Lucid dreams and solving problems during sleep

Scientific America Mind is fantastic in this 2 month edition.

It focuses on why solving problems in your sleep is possible. And not just a mystery, but to be expected.

It has to do with the idea that scientists are redefining sleep. They used to think it was when your brain simply turned off. Now they know it’s just a very different chemical state, but one that is almost as active on average as when awake.

The really cool part is that there are two particular parts of the brain that are less active when asleep. The first part is associated with determining whether a something is socially acceptable or not. The second part is associated with logic.

The argument is that these two parts being quieter allows your brain to think about problems without social implications or conventional logic. And in high level problem solving, thinking about ideas in weird ways can lead to surprising results.

The awake brain is incredibly good at recognizing patterns. But in problem solving this is actually a bad thing because your brain will always think about problems in similar ways. Sleep frees your mind from this pattern based thinking and allows more ‘outside the box’ thinking. And voila, you have the endless examples of scientists arriving at solutions in their sleep. A great example of this is the researcher trying to figure out the molecular structure of benzene. All other hydrocarbon structures before this were linear in structure. But in his dreams he imagined a snake having eaten a number of small rodents, with its tail in its mouth. And thus, the circular molecular structure of benzene was discovered.

And then there is the section on lucid dreaming and how to increase the chances you’ll lucid dream. Below are the abbreviated steps for both.

How to solve problems in sleep:
1. Write down your problem in a brief phrase – keep a pen and paper beside your bed
2. Review the problem before bed
3. Once in bed, visualize problem as concrete image
4. Tell yourself you want to dream about this problem
5. Lay quietly upon awakening and think if you’ve dreamed about the issue
6. At bedtime, picture yourself dreaming about the problem, awakening and writing the solution down

How to increase the chances of lucid dreams:
1. Throughout the day, stop and ask yourself if you’re dreaming or awake, then read something (this will get your mind in the habit of observing your state, reading things ensures you’re not dreaming because it’s notoriously hard to read anything in dreams)
2. Keep a dream journal and write dreams down as you awake
3. Imagine what you want to dream about as you’re falling asleep

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