“Lucid dreaming is simply the act of knowing that you’re dreaming, whilst you’re dreaming,” says Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Though a lot of research is yet to provide conclusive results, studies suggest that lucid dreamers may have control over their dream environments. It’s like playing a video game- controlling the dream characters and experiencing our own dreams.
According to Walker, around 20-30% of the human population are lucid dreamers: people who claim that they can control aspects such as the location and people in their dreams. Other studies suggest that an individual’s ability to lucid dream depends on personal experiences and connections between different parts of the brain. Research also suggests that music helps induce lucid dreaming.
In 1839, Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, a Prussian physicist and meteorologist, conducted an experiment involving two tuning forks that were made to vibrate at different frequencies in front of a subject. He discovered that when a person listens to two different frequencies of sound, the brain will create a third frequency called the binaural beat. This led to the creation of special rhythmic beats for lucid dreaming, which put the brain in a "lucid" state - between complete wakefulness and sleep. It reportedly helps a person to sleep better, to relax and de-stress, and to increase mindfulness, focus and chances of lucid dreaming. In extreme cases, a person might find it difficult to distinguish between their dreams and reality, which can also mean that the person is suffering from some mental illness such as dream-reality confusion.
However, there has been much debate as to whether binaural beats indeed help induce lucid dreaming. Some lucid dreamers claim that the beats have no effect on the brain, while some claim otherwise. Do we think it has an effect simply because we expect it to? We might not know until we experience it for ourselves.
In an Oxford Union interview, American singer-songwriter John Mayer, said that songwriting is like lucid dreaming. “You have to be wise enough to know you’re in the dream to control it, but not too excited while controlling it to wake up”. This makes us wonder whether writing song lyrics can by itself be a form of lucid dreaming. There might be a lot more to the connection between music and lucid dreaming than we may have come to believe.
Only a small population on this planet are said to have experienced lucid dreaming. Why can’t other humans lucid dream as frequently? Is there a possibility that people who can lucid dream are a step closer to evolving further as a species? What happens in our subconscious that triggers such experiences? More research is required to give us these answers and unearth the relevance and applications of lucid dreaming in several fields. Nevertheless, it is wonderful how a physicist’s discovery in the late 1800s continues to fascinate curious human minds decades after the findings.