“All that we see or seem Is but a dream within a dream”
-A Dream Within A Dream/Edgar Allan Poe
What Exactly is Lucid Dreaming?
Have you ever….?
• Started dreaming and suddenly realized that you were in a dream?
• Managed to gain control over your dream narrative?
If your answer to either of these is “yes,” you have experienced what is called lucid dreaming.
A number of people are able to experience something called lucid dreaming, and some of them are even able to control certain elements of their nightly dreams. According to some research, around half of all people have had a lucid dream at some time in their lives, and around 11% experience one or two lucid dreams per month.
It is unclear how many people actually experience lucid dreaming, though certain studies have tried to gather information regarding its prevalence — and it seems that this phenomenon may be quite common.
Researchers in Brazil surveyed 3,427 participants with a average age of 25. The results of the survey indicated that 77% of the respondents had experienced lucid dreaming at least once.
Lucid Dreaming Defined
Usually when we dream, we do not know that the dream is not real. As a character from the movie Inception explains it,
“Well, dreams, they feel real while we’re in them, right? It’s only when we wake up that we realize that something was actually strange.”
However, some people are able to enter a dream and be fully aware of the fact that they are actually dreaming.
The first recorded incident of lucid dreaming appears to feature in the treatise On Dreams by the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, in which he describes an instance of self-awareness during a dream state.
When Does Lucid Dreaming Occur:
Like most dreams, lucid dreaming will usually occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. For some people it occurs spontaneously, but others train themselves to start dreaming lucidly.
The degree to which a person can influence their dream also varies; with some people may simply waking up immediately once they realise that they had been dreaming. On the other hand, some people may be able to influence their own actions within the dream, parts of the dream itself or, in the case of particularly traumatic dreams – change the outcome.
How Can Lucid Dreaming be Used:
Lucid dreaming is certainly an attractive and fascinating prospect; being able to explore our own inner worlds with full awareness that we are in a dream is intriguing and has an almost magical flavor to it.
Lucid dreaming may help people get rid of their nightmares and resolve their fears.
However, can lucid dreaming have any practical applications?
Dr. Denholm Aspy, a lucid dreaming expert at the University of Adelaide in Australia explains that lucid dreaming can be therapeutic. According to Dr. Aspy, its’ main application is to address nightmares — particularly recurring nightmares, which may affect a person’s quality of life.
The practice of learning to lucid dream to stop nightmares from occurring or recurring is called lucid dreaming therapy.
Lucid dreaming also has the potential to help people with phobias, such as a fear of flying or spiders.
If a person has a particular phobia their lucid dream environment provides an opportunity to do things like exposure therapy, (a gradual exposure to the thing feared, in an attempt to overcome that fear gradually. During lucid dreaming, an individual knows that they are not in the real world, so they may safely explore their fears without actually feeling threatened.
Enhanced Creativity with Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming can also serve as an unusual means of entertainment — similar to virtual activities. An experienced lucid dreamer might be able to “go on an adventure” and interact with people and things in ways they may not be able to in real life. Problem solving and the generating of new ideas can also take place during lucid dreaming.
Techniques for lucid dreaming
A 2017 study conducted by Dr. Aspy and colleagues conducted tested the efficacy of three common techniques.
1. The first is called “reality testing.” This may involve verifying whether or not you are dreaming both in real life and during a dream. For instance, throughout the day, a person may want to ask themselves, “Am I dreaming right now?” as they try to make their hand pass through a solid wall. This technique relies on intention. In real life, the wall will remain solid and impenetrable, but in a dream, the hand will easily pass through it.
2. Another technique is “waking back to bed.” This requires setting an alarm to wake oneself up around 5–6 hours after going to sleep.
Once awake, the person should aim to remain awake for a while before going back to sleep. This technique is supposed to immerse the sleeper immediately into REM, which is the phase of sleep during which they are most likely to experience a lucid dream.
3. Lucid dreaming may also occur through what is called mnemonic induction. This is another technique that requires intent and lots of practice. With mnemonic induction, a person must repeat to themselves — just before going to bed — a phrase such as, “Tonight, I will notice that I am dreaming,” so as to “program” themselves to achieve in-dream lucidity.
Conducting these experiments repeatedly throughout the day may make it easier to remember to conduct them during dreams, allowing the dreamer to gain awareness of the dream.
Dream journals and meditation
It also appears that those who find it easy to lucid dream have no problems in recalling their dreams on a regular basis. In general, the better you are at remembering your dreams generally, the more likely you will have lucid dreams.
People who are interested in exploring their dreams with full awareness may find it helpful to keep a dream journal to record their dreams in as much detail as they can remember.
Another practice that may aid lucid dreaming is meditation, or mindfulness, as it “trains” people to become more aware of themselves and their surroundings in general.
Concerns and risks
One concern that some people express about engaging in lucid dreaming, if they are able to achieve it, is that they may get “stuck” in a dream and find it more difficult to wake up. However, in general people are only able to sleep (and dream) for a set amount of time every night, so it is unlikely that anyone would get “stuck” sleeping.
Another concern some people have is that engaging in lucid dreaming requires focus and effort, which might mean that the sleeper does not get enough rest.
However, according to dream expert Dr. Aspy, lucid dreamers with whom he has worked in the past have not reported more tiredness or poorer sleep quality as a result of lucid dreaming. He does, nevertheless, warn aspiring lucid dreamers not to engage in lucid dreaming if they have certain mental health problems, e.g. schizophrenia (a condition which makes it difficult to distinguish hallucinations from reality). Lucid dreaming may actually worsen the condition.
Some researchers express concern that creating lucid dreams intentionally blurs the lines between dreaming and reality, and that this can have negative implications for one’s long-term mental health.
Additionally, lucid dream therapy has shown to be largely ineffective for some groups, such as people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some scientists call for more research into how it might affect certain vulnerable people, including those who experience dissociation.
Sources: Medical News Today; Sleep Foundation, The Conversation