Lucid dreams may be one of the most magical experiences a human being can have. This is a naturally induced shift in human consciousness all taking place while the body sleeps. Sometimes dreams can turn into terrifying nightmares but there are ways to work with the mind to pull oneself out of these mental states. This is the ultimate guide to lucid dreams and nightmares.
What is a Lucid Dream?
A lucid dream is simply becoming conscious within the dream state. Once one becomes lucid of their current mental state the dream field can become more vivid and life like. People have reported spiritual, insightful, and other amazing experiences during this process.
What Happens When You Lucid Dream?
Dreaming happens during a deep state of sleep called REM, for rapid eye movement. Humans have several different stages of sleep based on the varying amounts of electrical brain wave activity. The most intense dreams and nightmares happen during REM sleep and may even have a link with the part of the human brain responsible for memory, according to a study done in 2011.
Recognizing that one is actually inside of a dream typically occurs from a non-lucid dream. The dreamer becomes alert that something doesn’t fit with their known reality while dreaming. The dreamer then realizes it must be a dream because of the break from the rules of waking life. The mind becomes conscious of this split with reality and can gain control over the dream field.
During the lucid dream the dreamer is aware that they are in this altered state of mind. They may have an opportunity to control how the dream progresses, where they go, and how they want to act.
How to Lucid Dream?
Lucid dreaming can occur spontaneously at times, however, a person can also induce the experience. Keep in mind that the various methods may work differently, depending on the person. As this is a process that happens during sleep, it is something you can try every night with practice.
Anyone can learn to do it! Depending on one’s views, lucid dreaming may open up portals of possibility for understanding oneself on a deeper level of consciousness.
Some people enter into this state spontaneously but for most people it requires practice in waking life. That might be surprising but many aspects of waking life appear during the dreaming state. Symbols, scenarios, and people one is familiar with appear frequently in their dreams. Scientists have studied how waking events translate over into dreaming. One such study published in the Journal of Sleep Research in 2004 mentions this as the ‘day‐residue effect.’
How Do You Trigger a Lucid Dream?
Checking the dream field while in a dream is the most likely way to trigger a lucid dream but first the mind has to be trained to do this. What does this mean exactly? When the mind notices a reality shift in the dream, there is a chance one can become conscious that they are in a dreaming state.
One way to do this is by asking the question, “is this is a dream?” while in waking life and accompanying the question with a physical action such as jumping up in the air or trying to push a finger through one’s palm.
Taking this step each day and even multiple times a day will increase the likelihood that one would do this ‘reality test’ in their dream. A person is more likely to defy gravity or be able to put their finger straight through their palm during a dream. The mind will be alerted that something is off and “unreal” about the situation inducing lucidity.
In addition to this mind training method, one can also try several other things to increase the chance of going into a lucid dream. For example, programming the mind with positive self talk about how natural the process is, placing crystals known to help with dreaming near one’s bed at night, or meditating before going to sleep to name a few.
How Common is Lucid Dreaming?
Statistics on lucid dreaming were published in the International Journal of Dream Research n 2014. Data from this survey called The Mannheim Dream questionnaire (MADRE) was compiled in the publication. According to this survey, lucid dreaming occurred at least one in 60 percent of participants at varying amounts on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis.
5 Lucid Dreaming Tips
The mind is like a computer able to be programmed, therefore it is possible to take steps towards increasing dream recall, lucid dreaming, and dream control! Here are 5 tips for lucid dreaming.
1) Have a Bedtime Routine
Having a set bedtime routine can assist in inducing lucid dreams more frequently. This is because if one is to maintain a consistent routine they are more likely to get better sleep. This allows one to enter into REM sleep more easily where lucid dreams occur. Drinking calming teas, relaxing, and consciously calming oneself can reduce stress before sleeping.
2) Auto Suggestions
Pre-sleep auto suggestions were used to train research participants in a lucid dream study. Auto suggestions are a psychological technique used to “program” the subconscious mind, similar to hypnosis or guided meditation.
The participants demonstrated the possible validity of this “self-hypnosis” technique because once asleep, they were able to make pre-planned eye movements to alert the researchers they had achieved lucidity.
This shows how that the programming of the waking mind can translate into sleep experiences. Repeating a list of suggestions to oneself to achieve lucidity before sleep may help induce a lucid dream.
3) Write Down Your Dreams
Recording dreams regularly can assist in having more frequent lucid dreams. The more attention one is giving to dreaming the more likely one will become adept at this process. Even a brief one or two word sentence each morning can help. Overtime the mind will recognize that dreaming and dream recall is important to the dreamer, increasing the likelihood of lucid dreaming.
