Curious About Lucid Dreaming: Here's What You Should Know
By: Rachel Lustbader
Updated February 16, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn
Sleep is essential for life. Lack of adequate sleep can lead to a myriad of mental and physical health complications, such as lack of focus, reduced immune function, and irritability. Although sleep is something we do every night, many people do not know much about what goes on in our mind and bodies during our nightly cycle of shut-eye.
A Brief Overview Of The Sleep Cycle
Sleep is a complex cycle composed of five different stages. Every night, your body moves through these stages approximately five times. Each stage serves a different purpose, and they all help you to feel well-rested in the morning.
Stage 1- Transitional Phase: The first stage of sleep is the transitional phase. This stage encompasses the period when you are first falling asleep and may feel yourself drifting in and out between sleeping and wakefulness. A great visual of the transitional phase is the person you see nodding off in the middle of a lecture hall- drifting asleep, but then also jolting awake before repeating the cycle over again.
Stage 2-Light Sleep: After the transitional phase comes the "light sleep" phase, where the average person spends approximately 50% of the night. During the light sleep phase, muscle and brain activity, and heart rate slow down. Body temperature also begins to decrease, which sends signals to the body that it is time to sleep.
Stages 3 and 4- Slow Wave Sleep: Stages 3 and four are grouped because they share one dominating characteristic: slow brain waves. Specifically, brain waves slow down to the rate of delta waves (with only the occasional faster wave in the mix). Delta waves stimulate regeneration within the body and produce hormones that play a role in growth and appetite control. The number of delta waves increases, while the occurrence of faster brain waves becomes even more rare, as you transition from stage 3 to stage 4.
Stage 5- REM Sleep: The final stage of sleep, when rapid eye movement occurs, is also the most well-known of the sleep stages. REM sleep is the only stage in which we dream. During REM sleep the brain is extremely active, unlike the other stages. This huge increase in brain activity, which mimics brain activity levels when we are awake, is what allows us to dream.
The recommended amount of sleep is 7-9 quality hours, though it can vary from person to person. Still, if you are having trouble sleeping or getting significantly fewer than 7-9 hours each night, health problems may arise.
Often, insomnia is related to an anxiety disorder or stress. If you are struggling with your mental health and think it may be interfering with your sleep, reach out to an online therapist to discuss how to ease your symptoms and improve your quality of sleep.
What Is Lucid Dreaming?
You now know that dreaming takes place during the REM stage of sleep. Dreaming is a fascinating phenomenon that even most scientists do not fully understand. Most people occasionally remember their dreams and may enjoy reflecting on them the next day. But what if you could engage in your dreams? That is where lucid dreaming comes in.
The term "lucidity" means clarity. Lucid dreaming is a state in which the person has clarity during their dream. Specifically, the person is aware of the fact that they are dreaming. At any moment, if you say to yourself, "am I awake?" and the answer is "yes," then you are lucid at this moment. During lucid dreaming, you can ask yourself the same question- "am I dreaming?" and know the answer. Lucid dreamers are fully aware of the fact that they are dreaming.
Most people are attracted to lucid dreaming because they want to control their dreams. While some lucid dreamers can somewhat control their dreams step-by-step, many others do not fully control their dreams in a lucid state. They can steer it in certain directions, and make decisions about what they want to explore in their dreams, but cannot control every little detail.
Do not get discouraged if you do not immediately feel that you have the ability to control your dreams, despite being lucid. Focus on the awareness aspect of lucid dreaming to start, and controlling your dreams may follow in the future. Even if you never reach the point of fully controlling your dreams, there is much to learn from simply possessing awareness and lucidity during your dreams.
Benefits Of Lucid Dreaming
Not only is lucid dreaming fun and exciting, but it can improve your life in interesting ways. Some of the benefits of lucid dreaming include:
One of the first steps to accessing lucidity in your dreams is to become extremely aware of your surroundings. This is so you can recognize when something is "off" in your dreams, even just slightly, and use that as confirmation that you are in a dream rather than awake. Paying special attention to your surroundings for the sake of lucid dreaming leads to overall increased awareness and changes the way you view the world.
Someone with increased awareness notices the minute details of a place or experience that other people do not take the time to observe. It can help you live in the present because you will want to absorb everything happening around you. You will need to devote your attention to who you are with, what you are doing, and where you are, rather than letting your mind aimlessly wander or get lost in your phone screen.
Though you may start out focusing on the present moment only to achieve lucid dreaming, it will soon become second nature and can be a great way to enhance your life and your appreciation for the small things.
Once you reach the point of controlling your dreams, the world inside your mind is your canvas. Have fun designing the world around you in your dream- it is the perfect opportunity to tap into your creativity.
Even if you do not control your dreams while you lucid dream, and simply remain aware of the fact that you are dreaming, you can get a lot of inspiration from taking note of your surroundings. Anything is possible in a dream, so you have access to visual stimulation that does not exist in reality. If you are a lucid dreamer, you have the benefit of being able to immerse yourself in the dream and are far more likely to remember it the next day.
