Lucid dreaming is a phenomenon that has been well documented over the past centuries. It’s a term that is used to describe the act of dreaming while being aware that you’re dreaming. In other words, dreams that feel real. In some instances the dreamer can even control the dream to some degree in order to determine its outcome or influence what takes place within the dream.
According to Edward Bixler of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, who is a professor of psychology specializing in electrophysiology of sleep and sleep disorders, lucid dreams are what happens “when a person recognizes he or she is dreaming while in a dreaming state and often manipulates the events within the dream.” This is far from remembering those oh-so-elusive details of dreams after you’ve awakened in the morning.
I once stayed in a hotel/art installation called the Propeller City Island Lodge in Berlin. Its whole purpose is to experiment with sensory distortion—to use furniture and space to confuse, befuddle and delight with floating beds, strange mirrors, and optical tricks to create a warped sense of space. The way I felt in those spaces was strangely akin to the way I feel after an all-nighter: disoriented, amused, slightly afraid, and more than slightly uncomfortable.
Ever since I was a kid I loved the idea of sleep learning: that you could put on headphones when you went to sleep and have conversational French when you woke up. I even tried it in college when, depressed by my mounting student loan debt, I decided I was going to go for a 4.0. All I got for my trouble was a few restless nights and a headache. Today, science can’t promise you passive language learning, but there may be some hope for the lazy learners among us. A new study published in Nature demonstrates a fascinating phenomenon: sleep conditioning, a la Pavlov. Here’s how it works.