Lucid Dreaming, Sports, and Athletic Performance

Lucid dreaming lets you make use of the dream state that comes to you every night to have a stimulating reality.

– Stephen LaBerge

Lucid dreaming experts and enthusiasts believe that the realm of dreams ties into our day-to-day reality in several ways. Some use lucid dreaming as a quirky and exotic way to entertain themselves, treating it as an enhanced, mind-generated virtual reality.

Others use lucid dreaming to explore the problems of their waking lives, searching for solutions and often finding them.

It turns out that you can also use lucid dreaming to improve your athletic performance, agility, and prowess at various sports.

This is the lucid dreaming “application” that we are weighing and dissecting in this article. We are looking at the theories that back it up, the scientific evidence, as well as ways in which the average lucid dreaming enthusiast can perhaps use it as part of his/her sports training.

The Great Promise of Lucid Dreaming

The most exciting promise of lucid dreaming is that its practitioners can use it to generate benefits for their waking lives. People have used lucid dreaming to improve their concentration and consciousness while promoting mental and emotional healing. Some have even managed to heal physical ailments through the power of dreams.

Improving athletic performance fits well into this picture, and science says that it is indeed possible.

This is a Dream...

Using your dreams as a virtual training arena makes sense on both theoretical and practical levels. The only hurdle for the widespread use of this technique is the unreliable nature of lucid dream induction.

Theories Concerning the Use of Lucid Dreaming in Sports

Paul Tholey of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Germany is the proponent of a series of interesting theories that offer scientifically feasible explanations to the application of lucid dreaming in sports.

Tholey uses the Gestalt theory as his starting point, developing a framework of principles that accurately depict the ways lucid dreaming impacts the sensory and motor pathways that influence athletic performance.

In his interpretation, using lucid dreaming for athletic training is like using a flight simulator to train pilots.

He does point out a few important differences, however.

A technological flight simulator uses bits of data that exist independently of each other. One data-batch may contain the audio track of the simulation, while another takes care of the imagery. Yet another handles the simulated weather, etc.

By contrast, in the case of lucid dreaming, the phenomenal facts that make up the dream content exist in a state of dynamic interdependency in the brain. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. This is the gist of the Gestalt theory. And this is why lucid dreams make a better virtual training environment than any technology-based virtual reality ever could.

The Gestalt Theory

We should not delve deeper into Tholey’s theories without offering a satisfactory deconstruction of the Gestalt theory.

The Gestalt theory explains how the human mind derives intelligible information out of the chaotic stimuli that surround it. You may be aware of your mind’s tendency to seek order amid chaos. More than a mere tendency, the need to find order in disorder is a compulsion.

Your mind reinterprets the raw visual information the eyes provide by perceiving groups of individual elements as wholes.

The Gestalt theory relies on a series of principles such as emergence, similarity, continuation, proximity, closure, figure, symmetry, order, etc.

Athletes have long used mental training techniques to sharpen their real-life skills. It is not uncommon for skiers to mentally race down the slopes, vividly imagining every motion and turn, as if on auto-pilot, in preparation for a real-life race.

Within a lucid dream, the mind perceives the dream content as reality, thus lending lucid-dream-based training an entirely different dimension. Skilled lucid dreamers can also mold the dream content at their will, often in defiance of logic and the laws of physics. This way, they can indefinitely expand the boundaries of their sensory-motor experiences.

Refining Already Mastered Sensory-motor Skills through Lucid Dreaming

Much like how the body strives for homeostasis, living systems of dynamically interlinked individual parts strive toward a good gestalt.

Unlike in a wakeful state, in a lucid dream individual areas of the phenomenal fields do not depend on sensory input. Thus, they interact more intensely, making it possible for athletes to achieve significant improvement in repeated sensory-motor processes.

Lucid dream-based training seems especially effective at the fine-tuning of movements characterized by multisensory sensitivity.

Learning New Sensory-motor Skills through Lucid Dreaming

Given the lack of constraints within the lucid dream world, skilled dreamers can simulate situations in which real-world laws of physics apply, as well as situations in which they do not. This opens up a realm of possibilities for the learning of new skills and the expansion of one’s understanding of what is possible.