This is especially true if you keep a dream journal. Be sure to note anything you see that you find interesting or catches your eye, and see how it impacts your creativity, whether or not you are an artist.
Conquer Your Fears and Boost Your Confidence
Once you achieve lucidity and can determine when you are dreaming, you can conquer your greatest fears. If you have a fear, such as heights, flying, or insects, use lucid dreaming to face your fears. Once you do so in a lucid dream, you may find that the emotions surrounding that fear dissipate in your consciousness. Then, when faced with them in reality, the fear will no longer have such a strong hold on you, because you have already been through the emotions of facing your fears in a lucid dream.
This is another case where keeping a dream journal can enhance the benefits of lucid dreaming. If you do face your fears in a lucid dream when you wake up be sure to write about your experience and the emotions you went through. This can greatly help you conquer the fear and lessen the emotional hold it has over you.
You can also use lucid dreaming to face things that may cause you anxiety or distress, such as asking your boss for a raise, approaching someone whom you have a romantic interest in or anything you may not feel confident enough to do normally. If you are lucid dreaming, you can do these things without fear of the outcome, because you know you are in a dream. You will have the chance to experience the emotions of doing what you are too nervous to do in reality, and may find that the experience is not as negative as you had anticipated.
Either way, completing a "practice run" of these experiences in your dreams can help ease your anxiety about doing it in reality, because you have already done it once before. Having the experience in the dream can help ease a lot of the anxiety you would have experienced when performing the same action outside of a dream.
Reflection and Problem Solving
Lucid dreaming is also a great time to reflect and reconnect with yourself. When you are dreaming, you do not have to worry about the distractions of everyday life. Your guard will also be down, revealing your truest self. That is why it is a great time to reflect and meditate, and take time to connect with your mind.
For the same reasons, lucid dreaming can help you solve any problems you may be having. Thinking about your problems from a dream perspective is different than the mindset you face them within daily life, presenting the opportunity to view the problem from a different viewpoint. You may also choose to talk it out with a friend in your dream. Do not be surprised if you wake up from a lucid dream with new clarity or a solution to a problem you have been struggling with.
Along with all of the other benefits of lucid dreaming, perhaps the most valuable is that it is a fun, new experience. Lucid dreaming gives you the opportunity to explore your mind in ways that have never been accessible to you before. It transforms dreams from a blur of quick moments into something you can actively involve yourself in, learn from, and maybe even control. Even if lucid dreaming does not drastically change your worldview or help you solve any major problems, it is a worthwhile endeavor just for the joy it can bring you.
Are There Any Dangers Of Lucid Dreaming?
For most people, there are no dangers of lucid dreaming. However, one potential problem is that lucid dreaming can sometimes blur lines with reality. When lucid dreaming, you will experience real emotions and the experience will seem very real. Most people can easily still distinguish between their reality and their dream world, especially once they tap into their new sense of awareness. But, for people with some mental health conditions, this new world of lucid dreaming can become confused with reality. For that reason, certain people may not be best suited for lucid dreaming.
Lucid Dreaming Techniques
Lucid dreaming can add a lot of value to your life, but it can be hard to get started. If you are interested in lucid dreaming, here are a few tips to hone your lucid dreaming skills:
Keep a Dream Journal
This is one of the simplest ways to improve your lucid dreaming capabilities. Remembering your dreams is essential to understand them and ultimately learn how to control them, and a dream journal is the best way to remember what happens over the course of the night. Keep a journal and pen right next to your bed, and try to jot down what you remember from your dream immediately upon waking up in the morning, before you do anything else.
Eventually, writing down your dreams in the morning will become second nature and a part of your daily routine. If writing in a journal in the morning sounds too laborious, keep an audio dream journal on your phone. An audio journal gives you the opportunity to keep a record of your dream while still comfortably laying in bed with the lights off, and can be an easier way to start the day for some people than writing in a journal.
Meditation has many benefits, such as reducing anxiety and increased focus. Try experimenting with guided meditations focused on lucid dreaming (there are plenty of options available for free online). These meditations can help teach you some of the skills necessary for lucid dreaming, or guide you into a dreamlike state, so you get comfortable with the sensation of consciousness while in a dream. Whatever variation you choose, guided meditations can help prepare you for lucid dreaming.
Set A Sleep Schedule
If you remember from the sleep cycle overview, dreams occur during the fifth and final stage of the cycle, the REM phase. To reach the REM phase, you must first move through the first four phases of sleep. If you wake up frequently throughout the night, the quality of your dreams may be compromised. To ensure you are getting a sound sleep each night, do your best to stick to a regular sleep schedule. Once your body gets used to going to bed at approximately the same time each night, it will be easier to fall asleep, and you will be more prepared to have deep dreams.
Lucid dreaming takes work, and it may not happen for you easily. But, if you are persistent, you will eventually achieve lucidity. Though it may be difficult to get there, lucid dreaming can help open up a corner of your mind that was previously inaccessible and add value to your everyday life. Even if it takes some time to get there, lucid dreaming is a worthwhile endeavor.