Researchers at Stanford University are now developing software to help people become aware that they are having a dream so that they can then live out their fantasies during REM sleep.
Oneironauts, or lucid dreamers, are conscious when they are having a dream and can control how the dream develops. During lucid dreams, people are “awake” within their dreams, and can sometimes direct what happens next in the dream.
With enough practice you can fly, visit exotic places, experience vivid colors, or eat all the ice cream you want, all without taking your head off the pillow. Being awake during a dream may seem like a contradiction, but to those involved in lucid dream research, it’s all, well, crystal clear.
“Lucid dreaming lets you make use of the dream state that comes to you every night to have a stimulating reality,” said Dr. Stephen LaBerge, founder of the Lucidity Institute at Stanford University, a research lab that teaches people how to have a lucid dream. LaBerge said that controlling dreams can also have therapeutic value. Potentially, he said, people can overcome nightmares that haunt them repeatedly. It may even help a person improve in sports, enhance self-confidence or confront problems that elude being solved in waking life.
Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, a book co-authored by LaBerge and Howard Rheingold, is one of many books to help wannabe lucid dreamers get started. The Lucidity Institute offers a variety of tools for people set on taking charge of their subconscious life. The Institute’s SuperNovaDreamer kit includes a copy of LaBerge’s book, and the kit recommends reading a few chapters before getting started. The book asks that you learn to recognize “dreamsigns,” or signals within a dream that alert you to your altered state. One common dreamsign: elements within
your dream are out of context. Objects are not where they belong within a room, or certain people are in locations they normally wouldn’t be — how often do your parents drop in at the office?
The NovaDreamer includes a mask that tracks eye movement to recognize when you’re in REM as well as to determine the amount of time you take to get to sleep.
Depending on how you configure NovaDreamer (a determination made partially on the basis of how light or heavy a sleeper you are), the NovaDreamer flashes a series of red lights into your (hopefully closed) eyes, providing yet another signal that you are dreaming and can now do whatever you please in the dream.
LaBerge advises novice lucid dreamers to be patient, adding it can take as long as four months or more to regularly have lucid
dreams. LaBerge’s research indicates that when a person does something in their dreams, the experience may be closer to reality than you’d think.
Early experiments show that lucid dreamers have a good comprehension of time while dreaming. Researchers that asked lucid dreamers to move their eyes in a specific pattern, and then repeat the pattern 10 seconds later, found they did so in about the correct amount of time.