Lucid dreaming: Controlling the stories of sleep
Lucid dreaming: Controlling the stories of sleep
ISLAMABAD, (Online) - Have you ever started dreaming and suddenly realized that you were in a dream? Have you ever managed to gain control over your dream narrative? If your answer to either of these is “yes,” you have experienced what is called lucid dreaming.
What is lucid dreaming, and how can you achieve it?
Movies such as Inception have popularized lucid dreaming. This movie features impressive dream artisans who are able to control the shape and content of their dreams, as well as the dreams of others.
Such feats of dream manipulation may not seem possible to the same extent in our real lives, but they are not altogether absent.
In fact, a number of people are able to experience something called lucid dreaming, and some of them are even able to control certain elements of their nightly dreams.
According to some research, around halfTrusted Source of all people have had a lucid dream at some time in their lives, and around 11% experience one or two lucid dreams per month.
In his much-cited poem A Dream Within A Dream, Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “All that we see or seem/Is but a dream within a dream.”
Whether or not he is right is a matter for philosophers to debate, but the boundary between dreams and reality is something that lucid dreaming appears to explore.
In this Spotlight, we look at what qualifies as lucid dreaming, whether these experiences can have any practical applications, and how a person might be able to become a lucid dreamer.
What is lucid dreaming?
Typically, when we dream, we do not know that the dream is not real. As a character from the movie Inception quite aptly puts it, “Well, dreams, they feel real while we’re in them, right? It’s only when we wake up that we realize that something was actually strange.”
However, some people are able to enter a dream and be fully aware of the fact that they are actually dreaming.
“A lucid dream is defined as a dream during which dreamers, while dreaming, are aware they are dreaming,” specialists explain.
The very first record of lucid dreaming appears to feature in the treatise On Dreams by the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. In it, he describes an instance of self-awareness during a dream state.
“[If] the sleeper perceives that he is asleep, and is conscious of the sleeping state during which the perception comes before his mind, it presents itself still, but something within him speaks to this effect: ‘The image of Koriskos presents itself, but the real Koriskos is not present,’” he wrote.
It is unclear how many people actually experience lucid dreaming, though certain studies have tried to gather information regarding its prevalence — and it seems that this phenomenon may be quite common.
For instance, researchers in Brazil surveyed 3,427 participants with a median age of 25. The results of the survey indicated that 77% of the respondents had experienced lucid dreaming at least once.
When does it happen, and what is it like?
Like most dreams, lucid dreaming will typically occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. For some people it occurs spontaneously, but others train themselves to start dreaming lucidly (or to become better at it).
As one experienced lucid dreamer told Medical News Today:
“[M]y lucid dreaming […] occurs when I’m waking up, or sometimes if I’ve woken up briefly and I’m going back to sleep. Nowadays, I can pretty much do it on a whim, as long as I’m in that half-asleep half-awake process.”
The degree to which a person can influence their dream also varies.
Some people may simply wake up immediately upon realizing that they had been dreaming. Other people, however, may be able to influence their own actions within the dream, or parts of the dream itself.
The lucid dreamer who spoke to MNT told us that she was able to manipulate the dream narrative in order to create a pleasant experience for herself.
“Usually,” she explained, “I can control the narrative in the dream, so for example, if I’m unhappy with the way things are going in the dream, I can change it.”
What are its applications?
Lucid dreaming is certainly an attractive and fascinating prospect; being able to explore our own inner worlds with full awareness that we are in a dream is intriguing and has an almost magical flavor to it.
Lucid dreaming may help people get rid of their nightmares and resolve their fears.
However, can lucid dreaming have any practical applications?
Dr. Denholm Aspy, at the University of Adelaide in Australia, is a researcher who specializes in lucid dreaming.
He explained to MNT that this experience can actually be therapeutic. Its main application, Dr. Aspy said, is to address nightmares — especially recurring nightmares, which may affect a person’s quality of life.
The practice of learning to lucid dream to stop nightmares from occurring or recurring, he explained, is called “lucid dreaming therapy.”
“If you can help someone who’s having nightmares to become lucid during that nightmare,” he said, “then that gives them the ability to exert control over themselves or over the nightmare itself.”
“[L]et’s say you’re being attacked by someone in a nightmare. You could try to talk to the attacker. You could ask them, ‘Why are you appearing in my dreams?’ or ‘What do you need to resolve this conflict with me?’”
Dr. Denholm Aspy
“Some people,” he added, “take on superpowers or special abilities, [so] they can fight back against the attacker. And then you can also try to escape, so things like flying away, or even doing techniques to deliberately wake up from the nightmare.”
Lucid dreaming also has the potential to help people with phobias, such as a fear of flying or a fear of spiders.
“If a person has a particular phobia, then their lucid dream environment […] provides an interesting opportunity to do things like exposure therapy, where you gradually expose yourself to the thing you’re afraid of, in an attempt to gradually overcome that fear,” Dr. Aspy said.
This is possible, he added, because dream environments can provide a realistic enough experience without it actually feeling unsafe. During lucid dreaming, an individual knows that they are not in the real world, so they may safely explore their fears without actually feeling threatened.
‘Lucid dreaming is a kind of creative activity’
At the same time, lucid dreaming is also attractive as an unusual means of entertainment — much like the immersive experience of virtual reality.
An experienced lucid dreamer might be able to “go on an adventure” and interact with people and things in ways they may not be able to in real life.
The lucid dreamer who spoke to MNT said that she thinks of the experience as something akin to storytelling, which makes her feel happier upon waking up:
“Lucid dreaming for me is a kind of creative activity — I get to explore what my dreams are telling me a little bit versus what my conscious mind wants. It’s not got much use apart from just being interesting, and it makes me happy usually […]. I tend to wake up quite content.”
“I do lucid dreaming for fun,” she went on to say. “I enjoy it, and as someone who enjoys storytelling, it’s a similar experience to writing a story or playing a video game. You get immersed in a narrative that involves you in some way.”