Written by Maia Dall’Acqua
Illustrated by Jenny Zhang
Can you manipulate your dreams? If so, you’re probably experiencing an interesting phenomenon called lucid dreaming! Lucid dreamers have the ability to become aware that they are dreaming, and sometimes even influence their dreams. For some people, this simply means recognizing that they are asleep, while for others, it could mean having a great deal of control over their unconscious actions. While the idea of lucid dreaming has been around for centuries, scientific advances within the last few decades have increased our understanding of what it means to have a lucid dream and what happens to us when experience them.
Lucid dreams occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is a stage of sleep during which—like its name suggests—our eyes move around quickly. During the night, we usually cycle through several periods of REM and non-REM sleep, with most of our dreams occurring in the REM phase. The idea that lucid dreaming happens during this period was proven by Stephen LaBerge in the 1990s through an experiment where he asked participants to move their eyes during dreams at predetermined intervals. Because eye movements like this usually occur during REM sleep, he was able to conclude that it is in this period that lucid dreams take place.
More recent scientific research has shone a new light on the underlying basis of lucid dreaming. For instance, it was discovered that there is greater activity in the parietal lobe during lucid dreams, which is an area of the brain that processes sensory information like sight, spatial awareness and touch. Because of this, we can confirm that lucid dreaming is a conscious process and quite unlike normal dreams where we’re not self-aware. While you may never have experienced a lucid dream before, it is still a skill you can learn through regular practice! There are many methods and books available with training instructions that can help you achieve lucid dreams. Some techniques that have been proven to work for many people include inducing REM sleep by waking up at certain times during the night and mnemonic induction, which is a technique where you repeatedly remind yourself that you will be aware during your dreams before you drift off to sleep. Although learning to lucid dream can be a tricky process, it might be worthwhile if you’d like to remember more of your subconscious adventures! Lucid dreamers report that they can often easily recall dreams after waking up, which is another benefit of engaging the conscious mind while we’re asleep. In fact, keeping a dream journal is a good step towards increasing your dream awareness and is something that’s recommended for anyone who’d like to start lucid dreaming.
Having control over your dreams can be a fun and creative activity, but it also has several practical uses. One of the most intriguing is lucid dream therapy, which is used to treat a variety of issues such as anxiety or recurrent nightmares. Dreams can provide a good outlet to process emotions and practice mindfulness, and they can be a safe space to explore and confront any anxieties and phobias we might have while still being in control of the situation. Recurrent nightmares can often be treated through lucid dreaming by creating an alternate ending for the dream, which makes it a very effective therapy for those who take the time to learn how to activate their conscious mind while asleep.
Many people can benefit from having lucid dreams outside of therapy as it allows for creativity to be expressed in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Our actions in lucid dreams can surpass those in real life because objects and actions can be manipulated in impossible ways. For instance, flying or putting your hand through a solid wall cannot be safely achieved in reality, but anything is possible behind the curtains of sleep.