A medicine to control your dreams

A text from Renaud Manuguerra-Gagné

Dreams are a particularly mysterious world. Whether they are banal, beautiful or frightening, they usually remain random, depending on the mood in our subconscious mind.

However, some privileged people may experience so-called lucid dreams, a condition in which the dreamer can exercise full control over the fictional universe that surrounds him. It is possible to live a lucid dream once in your life. Although it is also possible to be conditioned more often, the current training techniques are not available to everyone.

Many scientists are trying to find a more accessible path, where a simple pill at bedtime can control our dreams. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States think they have found the answer. These have shown that a drug that is normally used to treat Alzheimer's disease can promote lucid dreams.

The science of dreams

During a night's sleep we go through four different phases of activity in the brain, which are repeated in a loop about every 90 minutes. The person who is important for dreams is REM sleep. During this period the brain is just as active as during a watch moment, except that no signal leaves the brain to the rest of the body.

Science knows less about the functions of dreams. Among the possibilities are the consolidation of memory, the elimination of certain connections of the brain to help its functioning, the solution of recently proven problems or simply psychological relaxation.

The only certainty is that strange things happen, positive or negative, and especially that dreams seem real to us as we live them. Being able to control their content as in a lucid dream can make it impossible to live in the real world.

Choose the blue pill

Previous studies have shown that lucid dreams occur more frequently during a period of high activity in the prefrontal cortex, the seat of consciousness.

The researchers turned to a drug, galantamine, that stimulates the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in learning and memory and is important for this part of the brain. They recruited 121 people and instructed them after eight days of training to take three tablets, one per night, with galantamine (4 mg or 8 mg) or placebo.

People had to combine the medication with lucid dream techniques. Under these techniques: interrupt your sleep in the middle of the night, then fall asleep again, or, for those who are capable, learn to recognize unusual elements in their dreams to realize that they are not in reality.

Eventually, 42% of participants reported having lucid dreams on nights with high doses, followed by 27% on evenings with low doses, while 14% had placebo. Moreover, those who had taken the maximum dose claimed that their dreams were much more real and etched in their memory than other groups.

Although the prospect of converting sleep nights into a virtual reality session is interesting, the authors of the study point out that their results have been reported by the guinea pigs themselves. The results can therefore vary depending on the memories of the participants.

This discovery could make the study of the phenomenon even simpler and even help in the long term in the treatment of people suffering from post-traumatic stress or recurrent nightmares.

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