As drug side effects go, letting people control their dreams is certainly a whole lot better than nausea, constipation, or any of the usual things you might associate with the secondary effects of medication. That’s exactly what researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been exploring — by looking at an Alzheimer’s drug that turns out to also trigger lucid dreaming.
The drug in question is called galantamine and is normally used for the treatment of cognitive decline in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, along with assorted other memory impairments. But it transpires that it can also be paired with cognitive training techniques to promote lucid dreaming. This refers to dreams during which the dreamer knows that they are dreaming and can exhibit some measure of control. This is because galantamine can trigger rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the sleep phase during which dreams are most likely to take place.
The researchers in the study found that more than 40 percent of individuals could have a lucid dream in a single nap. This was the case even when the individuals had never had a lucid dream before in their entire lives.
“While more studies are needed, this finding has the potential to open lucid dreaming up to a wider population,” Benjamin Baird, a researcher on the project, told Digital Trends. “As lucid dreams spontaneously occur very infrequently for most people, what has been sought for a long time is a way to make lucid dreams more accessible, which would open this up as a new domain for exploration for all. Additionally, one of the major limiting factors for scientific research on lucid dreams has been their infrequency, so we hope that this could help to facilitate scientific research on lucid dreaming and consciousness in general.”
Going forward, Baird said that one future direction for the research will involve measuring the changes which occur in the brain with galantamine, in order to learn about how this effect occurs. “By comparing lucid to non-lucid dreams we might be able to achieve some new insights into the neurological underpinnings of the unique form of self-awareness possessed by humans,” he said.
A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal PLoS One.