Lucid dreams occur when you’re sleeping, but you are aware that you are in a vivid dream state. So for example, you might have experienced a dream, where everything seems like it’s real life, and you could take action in it as well. That experience is a form of lucid dreaming.
Being in a lucid dream is a form of metacognition – an awareness of your consciousness and having control of your thoughts and imagination.
Studies show that around 55% of adults have experienced lucid dreaming at least once in their life, and almost half of them have lucid dreams at least once a month.
Have you had lucid dreams? Continue reading to learn more about it and how you can induce lucid dreams during your sleep.
How do lucid dreams occur?
During your sleep, you go through different sleep stages; light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep). This is what’s called the circadian rhythm.
In the REM stage of sleep, your brain is more active than the other phases, where the brain is at rest and focused on body and cell recovery.
Once you hit the rapid eye movement phase, your brain may begin processing dreams and may also evolve into a lucid dream.
The brain being active gives you awareness to control your dream environment and how everything looks; you seemingly control your body just as if you were up and awake.
Lucid dreaming vs normal dreams
The easiest way to find out if you’re having a lucid dream compared to a regular dream is typically based on how much of the dream you remember waking up.
Normal dreams take less activity on the brain. They may occur multiple times during your REM sleep; most of your normal dreams tend to be forgotten upon wakefulness.
On the other hand, lucid dreams utilise brain activity more than ordinary dreaming. This is why most lucid dreamers vividly recall what happened in their dream.
Lucid dreamers often feel that their mind is conscious despite being asleep. Lucidity gives them control of what occurs and what happens next during their dream state.
How to achieve dream lucidity?
Although not everyone can experience lucid dreams, there are ways to induce lucidity in dreaming states. Of course, these methods do not guarantee lucid dreaming, but they may help and could be worth a try.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Since lucid dreams happen during the late stage of your sleep cycle, it’s better to ensure that you’re getting good sleep quality throughout the night. One of the ways to achieve that is by practising good sleep hygiene.
Keep your bedroom cool, make sure all the lights are dimmed, and try to remove any sounds that could wake you up and disturb your sleep.
Having a conducive environment for sleeping encourages your brain to sleep better and remain in the different sleep stages for much longer.
The MILD technique (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams) is a method used to achieve dream lucidity. The idea behind it is programming the mind into being more conscious of the desire to dream.
This is done by constantly telling yourself that you will be dreaming that night, and you will be aware of when you’re dreaming. Thus, essentially programming your states of consciousness to be aligned with having a lucid dream.
Perform reality testing
When you’re aware during a lucid dream, it may sometimes be difficult to discern reality from a dream. This is where reality checks play an important role.
Training your brain to know whether you’re dreaming or you’re awake allows you to understand which phase you’re experiencing. This brain’s prefrontal cortex activates and shows enhanced activity during lucid dreams.
Some techniques used are to look at details that would take time for the brain to process, such as books, clocks, numbers. In lucid dreams, they would often change as detailed visualisations do not retain in the brain’s memory.
Start a dream journal
Writing and keeping a dream diary or dream journal is a proven method for frequent lucid dreaming. The idea is simple; the more familiar you are with what happens in your dreams, the more vivid your memory of your dream becomes.
As mentioned earlier, it’s pretty easy to forget your dreams. That’s why keeping a written log of the accounts is beneficial for you to look back on them and practise dream recall.
Familiarising yourself with your old dreams can give you more awareness and consciousness whenever you’re dreaming, which can lead to lucid dreams.
Some lucid dreamers use WBTB or the wake back to bed technique to induce lucid dreams during their sleep.
But, WBTB is not as easy as it requires a regular sleep pattern and a familiarity with your own sleep patterns. Wearing a sleep tracker to sleep can help you out on this aspect.
The idea is simple. Set an alarm at a time when you predict your REM sleep will occur, usually towards the end of your regular sleeping hours. 5 hours after going to bed is a good start.
When you wake up in the middle of a dream, try to keep yourself awake for about half an hour and use that time to log your dream in your journal. Try to keep your mind active, but not enough so it’s a struggle to fall back asleep. Once that’s done, go back to bed and try to sleep again.
During this time, try to visualise the dream as you try to sleep. Try to imagine that you’re aware and conscious of your dream surroundings. This often leads to lucid dreaming.
Benefits of lucid dreaming
Lucid dreams aren’t just a way for you to experience your dreams differently. Lucid dreamers and sleep studies report that there are numerous benefits to lucid dreaming.
Improving motor skills
People with injuries or physical disabilities will benefit from lucid dreaming as it can improve motor skills. Lucid dreams allow you to move freely within your dream state, nullifying your physical disabilities and restrictions.
If you have a disabled arm, moving your arm within the lucid dream creates a connection between your brain and that limb, improving your motor skills.
Many people feel anxious whenever they feel helpless or when they don’t have control of their situation. Being in a lucid dream state gives them full control and awareness of their consciousness.
Lucid dreaming can help some anxious people to feel empowered and encourage them to take charge in their own lives, because they have been able to in their dreams.
Because of the benefits of lucid dreams for anxiousness, some experts recommend the practise to be done by those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with proper guidance and monitoring.
Who should avoid lucid dreaming?
In many case studies, it’s been shown that lucid dreaming may adversely affect a person’s mental health in the long term. Experts do not advise those with mental health conditions to voluntarily induce a lucid dream.
Likewise, the constant sleep disruption, especially when practising the WBTB method, may also affect overall sleep quality and cause difficulty for those with pre-existing mental health issues.