uses of audio, with embedded binaural beats (mixed with music, white or pink noise or various forms of background sound), for creating different mental states or states of altered consciousness, is very popular. Binaural beats have been designed for multiple purposes, ranging from relaxation, meditation and stress reduction; pain management; improved sleep quality or decrease in sleep requirements; ‘super-learning’; enhanced creativity and intuition; remote viewing, telepathy, astral projection and out-of-body experience; and lucid dreaming. 

Of course, some of these activities of states of consciousness (specifically those relating to extra-sensory perception or astral projection and OBEs, are disputed and categorized as pseudoscience), but the purpose of this article is not to discredit or debunk reported uses for binaural beats, but rather explain the science behind them and how they might be used, as well as assessing evidence for their effectiveness on the whole. Audio which is embedded with binaural beats is often combined with various meditation techniques, as well as positive affirmations and visualization. 

It is unclear whether passively listening to binaural beats is able to create an altered state of consciousness in the listener. An individual’s subjective response to the binaural beats may be mediated by a number of external factors, for example, the existing emotional or mental state of the listener at the time. For example, someone who is already in a calm and relaxed may be frame of mind may therefore find that using binaural beats for meditation does enhance their experience. 

Likewise, someone who is already focused on a learning task may find that using a binaural beat to increase concentration heightens their cognitive abilities. Therefore, the willingness and inherent abilities of the listener may have an effect on whether binaural beats work for this particular individual. 

Some sceptics claim that binaural beats produce no more than a mere placebo effect for those who believe they will produce a particular result. If this is true, then it doesn’t necessarily suggest binaural beats are ineffective – if using them creates the right frame of mind and assists the listener is achieving their set goal, then use had been beneficial and worthwhile. 

Rossi (1986) found that a receptiveness and willingness to focus may be responsible for some effectiveness of the binaural beat in inducing a change in the listener’s brainwaves. Ultradian rhythms in the nervous system are responsible for changes in arousal and states of consciousness, and some research (Rossi, 1986) suggests that these naturally-occurring shifts may explain why binaural beats have fluctuations in effectiveness. 

Oster (1973) found that using white noise as a background for binaural beats tends to increase perception in the listener. Other practices, such as humming, toning, breathing exercises, autogenic training, and/or biofeedback can also be used to increase the effectiveness of binaural beats in resistant individuals (Tart, 1975).

One of the major problems in studying brain entrainment and the effectiveness of using binaural beats is the fact that humans rarely hear frequencies below 20 HZ, which covers the range of Delta, Theta, Alpha and low-mid Beta brainwaves. One method which has been used is to measure EEG while the subject listens to the binaural beats. 

There is significant evidence which shows that listening to binaural beats can cause auditory driving and brainwaves can be synchronized and entrained to the frequency of the binaural beat. Such readings are supported by self-reported changes in cognitive and emotional states. 

However, many self-reports are based on the use of binaural beats which combined the stimuli with other sounds, such as music or verbal guidance (i.e. guided meditation). This may have an effect or influence on how the listener responds – few studies have isolated the effects of just the binaural beat. 

Some initial research has found that binaural beats may have some influence on low frequency and high frequency components of heart rate and may increase feelings of relaxation. In addition, it is accepted that listening to music and other sounds can cause automatic arousal through entrainment of the brainwaves, especially drum rhythms. 

Some forms of auditory stimulation have been demonstrated to cause improvement in the immune system; facilitate relaxation; improve mood; heighten cognitive functioning; and reduce stress. This suggests that there are many therapeutic advantages to listening to music, regardless of whether the outcome can be attributed to brainwave entrainment – it is the well-established principle upon which receptive music therapy (i.e. the individual listens to music, rather than actively making it) - used in the treatment of a range of physical and mental conditions - is founded. 

Using EEG technology, it is also possible to use neurological music therapy which may contribute to the treatment and management of disorders characterized by impairment to parts of the brain and central nervous system - including stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, autism, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Historically, music and percussive performance (i.e. drumming) has been fundamental to ritualistic ceremony and spiritual practice. Many indigenous people believe it can be used to communicate with spiritual energies and entities. There is no solid scientific evidence which can confirm this, but contemporary research has found that listening to rhythmic sounds – especially percussion – can induce the subjective experience of altered states of consciousness with different brainwave patterns, associated with meditation and hypnosis. The EEG readings of a person who is meditating is comparable to the reading taken from a person listening to Alpha and Theta binaural beats.

