Lucid dreaming blurs the line between the dream world and real life. With so much excitement and misinformation surrounding it, you could be forgiven for not knowing exactly what lucid dreaming is. Charlie Morley, an author on lucid dreaming who runs lucid dreaming workshops discusses what lucid dreaming is and how you can trigger a lucid dream yourself.
What is a lucid dream?
Lucid dreaming, also referred to as ‘conscious dreaming’, is the practice of becoming conscious within your dreams. A lucid dream is one in which you realise you’re dreaming and can still remain asleep. Once you become conscious within a dream, you can then interact with it and direct it at will, communicating directly with your unconscious. These are often particularly vivid dreams that you can remember the following day. According to research, more than 50% of the population has had at least one lucid dream in their lives.
What happens when you lucid dream?
Scientific research shows that lucid dreams occur in the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, which is one of the deepest stages of sleep. The Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry discovered that during lucid dreaming, part of the brain reactivates allowing you to experience the dream state consciously with self-reflective awareness. Therefore, despite common belief, you’re not half awake while lucid dreaming. You’re completely out for the count, except for the part of your brain that has become reactivated.
Why would we want to dream lucidly?
As MBCBT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) has shown us, many psychological problems have their source in the fact that we don’t know ourselves very well. Through lucid dreaming we get to become more mindfully aware. Neuroscientists from the Max Planck Institute conducted scientific research where they compared brain structures of frequent lucid dreamers to those who rarely have lucid dreams. They found that the area of the brain which controls conscious cognitive processes is larger in lucid dreamers. This means those who experience lucid dreams have higher capability for self-reflection. With a third of our lives spent asleep, self-reflection is a great way to spend some of that time.
Other benefits can include psychological healing, such as treatment for PTSD. People can also have a conversation with lost relatives through a lucid dream which can provide some comfort. Also, lucid dreams can help with creativity, by pulling inspiration from dreams into waking life.
Is it dangerous to lucid dream?
Lucid dreams are completely safe, and no one has reportedly died from lucid dreaming. However, there are a few negative side effects that can occur when you experience lucid dreams. For example, lucid dreams can initially be scary if you’re unsure what is or isn’t real, however after a reality check and the realisation that you are dreaming, you are able to have more fun with it.
While lucid dreams are possible, lucid nightmares are also possible. During these episodes, your nightmare will feel particularly real and even more frightening. However, if you’re aware you are dreaming it’s a little less daunting than a regular nightmare and you may even be able to change the topic of your dream.
Another negative and common side effect of lucid dreaming is sleep paralysis. This is a condition which also happens in REM sleep, and it is where your mind wakes up while your body is still asleep, causing you to be temporarily paralysed. This is similar to lucid dreaming as your mind is consciously aware in both states. Although sleep paralysis is scary it is not in any way dangerous and will quickly pass. Some even say it’s possible to transform sleep paralysis into lucid dreams by focusing your awareness on re-entering a dream space.
How to lucid dream
It’s tricky to train yourself to have lucid dreams and a lot of the time these dreams occur by chance. However, there are a few techniques you can employ to help you with inducing lucid dreams.
Reality checks will help familiarise you with what is real and what isn’t. A study conducted by Dr. Aspy describes ‘reality testing’ as verifying whether you are in real life or a dream. You can do this throughout the day, for example if you ask yourself ‘am I dreaming right now?’ you are more likely to ask yourself that question during the night.
Another technique Aspy describes is ‘waking back to bed’, this involves setting an alarm to wake you up roughly 5 hours after you fall asleep. After being awake for a while, you are more likely to fall immediately into REM sleep, increasing your chance to experience lucid dreams.
Finally, you can train yourself to recognise the content of your dreams to alert your consciousness the next time you are dreaming. Start by keeping a dream journal and writing down any dreams you can remember. Then you can familiarise yourself with their content start spotting patterns. For example, once you notice that you often dream of being back at school, you can set a trigger in your mind telling yourself that the next time you’re back at school, you know you’re dreaming.
Those are just a few tips to get you started but if you really want to learn then how then check out Charlie’s book Lucid Dreaming: A Beginners Guide To Becoming Conscious In Your Dreams to teach yourself how.