By David L. Kahn © 2012
In June of this year I presented on smart phone apps for dreaming at the International Association for the Study of Dreams conference in Berkeley, California. Many of the apps that I discussed, and a couple of others I have tried out since, are specifically intended to help increase lucid dream frequency.
Binary beats are one popular form of lucid dreaming app. The purpose of binary beats is to alter brain waves by inducing states of relaxation or meditation. In general terms, the apps with binary beats play a tone in one ear at a slightly different frequency than a tone played in the other ear. On February 24, 2012, Ryan Hurd published an article on his website, dreamstudies.org, titled Binaural Beats for Lucid Dreaming: Is it just Pseudoscience?
As Ryan explains in his article, binaural beats are an imaginary sound perceived by the brain when two sounds with slightly different frequencies are heard in each ear. He provides an example of hearing a tone at 100Hz in one ear and 110Hz in the other ear, whereby the brain recreates these tones in the brain stem at 105Hz with a rising and falling amplitude of 10Hz. The difference between the two would be heard as a 10Hz beat, though “that beat doesn’t exist anywhere except inside your head.”
In addition to the binary beats these apps offer a choice of sounds including music, rain, waves or white noise to further increase relaxation. Though there has been some evidence that binaural beats can have some affect on consciousness, I have not found specific results or user feedback indicating that lucid dreams were actually produced as a result. The costs of these apps range from free to only a few dollars, so the relaxation benefits alone may be worth the experimenting. In my personal experience with these apps, I did find several to be useful for insomnia or for meditation, but I did not have any lucid dreams while using them.
Hypnosis apps are another popular download for smart phones. There are many available to help aid with sleep and at least some specific to lucid dream induction. These apps work in a similar way to how hypnosis CDs or tapes have been used in the past, whereby it is mainly an audio of a guided hypnosis induction.
What apps do differently is that they allow additional options including short or long inductions, various background sound options, and whether or not to conclude the audio by inducing sleep or waking the user up. My personal experience with hypnosis apps has been interesting. I have tested one out approximately ten times and twice had lucid dreams in the nights in which I used it.
I also had nightmares in two of the nights in which I used the app. Some content from the audio induction also made its way into my dream, particularly a staircase that I was to imagine walking down to go into a deeper state.
A third type of smart phone app for lucid dreaming is one in which the app attempts to signal the dreamer while the dream is still in process. This concept is similar to what Stephen LaBerge and his team came up with in the 1980’s and eventually launched as the NovaDreamer. The NovaDreamer worked by signaling the dreamer with flashing lights during REM state.
Some smart phone apps use random or mathematical timing to determine when to signal the dreamer, while others attempt to determine when the dreamer is in REM by using the phone’s internal sensors. In the case of using the phone’s sensors, the phone is placed on the bed near the dreamer and calibrates to determine the user’s sleeping patterns.
It doesn’t sound like it would be very accurate, but I have found that the app’s signal has often indeed awakened me from a dream. The signals are often audio with options ranging from a voice that lets you know that you are dreaming, various other sounds that can be used as a cue, or the ability to record your own voice with a custom cue.
These sounds can be combined with daytime reality checks to further help recognize when you are in a dream. For example, you may choose for the app to make the sound of a motorcycle when it believes you are in REM sleep. By doing reality checks during the day each time you hear a motorcycle, you may find yourself doing the same when you hear that sound while dreaming.
Some apps also use light signals, though I have yet to try one that includes a sleep mask. Though I have not had a lucid dream yet as a result of these apps, with proper calibration and practice I feel good about their potential. One night while using one of these apps I dreamed of being in the future, where everything was connected together and able to recharge as a result of the world being a giant shared power grid, and where our ability to fly was a hybrid of our own abilities and the machines we connected to. It felt as though I was in training with these apps even inside the dream state.