Under the Hood

Lucid Dreaming Solves Mystery Of Whether Our Brains Go Into Slow Motion When We Sleep

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Do we dream in real time or slow motion? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Everyone has woken up in a panic after falling asleep for what they think is an hour but actually turns out to be only five minutes. So what’s the explanation for this common experience? Are we really just so delirious from sleep that we lose all sense of time, or are our dreams actually in slow motion? A recent experiment on the sleeping mind of lucid dreams may have the answer.

A lucid dream is a dream where you’re aware that you’re dreaming. I know this sounds very much like the plot of Inception, but in actuality it is a real occurrence that has been recognized since man first started recording his thoughts. For example, it’s reported on The Lucid Dream Site that the philosopher Aristotle was the first to write about lucid dreaming, although he didn’t quite have a term to describe the experience. However, it’s arguable that this practice has been used by Tibetan Buddhists for even longer.

In a recent experiment from the University of Bern in Switzerland, a team of scientists invited skilled lucid dreamers to sleep in a specially equipped sleep lab. The purpose of the study was to find out how time passes while we sleep, so the dreamers were asked to perform various kinds of tasks in their dreams. This included walking 10 paces, counting to 30, or performing an elaborate gymnastic routine, the BBC reported.The scientists timed the time it took for the dreamers to complete each task by measuring the dreamers’ eye movements. (The dreamers were asked to roll their eyes in a certain direction to signal that the task had been completed.) The researchers also monitored brain activity and muscle movement in an effort to ensure that the dreamers were actually dreaming and not simply pretending.Results showed that dreamers took up to 50 percent longer to complete their tasks while sleeping as compared to how long it might take in real life. This delay was completely unknown to the dreamers and lead researcher

Dr. Daniel Erlacher explained: “They reported that it felt exactly the same as in wakefulness.”

The time delay phenomenon was observed, but the scientists are unable to figure out its function. One theory is that it just takes longer to process information when you're asleep than when you're awake.Although the study is still in its beginning stages, the team hopes that their results could one day help us to get extra practice when asleep. Erlacher is particularly interested in helping athletes improve their skills.

“Of course, there are limits — you can’t improve endurance,” Erlacher told the BBC. “But if you have [a] good simulator in [your] brain already, [you] can use it to enhance and stabilize the techniques. I see it as a lot of potential for disciplines with a high technical level.”

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