Everyone has dreams—some are upsetting, and some are pleasant, and sometimes we remember them when we wake up, but frustratingly, sometimes we don’t. Since dreams can seem incredibly real to the dreamer, there has been a lot of research done to try and gain a greater understanding of what dreams are and what they could mean. Despite this, it is still not completely clear what dreams are. Some researchers hypothesize that dreams are the way in which our brains try to resolve problems or process emotions, or they could just be a mashup of a collection of memories, or they could just be entertainment for your brain when it isn’t being stimulated. But, these are just theories.
Scientists don’t know how or why dreams happen, but they do know when they happen, which is during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. When most people slip into this portion of sleep, they are usually stuck experiencing whatever dream their brain created on its own. Lucid dreams, however, are the exception to this.
What is Lucid Dreaming?
Although the word “lucid” means clear, a lucid dream is much more than just a clear dream. According to Wikipedia, a lucid dream is “a dream during which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming”, and the dreamer is therefore able to control and explore their dreams. It is like living out a movie that you wrote while you sleep, and anything is possible. Even though your body is still recharging and resting, your brain can explore amazing fantasies and discover the parts of your brain that normally go unused. The possibilities are limitless; in lucid dreams, there are none of the obstacles we realize in real life, so it is possible to fly into the sun, conquer fears, fight mythical beasts, be a superhero, travel anywhere, or do anything else you wish to experience.
Although anyone is capable of having a lucid dream and it isn’t difficult to do, it rarely happens without effort. Usually, people who wish to have lucid dreams must set their mind to it and spend time training their brains in order for it to occur. There is no luck and no specific level of intelligence needed, but studies have shown that there are certain personality types that can more easily have lucid dreams. For example, people who are naturally more open to new experiences will have an easier time achieving a lucid dream.
What are the Benefits and Risks of Lucid Dreaming?
As expected, the main reason people are drawn to lucid dreaming is the fact that it allows the dreamer to be able to do and experience things that are not possible in reality. But, there are several benefits beyond having fun.
Some individuals use lucid dreaming as a tool to improve their waking life by facing and conquering their fears and phobias, working through a dilemma they are facing, or rehearsing a situation that is coming up in their life. Lucid dreams can also be a safe place to experiment, overcome anxiety or nightmares, engage in self-reflection, meditate, and be inspired. In addition, lucid dreaming allows individuals to access their subconscious, or areas of their brain that are normally inaccessible. Plus, a lucid dream can actually help you interpret non-lucid dreams; for example, a dream in which you are flying could be your subconscious trying to tell you to flee from a toxic relationship.
Fortunately, there are minimal risks associated with lucid dreaming, provided that the dreamer is mentally stable. But, it is possible to experience side effects like sleep paralysis, dream claustrophobia, and upsetting feelings. Sleep paralysis occurs when an individual attempts to have a lucid dream, but instead gets caught in a state between sleeping and waking, which can produce feelings of being unable to move. Dream claustrophobia is a sensation in which the dreamer experiences difficulty in controlling the lucid dream and feels trapped within it.
Perhaps the most likely side effect of lucid dreaming is the dream can feel extremely realistic, so this can be great if the dream is positive, but if the content of the dream is upsetting, the dreamer will feel the full effects of those negative emotions. Luckily, lucid dreams are just that—dreams—so the downsides are alleviated by simply waking up.
How to Lucid Dream
There are a few common methods for having lucid dreams, and all of them share a similar goal: the dreamer has to be aware that he or she is dreaming. With this, the dreamer must be able to identify when they are encountering REM sleep. This can seem like a difficult task, but patience and practicing proper techniques over time will lead to lucid dreaming.
One method for lucid dreaming is called the “Wake Back to Bed” method, which basically involves waking yourself up to interrupt a dream, then concentrating on falling asleep and putting yourself back into the same dream. The dreamer would then be aware that they are dreaming, and they would have control over the dream, therefore making it a lucid dream.
Additionally, many people are able to achieve lucid dreams by following the steps/techniques outlined below, which are meant to train the brain over time to have lucid dreams.
- Become more aware of your waking consciousness. Be especially observant of your everyday life. As you go through your day, take note of everything that you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. Be aware of small details and features of objects and people you see, focus on your breathing, thoughts, and emotions, and reflect on all of it. All of this prepares you for lucid dreaming—being aware of your environment during the day is practice for being aware during your dreams.
- Keep a dream journal. Your journal can be a notebook that you keep near your bed, or it could be a collection of voice memos on you phone. Either way, use the journal to write down your dreams as soon as you wake up from them, even if it’s in the middle of the night. Journaling and recording your dreams will train your brain to remember and more importantly, be aware, of dreams.
- Perform frequent “reality checks”. Throughout the day, ask yourself if you are dreaming and test it. Try plugging your nose and mouth and check to see if you can still breathe. Examine your hands and feet to see if they appear clearly or if they seem distorted. Use your index finger and try to push it through the palm of your other hand. Although it may seem silly to do these exercises when you know you’re awake, they will become habit and your brain will start to perform these tests when you are dreaming, which will allow you to become aware of your own dreaming.
- Focus on dreaming as you fall asleep. As you lay down and close your eyes, repeat the fact that you will be dreaming in your head. This simple task promotes awareness as you fall asleep, therefore increasing your ability to recognize your dreams and make them lucid. Having this idea in your head will help your brain to be more conscious of dreams.
- Look for patterns in your dreams. Review your dream journal regularly, and look for any patterns or reoccurring images or ideas that are present in the dreams you have naturally. By closely examining your dream history, your brain will begin to recognize those patterns and images, prompting it to become aware when it detects them in your sleep.
- Fall back into a dream. This is similar to the “Wake Back to Bed” method. After you wake up and write down a dream you just had, try to go back to sleep imagining yourself in the same dream, and drift back to sleep focusing hard on being aware and conscious of the dream.
Individuals who wish to have lucid dreams may find success with any combination of these strategies, but keep in mind that each of these steps/techniques are meant to be practiced over time in order to be truly effective. Although lucid dreaming isn’t difficult, it takes patience to get there.
Lucid Dreaming— Final Thoughts
It is easy to see the appeal that goes along with lucid dreaming. Who wouldn’t want to experience a world with no obstacles or limits? Fortunately, lucid dreaming is a safe way to do just that from the comfort of your own bed. Along with gaining access your subconscious, lucid dreaming allows the dreamer to live out their ideas, fantasies, and real-life situations in a way that would not be possible while awake. With virtually no side effects, this is an opportunity that anyone can enjoy with the correct methods and with enough patience to practice them. Happy dreaming!