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Learn more about a phenomenon known as lucid dreaming, mechanisms, benefits, risks, and strategies to induce lucid dreaming, and train your mind to recognize reality and the conscious mind while in a lucid state.
Lucid dreams are dreams in which individuals are aware of their consciousness as they dream when asleep. They know the events in the dreams are not happening, but the dream still feels real.
During lucid dreaming, individuals can even gain some control over the narrative, environment and characters in their dreams, and later they realize it was only a dream.
Experiencing lucid dreams frequently is uncommon. However, approximately half of all individuals have at least one lucid dream.
Paul Tholey, a famous psychologist, laid down seven conditions required for a dream to be classified as lucid. The conditions include self-awareness of orientation (dream state), awareness of self, memory function, decision-making capacity, dream environment, meaning of the dreams and focus.
Researchers have been interested in lucid dreams for many years, seeking to understand the causes and purpose of lucid dreaming and ways of inducing lucid dreams.
Lucid dreaming occurs most commonly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, characterized by deep sleep, greater brain activity, faster breathing and eye motion.
Individuals enter rapid eye movement and sleep approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep, usually lasting about ten minutes. Each REM sleep period is longer than the previous one.
Frequent lucid dreaming is linked to increased activity and functional connectivity between the temporoparietal association areas and the prefrontal cortex. Studies demonstrate that the anterior prefrontal cortex is larger in individuals with more frequent lucid dreams.
Individuals also experience higher heart rates and higher respiration during lucid dreaming than non-lucid dreaming.
Studies show that lucid dreaming can have several therapeutic benefits for individuals, including lower anxiety, improved problem-solving, motor skills and creativity.
Although scientific research focuses on anxiety induced by nightmares or PTSD, anecdotal evidence demonstrates that lucid dreams allow individuals to face and control their situations which helps them relieve anxiety.
While nightmares are common, recurring nightmares can lead to anxiety and stress in individuals.
Nightmares are associated with several mental health issues, including depression, sleep disorders like insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use, medication, anxiety and stress.
Lucid dreaming is shown to help nightmares by allowing individuals to control their dreams. When individuals know that the dream is not real, it will ease them to recognize that the nightmare is not real.
Lucid dreaming is often utilized in imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT), where a therapist helps individuals overcome the anxiety linked to nightmares by asking individuals to reimagine their nightmares with a pleasant and different storyline.
Combining IRT with cognitive behavioral therapy can give individuals greater control over their dreams.
Lucid dreaming can also help with physical rehabilitation and improve motor skills. For example, individuals’ physical ability to perform motor skills can be improved when they mentally perform them in dreams.
Lucid dreamers can also experience several risks/problems. These include confusion, sleep paralysis, REM sleep atonia and lower sleep quality.
Techniques that help induce lucid dreams, including MILD and WBTB, can wake individuals up in the middle of the night. Sleep interruptions can make it difficult for individuals to get adequate sleep and rest, disrupting their sleep schedule. This can especially affect those who already suffer from sleep-related disorders or have trouble sleeping.
Sleep disturbances due to lucid dreams can also cause individuals to experience derealization or the feeling that the things and individuals surrounding them in their environment are not real.
Vivid dreams make individuals wake up and make it more difficult for them to get back to sleep. Individuals might also not feel well if they are too focused on lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming can also result in sleep paralysis, which is the feeling of temporary loss of muscle function when the individual is asleep while still having consciousness. The paralysis can be brief but disturbing, and sleep issues, including irregular sleep schedules and inadequate sleep, can exacerbate the risk of sleep paralysis.
Depressive symptoms can increase in individuals due to sleep interruptions and distractions because of the different induction techniques.
Some research also suggests that lucid dreaming might negatively affect an individual’s mental well-being. Studies show that individuals with more intense lucid dreams experience greater symptoms of psychopathology.
Studies have found several ways of inducing lucid dreams. A simple method is for individuals to notice unusual details in their dreams to remind themselves that it is unreal.
Although further research is necessary to test the existing methods, researchers have found some methods, including reality testing, dream diary, drugs, devices, Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD) and wake back to bed (WBTB).
Reality testing or reality checks are mental training that enhances individual awareness and increases their metacognition. An individual’s level of metacognition is similar whether they are awake or asleep.
More reality checks and higher metacognition when an individual is awake lead to higher metacognition during lucid dreaming. The awareness is enhanced in the prefrontal cortex, which is important in lucid dreaming and metacognition.
There are several steps that individuals can use to conduct reality checks during lucid dreams. Firstly, individuals must ask themselves whether they are dreaming, checking their environment to confirm the same, and lastly, noticing how one engages with their surroundings and notices their consciousness.
Setting alarms can remind individuals to conduct reality checks every two to three hours. There are several common reality checks that individuals can use for lucid dreams. These include mirrors to check one’s reflection, checking one’s hands and breathing (whether they are normal) and checking the time.
It is recommended that individuals choose one reality check they can use several times a day. This will help induce lucid dreams by training an individual’s mind to repeat the daily checks during their dreams.
Keeping a dream diary or journal to write down and record lucid dreams is a helpful technique to initiate lucid dreaming.
When individuals write down their dreams, they must remember what happens during each dream. Recording dreams can help enhance individual awareness of their dreams, and it can help individuals recognize dream signs.
Logging one’s dreams as soon as one wakes up and reading an individual’s dream journal more often can help one experience lucid dreams more frequently and increase the ease with which an individual can induce lucid dreaming.
WBTB is when individuals are still conscious when they enter REM sleep. Several versions of this technique exist.
An example of this technique is when individuals set the alarm for a few hours after their bedtime, go to bed as usual, stay up for half an hour when the alarm goes off (during this time, engage in a quiet activity like reading) and then fall back asleep.
Following this strategy will help induce a lucid dream when individuals fall back asleep. Individuals must choose an activity requiring full alertness when they are awake.
The chance of lucid dreaming does not depend on the type of activity but rather the level of alertness.
The MILD technique was the first scientific method created by LaBerge in 1980 to induce lucid dreams. It is based on a behavior known as prospective memory, which involves an individual’s ability to activate their lucid dream state and remember future events.
Other ways to induce lucid dreams include devices such as masks or headbands that have lights or sounds that can help induce a lucid dream state.
Being in a lucid dream can often induce more anxiety and feelings of fear than necessary. Lucid dreaming can also cause unintended interruptions in sleep.
When these feelings arise, it is useful for the individual to know how to pull themselves out of sleep and of the lucid dream they may be experiencing.
There are several ways to wake up from a lucid dream, such as calling out for help in the actual lucid dream or blinking repeatedly. Lucid dreamers have shown that these are effective and quick ways to wake up from lucid dreams.
Research says yelling in lucid dreams or managing to speak out loud can tell an individual’s brain that it is time to wake up.
Blinking repeatedly is another strategy to help an individual prepare their mind to wake up from a lucid dream.
Lucid dreaming is a common phenomenon and occurs in many individuals. Although the exact benefits and risks of lucid dreaming are still under research, current lucid dream research shows that individuals can use strategies to help elicit lucid dreaming. Some common strategies individuals can use to lucid dreams include reality testing, maintaining a dream journal, MILD and WBTB.
The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from the use of the information provided.