With their 1958 hit song "All I Have To Do Is Dream," whether they realized it or not, the Everly Brothers were actually singing about lucid dreaming. How else is one to interpret the song's conjuring themes of premeditated reverie?
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, were recently singing their own sweet ode to lucid dreaming, albeit to the tune of the scientific method.
Led by Dr. Michael Czisch, researchers were able to compare brain activity of lucid dreamers for the first time ever as they consciously entertained the same thoughts while sleeping and while awake.
Lucid dreamers are those who, besides being actively aware of their dream state while sleeping, can deliberately manipulate their dreams — a learned skill that is very useful in dream research.
"The main obstacle in studying specific dream content is that spontaneous dream activity cannot be experimentally controlled, as subjects typically cannot perform pre-decided mental actions during sleep," study researcher Michael Czisch said, according to LiveScience. "Employing the skill of lucid dreaming can help to overcome these obstacles."
For the study, six lucid dreamers were asked to sleep in a functional MRI machine so blood flow to regions of their brain could be monitored. Once asleep, the subjects were asked to confirm their lucid dream-state with a series of of eye movements. They were then asked to purposely "dream" that they were clenching their fists.
Researchers found that the subjects' brain activity during the lucid dreaming of this task was similar to their brain activity while performing the same task when awake. However, their brain activity during sleep was weaker.
The team, which also included scientists from the Charite hospital in Berlin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, also found increased activity in parts of the brain that play a vital role in the planning of movements.
“Our dreams are therefore not a ‘sleep cinema’ in which we merely observe an event passively, but involve activity in the regions of the brain that are relevant to the dream content,” explained Czisch in a news release.