Binaural beats – the brain, mind & consciousness controversy
Since the days of the ancient Greek philosophers, questions concerning the nature of the brain, mind and consciousness have been raised, but we have still not resolved the issue of the mind-body relationship and whether consciousness exists as part of the physical brain. 

Modern neuroscientists locate the mind within the physical brain and state that consciousness is the result of electrochemical neurological activity. This would suggest that consciousness can be changed by using external means (such as electrodes) to produce a certain type of electrochemical activity – or brainwave activity.

However, there have been a number of studies which suggest the contrary – that the mind (or consciousness) is separate from the physical brain although this needs to be proven by solid, credible neuroscientific evidence from laboratory studies. 

So far, there has been no neurophysiological research which conclusively proves that higher mental states (for example intuition, insight, creativity, imagination, understanding, reasoning, intent, decision, knowing, will etc) are located in the physical tissue of the brain (Hunt, 1995). These controversies may only be resolved by scientists taking an epistemological shift towards studies which include extra-rational mental activity, rather than focusing on just the neurochemical brain (de Quincy, 1994). Despite this, we are in the midst of an exciting period of science, with modern technology and rapid new discoveries in neuroscience and psychology, leading a new ‘revolution’ in the study of consciousness (Owens, 1995).

We are in the midst of a revolution focusing on the study of consciousness (Owens, 1995). Penfield, an eminent contemporary neurophysiologist, found that the human mind continued to work in spite of the brain’s reduced activity under anaesthesia. Brainwaves were nearly absent, while the mind was just as active as in the waking state. The only difference was in the content of the conscious experience. Following Penfield’s work, other researchers have reported awareness in comatose patients (Hunt, 1995) and there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that reduced cortical arousal, while maintaining conscious awareness, is possible (Fischer, 1971; West 1980; Delmonte, 1984; Goleman 1988; Jevning, Wallace & Beidenbach, 1992; Wallace, 1986; Mavromatis, 1991). These states have been variously referred to as meditative, trance, altered, hypnagogic, hypnotic, and twilight-learning states (Budzynski, 1986). 

These various forms of ‘altered states’ involve the maintenance of conscious awareness in a physiologically reduced state of arousal (Mavromatis, 1991). Recent physiological studies of highly hypnotizable subjects and expert meditators indicate that maintaining awareness with reduced cortical arousal is indeed possible in selected individuals as either a natural ability or as an acquired skill (Sabourin, Cutcomb, Crawford & Pribram, 1993). 

Increasingly, scientists are expressing doubts about the neurologists’ brain-mind model because it fails to answer so many questions about our ordinary experiences, as well as evading our mystical and spiritual ones. Some claim that the scientific evidence supporting the phenomenon of remote viewing alone is sufficient to show that mind-consciousness is not a local phenomenon (McMoneagle, 1993). 

However, these studies have numerous methodological flaws and require support from more rigorous, peer-reviewed, double-blind laboratory studies, which are capable of producing replicable results, before such findings can be cited as legitimate evidence for remote viewing. For many scientists, this research falls firmly within the sphere of pseudoscience.

Questions might arise such as: if mind-consciousness is not the brain, why then does science relate states of consciousness and mental functioning to brainwave frequencies? And how is it that audio with embedded binaural beats alters brainwaves? The first question can be answered in terms of instrumentation; there is no objective way to measure mind or consciousness with an instrument in a laboratory or otherwise – we can only record and analyse that which produces a physical change which can be objectively observed. 

Mind-consciousness appears to be a field phenomenon which interfaces with the body and the neurological structures of the brain (Hunt, 1995). One cannot measure this field directly with current instrumentation or technology. On the other hand, the electrical potentials of brainwaves can be measured and easily quantified because they produce an observable physical change. 

The problem here lies in oversimplification of the observations - EEG patterns measured on the cortex are the result of electroneurological activity of the brain, but the brain’s electroneurological activity is not mind-consciousness. EEG measurements then are only an indirect means of assessing the mind-consciousness interface with the neurological structures of the brain. As crude as this may seem, the EEG has been a reliable way for researchers to estimate states of consciousness based on the relative proportions of EEG frequencies; this is because certain EEG patterns have been historically associated with specific states of consciousness. It is reasonable to assume, given the current EEG literature, that if a specific EEG pattern emerges it is probably accompanied by a particular state of consciousness. 

