Most of my nightmares involve my dogs, where they suddenly don’t get up or they drop to the ground while we’re playing in the yard. And each time it happens, I’m overwhelmed with this feeling of helplessness; I know what I want to do, but I don’t see myself moving to make it happen. The next day, I check on all our dogs, paying closer attention to the one I dreamt of the night before. In the dream, I always wish I could do something as soon as I want to—and for some people, that’s exactly what they do.
What is a lucid dream?
Lucid dreaming is when you know you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. If you’ve ever had a dream where you knew you weren’t awake, that’s already considered a lucid dream—you don’t actually have to be able to control things. In 2016, a review published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found that 55 percent of people have experienced lucid dreaming at least once in their life; 23 percent of individuals have them at least once a month. It’s been found that lucid dreams are also common in people who have narcolepsy—a chronic neurological disorder that makes it difficult for your brain to control your sleep-wake cycles.
When do you have a lucid dream?
Like most dreams, lucid dreaming usually happens during REM sleep. Your sleep has a lot of stages, and REM sleep or deep sleep happens 90 minutes in (and every 90 minutes from that point on). According to Healthline.com, “Your eyes move around quickly behind your eyelids and your brainwaves look similar to those of someone who is awake. Your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure rise to near-waking levels.” Additionally, you become temporarily paralyzed in REM sleep, to keep you from acting out whatever it is you’re dreaming of.
History of lucid dreaming
The concept of lucid dreams is hardly a new one. In the ‘70s, psychologist Keith Hearne conducted the first research into lucid dreams for his PhD at Liverpool University. He’s known for inventing the first “dream machine” in a sleep-lab. In the ‘80s, Stephen LaBerge, a psychophysiologist often called the Grandfather of lucid dreams, demonstrated through several studies that lucid dreaming is a “learnable skill.” In fact, his team was even able to measure “dream time” to see how long a dream takes: “We have straightforwardly approached the problem of dream time by asking subjects to estimate ten second intervals during their lucid dreams. Signals marking the beginning and end of the subjective intervals allowed comparison with objective time. In all cases, time estimates during the lucid dreams were very close to the actual time between signals. However, this finding does not rule out the possibility of time distortion effects under some circumstances.”
How to have a lucid dream
Many have said that they can have lucid dreams—which is why there are several techniques on how to go about it. Here are some of the common ones:
- Reality testing – This one is a form of mental training, to help your mind increase its awareness. Set an alarm every two to three hours and do a reality check. Examples of reality checks include looking at your reflection in the mirror (do you look normal?), touching solid objects to see if your hand goes through, checking the time to see if it keeps changing. Doing these reality checks throughout the day will train your mind to do the same while you’re dreaming.
- Wake back to bed (WBTB) – This technique requires you to set an alarm five hours into your sleep state. You go to sleep and when the alarm rings, do something small and quiet for 30 minutes like reading a book, and allow yourself to fall back to sleep. You’ll more likely to lucid dream.
- Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD) – MILD involves setting an intention, telling yourself that you will lucid dream tonight. Do it before going to bed.
Knowing that you’re dreaming while you’re in a dream can be beneficial—especially to those who have recurring nightmares. Nightmares, in general, are disturbing dreams; you often wake up feeling afraid, guilty, and angry and it’s difficult to go back to sleep. If it keeps happening, it can trigger a person’s anxiety and diminishes your sleep quality. In a lucid dream, you can train yourself to notice clues that let you know it’s just a dream. It can also feel more in control of the situation.
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