Awake while asleep: The power of lucid dreams

The dream world is an amazing place to explore. In my own dreams, I am friggin’ awesome and have saved the world at least 100 times (you all owe me). But controlling dreams is even more amazing and the idea of lucid dreaming has been an elusive phenomenon in science.

Lucid dreaming is when the dreamer is aware that they are in a dream. The dreamer can remember elements of their waking life, exhibit a degree of control over the events in the dream and can sometimes make decisions. It’s a phenomenon that sounds somewhat made up and can make lucid dreamers sound either crazy or very high on drugs. But lucid dreaming is a real thing and lucid dreamers are probably more with-it than the average schmo.

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Real brain connections

Due to the rarity of lucid dreaming, it hasn’t exactly been studied in huge detail, but we do know that there is a neurological (read: brain) connection. Dream researchers (yes that is apparently a career) have linked lucid dreaming to rapid-eye-movement sleep, or REM sleep. REM sleep is deep sleep that happens towards the end of your sleep cycle. During REM sleep, dreams occur and when somebody becomes lucid, brain activity shifts and the dreamer is in this hybrid REM/awake state.

That may sounds all well and good (or boring, please let me know) but how the hell does a dream researcher know that somebody is lucid dreaming? Your body becomes paralysed when you’re in REM sleep, so you can’t exactly wave your hands in the air. But what you can move is your eye balls, so lucid dreamers signal their lucidity through a sequence of pre-arranged eye movements. Pretty genius!

Dalí - Gala and the Tigers, c.1944

Dream Dali style

 

Promoting healthier minds

Okay, so far lucid dreaming seems like a lot of boring studies about consciousness, which in itself is important, but hardly thrilling for the dreamer (or the reader). What lucid dreaming does offer though is a chance to improve the person you are, all while sleeping!

The few studies that do exist on lucid dreaming point to an increased physical and mental capacity for those people that are frequent lucid dreamers. They appear to have a healthier mental state, are more self confident and enjoy a better quality of life. Some researchers even report better decision making abilities and spatial recognition, concluding that lucid dreamers are able to adapt better to the challenges of everyday life.

One interesting study looked at the state of lucid dreamers following traumatic events. The study involved 89 Israeli dreamers before and after a terrorist attack. Those that lucid dreamt frequently showed greater mental resilience and were able to cope better with the stresses of the event. Unsurprising give than lucid dreaming has been used to tackle trauma, post-traumatic stress and nightmares in the past.

It’s hard to tell though whether these benefits are just coincidental, given that many of the studies involved only a small number of people that don’t necessarily reflect the wider population. Nevertheless, it’s thought that lucid dreaming could be a tool used to promote physical and mental well being. One area currently being looked at is stroke patients and the use of lucid dreaming to encourage motor skills. Another area being studied is how lucid dreaming can promote better mathematics…yes just what everybody wants to do, practice fractions in their sleep.

Top tips to lucid dream

Lucid dreaming is clearly not a very well understood event but does show some interesting ways to improve ourselves while napping. That’s efficiency we can all enjoy. And to help you on your way to becoming a more zen-like person, I give you the Top 4 tips to lucid dreaming. These techniques were devised by gurus Paul Tholey and Stephen LaBerge, so supposedly theyre legit.

1. Constantly question reality when you’re awake. This is the reflection technique and it’s thought that doing this while awake, may transpire itself in the dream world. This may help you to recognise weird things in your dream and hence, become lucid.

2. Write down your dreams. This is all about remembering what you have just dreamt. If you are having forgetful dreams, they’re unlikely to be vivid and unlikely to be lucid too. By writing down your dreams as soon as you wake up, it may help you in remembering them.

3. Tell yourself to have a lucid dream. Before you fall asleep, tell yourself that you will be lucid and to look out for bizarre events. For me, these bizarre events often involve Voldemort…don’t ask why.

4. As soon as you wake up, go back to sleep. Dreams occur during REM sleep, which happens towards the end of your sleep cycle. If you go back to sleep immediately, you may be able to drift into the REM sleep quickly and have a better chance of becoming lucid.

I’ve only ever been able to lucid dream a few times and not for a very long period. Once I was a CIA agent and could recall cool Government secrets (all while tying my shoe laces). Another time I was in a desert town and suddenly became lucid. I spent most of the dream jumping really, really high, almost being able to fly. It was pretty cool, but also scary. Clearly, I am using my lucid dreaming abilities for the best possible outcome…

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever lucid dreamt and if you think it’s improved your life. And let me know if any of those tips work for you. Oh and one more thing, if anybody asks you why you’re being so lazy by sleeping all the time, tell them you’re doing science. Happy Dreaming!

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