In recent years, self-induced lucid dreams have increased in popularity.
The most common motivations for generating lucid dreams are to fulfill wishes, overcome anxieties, and heal.
Research has also shown a relationship between lucid dreaming and overcoming the anxiety and suffering associated with nightmares.
What is a Lucid Dream?
The formal definition of lucid dreams from the American Psychological Association is, “When a sleeper is aware that he or she is dreaming and may be able to influence the progress of the dream narrative.”
The phrase lucid dream was created by Dutch author and psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in his 1913 work A Study of Dreams. However, reports of dreamers being aware that they are dreaming precede the publication.
The dreamer may acquire some influence over the dream characters, storyline, or surroundings during a lucid dream; but this is not required for a dream to be classified as lucid.
There are two main types and techniques of lucid dreaming:
- Dream Initiated Lucid Dream or DILD – When you usually dream and realize it is a dream while dreaming.
- Wake Initiated Lucid Dreaming or WILD – When you purposely set out to have a ludic dream from a waking state.
Research has indicated that most lucid dreams occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
REM sleep is the fourth and final stage of a typical sleep cycle; the first three phases are non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Nowadays, the prevailing opinion among academics is that lucid dreams arise from non-lucid dreams during the REM sleep state. This leads researchers to believe that lucid dreams are just another feature of dreaming that can potentially be purposely induced.
The dreamer’s capacity to be aware that they are dreaming is essential to both the ancient Indian Hindu practice of Yoga Nidra and the Tibetan Buddhist practice of dream Yoga. It was standard practice among early Buddhists to cultivate such awareness.
What are the Benefits of Lucid Dreaming?
Many researchers in different fields have performed studies showing potential benefits and risks associated with lucid dreaming.
The list of potential benefits :
- Better motor skills
- Enhancing your spiritual growth
- Improved problem-solving techniques
- Less anxiety
- More creativity
- Resolving reoccurring nightmares
Psychological research has shown how this form of dreaming may be utilized as a form of sleep therapy.
It has been proposed that people who suffer from nightmares may benefit from recognizing that they are dreaming.
A 2006 pilot research found that lucid dreaming therapy treatment was effective in lowering nightmare frequency. Though the treatment was reported to be beneficial, it was unclear which parts of the treatment were responsible for ending the recurrence of the nightmares.
Dangers of Lucid Dreaming
While there have been some documented benefits of having a lucid dream or initiating a lucid dream, there are also some potential dangers.
For people who have never experienced a lucid dream, they may feel confused and scared when they encounter one for the first time. A wide range of emotions could be felt as they go through an entirely new psychological experience.
Some of the potential unwanted symptoms from lucid dreaming could be:
- Confusion and hallucinations
- Poor Sleep Quality
Sleep paralysis is often confused with lucid dreaming, but though they may appear identical on the outside, there are a few key differences between them.
A person who has sleep paralysis will find themselves partially awaken in REM atonia, which is partially paralyzed and unable to move their limbs. In addition, people who suffer from this condition often hallucinate.
The main difference between sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming is that you have no control over what you see or do while stuck in sleep paralysis.
How Can I Practice Lucid Dreaming?
Research has shown that a person can purposely induce a lucid dream with repeated practice and dedication.
For a dream to be able to be defined as lucid, it should meet the following conditions:
- Being aware that you are dreaming
- Being able to make decisions in the dream
- Being able to access your memories
- Being aware of yourself and your body in the dream
- Being aware of the environment surrounding you in the dream
- Being aware that you are concentrating and focusing on the dream
- Being aware of what the dream might mean
The following methods can be used to try and induce a lucid dream:
- The MILD technique or Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams – With this method, you set the alarm to wake yourself up after 5 hours of sleep. Once you wake up, remind yourself that you’re dreaming and go back to sleep.
- The WBTB technique or Wake Back to Bed – This method is similar to the MILD method, but instead of going right back to sleep after waking up the first time, you stay awake for about 30 to 120 minutes before returning to sleep.
- The WILD technique or Wake Initiated Lucid Dreams – This method involves you laying down until you have a hypnagogic hallucination.
- Use a lucid dreaming device – There are numerous devices on the market today that claim to help induce a lucid dream through the form of sleep masks or headbands that produce noises, flashing lights, vibrations, and other auditory, visual, and tactile stimuli.
- Medicinal Herbs and Drugs – Sacred plants like Ayahuasca and drugs like LSD can alter the chemicals in your brain, making it easier to achieve a lucid-like dream state.
- Meditation – Practicing deep meditation laying down with binaural beats can prime your mind to enter easier into a lucid dream state.
- Supplements – Galantamine is a natural supplement that has been shown in studies to lengthen REM sleep in patients and help them with sleep recall. Patients who took part in this study were 5.8 times more likely to have a lucid dream than those who took a placebo.
When achieved, lucid dreaming can be a great tool to gain more control, a sense of spiritual well-being, and body awareness. It can also help with PTSD in terms of learning how to take control of reoccurring nightmares.
However, lucid dreaming can come with added risks, especially if you already suffer from profound mental disorders.
Suppose having control over your dreams sounds exciting, but you are hesitant to enter lucid dream territory. In that case, you can always start by keeping a dream diary that will teach you how to recall better your regular dreams, which can bring some of the same benefits as lucid dreaming.