The Science Behind Lucid Dreaming

Posted by Tess Passero on

written by our guest Chris Hammond, the Chief Lucifity Officer of, the worlds largest and most popular website dedicated to the art and science of lucid dreaming. 


When you first hear about lucid dreaming, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking it’s a bit “out there”.

After all, taking control of your dreams can sound like a completely alien concept if you’re not familiar with the experience and the research behind it.

And look, it would be an easy mistake to make. The majority of those marauding the internet as ‘lucid dreaming gurus’ seem to mix lucid dreaming itself with their own blend of quasi-spiritualism and personal believes.

And separating the facts about lucid dreaming itself from all this hype can be difficult.

But the fact is that lucid dreaming is separate from all that.

Lucid dreaming is no more than a skill. Just like meditation.

And it’s one that is underpinned by a decent body of scientific research.

The First Lab Analysis of a Lucid Dream

First, we’ll start with the basics – the most famous discovery of all – Keith Hearn’s.

Lucid dreaming was first isolated in the labs of Hull University in the UK in 1975.

Dr Keith Hearne was able to work with his volunteer Alan Worsley to devise a series of “eye-lid signals”. Basically, when Alan went lucid in his dream, he communicated with Dr Hearn by moving his eyes in a pre-arranged zig zag pattern.

And when these signals occurred, they were instantly recognizable on the EOG machine.

On waking, the subject described how he suddenly realised he was dreaming, and consciously made the signals before continuing the lucid dream experience. They were the first ever signals communicated from within a lucid dream," explained Dr Hearne.

"It was an amazing, mind-boggling, situation. I was looking at a communication from a person in another room who was asleep, 'unconscious', dreaming, yet in his own vivid world in which he was perfectly conscious and interacting with others. It was his reality - I was in my reality. A channel of communication had been established between those two realities."

If you’re interested, you can read the full interview with Keith Hearne.

But that was just the start.

From 1975 to today, discoveries have been ongoing and new research quite plentiful.

Lucid Dreaming Brainwave Frequencies

This is where it starts to get exciting.

It has actually been proven that lucid dreams occur around the now infamous ‘40hz’ brainwave frequency.

The study from 2009 by leading dream researchers Ursula Voss and J Allan Hobson revealed that the combination of hallucinatory dream activity and wake-like reflective awareness (a.k.a lucid dreams) is marked by corresponding changes in electrophysiology.

Six student volunteers were primed with pre-sleep autosuggestions for lucid dreams. Then, the researchers monitored their brainwave frequencies with an EEG machine – narrowing in on the lucid periods in particular.

The results were mind blowing.

There was a statistically significant correlation proving that lucid dreams occur not just in delta and theta ranges, but also higher-than-REM frequencies in the gamma band - peaking at around 40 Hz. This effect was strongest in the frontal and frontolateral cortexes - which are considered to be the seats of linguistic thought and higher awareness.

Electrically Stimulated Lucid Dreams

But bear with me because it gets stranger still.

An experiment once again led by Ursula Voss of Frankfurt University revealed a way to actually induce lucid (or perhaps semi-lucid) dreams as much as 77% of the time!

The method involved "zapping" the brains of dreamers while they sleep. Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) was applied via electrodes to the frontal cortex for periods of 30-seconds.

The 27 subjects were then woken shortly after to provide a dream report and rate their dreams on a lucidity scale.

"They were really excited," said Voss. "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'."

Having tested a variety of frequencies, Voss and her team soon zoned in on the magic 40 Hz frequency (and to a lesser extent, 25 Hz) as the best trigger for inducing apparently lucid dreams – confirming her previous research!

Whilst this sounds temptingly like a shortcut to lucid dreams, the small number of commercial electrical devices that have made it to market since this research was published have underscored the importance of mental techniques to stabilise and draw the most from the lucid experience.

Lucid Dreams and athletes

Given the big bucks involved in sports these days, you wouldn’t expect professional coaches to mess with any kind of performance enhancing techniques unless they were actually proven and scientifically verifiable (and legal).

And that most certainly is the case when it comes to athletes and lucid dreams.

You might be surprised to know that you can practice motor skills within a lucid dream in just the same way as you can practice them in waking reality. After all, as far as the brain is concerned, it’s the same neural pathways being stimulated.

This opens up two interesting avenues for athletes – firstly, a potential ‘extra training session’ whilst they sleep! But also the ability to practice difficult manoeuvres that may be hard or impractical to repeat in real life due to risk of injury of other reasons. Athletes also find rehearsing (and taking part in) a dream rendition of an upcoming competition, where they emerge victorious, to be an incredibly powerful mental technique.

If you’re interested, this article looks into how lucid dreams were used for the 2012 Olympics.

Final Thoughts

The world of lucid dreaming is an infinite and boundless domain.

But if you truly want to get the most from this incredible skill, remember that it is not a far-fetched or necessarily spiritual pursuit (although it does have a place in the spiritual believes of many).

Lucid dreaming is rather a well-researched, broadly recognised skill set that can be acquired in the same way as any other skill – through practice.

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