Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Imagine suddenly realizing that you are in a dream where you can now take some control of what happens next. It’s kind of like directing a movie – starring you! It’s not science fiction, and chances are it’s happened to you already at some point.
It’s called lucid dreaming, which has fascinated humanity since ancient times. The cultivation of dream awareness was part of Hinduism and early Buddhism, written about by Aristotle and even used therapeutically by Galen of Pergamon – an ancient Greek physician and surgeon.
In modern times, films like Waking Life, Inception, and Vanilla Sky have been at the forefront of pop culture representations of the phenomenon.
What are the Frequency and Features?
Lucid dreaming events happen rarely and are most common during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a state of deep sleep marked by heightened brain activity. However, it’s because of their uniqueness that they are so fascinating.
A recent study showed that about 55 percent of the general population had experienced lucid dreaming spontaneously at some point in their lives. However, one prominent feature of this dream experience is the ability to train oneself to have it.
Techniques for inducing lucid dreams have become so popular that, according to a recent study, 35 percent of first-year psychology students have deliberately tried to initiate them at least once.
How does one induce a lucid dream? There are some common induction techniques that have been studied.
1) Reality Testing
One may ask oneself if they are dreaming and then try to perform a relatively safe feat (such as putting a hand through a solid object). In reality, the hand would be stopped by a solid object, but it may pass right through in a dream.
2) Reading Text
This method involves reading text in a book, poster, or even a billboard. When awake, the text should be the same whenever it’s read over again; however, the text will constantly change in a dream.
3) REM-Sleep Fast-Track
With this technique, the intended lucid dreamer would set their alarm for 5-6 hours after going to sleep. Once awake, the person would remain awake for a short while before going back to sleep. This action is supposed to fast-track the person right into REM sleep, where lucid dreaming occurs.
What’s the Benefit or Harm?
Concerns have arisen regarding the potential health implications of manipulating naturally occurring sleep states.
A study conducted in 2016 examined 528 participants, with 386 being lucid dreamers. The primary motivation for 83 percent of these lucid dreamers, occurring on 42.8 percent of occasions, was wish fulfillment.
Other reasons cited by the respondents included addressing waking issues (57 percent, 14.5 percent of instances), confronting fears or nightmares (47 percent, 10.8 percent of occasions), seeking spiritual experiences (43 percent, 8.1 percent of instances), aiming for physical or mental healing (40 percent, 11.4 percent of occasions), practicing motor skills (31 percent, 4.2 percent of times), with meditation being the least common motivation (11 percent, 1.3 percent of instances).
Reported long-term benefits of lucid dreaming encompassed improvements in mental health, boosted self-confidence, heightened enthusiasm, amplified creativity, and enhanced psychological resilience.
Induction techniques are sometimes introduced to chronic nightmare sufferers, offering them a way to take charge and alter their dream outcomes. Such techniques have been incorporated into certain therapeutic approaches, but there is a pressing need for further in-depth research in this domain.
However, intentional interference with the natural sleep-wake rhythm has indicated a tendency to obscure the boundaries between conscious and dream states over prolonged periods. Concerningly, sleep deprivation and the exacerbation of specific mental disorders, notably schizophrenia and other dissociative conditions, have been highlighted as potential negative consequences.
It’s tempting to enter a state of altered consciousness in which one can perform feats impossible in real life (such as flying, superhuman strength, etc.), so there is no doubt that the lucid dreaming experience holds entertainment value.
Whether taking control of what is otherwise an unconscious activity holds benefits for human health is not conclusive due to some possible adverse health outcomes.
If you wish to experiment with lucid dreaming, please be aware of the potential pitfalls. More research is needed to fully define the effects of this phenomenon on our health.
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