The Science of Lucid Dreaming:

“IF you must sleep through a third of your life, why should you sleep through your dreams too? —— stephen laberge

Sometimes you’ll have some nice dreams, and other times you wish you haven’t dreamt at all. Sometimes you encounter a dream that you might say:

“The dream was awesome, but if I had a yacht instead of a car, then It would’ve been perfect”

Well, you can manage to dream anything you want, while *ahem* having full control over it. How? It’s called Lucid Dreaming.

lucid dream flying
Do you believe you can fly? Well, you should.

“But What is lucid Dreaming?”

Even though the term “lucid” means clear, lucid dreaming is more than just having a clear dream. To have a lucid dream you must know that it’s a dream while you’re dreaming.

A lucid dream is any dream during sleep in which you become aware that you are dreaming.

This simple realization snaps your waking consciousness into the dream, enabling you to:

  • Explore your dreamworld with total clarity. Everything you see, hear, touch, taste and smell can be as authentic as reality. It is truly mind-blowing to discover this virtual world.
  • Fulfill any fantasy. Fly over mountains, have dream sex, go base jumping, shapeshifting, time traveling, dinosaur spotting, ninja fighting, meeting your hero and visiting alien planets.
  • Overcome personal psychological issues. In the safety of the lucid dream environment you can face your fears, phobias, anxieties, nightmares, past traumas and recurring dreams.
  • Tap into your inner creativity. In surreal and unexpected ways, you can make music, seek original artistic imagery and solve technical problems, just like these famous folk.

BUT WHAT’S HAPPENING TO US?

Most dreaming happens during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, when the brain is most active and working to process short-term memories into long-term memories. During REM, voluntary muscles are “paralyzed,” but the eyes move rapidly as you respond to images (which may be a protective mechanism so we don’t act out our dreams and accidentally walk off a cliff).

What it is like to have (REM) with eyes open

Researchers have tried to observe lucid dreaming by measuring eye movements and looking for a stereotypical pattern among lucid dreamers. This way, subjects could technically “signal” lucidity to researchers with specific eye movements, so the researchers don’t have to rely on self reports after subjects wake up. More research is needed on this, but it still seems most plausible that lucid dreaming would happen during REM sleep, when you have your most vivid and intense dreams.

We aren’t sure what’s going on in the brain during lucid dreaming. According to Dr. Matthew Walker, director of a sleep lab at Berkeley, the lateral prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that deals with logic, may be responsible. During REM sleep, this part of the brain is supposed to be “asleep,” but it’s possible that it “wakes up” so that dreaming and logic are both working at the same time, enabling the dreamer to recognize the dream situation for what it is.

IT’S HISTORY:

Early references to the phenomenon are found in ancient Greek writings. For example, the philosopher Aristotle wrote:
“often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream”.
the physician Galen of Pergamon used lucid dreams as a form of therapy. In addition, a letter written by St. Augustine of Hippo in 415 AD tells the story of a dreamer, Doctor Gennadius, and refers to lucid dreaming.

In 17th Century, Philosopher and physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) was fascinated by dreams and described his own ability to lucid dream in his Religio Medici, stating: ‘…yet in one dream I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests and laugh my self awake at the conceits thereof‘.

marie jean leon
Marie-Jean-Léon

In 19th Century, the French sinologist Marie-Jean-Léon, Marquis d’Hervey de Saint Denys anonymously published Les Reves et Les Moyens de Les Diriger: Observations Pratiques (‘Dreams and the ways to direct them: practical observations‘), in which describes his own experiences of lucid dreaming, and proposes that it is possible for anyone to learn to dream consciously.

In 20th Century, Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik (Willem) van Eeden (1860–1932) coined the term ‘lucid dream’ in an article entitled “A Study of Dreams”

DANGERS OF LUCID DREAMING, IS IT SAFE?

The quality of awareness during lucid dreaming can vary greatly. Sometimes lucidity is high and you are aware that everything you are experiencing in the dream is just happening in your mind, and that there is no real danger. You may be aware that you are dreaming but maybe not enough to know that the people in your dream are just representations; or that you are actually in bed and can suffer no harm.

“But everything has a risk”

Maurits Cornelis Escher
Multiple viewpoints and impossible stairs

There’s no evidence that lucid dreaming can bring on mental illness. In fact, lucid dreaming has recently been linked to resilience, the ability to maintain stability during and after traumatic events. Lucid dreaming is used clinically to help cope with nightmares, and is considered by many psychologists to promote psychological growth and encourage problem solving.

But, is lucid dreaming safe or dangerous to attempt? The answer is that it seems to be very safe for the vast majority of those who experience it.

Still, just so you know, as much as Lucid Dreaming is fun and considered an awesome experience, there are various aspects of lucid dreaming that can cause fear in people:

1. Sleep paralysis – while sleep paralysis is not necessarily dangerous or unhealthy, it    can be an extremely terrifying experience for people, especially if   they  do not know what is going on.  Lucid dreamers have especially  high  frequencies of sleep paralysis. However, some methods more than  others  are known to cause this such as the WILD method.

