We all have dreams, but how many of yours could be described as lucid dreams?
Often described as an experience somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, lucid dreaming is a unique experience coveted by few people.
Lucid dreaming represents an interesting dream state, where the person involved is asleep but aware they’re dreaming. In this state, where your mind is still highly active, it’s possible to take control of your dream’s narrative. In some cases during lucid dreams, you can decide exactly what you do in your dream.
You might be wondering, what are the benefits of having lucid dreams?
Research into lucid dreaming is still ongoing. Typically, this kind of sleep is associated with awareness and “metacognition” – the ability to understand your own thought process. Some people believe that lucid dreaming helps to inspire better creativity and problem solving. Others believe the ability to engage in lucid dreaming might help with mental health issues and mindfulness.
Let’s explore the realities of lucid dreaming, and how they work.
What are Lucid Dreams? The Basics
Lucid dreams are brief moments of dreaming when you’re asleep but aware you’re dreaming. These dreams are most common during the “REM” or Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep. REM is when dreaming occurs, and it’s often defined by higher levels of brain activity and faster breathing.
We have several periods of REM sleep each night, usually occurring about 90 minutes into the sleep cycle. Every time you enter REM, the time you spend in dreamland lasts a little longer.
Awareness of lucid dreaming goes back much further than some people think. The Greek philosopher Aristotle once wrote about awareness in dreaming in his work “On Dreams.” It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that scientists began looking more formally at lucid dreaming and what it can do. The development of tools like the EEG (Electroencephalogram) helped us gain a better insight into the brain when lucid dreaming takes place.
How Do You Know if You’ve Had Lucid Dreams?
Most people aren’t aware they’re dreaming when they’re in the middle of a dream. Even when strange things happen around us, we embrace them during the dream scenario. Only around 23% of people say they have lucid dreams once per month, and 55% say they’ve experienced one or more lucid dreams in their lifetime.
The easiest way to define a lucid dream is to ask yourself if you were aware you were dreaming. If you knew you were in a dream, and the experience was still very vivid, you were probably lucid dreaming. Many people report that lucid dreams feature intense emotions.
Some studies indicate lucid dreaming is more common in women and may decrease in frequency as we get older. Research from Germany also found those naturally prone to Lucid dreams usually have a larger pre-frontal cortex and may be better at various cognitive abilities than others – like self-reflection. There are even studies underway into how our genetics might influence our dreams.
According to reports, receptors called Chrm1 and Chrm3 may be responsible for our ability to dream. Other researchers have found people more able to control their body movements and eye movements during sleeping sessions are also more likely to access lucid dreaming states.
What are the Benefits of Lucid Dreams?
The most common question after “what are lucid dreams?” is “why are they a good thing?”
For most of us, the idea of being able to control our dreams would be a compelling one. If you’ve ever suffered from night terrors or particularly vivid dreams, the ability to take control of these sleeping sessions is sure to be appealing. Lucid dreaming is intriguing because it offers an immersive experience, we can fully lose ourselves in.
With a lucid dream, you have the power to explore a unique world unlike any other, where you have full control over what you can do and what happens around you. Other potential benefits of lucid dreaming include:
- Fewer nightmares: Nightmares are a common issue among people of all ages – and they’re also something likely to be influenced by your genetics. Studies show those predisposed to vivid dreams and night terrors could access therapeutic benefits from lucid dreaming. You could take control of your dreams and redirect them to something more positive.
- Inspiration and creativity: Lucid dreaming allows the dreamer to create and experience anything they want. This is a wonderful way to explore creativity and nurture your creative mind. People who lucid dream regularly often rank higher on measures of creativity.
- Reduced anxiety: Lucid dreaming may be helpful for people suffering from PTSD and anxiety, according to some studies. Because the dream offers a degree of control, it allows users to practice things they would typically have anxiety doing.
The research into lucid dreaming is still somewhat limited, as we’ve only recently developed the technology required to examine the performance of the prefrontal cortex during sleep.
How to Try Lucid Dreaming
If you’ve never experienced lucid dreams before, there are a few ways you can increase your chances of experiencing it. The easiest option is to work on getting more REM sleep into your routine. REM sleep is crucial for lucid dreaming. You can boost your REM sleep by following a consistent schedule, avoiding electronics before you go to bed, and staying away from caffeine later in the day.
Other strategies include:
- Keeping a dream journal: Some people find keeping a dream journal helpful in accessing lucid dreams. Dream diaries allow you to focus on your dreams and be more aware of them. When you keep a diary, you might be reminded of similar events that occur in your dreams more than once, making it easier to recognise when you’re dreaming again. It’s interesting to notice similar patterns across your various dreams, which isn’t something you’ll remember or notice unless you write down your dream as soon as you wake up.
- Reality testing: Practicing reality testing is a process that involves checking when you’re awake regularly to see if you might be dreaming. This could include pressing your finger against a wall to remind yourself you’re awake. In a dream, your finger could go through the wall. Getting used to this testing will allow you to do it more when you sleep too.
- Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams: This technique involves telling yourself repeatedly that you will dream and be aware of what you’re dreaming. The technique involves using prospective memory to help activate lucid dreaming.
There are other methods of accessing lucid dreaming that scientists are still experimenting with today. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be a specific solution that works for everyone.
Can You Interpret Lucid Dreams?
Just like a regular dream, some people attempt to interpret their lucid dreams and use them to understand themselves or their current situation a little better. Dream interpretation can help you understand the relevance of your dreams and might even help you to address anxieties and mental health issues. Some people believe dream interpretation is even easier during a lucid dream because you’re more aware of what’s happening around you.
Lucid dreams are sometimes easier to interpret because they can be more vivid too. Just as you’re more likely to remember a nightmare, you’ll also be more likely to remember a dream where you’re fully aware. Make sure you keep a journal of your lucid dreams after having them, with as many details as possible if you want to examine their significance.
Are There Risks of Lucid Dreaming?
We know lucid dreaming has a lot of potential benefits, but are there any downsides to consider? Most researchers believe lucid dreaming is safe, but it’s worth noting studies are limited. Because lucid dreaming is very uncommon, it’s not easy to find people who can offer insights for reports. Even if researchers do have access to people with lucid dreaming skills, these individuals may not be able to access a lucid dream in a lab setting.
The biggest concern most people have with lucid dreaming is the impact it might have on specific mental disorders and poor sleeping patterns. Risk areas include:
- Sleep problems: Lucid dreaming techniques involve purposefully interrupting your sleep in some cases, which means getting enough sleep can be difficult. If you already have a sleep disorder, like restless leg syndrome, it’s much harder to get a good night’s rest.
- Depression and anxiety: Sleep issues often intensify depression systems and anxiety. It’s crucial to ensure you’re still getting enough rest if you’re practicing lucid dreaming.
- Derealisation: Learning how to mesh reality and dreaming can be problematic for people with psychosis issues. You may have trouble identifying what’s real.
- Dissociation: The overlap of dreaming and reality can also make it easier for people to disconnect from their surroundings and themselves.
Should You Try Lucid Dreaming?
Lucid dreaming can be an inspiring, unique and interesting experience when used correctly.
The most important thing to do is make sure you’re in the right mental place to consider lucid dreaming. Don’t pursue this experience without speaking to your doctor.
It’s not easy to master this type of dreaming. Not everyone will get to experience lucid dreams. However, if you’re already genetically predisposed to deep sleep and vivid dreaming, and people in your family are all the creative types, you might find your chances of lucid dreaming are higher. Get a CircleDNA Premium kit for an insight into your genetic creativity level and your unique genetic sleep profile, which includes reports on how you sleep based on your DNA.