4) Meditate Before Bed
Meditation can be another way to enhance the potential for lucid dreaming. A study conducted by the Department of Neurophysiology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences of Bangalore, India, demonstrated that various forms of meditation allowed for deeper states of REM sleep. Lucid dreaming happens in REM sleep suggesting that meditation can assist in this process. Yogic sleep, called Yoga Nidra, is another related meditation method one could try for increased lucid dreaming.
5) No Screens + Smartphones Before Bed
With so much mental stimulation present in the world and availability to connect through media and similar platforms it can be difficult to reduce screen time before bed. It has been suggested by researchers that too much screen time can affect sleep quality and thus the ability to get into a state of sleep deep enough for dreaming. One study presented in the Journal of Sleep Research published in 2011 takes a deep dive into the data on this issue, looking at the types of media used, various age groups, and the overall effects on sleep health.
Dangers of Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming is not physically dangerous, however, it can feel dangerous when one is in the dream. This process can bring people face to face with their fears and intense scenarios that may induce a panic response. When one is in this state and learns to control the dream field they can control the outcome. This can lead people to experiment in the dream with flying, moving fast, or encountering otherworldly beings. There are many possibilities to explore in a lucid dream; including dangerous scenarios, but it causes no danger to the person physically or in reality.
Is it Good to Lucid Dream?
Scientists are conducting sleep and dream studies frequently with no consensus on the actual purpose of dreams. There are psychological and biological theories, some stating dreams mean nothing and others more spiritual stating dreams are deeply meaningful.
In some ways, lucid dreaming is like a reality simulator, giving individuals an opportunity to test out their boundaries and limits within the safety of the dream field. Some studies have even suggested that individuals diagnosed with narcolepsy may see improvement in symptoms by lucid dreaming.
Can Lucid Dreams be Scary?
Anything unfamiliar may seem scary at first, but the human mind does have this ability. Many social and personal factors go into how one perceives this experience. In general, if one enjoys altered states of consciousness then they might enjoy lucid dreaming. Alternatively, someone may enjoy lucid dreaming as opposed to taking substances to alter the mind because it feels safer to them.
Can You Die in Real Life from a Lucid Dream?
You cannot die in real life from a lucid dream, however, the nature of the dream field is fragile and very changeable leading one to easily slip into intense and sometimes very scary scenarios that feel life threatening. This can cause the dreamer to feel terror or panic while dreaming, called a nightmare. If a death is to occur in a dream the person usually wakes up right away from sleeping. Dreams are not physical reality, therefore, the archetypal events of a dream cannot cause death or physical harm in waking life.
Lucid Nightmare Guide
Unlike waking reality, dreams have a very mercurial and at times unpredictable nature. A lucid nightmare is when the dreaming experience turns into a fear inducing scenario.
Can You Get Stuck in a Lucid Nightmare?
A person will wake up eventually and cannot get stuck in a lucid nightmare. Something called sleep paralysis can occur during REM stages of sleep. This is when the mind wakes up but the body still thinks it is asleep and therefore the motor-skills part of the brain are not activated. This gives the affect that one is paralyzed and cannot move. During this time the dreamer may feel like they are in a nightmare.
Reported in a study conducted by J. A. Cheyne through the Department of Psychology, at the University of Waterloo in Canada, states 6 to 40 percent of adults report at least once incident of sleep paralysis in their lifetimes.
The same study also reported that the hallucinatory effect that occurs from sleep paralysis mimics the brain activity seen during deep REM stages of sleep, which is when lucid nightmares would occur. Body position may have an effect on the brain activity during sleep. The study corroborated that lying in the supine position, on one’s back, while asleep can lead to an increase in sleep paralysis.
Although the study was not looking at this specifically, it does suggests that paying attention to one’s body position before sleep may help curb brain nightmare activity.
How Do You Wake Up from a Lucid Nightmare?
With practice it is possible to wake up from a lucid nightmare. The dreamer, even if it seems difficult, can manipulate the events of the dream field. When a terrifying event is rising up in a lucid dream, the dreamer should take steps to relax and recognize they are in a dream. This puts the dreamer in control and gives them the tools and power needed to move and alter the scenario with their mind.
The bizarre nature of lucid dreaming and nightmares will mean different things to different people. Some people view them as an escape while others see them as prophetic visions of the future. There may be an evolutionary reason for dreaming as both animals and humans dream. If such a unique ability exists in humans, whether scientifically proven to have meaning or not, it is still an amazing natural human experience worth paying attention to.
Contributor | Emma Lynn Wilson