2. Pain in dreams – pain can occur in dreams, and fearing pain is a very reasonable concern. See this article that gives a review of pain in dreams.

3. Dream Claustrophobia – many people fear becoming lucid in a dream and then becoming trapped   in an unwanted dream scenario, unable to manipulate it or awaken.

4. General Oneirophobia some people just generally fear dreams, not even just nightmares or night terrors, but actually all dreams.

5. Somniphobia –   there is a decent amount of people who fear sleep. Actually, when I  was  a small child, I went through a 2-week phase where I was scared to   sleep. What I found scary was the loss of awareness/consciousness that   occurs during a night’s sleep cycle. Other people fear sleep for other   reasons too such as fear of being attacked while asleep, or fear of  not  being able to wake up.

REMIND ME, WHY ARE WE DOING IT?

1.  It Is Fun –   This is the simplest reason why one engages in lucid dreaming. When done properly, lucid dreaming is like playing in a realistic video recording simulation which one can imagine.

2.  It Helps Overcome Anxiety –   We all experience some degree of anxiety in everyday life and lucid dreaming can help us overcome this by being able to put things in control. However, it does not mean that lucid dreaming is a way of escaping reality. For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, you can practice taking command and building confidence while you are having a lucid dream and take away your anxiety when you awake.

3.  It Helps You Communicate With Yourself –   If you are still wondering, “Is lucid dreaming dangerous?” then it may comfort you to know that it can actually help you know more about yourself, especially the subconscious part of you. When mastered, you can communicate with your subconscious mind to help you get more insight of yourself, to become more aware of what motivates you and what pains you.

4.  It Helps You Get In Touch With Your Spirituality –   Dreams have always been an inevitable part of our connection with the spiritual, transcendent and mysterious world. Lucid dreaming provides a gateway to mysticism that is spontaneous and personal, which gives you opportunities for having beautiful experiences in an out-of-the-box manner.

5.  It Gives You Artistic Inspiration –   Dreams have long been considered as a mystical source of art inspiration. Lucid dreaming allows you to see complex symbols and vivid images, which provides a fertile ground for artistic inspiration. Many writers, painters and even scientists have been inspired to make their creations and discoveries after experiencing lucid dreams.

ANY STRATEGIES?

the science of lucid dreaming facts

The first strategy towards lucid dreaming is keeping a dream journal Keeping the journal improves your ability to recall dreams, and helps facilitate lucidity So every time you wake up, write down what you can remember, even if it’s nothing, just to form the habit The next step is performing reality checks.

In a dream, something as simple as reading a sentence, counting your fingers, or checking the time can often go astray Try it right now: look at the time, look away, and then look back Assuming you aren’t currently dreaming, the time probably stayed the same

“However, in a dream, the time or the words you were reading will often completely change”

The key is to do these reality checks often when you’re awake This way they become second nature and when you’re dreaming you’re likely to perform the same test and realize that something’s wrong.

After this comes a technique known as Mnemonically Induced Lucid Dreams (MILD) As you’re falling asleep, begin to think of a recent dream, and imagine yourself becoming lucid The idea is to reinforce the intention to realize you’re dreaming in your dream Keep repeating the phrase “I will have a lucid dream tonight” The highest rates of success tend to come if you wake up in the middle of the night. get up for 30 minutes, and then go back to sleep with these intentions in mind Finally, once you’ve had success with MILD, an advanced technique known as Wake Induced Lucid Dreams (WILD) may be attempted. The idea behind this is to keep your mind aware while your body falls asleep. The risk here is that you’ll experience sleep paralysis, a completely normal phenomenon that prevents your body from moving during sleep except you’ll be awake which can be somewhat frightening. The extra caveat with WILD is that, during sleep paralysis the brain can play tricks on you, inducing strong feelings of fear and causing hallucinations of dark and scary figures approaching you.

REMEMBER:

A summary of today’s lesson

  • Lucid Dreaming is controlling your night dreams and it is entirely possible with a little effort and practice.

Read More: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream – Psychology #9

  • Every person has about 3-7 dreams per night but not everyone can recall them.
  • To Lucid dream keep a dream journal, perform reality checks and try the Mnemonically Induced Lucid Dreams (MILD) technique and Wake Induced Lucid Dreams (WILD)
  • Keeping a dream journal improves your ability to recall dreams, and helps facilitate lucidity.

Don’t Miss: Why do we dream?

  • A reality check is a method of deducing whether one is in a dream or in real life. It usually involves an observation of some sort of sensory observation, usually visual.
  • The MILD Technique will train you to increase your self-awareness, making it easier to recognize when you are dreaming.
  • Sleep paralysis is a completely normal phenomenon that prevents your body from moving during sleep except you will be awake.

Check Out: The terrors of sleep paralysis

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