Therefore, with binaural beats, because we know which frequencies of brainwaves accompany which states of consciousness (we can compare the brainwaves of someone in a deep state of meditation or a dream by monitoring their EEG readings in each state, plus we can monitor corresponding physical signs, such as reduced heart rate, rapid eye movement etc); we know which binaural beats – at the correct frequency and amplitude – to use to encourage the brain to act in a way (synchronise) to create these altered states of consciousness.

This is because audio with embedded binaural beats alters the electrochemical environment of the brain and therefore allows mind-consciousness to have different experiences – altered states of consciousness. Perceived reality changes depending on the state of consciousness of the perceiver (Tart, 1975) - some states of consciousness provide limited views of reality, while others provide an expanded awareness of reality - for example, altered states of consciousness associated with the use of psychedelic drugs). 

Mainly, states of consciousness change in response to the ever-changing internal environment and surrounding stimulation, for example, states of consciousness are subject to influences like drugs and circadian and ultradian rhythms (Rossi, 1986; Shannahoff-Khalsa, 1991; Webb & Dube, 1981). Specific states of consciousness can also be learned as adaptive behaviours to demanding circumstances – for example dissociative states as a result of traumatizing physical environment (Green and Green, 1986).

Binaural beats - the sceptics view
One of the main criticisms of binaural beats isn’t focused on the science behind the claims, but rather the rapidly-growing industry for binaural beats, which are sold as part of various brain entrainment packages, profiting from claims that using these programmes or audio products will have extraordinarily successful results in triggering a range of desired mental states or processes. The fact is, you can access the same quality binaural beats for free using Youtube, or even make your own using simply acoustic software, some of which is available online.

Some manufacturers of binaural beat products label them as ‘digital drugs’ and there have even been bold suggestions that using certain binaural beats can mimic the effect of specific pharmaceutical drugs. Any such claims – or promises that using binaural beat technology and brain entrainment can produce ‘super powers’ – should be treated with scepticism. 

The fact is, the states or frequencies of brainwave activity, identified and categorized as alpha, beat, theta, gamma etc are associated with a very broad range of different mental states and processes, all of which are given a very general description, such as ‘relaxed and meditative’ or ‘focused’. Our brains naturally produce these types of brainwave activity at various points, so binaural beats do not create a mental state which we do not experience anyway – they may simply assist us in achieving what our brain can and will ordinarily do in specific circumstances, for example – when we are drifting off to sleep or concentrating on a cognitive task.

Such claims presume that it is possible to pinpoint the precise frequency of the EEG in each of the desired mental states or conditions - the fact is that brainwaves do not work that way. It is wholly and absolutely implausible to say that desired mental state X will occur if the EEG reads exactly Y Hz.

A 2008 study at Hofstra University played two different binaural beats and a control sound (running water) to patients with high blood pressure - there was no difference between results from each of the groups. In one small study from Japan, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology (2006), researchers played various binaural beats to 9 subjects, and observed the resulting EEGs, finding great variability in the results. The conclusion was that listening to binaural beats can produce activity on the human cerebral cortex, however the cause was more likely a conscious auditory reaction and was not correlated to the frequency of the binaural beat. 

A further study published in Clinical Neurophysiology (2005) found that scientists were able to induce a desired frequency in the EEG matching the phantom beat frequency encoded in a binaural beat - however this was with a single subject and was neither blinded nor controlled. A study by Wahbeh, Calabrese & Zwickey, ‘Binaural beat technology in humans: a pilot study to assess psychologic and physiologic effects’ (2007) published in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine found that use of binaural beats could decrease anxiety and produce positive psychological results, based on self-reports. The conclusion of the study was that further research was required to validate and expand upon these initial results. 

The truth is, that listening to any audio/music track can affect our brains in a number of ways – listening to specific types of music can help the listener to relax, become energised or feel a particular emotional response. There is no indication that binaural beats have any deeper more meaningful effect on listeners. 

Some sceptics of the science behind binaural beats suggest that the effects observed in those who claim using binaural beats has brought them success are just placebo effects – the binaural beat was able to create the right ‘frame of mind’ and those who believe in their power and effect are likely to be more suggestible and open to positive results. 

Given there have been recent publications on the successful induction of lucid dreaming using electrodes to change brainwave activity, it is unsurprising that manufacturers have capitalized on the growing fascination with, and popularity of, lucid dreaming. One such gadget is Thefoc.us ‘moovs’ kit, which is marketed specifically for dreaming. The kit consists of a pair of electrodes, a dozen pairs of disposable adhesive electrode gel pads and a tiny transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) device which resembles an iPod nano. The user places some gel pads on the electrodes, places them on each temple, plugs it into the device and loads up one of the programs. The foc.us device then delivers a relatively low electrical current of 1.5 milliamps via the electrodes. The lucid dreaming programme is designed to stimulate the brain after a 10 minute countdown, giving the user time to fall asleep.

