Lucid dreaming is classified as a psychological phenomenon, which is essentially about dreaming while actually being aware of dreaming.
During lucid dreaming, one may in fact be able to exert a certain amount of control over the dream itself, and the characters/environments it generates.
Lucid dreaming has been known since ancient times. In fact, the philosopher Aristotle has defined it too, at least on one occasion.
What is a lucid dream?
As already stated, a lucid dream is a dream during which the dreamer is essentially aware of the fact that he/she is dreaming.
This recognition is generated by the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, one of the areas of the brain which is indeed activated during REM sleep. Lucid dreams occur during REM sleep.
Once the recognition of a lucid dream occurs, the dreamer needs to be careful not to disrupt the process. Like many other “peculiar” dream-related issues, lucid dreaming is a sort of a delicate balancing act.
The origin and the various brain areas activated by lucid dreaming have been scientifically proven and tracked, so there’s nothing “occult” about the process, though there are still skeptics out there, who consider lucid dreaming little more than a brief period of wakefulness.
To fully meet the definition of lucid dreaming, a dream needs to present the following attributes:
- The dreamer has to be aware that he/she is dreaming.
- There needs to be awareness regarding decision-making. Awareness of self and of memory functions needs to be in the mix as well.
- Awareness of focus and concentration as well as awareness of the actual meaning of the dream need to be present as well.
With all that, real world physics do not necessarily work in the lucid dream, and the objects populating the environment of the lucid dream disappear after awakening.
The above makes it clear that indeed few of the lucid dream accounts actually qualify as “proper” lucid dreams.
Is it bad to lucid dream?
Lucid dreaming is generally considered to be a very safe experience, though under certain circumstances, it may be startling and scary to dreamers unprepared for what such an experience entails.
Below, I’m going to discuss a few of the “dangers” of lucid dreaming, but I have to put it forth yet again, that the term “danger” is used very loosely here.
Of all lucid dreaming “dangers,” sleep paralysis is the most obvious.
What does sleep paralysis have to do with lucid dreaming you may ask?
Well, both phenomena occur on the boundary between being conscious and unconscious and both happen during the REM stage of sleep. In fact, lucid dreaming can easily slip into sleep paralysis and vice-versa.
Looking at the definition of sleep paralysis, one may even conclude that it is indeed but a form of lucid dreaming.
During the REM stage of sleep, when we have the most vivid “conventional” dreams, the body goes into a sort of paralysis, partly as a way to prevent us from acting out those dreams.
Sometimes, it so happens that the brain wakes up before the body is relinquished from this paralysis. This way, the person who experiences sleep paralysis, gets effectively stuck halfway between being asleep and awake.
During sleep paralysis, people have reported having frightening nightmares, which – due to them being conscious – take on a whole different dimension.
What you should know about sleep paralysis is that it is perfectly natural and that it will not harm you in any shape or form. That should allay your panic when you do find yourself in this weird situation.
Panic and fears extend far beyond the nightmares experienced during sleep paralysis though. Some people are afraid they’ll end up stuck in a lucid dream, unable to awaken. Such fears are baseless, though they are indeed understandable.
Lucid dreamers sometimes experience “false awakening” episodes, when they effectively try to wake up, only to then realize that they are in fact still dreaming. What’s truly scary is when this cycle keeps repeating, with seemingly no end in sight.
The bottom line in this regard is that as scary as it may seem, false awakening is indeed just as harmless as the whole process of lucid dreaming.
My take on this aspect is that lucid dreaming does not have to be fought. Giving in to the experience will allow the dreamer to explore a different reality, a different plane of existence.
I myself have never struggled to snap out of one of my lucid dreaming episodes, but I have heard that fighting it will result in more false awakening incidents.
Nightmares represent another scary aspect of lucid dreaming. Like any dream, a lucid one can become a nightmare as well. While some say lucid nightmares are much more frightening than normal ones, let us just consider this: in a lucid dream, you are well aware that you are actually dreaming, and you exert a certain amount of control over the dream too.
In my book, that makes lucid nightmares less frightening than “real” ones.
Experienced lucid dreamers, such as myself, can make proper use of this limited amount of control, and we can sometimes turn nightmares into pleasant dreams. The more experienced you are in this regard, obviously, the better chance you stand to accomplish this.
What’s more: through these lucid nightmares, you can actually stare down and eventually conquer your fears. Working through your negative feelings and stress factors this way can indeed be very constructive.
Getting hooked on lucid dreaming and developing an addiction is another concern regarding the safety of the phenomenon.
As an experienced lucid dreamer, I can tell you that the perceived dangers in this regard are greatly exaggerated.
Indeed, as other forms of escapism (such as video games), lucid dreaming does have a potential to become addictive. From my personal experience though, I have concluded that this potential is extremely meager, and if there’s no special, pre-existing mental condition involved, it is quite close to zero.
If you happen to have a mental illness, or a you already suffer from an addiction, you may want to consult a specialist before attempting lucid dreaming. The greatest danger for people with such pre-existing conditions is that they’ll confuse dreams with reality.
