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Do Reedies Dream of Electric Sheep?

Students learn the art of lucid dreaming at Paideia.

By Juan Flores ’13 | January 23, 2018

Psychology major Arek Rein-Jungwirth ’19 is strumming an acoustic guitar and cooing an original song that reminds you of Pete Seeger. It’s Thursday afternoon and about 30 students have gathered for his Paideia class on lucid dreaming. As he finishes, someone comments that the song deserves to be on a record.

“I chose that song because we’re talking about rhythms and motions” he says. “Does anyone want to repeat to me something they found interesting so far?”

Thirty minutes into Lucid Dreaming, Sleep Hygiene, and Dream Function, Arek has talked a lot about brain waves. It’s heady stuff. The different sections of our brains send waves back and forth like telegram terminals. The waves fall into several categories depending on frequency, and roughly correlate with different states of consciousness. Gamma rays are associated with a high-focus “flow state” and delta rays indicate sleep. Between them are beta (alert/working), alpha (relaxed/reflecting), and theta waves (drowsy/creative). These waves are also capable of nesting inside one another to send complex but complementary signals.

“Do you guys like this stuff,” asks Arek, “realizing that your brains are making harmonies?”

Some of these harmonies are the physical manifestation of lucid dreams. All it takes for someone in a dream to become lucid is a few gamma rays from the prefrontal cortex to join the thrum of sleep-inducing delta waves.

Achieving the conditions for a lucid dream can be tricky, however. In his book Are You Dreaming? Exploring Lucid Dreams, Daniel Love outlines the three pillars of lucid dreaming: timing, psychology, and brain chemistry.

To get the timing right for a lucid dream, you needs to be aware of your body’s ultradian rhythms. Every 90 minutes or so, our brains complete a cycle. When we sleep, the first three or four cycles are dominated by deep, dreamless sleep. With each cycle our brain completes, the amount of time dedicated to REM sleep is increased. Arek recommends waking up to meditate or read for about 30 minutes after six hours of sleep, then diving straight into the extended REM portion of sleep cycle number five. (The success of this method is dependent upon your ability to avoid blue light from screens, which interrupts the sleep cycle.)

Some people take acetyl choline supplements to promote lucidity and boost dopamine for increased memory and clarity. Arek also cites the benefits of elevated levels of melatonin and serotonin at the beginning of the night, and cautions that the effects of any REM inhibitors (such as THC) would need to wear off before prime dreaming hours.

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The second session of the class takes place the following afternoon. Today is dedicated to the various psychological methods at your disposal to induce a lucid dream and fulfill Love’s third pillar.

First, there’s the aforementioned Wake/Back-to-Bed Method: waking up briefly after a few sleep cycles to stimulate your pre-frontal cortex and jumpstart lucidity before going back to bed in time to catch the REM cycle.

From there, things go from MILD to WILD. A Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dream requires a person to perform reality checks throughout the day. Paired with lucid affirmations (“I will have a lucid dream tonight”), reality checks can snap a dreamer into lucidity when their results are dictated by dream logic. A Wake Induced Lucid Dream is actively constructed as the dreamer drifts off to sleep without disengaging the pre-frontal cortex.

“Lucid dreaming is really a lifestyle that involves lucid living as well,” Arek explains. It requires mindfulness and attention to the body’s natural harmonies. With that in mind, he encourages students to be more attuned to their ultradian rhythms during the day. When the brain is firing off focus-filled beta rays, prioritize tasks that require attention to detail and adoption of new ideas. When relaxing alpha rays begin to dominate, turn to creative tasks. Finally, recognize drowsy theta waves and give the brain plenty of opportunities to rest and regroup before the beta waves start crashing again.

Arek says he has been practicing since he was 16 and now has about one lucid dream a month. To newcomers, he says, “The fact that you’ve been considering these ideas means that they are more likely to integrate into your dream cycle… It could be tonight—keep your eyes open and pay attention!”

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