Originally, foc.us was designed for use by gamers, to stimulate their brain before playing, as a means to improve focus, according to Michael Oxley, the CEO and founder of foc.us. However, after the device was released online last year, users starting utilising it for different results – for example, dream-hacking. Oxley states: ‘There were some strong papers about increasing working memory and increasing focus, which is ideal for gaming…But a lot of our customers weren’t using it for that. They were using it for other benefits and one of the most popular ones we saw was for lucid dreaming’. This was particularly so after a journal article was published in 2014 which found evidence to support the idea that lucid dreams could be induced by stimulating gamma brainwaves in a sleeping person. This inspired many customers to try to use foc.us in the same way, so the manufacturing team wrote a new programme, specifically designed for the induction of lucid dreaming.

Oxley explains: ‘A positive charge will excite a part of the brain and a negative current will sort of turn off that part of the brain…The higher function areas at the front of the brain are active during lucid dreams, so the idea is that if we excite that while people are dreaming, they’ll have a greater chance of having a lucid dream’. Oxley apparently uses the device nearly every night, and while it doesn’t always work, it has produced some exciting results when it has been successful. 

However, when one of the Vice writers road-tested the foc.us device for a review, she found that the results were not quite as promising as Oxley’s endorsement – the electrodes began to sting the skin after a matter of minutes, forcing her to have to prematurely end the experiment. Her colleagues had no more joy; one removed the electrodes during sleep, while another stated that using the device made him ‘feel weird’ and had a ‘shutter-effect’ on his LED bedside lamp. After the first session, he reported no dreams, despite being a naturally vivid dreamer. A third colleague confessed that the foc.us gave him a weird pain in his head, as if his ‘brain was being squished’. He reported that he might have experienced a lucid dream, but felt that his brain just wanted him to believe that he had, and he was unable to actually recall whether he did or not – it seems likely that he did not experience a lucid dream, given he has no memory of doing so.

Oxley claims that the $300 foc.us device is undergoing technological improvement – there is hope that it can be developed to make it wireless and able to detect when the user falls asleep. Oxley says that sales figures indicate a huge initial popularity for the product: ‘We were amazed. We sold out our first 2 batches way quicker than we thought we would and now there are 2 or 3 big, VC-funded companies out in Silicon Valley doing the same thing. While it’s currently a small market, it won’t be long before Apple starts selling a brain stimulator’.

The neuroscientific evidence for brainwave synchronization & lucid dreaming
One exciting piece of research has demonstrated that changing the activity of brainwaves using electrodes in a laboratory study was able to produce lucid dreams in participants. The study, U Voss & A Hobson et al, ‘Induction of self-awareness in dreams through frontal low current stimulation of gamma activity’ (2014), published in the Nature Neuroscience journal, tested recent findings that linked fronto-temporal gamma electroencephalographic (EEG) activity to conscious awareness in dreams, The study demonstrates that current stimulation in the lower gamma band during REM sleep influences ongoing brain activity and induces self-reflective awareness (i.e. lucidity) in dreams. Other stimulation frequencies were not effective, suggesting that higher order consciousness is indeed related to synchronous oscillations around 25 - 40 Hz.

Alan Hobson, psychiatrist and sleep researcher at Harvard University, said of the results: ‘I never thought this would work…But it looks like it does’. His colleague, Ursula Voss, of J.W. Goethe-University Frankfurt - who designed the experiments – stated: ‘[The participants] were really excited…The dream reports were short, but long enough for them to report, 'Wow, all of the sudden I knew this was a dream, while I was dreaming’…If I'm aware, if I'm self-reflective, if I'm thinking about myself, about my past and future, that's normally a waking function…In lucid dreaming, we transfer elements of waking consciousness into the dream’.

The overlap between lucid dreaming and brainwave activity related to the waking state was reflected in the brainwaves the researchers detected using EEG. While normal non-lucid dreaming has its own specific brainwave patterns, when dreamers have lucid dreams, they show gamma waves - an activity pattern that is linked to consciousness, but is nearly absent during sleep and normal non-lucid dreaming. The gamma activity in the brainwaves of lucid dreamers is especially seen in the brain's frontal cortex. In the study, the researchers placed electrodes on the scalps of 27 participants - who were not ‘natural’ lucid dreamers - to stimulate the frontal cortex, and recreate the gamma wave activity that has been seen in lucid dreamers.

