In the 2010 movie "Inception," Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) explains his spouse Mal's trick for differentiating reality in the fantastic dreamscape where the majority of the film takes place: He uses what he calls a totem, a spinning top which won't ever fall over while he is dreaming. But a totem, known to psychologists who examine lucid dreams is of ways to tell if you are asleep, a new study from Australia finds.
If you have ever understood you're dreaming while you're asleep, you have had what is known as a lucid dream. Though these dreams can occur by chance, you can find communities of people who try various methods to bring them about.
So, in the new study, investigators made a decision to take these methods to work, testing out which techniques worked best for inducing lucid dreams. If people know how to effectively cause a lucid dream, then scientists will have the ability to find out more about the dreams themselves down the road, the researchers stated.
"Ultimately, I want to develop techniques that are effective enough to permit serious exploration of the many potential benefits and applications of lucid dreaming," said lead researcher Denholm Aspy, a visiting research fellow in psychology at the University of Adelaide in Australia.
From the analysis, which was published in the journal Dreaming in September, the investigators asked almost 170 participants to test out three techniques which were said to increase the probability of lucid dreaming.
Among the techniques examined in the analysis was the usage of reality checks. These included closing one's lips and attempting to inhale; in a dream, you could get the feeling of breathing in since your body perceives the change in facial muscles. The other simple check was reading printed text, and that, in dreams, often changes from one reading to another, the investigators stated.
The two other techniques were known as "wake back to bed" and"mnemonic induction of lucid dreams" (MILD). Both strategies involve waking up for a few minutes after 5 hours of sleep before heading back to bed, however, the MILD technique also involves repeating the phrase,"Next time I'm dreaming, I will remember that I'm dreaming," before falling back to sleep.
At the start of the study, the participants listed the number of lucid dreams they had over the span of a week. Subsequently, for the next week, the participants were randomly assigned to one of the 3 groups: reality check, reality check and wake back to bed, and reality check and wake back to bed plus MILD. The participants listed the amount of lucid dreams they had.
The researchers discovered that when all 3 techniques were used (the third group), individuals could remember more lucid dreams after fourteen days than people who had completed just a couple of the techniques. The team that tried all three methods reported having a lucid dream 17 percent of the time. And falling asleep within five minutes of practicing the MILD approach bumped the success rate up to approximately 46 percent compared to people who tried this technique but took longer to fall asleep. Reality tests alone, however, weren't connected with a greater rate of lucid dreams.
"Inception" fans should not necessarily throw their collectible tops. Aspy states that additional research that ran as long as three weeks found greater success with reality checks. Maybe this technique was not as effective in the new study because the participants did not have sufficient time to develop the habit to the point they would think to try it dreaming, Aspy explained.
Dr. Rafael Pelayo, a sleep medicine specialist at Stanford University who wasn't involved in the study, stated that "it's nice that there's actual research" of lucid dreaming today.
Pelayo noted that lucid dreaming did not appear to be connected to a decrease in sleep quality, but this may be an area for future study. Some brain-scan research have implied that when a individual is undergoing a lucid dream, the brain is in a kind of hybrid sleep-awake condition instead of fully asleep, he explained.
In the future, the researchers expect to study practical applications for lucid dreaming, although these are still mostly speculative, Aspy said. Some research, for instance, indicates that lucid dreaming may be utilized to practice crafts and hobbies, then see an improvement in waking life.
"We're touching on some things that are hard to know," Pelayo says. He believes it is unlikely, for example, that athletes may use lucid dreaming to efficiently practice their game, but he's also interested in seeing what future study reveals down the road. It is likely that one day, individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder may use lucid dreaming to help prevent nightmares, '' he explained. However, to study these applications,"the first step is teaching people to reliably do lucid dreaming, and that's what this paper offered," he added.
"Lucid dreaming has been around for a long time," Pelayo said. "There are online communities around it, people buying supplements online, so adding some science can only be helpful. I think it's long overdue."