Lucid dreaming has grown in popularity as a way for people to fulfil certain aspects of their lives, but what is it, what are the risks and can we learn to do it?
What is lucid dreaming?
Lucid dreaming is when a person is aware that they are dreaming and can control what happens in their dream whilst they are asleep. It’s gained appeal for obvious reasons — it gives people the ability to fulfil their wishes and even offers a chance to escape reality. The theory is, anything is possible in a lucid dream.
The Sleep Foundation reports that just over half (55%) of adults have experienced at least one lucid dream during their lifetime, with just under a quarter (23%) having them at least once a month.
Whilst some people might want to fly or dream of meeting their idol, lucid dreaming has the power to go far deeper than this. It can be an incredibly empowering experience — you can shape your story and how it ends, but it isn’t without risks.
What are the benefits of lucid dreaming?
Lucid dreaming can help us live out our fantasies but what more can it offer us?
The biggest perceived benefit of lucid dreaming is the ability of the dreamer to have their wishes met. Fulfilment will mean something different for everybody. Perhaps this means succeeding at trying something new, making peace with yourself or getting that job you longed for. Whatever it is that you want to achieve in life, lucid dreaming offers the chance to experience that.
Some studies suggest that lucid dreaming can help people overcome their fears, which are associated with nightmares. The Sleep Foundation notes that these types of dreams could reduce nightmares in people with PTSD or who have experienced trauma. Frontiers in Psychology recognise that lucid dreamers are able to identify that they are dreaming and control the outcome. This ability to think critically can help restore normal sleep.
Lucid dreaming has been thought to help lower anxiety and depression. By dictating how your story ends, you have the ability to feel more in control which can lower anxious thoughts or feelings of the unknown.
Improved motor skills
Research by the Journal of Sports Scientists found that people who practised simple motor skills during a lucid dream (like finger tapping) can improve their motor skills during wakefulness when compared with a control group.
Lucid dreaming has seen many discussions around its benefits for problem-solving. It’s believed that this is only really effective when it comes to problems that require a ‘creative’ solution (as opposed to a maths problem, for example).
This brings us to another benefit of lucid dreaming — increased creativity. Studies on those who had ludic dreams found that some people were able to come up with new ideas, using the help of characters in their dream.
Risks of lucid dreaming
Whilst lucid dreaming seems appealing, it’s important to acknowledge that it can come with risks and may not be suited to everybody. The Sleep Foundation outlines some of the concerns associated with lucid dreaming, including:
Risks to those who experience psychosis
Research suggests that the nature of lucid dreaming (which looks at you from an outside perspective) is similar to a state of dissociation. This is commonly experienced in people with psychosis as they perceive their dream to be reality. As lucid dreaming can blur the lines between fantasy and reality, it’s also not advised for people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder as it could exacerbate these experiences.
Studies have found that lucid dreaming uses elements of the brain that aren’t typically used during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This has led to more research into whether the brain being more “awake” during sleep may have an impact on the quality of your rest. We know that poor and insufficient sleep impacts mental health, so this is something to consider if you’re thinking about trying lucid dreaming. It’s worth noting, however, that people who had a positive lucid dream generally woke feeling more refreshed.
Whilst lucid dreams allow people to control how they play out, they may not always be pleasant. In some instances, they may be quite intense. This can cause people to wake up with night sweats, rapid breathing and/or an increased heart rate.
How can I lucid dream?
If you’d like to try lucid dreaming, there are some techniques that can be used to try to induce this:
- Create the right environment. Practice good sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking up and roughly the same time each night. Avoid going on your phone or watching TV at least an hour before bed and try to keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature. Keeping your room dark and quiet will also help.
- Try reality testing. This is a technique which differentiates between sleep and wakefulness. This helps people become self-aware and recognise if they are dreaming during the day. Ask yourself, "Am I dreaming?" By doing this throughout the day, you may be able to train your brain to acknowledge when you're having a lucid dream.
- Keep a dream journal. When you wake each morning, write down a record of your dreams. By detailing your dreams, your brain will be able to recognise when you’re dreaming which can help you slip into a lucid dream.
- Wake back to bed (WBTB). This involves setting an alarm five hours after you go to bed, waking up and staying up for half an hour doing a light activity like reading. When you fall back to sleep, you’re more likely to have a lucid dream.
How can I wake up from a lucid dream?
Sometimes you might want to wake up from a lucid dream. Here are some suggested ways to do this:
- Call out for help or speak out loud to wake yourself up.
- Repeated blinking can prepare your brain to wake you up.
- Falling asleep in your dream can help you wake up in real life.
It’s important to be aware of the risks of lucid dreaming but it can equally be a powerful thing. With that in mind, wishing you a restful night’s sleep. Where will your dreams take you?