Over 4 nights, they applied the 30-second bolts of electrical currents to the participants' scalps, 2 minutes after the participants had entered the dreaming stage of sleep (i.e. REM sleep), as shown by their brainwave activity patterns. The frequency of stimulation varied from 2 Hz -100 Hz, and sometimes the researchers didn't actually deliver any electrical currents. The participants were then immediately woken up to report their dreams to an interviewer who wasn't aware of which stimulation they had received via the electrodes. 

The EEG data showed that the brain's gamma activity increased during stimulation with 40 Hz, and to a lesser degree during stimulation with 25 Hz - stimulation with other frequencies didn't lead to any changes in the brainwaves, and it didn't increase the likelihood of people having lucid dreams. The researchers also found that after stimulation, if people did experience a lucid dream, the gamma activity increased even more. Voss stated: ‘We were surprised that it's possible to force the brain to take on a frequency from the outside, and for the brain to actually vibrate in that frequency and actually show an effect’.

Lucid dreams represent a unique opportunity for scientists to observe the brain change from one state of consciousness to another, and the new results produced by this innovative and significant study suggest it may have become easier to detect and analyse such changes using brain scan technology. Hobbs explained: ‘Instead of waiting for things to happen, you can actually now do experiments, deliver stimulus and see what happens. It gives you much more classical stimulus-response handle on consciousness itself. It's amazing…It lets us see that consciousness is clearly a brain function. We knew that anyway, but the mechanisms are not clear, and this puts a new spin on it’.

Beyond advancing the scientific understanding of what happens during lucid dreams, the new findings may add insight to the broader research on the nature of human consciousness. Scientists have previously proposed that gamma waves are related to widespread synchronization of brainwave activity and an important aspect of consciousness. The new findings add to the evidence that gamma activity is related to consciousness, and make it more likely that such activity is actually causing consciousness.

However, while this is exciting news for lucid dreamers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the same results can be produced at home, using binaural beats to synchronise brainwaves. This does not mean that it is not worth experimenting with, but my advice is to use binaural beats that you can access free of charge online, for example, on Youtube, and to maintain reasonable expectations about likelihood of success. 

For the best possible chances of success in inducing lucid dreams – either with or without use of binaural beats – you should be practicing cognitive techniques which programme your mind to become conscious in the dream state. Using binaural beats alongside the cognitive induction methods for lucid dreaming, is a ‘belt and braces’ approach, and guarantees your best possibility of attaining self-awareness (i.e. consciousness/lucidity) in the dream state. Using binaural beats in conjunction with the cognitive methods for inducing lucid dreams may assist you in focusing your mind on achieving your goals and create the right mind-frame or atmosphere for lucid dreaming. 

Advantages of brainwave entrainment & altered states of consciousness for lucid dreamers
Supposedly, when the brain is entrained to lower frequencies and awareness is maintained, a unique state of consciousness emerges. This state is often referred to as hypnagogia ‘mind awake/body asleep’ – this being the state which practitioners of the WILD (Wake-Initiated/Induced Lucid Dream) technique try to induce; and the state those who experience false awakenings with sleep paralysis over emerge into, when in a ‘wake-sleep limbo’. 

Slightly higher-frequency entrainment are thought to lead to hyper-suggestive states of consciousness which allow self-hypnosis – perfect for those who wish to implant the seed for lucid dreaming into their mind using cognitive techniques for lucid dreaming, such as the MILD (Nmemonic/Memory Induced Lucid Dream) or Tholey’s Combined Technique, both of which involve re-programming the mind to become a fertile ground for lucidity to happen. In particular, auto-suggestion, which is the use of a positive affirmation or mantra which you repeat – almost unconsciously – while in a deeply relaxed, meditative state, either during the day or just prior to sleep (i.e. ‘I will be aware I am dreaming’) could be performed extremely successfully while in this state of hyper-suggestiveness. 

Still higher-frequency EEG states are associated with alert and focused mental activity needed for the optimal performance of many tasks and cognitive exercises – these states would be ideal for using the intention aspect of cognitive lucid dream induction – mentally focusing your awareness and intention on positively achieving an outcome. 

