Lucid Dreaming goes way back. From Tibetan monks practicing dream yoga in ancient Asia to greek philosophers like the famous Aristotle...
'often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream'
As far as we know, the very first documentation of lucid dreaming originates from the east, coming from The Upanishads. These are ancient texts containing central philosophical concepts and ideas of Hinduism.
The scientific study of dreams is called oneirology. One of the first mentions of lucid dreaming in this field was by Marie-Jean-Léon Lecoq. In 1867 the Frenchman publicized a book called 'Les rêves et les moyens de les diriger; observations pratiques' which translates to 'Dreams and the Ways to Direct Them: Practical Observations'.
D'Hervey, who started writing down his dreams from the age of 13, talked in this book about dreams in which the 'dreamer is perfectly aware he is dreaming'. He also proposed a framework and techniques on how to control your dreams.
The term lucid dream didn't existed until 1913. In that year the Dutchman Frederik van Eeden coined it in the book 'A study of dreams', in which he wrote:
"The seventh type of dreams, which I call lucid dreams, seems to me the most interesting and worthy of the most careful observation and study. Of this type I experienced and wrote down 352 cases in the period between January 20, 1898, and December 26, 1912."
- Frederik van Eeden
The field of oneirology was pretty quiet, until 1952. It was that year at the University of Chicago that one of the most important discoveries in sleep research was made. Eugene Aserinksy, a graduate student, together with Professor Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that sleep isn't a single continuous state. It is divisible into two separate states: REM and NREM. After this discovery the field of oneirology gained a lot of momentum.
The first scientific evidence of lucid dreams
All this time there was no scientific evidence of lucid dreaming. Until the year 1975. It was the 12th of April at about 8am in the morning when Dr Keith Hearne scientifically proved the phenomenon called lucid dreaming! A major milestone. Let's take a look at how he did it.
Dr Hearne conducted the experiment with a male subject, who had a lot of experience and was a frequent lucid dreamer. Now to understand this experiment, it is important to know a bit how we dream. When we sleep we go through different phases. The one in which we dream is called REM sleep. REM is an abbreviation for Rapid Eye Movement. Like the word says your eyes will move in a rapid fashion.
Now this is important to know, because Dr Hearne used this eye movement to proof people are really in control when they have a lucid dream. The experienced subject was instructed, when he became lucid in his dream, to make seven left-right-left eye movements. The subject was then connected to a sensitive multi-channel chart recorder, to record his eye movement.
It was just before 8 am in the morning. The subject had been in a REM state for half an hour. It was at that moment that 7 large zig-zag movements appeared on the two channels monitoring the eye movement. It happened! A defining moment in history for lucid dreaming. If you happen to be in London, drop by the Science Museum. Here you can find the original chart containing the 7 zig-zag signals, which is on permanent display.
Stephen LaBerge, another pioneer in lucid dream research, used a similar process of proving the existence of lucid dreams. It was the year 1980 when he was the first to publish peer-reviewed proof. This gave other researchers the fundament to study lucid dreaming further in a non-subjective way. After that the research for lucid dreaming really took off.
Did you enjoyed this article? Make sure to subscribe to the newsletter to receive the latest articles straight in your inbox :)