Last but not least, we have the issue of exhaustion and sleep deprivation. Those who lucid dream too much, may indeed miss out on quality sleep and thus end up exhausted and sleep-deprived after a while.
My personal experience is different in this regard too though. I feel invigorated and refreshed after a lucid dreaming episode, though the truth is that I pay special attention to not overdoing it.
If you somehow feel exhausted as a result of your lucid dreaming, simply lessen the time you spend trying to fall into a lucid dream.
Why do some people have lucid dreams?
Some people are more inclined to have lucid dreams than others.
This is a fact that has always been known/recognized, but only recently have there been studies done on indeed why those who have lucid dreams have them, while others can easily go a lifetime without ever experiencing this peculiar trick of the mind. According to these studies, people prone to having lucid dreams possess an outstanding ability to extract information from context.
Indeed, during my lucid dreaming episodes, I have personally seen that the realization that I am indeed having a dream, comes from noticing a tiny discrepancy in the dream itself, something that is just not in the right spot…Once the realization strikes, the lucid dreaming experience begins.
Now, I personally may not be much of a puzzle-solver (I might simply lack the required patience), but according to the above-mentioned studies, frequent lucid dreamers are also better than average at solving complex puzzles, which require a unique, outside-of-the-box approach. Such people are apparently also better at finding patterns in complexity, which simplify things. Complex information processing and decision making are allegedly also among the strengths of lucid dreamers.
While lucid dreams mostly happen spontaneously, they can in fact be voluntarily triggered, and in this regard, I am proof positive indeed.
How do you have a lucid dream?
As I said above, lucid dreaming can in fact be induced voluntarily, though it is probably safe to assume that those with a predilection for lucid dreaming and those who have had the experience before, will probably have an easier time at this undertaking.
Here’s a brief guide to help you get started on your lucid dreaming journey.
Remember, lucid dreaming should normally be a pleasant experience and its dangers are mostly panic/fear-related. There is no way a lucid dream can hurt you in real life.
Also: do not obsess over this. Make it a sort of a habit to try to induce lucid dreams and to actually have them once you get the handle of how it all works. Moderation is the key word here.
Your first step is to keep a dream journal. This is easily accomplished by placing a pen and paper next to your bed, so when you wake up and the memories of your dreams are still vivid, you can write them down. This will help you identify your dream patterns, and tell you when you’re most likely to dream.
Try to identify reoccurring dream elements. This way, you’ll be able to recognize them/spot them during dreaming, thus effectively triggering a lucid dreaming episode.
Acetylcholine is a compound which has been found to regulate REM sleep. By taking a supplement, such as galantamine, that increases acetylcholine levels, you’ll effectively make your dreams more vivid, and you’ll advance your likelihood of having a lucid dream. High acetylcholine levels are apparently linked to longer and broader REM sleep stages.
High melatonin levels also facilitate vivid dreams and lucid dreaming. You can up your melatonin levels by observing a strict sleep schedule, by sleeping in complete silence and darkness, and by generally improving the quality of your sleep. Certain foods are known to promote melatonin as well.
Meditation is an important preparatory stage for lucid dreaming. Through meditation, the would-be dreamer relaxes, allowing his/her mind to drift, while his/her breathing gets deeper and more uniform. A feeling of floating and auditory hallucinations may result from this meditative stage, if done right.
Use self-suggestion. Make it your stated goal to have a lucid dream that night, and to remember it the following day. Set your brain up to recognize you are dreaming when you eventually get to that stage.
As far as my personal lucid dreaming journey is concerned, this is perhaps the most important ritual: reality checks. Pinching yourself for instance won’t hurt in a dream. You can develop special habits in real life, like writing something on your hand and checking it periodically. In the dream, the writing will not be on your hand. Questioning your reality every now and then (in real life) will develop in you a state of mind necessary for lucid dreaming.
Pay keen attention to objects such as mirrors, faces and details of pictures on the walls in real life. In your dreams, such details are usually unclear, so you’ll find it easier to recognize that you’re dreaming by searching for such details there.
Remember, when you do achieve lucid dreaming, do not fight anything you might find scary, like for instance false awakenings. Just give in to the experience and focus on dream-surfing, on making the most of your lucid dream. You will snap out of it when the time comes, do not worry about that.
I have personally found that “pushing” scary experiences is the best way to face your fears. Instead of fighting them, embrace them and “ask for more,” fully aware that nothing bad can happen to you in your dream.
Need more help? Visit my Lucid Dreaming Guide.
Can everyone have a lucid dream?
The short answer to that is yes. Theoretically, everyone who dreams can lucid dream as well.
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Lucid dreaming is simply another realm of dreaming, one where consciousness meets unconsciousness.
Many people have lucid dreams spontaneously, while others won’t ever have a spontaneous lucid dream in their lives.
I am personally convinced though that through the above detailed techniques, everyone can in fact “learn” to lucid dream.
What happens when you die in a lucid dream?
Most likely, you will simply wake up. No, you will not die in real life too. This is a myth and a misconception regarding lucid dreaming.
The reason you’ll wake up is that your “dream death” will induce a surge of adrenaline in you that will snap you out of it all.
I will agree though that dying in your lucid dream is not the most pleasant experience.