Lucid Dreaming: All You Need To Know
It’s estimated that most people will have lucid dreaming. In those dreams they are aware that they are asleep and might have some measure of control over their actions — at least once in their life. Usually, the dream experience feels so real that we don’t realize it’s actually a dream until we wake up. But sometimes, people become aware that they’re dreaming during a dream. From there, they have the ability to control and bend their dream reality.
There are those who claim to “get lucid” much more frequently. Lucid dreams have been reported through history, but they were scientifically documented as late as 1975. And there are ways to artificially induce the state of lucid dreams, with a range of techniques, from sound stimulation to herbal supplements.
Controlling your dreams may sound like a science fiction movie, but it’s real and possible to achieve. Let’s see how and why it happens.
Lucid dream starts like a normal dream
Dreams are unconscious visual manifestations of information and memories that are already floating around in our heads. That’s why all the imagery in our dreams is familiar. There can technically be new characters or places in a dream, but they’re really an amalgamation of things you’ve already seen before. Processes that allow us to see dreams are likely the same ones when we imagine the future. The difference is, in dreams it seems like what we’re seeing is reality.
Lucid dreaming makes you aware you're dreaming
And when you’re aware of the fact you’re dreaming, you can control and manipulate aspects of the dream. Kind of like Neo in the cult film The Matrix. You can fly, control the weather, have super strength and speed. You can even live out your fantasies without consequences. Convenient, isn’t it?
Lucid dream is different from, let’s say, hallucination. Your physical body is asleep and no external stimuli can enter your dream perception.
No one knows why we have lucid dreams
Studies show that brain waves look pretty much the same in people who report lucid dreaming compared to their normal dreams. So, it’s hard to pinpoint which specific mechanisms or parts of the brain are at work during a lucid dream. Obviously, lucid dreaming is hard to study since it relies totally on self-reporting after you wake up. But the experts agree that whatever triggers a person to become lucid is definitely from within the brain, and not an external stimulus.
Lucid dreams happen in REM stage of sleep
Most dreaming happens during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep but sometimes at the early stage of falling asleep as well. This is 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. This may be protective mechanism, so we don’t act out our dreams and walk off a cliff, for example. 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.
Lucid dream aren't the same as nightmares
If you’ve ever had a nightmare in which you start to realize you aren’t actually in danger right before you wake up — that’s not a lucid dream. What makes a nightmare scary is our lack of control. So, when you wake up from a nightmare right before you’re about to get attacked, that’s actually your increased heart rate and breathing from the stress of the nightmare bringing you out of sleep.
The reason you can stay conscious for so long in a lucid dream is because the realization is more of a relaxed, “OK, I’m in a dream, cool” consciousness without the big dramatic shift that happens when you come out of a nightmare.
Lucid dreaming might just be an inane skill
The experts agree that being able to lucid dream is probably just an innate ability or natural skill some people are born with. And like any other skill, you can improve it by practicing. The techniques vary, but most involve some form of having the intention to lucid dream (by telling yourself, telling another person, writing it down in a dream journal, etc.) or doing certain mental exercises before sleep. The fact that you’ve never had a lucid dream doesn’t mean you still can’t have one. There are different techniques to consciously induce lucid dreaming, but what works is really up to the individual. It has also been reported that playing video games also affects our ability to control dreams.
Awareness and control can vary
Even skilled lucid dreamers rarely have complete control, and what they can do with that control is limited. Among lucid dreamers, there is a huge variation in how often they can have them and how much conscious control they have in the dreams. Just like regular dreams, some tend to be more vivid and intense than others. Sometimes by the time you can even take control in your dream, you’ll just wake up. Other times, you can have more sophisticated control and make yourself fly or do anything.
Lucid dreaming doesn't influence waking life
Lucid dreaming is definitely exaggerated in movies like Inception and Waking Life. They all blur the line between dream life and real life. You don’t want to become too attracted to the idea of harvesting benefits from lucid dreaming. Many believe you can learn to do something like a sport without ever trying it in real life, which is flat-out impossible. Likewise, it isn’t a way to make up for past mistakes or try to relive situations differently in order to influence the future. Some people are even terrified of lucid dreams. There is an urban myth that you’ll get trapped in the dream – or if you get killed and die in a lucid dream, it means you’ll die in real life. But, lucid dream is really just like a normal dream, where you happen to be aware that you’re dreaming.
There are no benefits, except having fun dreams
So far, there’s no proof lucid dreaming can improve your life in any kind, except providing you some fun and memorable dreams. You might feel yourself being more enlightened, or spiritual, and that’s always a plus. Or, you could improve your awareness. But, that’s just a side effects more than direct benefit. We think that having a chance to do something crazy and fun is beneficial enough.