Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner’s Guide
Have you ever wished you could control what happens in your dreams? That you could manipulate the content and alter the narrative in any way that you saw fit?
You can by practising lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is a powerful and natural way to experience more vivid and more self-conscious dreams.
In this beginner’s guide, we’ll discuss what lucid dreaming is, the benefits and safety concerns associated with lucid dreaming, and step-by-step instructions to unlock this powerful state of dreaming.
What Is Lucid Dreaming?
The premise behind lucid dreaming is simple. When you are experiencing a lucid dream, you are conscious of the fact that you are dreaming. It is a hybrid state of both waking and dreaming. Achieving this awareness and level of consciousness allows you to interact with the contents of your dream and ultimately manipulate it entirely.
The Science Behind Lucid Dreaming
Contrary to popular belief, lucid dreaming occurs during the Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep.
REM is the deepest stage of sleep, occurring approximately 60 to 90 minutes after falling asleep. Throughout the night your body cycles through periods of non-REM sleep and REM sleep. The periods of REM sleep grow longer as the night goes on.
In the REM stage, the brain produces higher levels of activity and sleep is not as deep. As a result, lucid dreams are usually vivid and memorable.
During a lucid dream, the brain sees increased activity in several areas, including the prefrontal cortex, the precuneus, the supramarginal gyrus, and the inferior parietal lobules.
These areas are important because they are all related to core functions like memory, attention, and self-consciousness.
Neuroscientists and psychologists aren’t 100% sure why we dream at all, let alone why we lucid dream. Theories suggest that dreaming came about as a way for humans to process complex emotions and adapt to external stressors. It is also a way to store memories and likely came about as an evolutionary tool to help humans survive.
Regardless of why we dream normally, lucid dreaming is certainly a step up. By introducing consciousness and control over certain aspects of a dream, people can engage in everything from wish fulfilment to intricate problem-solving.
Potential Benefits Of Lucid Dreaming
Awareness And Control
Lucid dreaming allows you to practice awareness.
Rather than simply watching your dreams play out like a movie, which can make you feel disconnected from what’s happening, you are increasingly aware of the thoughts and emotions that you’re experiencing at the moment.
You can observe the contents of your dreams and relate to them more constructively.
Control is a huge factor in lucid dreaming and a major reason why so many people hope to master it.
In addition to achieving a higher state of awareness both during sleep and wakefulness, lucid dreaming can teach individuals to control their thoughts and emotions.
In a normal dream, you simply react to the contents of your dream, sometimes in ways that don’t make any kind of sense when you wake up. You are also unaware that you are dreaming.
A benefit of lucid dreaming is that you introduce choice and control into the narrative rather than mindless reaction.
Improved Motor Skills
People who practice lucid dreaming can experience improved motor skills as well. In 2016, a small study looked at how dreaming of certain activities can improve those activities in real life. In other words, dreaming of playing a sport activates the same parts of the brain used when you are awake and playing the sport.
Evidence from this study suggests that practising an activity during a lucid dream is an effective way to improve your actual skills in that activity during wakefulness.
For example, someone who loves to paint and is also able to lucid dream may wish to dream about painting. According to some experts, the act of painting in the dream will stimulate the brain and help refine the motor skills needed to increase their overall skill in painting.
Reduce Or Eliminate Nightmares
Lucid dreaming is also known to help people who suffer from chronic nightmares.
Rather than feeling stuck in a frightening situation, lucid dreamers can alter their bad dreams into good ones.
As a result, nightmares tend to lose their power and people find themselves feeling more empowered upon waking.
Boost Creativity And Problem Solving
If you have a problem in your life that you can’t seem to find a solution for, lucid dreaming can help.
Lucid dreaming is known to help dreamers plan out and execute specific plans for real-world problems.
In the same vein, lucid dreaming can have positive impacts on creativity.
Is Lucid Dreaming Safe?
According to a 2019 study on lucid dreaming, at least 50% of individuals have reported experiencing a lucid dream at least once in their lifetimes. However, very few people report actually having more than one lucid dream a month.
Their natural infrequency combined with the increased interest in dream control has led many people to ask whether or not lucid dreaming is safe.
Generally speaking, lucid dreaming is not unsafe. However, even though there are many great benefits to lucid dreaming, there are also several negative side effects to keep in mind. Negative effects can include:
- Disrupted or fragmented sleep
- Subclinical psychosis
- Decreased mental health
Preliminary studies on lucid dreaming have found that this practice can potentially worsen existing symptoms of psychosis by confusing the person’s reality with their dream state. It is usually not recommended for people who have serious mental health issues.
It is a general consensus in the scientific community that further research is needed to fully understand the negative effects or risks of lucid dreaming. However, for the majority of individuals, the potential benefits outweigh the risks.
How To Lucid Dream
To lucid dream, there are several steps you need to follow both before falling asleep and once you awaken. There are also a handful of sleep and memory techniques that can be implemented to increase the likelihood of lucid dreaming success.
The setup of your sleep space is an important initial step to successful lucid dreaming because it helps regulate REM sleep.
In addition to sticking to a sleep schedule, you’ll want to keep the room cool and dark, by keeping a close eye on the thermostat and investing in a set of blackout blinds or curtains.
It is also recommended that all electronic devices are removed from the room to avoid distractions or sleep disruptions.
Use A Dream Journal
After creating an optimal sleep space, you will want to keep a dream journal to develop metacognition.
You should keep your dream journal and a pen or pencil right by your bed. Immediately after waking, you should open up your journal and write down everything you can remember about your dream the night before.
If you find yourself waiting to write until after you’ve completed part of your morning routine, you will lose details and weaken recall.
This practice will help increase your self-awareness and train your brain. Furthermore, you can read through old dream journal entries and look for common themes, patterns, or symbols that reoccur.
Mnemonic Induction Of Lucid Dreams (MILD)
The MILD technique helps you create memory intentions. In other words, it is a way to alert you to the fact that you are dreaming.
As you fall asleep, direct your attention to a dream you’ve had recently. Then, choose a mantra and repeat it to yourself. The mantra should sound something like, “Next time I dream I will remember that I am dreaming.”
If done successfully, the MILD technique will help you fall back into a dream you’ve already had. You’ll be able to notice elements of the dream that seem strange or otherworldly and thus be able to actively lucid dream.
Wake Back To Bed (WBTB)
Another common technique lucid dreamers use is the Wake Back to Bed technique. The goal of this technique is to trick the brain into staying active even as you sleep.
To perform this technique, set an alarm clock for five hours after your initial bedtime. When the alarm goes off, get up and perform a mind-stimulating activity like reading or writing for at least 20 minutes. After that, you can return to sleep.
Finally, you will want to develop a reality-testing system. This is a technique that takes place largely when you are awake and helps improve metacognition and gain more frequent lucidity.
Throughout the day, you should complete regular reality checks to help you differentiate between wakefulness and dreams.
A common reality-testing technique includes checking the clock to ensure that time is progressing as it should be. You could also look at your reflection in the mirror and search for irregularities or things that are out of the ordinary.
The Bottom Line
Although it may sound a little like science fiction, lucid dreaming is a real and naturally occurring sleep phenomenon.
When done correctly, lucid dreaming allows people to make choices in their dreams and even control certain aspects of them.
Further research is needed to fully understand the positive and negative effects of lucid dreaming. However, by following the steps above, you can try lucid dreaming for yourself.