Enhancing performance and learning in your sleep: Lucid dreaming

Rousseau was already practicing the flute in his dreams

It happens that when learning something new, whether a language, a concept or a sport skill you get to a point where you are exhausted, resignedand you just call it a day leaving with a hint of disappointment and the feeling you could have done more and better. Then you wake up in the morning and after a shy start expecting the worst, you find out it’s not so bad, if not better than before.

This is why the wise minted the concept of ‘Sleeping on a problem’. All sayings are, at least in part, always right and recent research confirms that sleep has a central role in the sorting of recently acquired information and the elaboration of clues collected during our day, a kind of off-line process necessary to learn. This is also true for motor skills and during sleep movement data is reorganized. It is fundamental for post-training consolidation, as a wake period after practice brought about no improvement in a new acquired motor sequence while an equivalent period of sleep did, according to data.

An old time fashion most of us have tried sooner or later in life is the dream of learning by just playing a tape while sleeping. It is curious that we desire so much to avoid trouble when we want to learn something new or we have a project in mind, while in reality it is actually the learning process itself which constitutes the higher feeling of accomplishment and arousal, but this is another story.

The ideal that in dreaming we are able to project a world that mirrors our own self without the need of any external clues from the ‘real’ world has always suggested us there is a higher mind state while dreaming, hence at such a level of brain mystic activation it shouldn’t be hard to pick up the whole history of WWII or Arabic just by listening to it. Maybe it works for you.

Every time I watch Inception I get excited and surf the net with the scope of ‘Lucid dreaming’. This is quite an interesting topic and I think that, drugs apart I dunno, is the closest mean of living the dream. Lucid dreaming is when you are in a dream and you are conscious of it, you know it is a dream and you are suddenly endowed with the superpowers of your wish and you can do everything. Although most people experienced it, it is normally not frequent but there are techniques to acquire this ability and believe me when it happens to you, you just want more. Living the dreamer’s world.

Lucid dreaming happens during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and studies on the brain found activation patterns similar to those of wake consciousness and self-awareness. Particularly, when lucid dreamers were instructed to perform certain sequences of movements such as right-left fist clenches while lucid dreaming, experimenters recorded actual electromyographic activity in the corresponding body parts. Activation of the motor cortex and heart rate increase were also found in some studies, suggesting that lucid dreaming might represent a simulation machine of the real world.

As many studies showed that mental rehearsal when awake generally enhances performance, an interesting question in the Sports Science world then is: could we use lucid dreaming for rehearsing sports skills while sleeping, with the aim of tweaking them?

Some studies were performed and in these trials subjects were able to improve their ability in specific skills, such as aiming tasks when these were rehearsed in a lucid night compared to sleep without lucid dreaming. Other studies claim to have improved sports specific technique and the lucid dreamers found no difficulty in reproducing the skill during the dream, in a vivid environment that includes kinaesthetic sensations and with ‘A far greater potential of control over body, environment and actions than waking life’ as pointed out by Erlacher and Chaplin.

One of the experimenters, Tholey, reports: “Not every single movement I do practice in my lucid dreams. In lucid dreams I rather work on my body feeling and the orientation in the three dimensional space. For example I do somersaults and feel every single muscle twitch in my dreamed body”.

To know whether these results are true or not we will have to wait for new research involving advanced imaging instruments. In the meanwhile these science fiction findings drive my imagination.

Could I use it to improve languages skills? Practice high jump without soreness? Simulating events not yet happened? Could working out in a dream develop physiological parameters such as strength or change phenotype aspects? Drive higher metabolism when sleeping?

Could sleep be a new frontier of performance enhancement? This might all be fantasy but lucid dreaming is so pleasant that really there’s no reason not to try.


Lucid dreaming How to – http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/09/21/how-to-lucid-dream/


Kalia 2006, Neurobiology of sleep
Hobson 2002, the cognitive neuroscience of sleep: neuronal systems, consciousness and learning.
Erlacher 2010, Lucid dreaming: neural virtual reality as a mechanism for performance enhancement.


About bodyhackonversation

Exercise philanthropist
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