Additionally, it might be useful to use these states of consciousness for consciousness-centred lucid dreaming induction methods which require you to have an intense focus on a goal or process. For example, when reality checking, it is important to combine the physical act of the reality check with the ‘consciousness’ aspect: questioning your conscious state (awake or dreaming?) and how you know you are in waking reality (outcome of the reality check; physical sensations; environmental clues; mental processes; behaviour of others/objects etc) and actively draw a conclusion supported by your evidence. 

This not only works on the cognitive level of ‘implanting’ a behaviour (the physical reality check coupled with the questioning of reality/dreaming), by establishing a habit you perform regularly enough during your waking day to then appear in your dreams (even by way of ‘day residue), but also the ‘learning’ level; you are enhancing your mental cognition skills. In using a state of heightened mental focus to then analyse your own state of consciousness by paying direct attention to small details of your environment, changes in your physical self and suchlike, you are encouraging yourself to become more ‘consciously aware’ of your own reality and perception of it. Becoming lucid in a dream requires you to adopt brain functions and cognitive skills associated with your waking brain: analysis, rationality, logic, comparison, memory recall etc. All of these functions are ‘switched off’ when we dream, which is why we accept the bizarre and impossible or contradictory content of our dreams as real enough that we do not question their reality while we are dreaming them. 

Using cognitive techniques for DILDS (Dream-Initiated/Induced Lucid Dreams) require us to hack our brains to the extent that we make these mental functions associated with our waking brain ‘switch on’ in the dream state, so that we are able to become consciously aware that we are dreaming. This is why recognising dreamsigns (the bizarre, impossible, contradictory, dream-like aspects of a dream which indicate to the conscious mind that they can only exist in the dream state) and performing reality checks with conscious awareness enabling the correct conclusion to be drawn, are powerful methods for lucid dreaming, which are learnt and practiced in the waking day, using techniques of focus and concentration. 

Instructions for inducing lucid dreams using binaural beats
Always listen to binaural beats using headphones!
  • Whenever you are performing auto-suggestion (during waking day or just prior to sleep) – try ALPHA (for duration of auto-suggestion exercise) – suggestion: 10 minutes per session
  • Whenever you are performing intention – try ALPHA (during waking day or just prior to sleep) or BETA (only during waking day) – suggestion: 10 minutes per session
The following instructions require you to make a binaural beats playlist as you will be using binaural beats during sleep and therefore will need the beat frequencies to change at relevant times. These instructions (with and without Wake-Back-to-Bed method) are based on the ‘average’ 8-hour sleep cycle. I have included an image for your information. If you do not have an 8-hour sleep cycle, you will need to adjust the times based on your own pattern of sleep, which may require some trial and error and experimentation.


Basically, we have REM (dream sleep) interspersed throughout the sleep cycle, as shown. The best time for lucid dreaming is the last period of REM sleep, just before waking (marked in yellow). This occurs around 5 – 6 hours into the 8-hour sleep cycle, after we have had all of our deep (DELTA wave) sleep (marked in purple). This is the period of REM sleep we will be targeting for lucid dreaming in the following 2 methods:

Sleep Cycle – No Wake-Back-to-Bed
  1. Affirmations & auto-suggestion prior to sleep (10 minutes): ALPHA (marked on chart in pink)
  2. Deep sleep (6 hours) – DELTA (period marked on chart in purple)
  3. Lucid Induction during last period of REM sleep (2 hours): THETA (1 hour) & GAMMA (1 hour) (period marked on chart in yellow)
  4. Wake up
Sleep Cycle – With Wake-Back-to-Bed
  1. Affirmations & auto-suggestion prior to sleep (10 minutes): ALPHA
  2. Deep sleep (6 hours) – DELTA (period marked on chart in purple)
  3. WAKE UP (marked on chart with pink star) – perform affirmations/auto-suggestion using ALPHA (10 – 15 minutes) (period marked on chart in pink)
  4. Return to sleep - Lucid Induction during last period of REM sleep (2 hours): THETA (1 hour) & GAMMA (1 hour) (period marked on chart in yellow)
  5. Wake up
Lucid Dream Induction during Afternoon Nap:
  1. Affirmations & auto-suggestion prior to sleep (10 minutes): ALPHA
  2. Use THETA - GAMMA for duration of nap (recommended nap time: 1.5 – 2 hours)

7 comments:

  1. Listening to music is another great tool we can incorporate into your life. Binaural beats are extremely popular and effective when it comes to meditating.

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  4. Binaural beats lucid dreaming are a type of brainwave entrainment technology that influences the electrical processes of the human brain. The term “binaural beats” is used to define the changes that take place within an individual’s.

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