Lucid dreaming enthusiasts have long been searching for a practical application of the phenomenon. Attempts to use lucid dreaming for the treatment of insomnia have been part of this quest.
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Yes, lucid dreaming does have huge potential for treating various types of sleep disorders. Preliminary studies have yielded promising results in this regard. In this article I, therefore, take a look at some of these studies. I also analyze the feasibility of the proposal and draw up a step-by-step guide to using lucid dreaming for treating your insomnia.
- Can lucid dreaming truly treat insomnia?
- By what mechanisms could lucid dreaming address insomnia?
- LDTI contraindications.
- Step-by-step guide to training yourself to lucid dream.
- Use lucid dreaming to combat insomnia.
Can Lucid Dreaming Truly Treat Insomnia?
Although the body of scientific evidence available in this regard is flimsy, the findings thus far are promising.
The links between insomnia and dreams are obvious. Insomniacs seem to be able to recall more dreams than people who sleep well. This is hardly surprising, however. Insomnia sufferers experience more awakenings per night than healthy sleepers do. Every such awakening is an opportunity for dreams to etch themselves into long-term memory.
In addition to being more frequent, insomniacs’ dreams are more negatively-charged than those of healthy sleepers. The dream content seems to differ as well.
Insomniacs tend to incorporate the negative aspects of their waking life into their dreams.
The best-explored avenue for the treatment of insomnia through dreams is IRT. Imagery Rehearsal Therapy has been used to good effect for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The method by which IRT works for PTSD is through assuming mastery of one’s dreams.
This ability to control one’s dreams is responsible for making IRT + CBTI (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) more effective against PTSD than CBT-I alone.
In addition to IRT, doctors such as De Koninck and Brunette in a 1991 study, have tried pre-dream autosuggestion and lucid dreaming to control dreams. The results obtained through these methods were promising.
By What Mechanism Does Lucid Dreaming Address Insomnia?
As mentioned, lucid dreaming could combat insomnia through dream awareness and control. How would that help with insomnia? Researchers have defined three avenues in this regard.
Dream mastery through lucid dreaming could help insomniacs alter their dream content. They could thus defeat negative dream valence which seems to accompany insomnia. Insomniac’s dreams could then be turned around, to more closely resemble the dreams of healthy sleepers.
Increasing dream recall could improve sleep as well. According to a 2015 study by Perusse, De Koninck, and Bastien, increasing sleep recall may decrease subjective time awake at night. If the recalled dreams are positive, they may provide an additional distress-reducing benefit.
A pilot study by Jason G Ellis, Joseph De Koninck, and Celyne A Bastien, found LDT-I to be a reasonable non-pharmacological approach to the management of insomnia. The said study ended up recommending further research into the matter.
Granted, these theoretical mechanisms of action are quite tenuous. Given the other benefits of lucid dreaming and the IRT/dream mastery link, they are certainly worthy of exploring.
Your first step toward alleviating your insomnia through lucid dreaming is to train yourself to lucid dream. Interestingly, some 50 percent of the population have reported at least one lucid dream per lifetime. 20 percent have regular lucid dreams, at least once per month.
Those are pretty decent odds. If you are a good candidate for lucid dreaming, you stand a good chance of succeeding in assuming control of your dreams.
Not everyone is a good candidate, however.
- People who already lucid dream regularly, can skip the training step. They can move on straight to improving their dream content.
- If you are struggling with another sleep disorder (besides nightmare disorder), lucid dreaming may not be the best treatment option for you.
- Some people may suffer from psychological and/or physical illnesses that may prevent them from taking part in LD training. Note that lucid dreaming may worsen psychosis.
- You may already be undergoing another treatment for insomnia. In this case, it makes no sense to bring lucid dreaming into the picture as well. If you have embarked on CBT-I, stick with it.
- You are taking sleep medication that impacts REM, such as benzodiazepines.
- You are doing shift work, or you have scheduled a vacation.
How to Train Yourself to Lucid Dream
If you can find a specialist willing to train you in lucid dream induction, opt for his/her services. Lucid dreaming is not a widely accepted treatment method for insomnia, however. You will probably have to train yourself.
The first step is to educate yourself on the basics of sleep and lucid dreaming. Learn about the various sleep stages and the links between the REM stage and dreaming. Also, learn about insomnia and what lucid dreaming is.
Focus on dream recall next. Keep a dream journal. Make it your priority to jot down at least one dream you remember every morning. Use a first-person, present-tense format. Feel free to mention any unusual characteristics you may notice in your dreams. You have to grow familiar with your non-lucid dreams since they are the eventual sources of your lucid dreams.
The third step is that of the reality check. Perform a reality check at least 10 times a day. Simply ask yourself whether you are dreaming or not. Pinch yourself or take a peek at your reflection somewhere. The goal of this practice is to make reality checks automatic, so you perform them during your dream as well. Set an alert on your phone if you feel you cannot remember to reality-check.
In addition to reality checks, you should also introduce affirmations. Before going to sleep, state that you are going to dream tonight and that you will become lucid while dreaming.
After about a week of the above routine, introduce visualization to your training program. Before going to bed, visualize what kind of lucid dream you would like to have. Also, visualize yourself dreaming and changing the dream.
Break out your dream diary. Visualize the unusual elements from your dreams. Focus on including those elements in your future dreams. They are likely to trigger lucidity.
Be aware that according to De Koninck and Bastien’s mentioned study, 68% of those who successfully induced lucid dreaming were able to use it effectively against their insomnia.
Use Lucid Dreaming to Combat Insomnia
Lucid dreaming is a wonderful intermediary state of consciousness that can open up your mind in ways you would never have thought possible. Using this state to treat insomnia makes perfect sense.
The scientific backing of this insomnia treatment approach is flimsy for now. The few conclusions researchers have thus far drawn are, however, promising.
The undertaking of training yourself to lucid dream may seem daunting. Statistically, your odds of success are more than decent, however.
Once you achieve in-dream lucidity, focus on “defusing” the negative valence of your dream. Change it into something pleasant. Thus, you will be dealing a blow to your insomnia while you are improving the subjective quality of your sleep.
If not a tread method in itself, lucid dreaming should at least be an adjuvant to other insomnia treatments.