*Nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. Seek the guidance of a physician if you have any questions.*
Have you ever started dreaming and realized that you are awake in a dream? It happens, and it is a genuine concept. Some people can control what happens in their dreams, like in the Hollywood Blockbuster Inception. If this has happened to you, then you have experienced lucid dreaming. According to research, “Lucid dreaming (LD) is the process of being aware that one is dreaming while dreaming. In some cases, the dreamer may even gain control over a part of the dream plot and scenery”. The same study argues that half of all people have had a lucid dream at some point in their lives, but a smaller percentage (11%) may experience one or two lucid dreams per month. Although some reputable studies argue that half of all people will experience lucid dreaming, scholarly literature is unsure exactly how many people actually experience lucid dreaming. Some experts have attempted to analyze empirical data regarding its prevalence — and it seems that lucid dreaming may be pretty common.
For example, researchers in Brazil analyzed 3,427 participants with a median age of 25. The results of that body of research indicated that 77% of those surveyed had experienced lucid dreaming at least once.
When are Lucid Dreams Likely to Happen? What is it Like?
Lucid dreams occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the part of sleep that is very deep and marked by eye motion, quick breathing, and more brain activity. Most people enter REM about 90 minutes after falling asleep, and it lasts for about ten minutes. As a person continues to sleep, each REM phase is longer than the previous, finally reaching one hour. Like most dreams, lucid dreaming will typically occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This dreaming state can happen spontaneously for some people, but others train themselves to become better at dreaming lucidly. The extent to which a person can control their dream varies from person to person. Some people may wake up and realize that they had been dreaming and aware the whole time. Other people may wake up during the dream controlling their actions within the dream or parts of the dream itself. Researchers are unsure why it happens, but they have ideas about why some people experience this dream state over other people.
Research and Lucid Dreams
One interesting fact that has emerged from recent studies is that there are physical differences in the brains of people who do and don’t have lucid dreams. The prefrontal cortex is the very front part of the brain where high-level tasks like making decisions and recalling memories -- are more significant in people who have lucid dreams. One can conclude that folks who are most likely to have lucid dreams are typically self-reflective types who mull over thoughts in their heads a lot.
Benefits of Lucid Dreams
Lucid dreams are beneficial to some and can help people in real life.
- Less anxiety. A person can become empowered through the control they feel during a lucid dream. Those who experience lucid dreaming are aware that they are in a dream but equally aware that they control the narrative. The awareness and capability might serve as therapy for people who have nightmares, teaching them how to manage their dreams.
- Better motor skills. A minimal amount of academic literature suggests that it may be possible to improve simple things like tapping your fingers more quickly by doing it while in a lucid dream. The same part of the brain turns active whether a person is imagining the movements while awake or run through them during a lucid dream.
- Better problem-solving. Some empirical studies suggest that lucid dreams may help people solve problems that deal with creativity. For example, confronting a person about something but not so much regarding logic (such as a math problem).
- More creativity. Some individuals who participated in lucid dream studies were able to come up with new ideas or insights, sometimes with the help of characters in their dreams.
Dangers of Lucid Dreams
Although there are many benefits to having lucid dreams, it may also cause problems, including:
- Less sleep quality. Sometimes dreams can wake up a person and make it hard to get back to sleep. Some people become so focused on lucid dreaming that they do not sleep well.
- Confusion, delirium, and hallucinations. Some folks who have specific mental health disorders may find it challenging to understand what’s real and imagined.
How to Trigger Lucid Dreams
- Reality testing. This is when a person stops what they are doing at different times of the day to see if they are dreaming. Techniques to determine whether you are in reality or a dream state is to do something impossible, like push your finger through your palm or inhale through a closed mouth.
- Dream diary. Some experts believe that people had more lucid dreams after maintaining a log of their dreams because they were more focused on them. Other research found that these journals did not help when used alone but were useful when paired with other methods.
- Wake-back-to-bed. Some people find it easier to experience lucid dreaming if they wake up after 5 hours of sleep, stay awake briefly, and then go back to bed to enter a REM sleep period.
- Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD). Some folks try waking up after sleeping for 5 hours and telling themselves that they will remember that they are dreaming the next time they dream. This method is using prospective memory, which is simply remembering to do something in the future.
- Drugs. Some studies have studied the effects of several medications, such as medicinal plants, on sleep and dreams. But the studies did not conclude how safe they are or how well they work.
- Devices. Sometimes devices like headbands and masks that have sounds or lights may trigger lucid dreams. Other devices can record and play messages used in the MILD technique during sleep.