Wide Awake and Dreaming – Using Lucid Dreaming to Problem Solve

Recent studies indicate that we can not only manipulate our dreams in a way that goes far beyond sci-fi stories like Inception but we can use our dreams for insight and problems solving as well.

Many of us have experienced what is known as ‘lucid’ dreaming. We become aware we are dreaming within the dream and at that point interact with it – becoming active participants instead of observers. We may tell people we encounter in the dream we know we are dreaming. Or else we may make decisions in the dream as to where we will go or what we will do next. In the film Inception Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team use a combination of drugs and psychological profiling to trigger specific dreams in people which they enter in order to gain information. While nobody yet can enter anybody’s dreamscape, new research points to the fact we can not only design our dreams to order, but use them to access information and problem solve.

Perhaps the most famous example of this in the scientific community is that of German theoretical chemist August Kekule. Searching for the structure of benzene he realized that the atoms did not line up side-by-side as in other molecules. However, it was only when he dreamed of a snake eating its own tail that he came up with the answer – that the atoms were arranged in a circle.

Deirdre Barrett, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of the book The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists and Athletes Use Dreams for Creative Problem-Solving – and How Your Can Too, has proved that much like the Dom Cobb character in Inception – we can control what we dream. She tells us that if you want to solve a specific problem – first of all think about it before you go to bed. If it lends itself to an image, hold that image in your mind like you do when visualising and let it be the last thing in your mind before falling asleep. If you want to take it one step further, put something next to your bed that visually represents the problem. If you’re looking to solve a problem with a person then try to have a photo of them. If you’re a creative person and blocked then this could be a blank canvas or sheet or paper. If it’s a technical or scientific problem then make it plans or notes.

Dr. Barrett recommends that we don’t immediately jump out of bed when we wake up as we can lose the dream content. If you don’t recall the dream immediately see if you feel a particular emotion. By latching on to this often the whole dream will come flooding back! In a weeklong study 50% of people dreamed of their problems and a fourth solved them via their dreams!

In the 1970’s psycho-physiologist Stephen LaBerge ran a series of experiments at Stamford University which demonstrated the reality of lucid dreaming. He discovered that events that take place in lucid dreams unfold in the same time as they would in real life – contrary to the premise in Inception where dream time was compressed.

Want to dream more lucidly tonight? Dr. LaBerge has the following tips:

Think about dreaming while you are awake.

Keep asking yourself, “Is this a dream?” and also watch out for the unusual. If you’re flying or shoe shopping with Lady Gaga – you’re probably dreaming.

Watch out for text or writing of any kind. In dreams written words will appear different every time you try to read them.

He also recommends a technique called mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD). Wake up an hour earlier than usual and recall your last dream. Before going back to sleep think: “The next time I dream, I want to remember I’m dreaming.” Lucid dreams occur most often in the morning just before awakening.

The Buddhists believe life is a dream – we shuttle from one dream to the next. We merely need to wake up and realise we are dreaming.