Gray Areas

Awareness; also known as thought monitoring. Thought monitoring is a process in which our brain realizes a relationship between our thoughts and emotions and translates it into what we know as “reality.” Thought monitoring can be attributed to something called “gray matter.” Gray matter is a part of the central nervous system that processes information and relates it to the sensory organs. In other words, the more gray matter a person has, the more aware he or she is during consciousness.

As I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed the other day, a science article jumped out at me. Since it was about lucid dreaming, naturally, I had to read it. In a recent study at Max Planck Institute for Human Development, researchers compared lucid dreamers to people that did not have lucid dreams on a regular basis. Results showed that the people with a higher lucidity had greater gray matter volume in their brains, meaning that lucid dreaming actually does increase a person’s metacognitive abilities. A lucid dream occurs when you become aware during a dream that you are, in fact, dreaming. Simply put, your body is in a sleep state, but your brain acts as it would if you were awake and could make conscious decisions. So in a sense, you are able to control every aspect of your dream. It is very rare that people are able to do this without practice. If you have ever dreamed lucidly without practicing any sort of meditation processes or recording activities like journaling, then it is highly unlikely you have experienced a lucid dream more than once or twice. Because the brain activity (or inactivity) that is involved in sleeping, it must be trained to gain this type of awareness. There was a discovery that this training eventually leads to an enhanced awareness overall, while awake and asleep.

In the same study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, it was discovered that people who are able to lucid dream regularly have overall better metacognition abilities (higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes) and a heightened awareness to his or her surroundings. It is strange to think that a simple dream can increase “awareness” during consciousness so, what defines lucid dreamers as “more aware?” Human awareness while awake can be defined through an enhanced ability to self-reflect. It has been proven that lucid dreamers have a larger anterior prefrontal cortex (which is an area that control conscious cognition and self-reflection) when compared to other people that are not able to control their dreams. Often times, these people that are more self-reflective than others tend to focus more on one’s goals, behavior, and general state of mind on a daily basis.

Before I knew the “behind the scenes” of lucid dreaming, I did not think to analyze my mental state during the day. I thought that lucid dreaming only involved brain processes that occurred during sleep. Ever since reading this article, I started recording and evaluating how I felt each day during consciousness. In the beginning, my lucid dreams only consisted of occurrances like realizing I was actually dreaming. Usually, I would notice that something was particularly strange and come to this realization. After several months of keeping dream journals and using reality checks (such as an object or a marker that indicates whether or not you are dreaming), my lucid dreams became a lot more vivid and easier to control. I compared how I felt after the initial dreams and how I felt after the more “controlled” dreams. Maybe it might be a bit of a stretch (or due to my tendencies to overanalyze), but after longer, more complex lucid dreams, I noticed that my ability to stay focused and productive throughout the day did, in fact, increase.

gray-matter

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