Lucid dreaming is a type of dream in which you are aware that you are dreaming, hence are able to control the dream itself. For the vast majority of people, dreams are quickly forgotten once waking up and despite having 3 to 7 dreams a night, they are normally confusing and bizarre even when remembered. Therefore inducing lucid dreaming has become an insightful practise amongst people and over recent years has taken the interest of neurologists to try to located the part of the brain processing the lucid dream. However, how may one go about training themselves to lucid dream? This is fantastically described by the YouTub channel AsapSCIENCE.
Scientists in Germany state that the region of the brain which enables self-reflection is larger among lucid dreamers, as discovered by scanning the brain of people who dream normally to those who lucid dream frequently. The brain responsible for unlocking this ability has been identified from the results from the research and displayed that those who self-reflect daily and have metacognition (the more pronounced awareness of ones own thought process) can better control their dreams. To testify the correlation between metacognition and lucid dreaming, the volunteers undergoing the tests completed a questionnaire on their lucid dreaming and were then split into 3 groups of highly lucid, never and rarely lucid during dreams. Structural and functional MRI scans were performed to compare the volume of different regions of their brains. Highly lucid dreamers has larger anterior prefrontal cortexes (controls conscious cognitive processes and ability to self-reflect). MRI scans of the volunteers solving waking self awareness tests also revealed that lucid dreamers had more brain activity in their prefrontal cortex, suggesting a connection of both abilities. Now research is being placed into whether self awareness skills can be taught and to teach volunteers to lucid dream, then see if self-reflection improves as a result.
Continuing on the topic of sleep, these are further perfectly normal sleep phenomena that took my interest…
Sleep Paralysis is the frightening experience of waking up and being unable to move and speak. During the paralysis, some people may experience hallucinations in which you imagine monsters or threatening shadows, a crushing sensation where you feel as though you cannot breath and out-of-body experiences. REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep) stage produces the chemicals glycine and GABA causing muscle paralysis. The importance of muscle paralysis is to prevent ‘acting out’ the scenarios in our dreams. Essentially, during this paralysis, your mind and body are out of sync therefore event though the brain may be conscious, the body is still producing these chemicals. Sleep paralysis can occur more often if you fall asleep too quickly hence miss stages of non REM sleep (most common in teenagers), or if you are stressed or even fall asleep on your back.
Hypnagogic Jerk is the phenomenon where as you fall asleep, you suddenly feel a tripping or falling sensation causing you to suddenly jolt awake. This takes place because as you are falling asleep your muscles relax, this can sometimes be perceived by parts of the brain still aware that you are not supported thus must be falling. In response your brain sends a huge signal to all your muscles to twitch ergo waking you up. Unfortunately there is little understanding on what causes hypnic jerks, though its frequency and severity may be linked to factors, such as stress, anxiety, fatigue, caffeine and sleep deprivation.
Hypnopompic Hallucinations is the phenomena where you hallucinate upon entering or exiting sleep and tend to be very vivid. What makes these hallucinations different from dreams is that they tend to lack a story. What makes hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations different from dreams is that they tend to lack a story. Moreover the hallucinations may vary. People could experience a physical feeling, a smell, a sound, or quite frequently an image or sight. There are 3 main types of these hallucinations:
- Visual Hallucination: depending on the person, they can vary from simple shapes such as coloured circles, lines, dots, patterns or parts of objects which are constant or changing shape. Others see an animal or a person.
- Auditory hallucinations: can range form a a few sounds to a melody. Occasionally threats or criticisms are heard
- Elementary cenesthopathic feelings: occurs during the onset of sleep. Examples include rubbing, light touching and picking. It affects proprioception (knowing where your body parts are in space without having to look at them) therefore changes the location of body parts, for instance limbs. Others can also feel levitation or extracorporeal experiences (out-of-body).
In understanding sleep itself and most importantly naps, we must delve into the cycle of sleep of which there are 5 predominant stages. This again is described fantastically by AsapSCIENCE. I believe these diagrams best articulate stages of sleep and recommendations on power naps.