Improving Reaction Flexibility through Lucid Dreaming-based Techniques

The realm of lucid dreams allows athletes to put several scenarios to the test, including outcomes that are not ideal. By exploring such unforeseen situations, they equip themselves to deal with them in a lightning-fast manner, should they occur in real life.

Reaction-flexibility also contributes to the fine-tuning of movements and the effective compensation of disturbances.

Improving Mental Movements through Lucid Dreaming

Far more athletes practice their routines mentally than are capable of doing so through lucid dreaming. Mental movements represent movements that do not trigger a physical response in the body.

In the context of real-life sports, anticipation or the ability to visualize the upcoming movement plays a major role. For elite athletes, this ability is second nature. It works on auto-pilot, and it makes almost superhuman reactions possible since the athletes do not react to an existing situation but rather to an anticipated outcome.

Lucid Dreaming and the Shaping of the Phenomenal Field

In the context of the Gestalt theory, improving your sports skills starts with the shaping and molding of the phenomenal field in its entirety. Lucid dreaming lends itself well to such exercises.

  • Unit formation is the first step of this type of training. As a beginner, you may focus on distinct movements that your sport requires. From a very early stage, however, your mind strives to mold these elements into a single unit, known as the phenomenal field. Your skills jump to a superior level every time you manage to unite some elements of this phenomenal field.
  • Tinkering with reference systems within the phenomenal field is another luxury only lucid dream-based training affords. In a lucid dream, athletes can compress space and expand time at will, creating slow-motion experiences that allow them to focus on certain areas of their techniques with laser-like precision.
  • As they increase their proficiency, athletes shift their focus from their bodies and the individual movements they make to the surrounding phenomenal field. Highly sophisticated athletes can direct their focus onto the phenomenal field, seeing it in its entirety rather than a sum of its parts as their perception of their ego wanes. Under such circumstances, consciously re-focusing on the ego can bring forth fears of getting injured or being judged by others, thus inviting mistakes.
  • Lucid dreaming can also promote the tendency to achieve a good gestalt. Since the sensory processes that can hinder the perception of the prevailing conditions that define gestalt do not pose a problem in a lucid dream, this state of consciousness is ideal for achieving and practicing good gestalt.

Developing a Personality Conducive to Improved Athletic Performance through Lucid Dreaming

Real-life sports performance is subject to many limitations. The personality of the athlete constitutes one such limitation, as it defines the imagined boundaries of what one believes is possible sport performance-wise.

The ego seeks to protect itself, and it requires constant attention, creating an ego-centered outlook that numbs perception, sets limitations, and misleads. In the context of sports performance, a situation-focused outlook is desirable. Such an outlook is often at odds with the subconsciously fuelled ego-centered approach.

Lucid dreaming sets an ideal environment in which those focused on improving their athletic performance can address this problem. Athletes who manage to alter their personality to accommodate a predominantly situation-centered outlook will reorganize the phenomenal field in fundamental ways, and thus achieve significant results performance-wise.

The Science behind Athletic Performance and Lucid Dreaming

Even though anything involving lucid dreaming is inherently difficult to study through scientific methods, a surprising number of studies have investigated the link between lucid-dreaming practice and waking-life motor skill improvement.

One such study is the 2016 work of Daniel Erlacher, Melanie Shadlich, and Michael Schredl, published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.

Researchers used a controlled sleep laboratory setting to analyze the impact lucid dream-based training would have on the dart throwing skills of the test subjects. They concluded that the group of lucid dreamers with few distractions achieved significant motor skill improvements when compared with a control group, a group of lucid dreamers with many distractions, and a physical practice group.

Erlacher and Schredl had had previous experience in the matter. In 2015, they conducted another study, aimed at dissecting the impact lucid-dream-based practice would have on dexterity in the context of a finger-tapping exercise.

They concluded that the lucid dreaming group, the physical practice group, and the mental practice group achieved significant motor skill improvements compared to a no-practice control group.

Conclusion

Lucid dream-based training can significantly improve waking athletic performance, similarly to how mental practice can improve motor skills.

Although the scientific findings are promising in this respect, further investigation is warranted, to determine the efficiency of such training and to make more athletes/coaches available of this potential path of sports performance enhancement.

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