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Here's how to lucid dream and have fewer nightmares

Country Living (UK) logo Country Living (UK) 3 days ago Zia Sherrell
a close up of a coral: Here's how to lucid dream tonight. We explain what a lucid dream is, what it means for our sleep and wellbeing and how to lucid dream on purpose. © Andrew Bret Wallis - Getty Images Here's how to lucid dream tonight. We explain what a lucid dream is, what it means for our sleep and wellbeing and how to lucid dream on purpose.

Have you experienced a lucid dream? Here, we look at the science to reveal what a lucid dream is, what it means for our sleep and wellbeing and how to lucid dream on purpose, if you so wish.

Dreams are typically blurry, puzzling or cryptic phenomena. As we awaken, up to 99% of dreams slip away like sand through the hourglass, leaving only vague, hazy memories.

But what about dreams where you're aware of what's happening and can control the narrative? Around half of people experience these lucid dreams in their lifetime. For some, lucid dreams are spontaneous events, whereas, for others, they're a learned and practised event.

Mystery still surrounds the science of lucid dreaming, so to find out more, we spoke to Dr Pietro Luca Ratti, MD, Ph.D., sleep expert, and Neurologist for WhatAsleep.

What is a lucid dream?

Dreams are visions, sounds, thoughts and emotions that happen in your subconscious while you sleep. Usually, when you dream, it feels real. You're unaware it’s a dream, and you’re powerless over what happens.

Lucid dreams are different because the sleeper is aware of dreaming but doesn't leave the dream state. "Lucid dreaming happens when you're conscious during a dream. You know that you're dreaming, but it feels like more than a dream," explains Dr Ratti.

"Lucid dreams are more in-depth," Dr Ratti continues. "The decisions are up to you." That means lucid dreams are more vivid and you may recognise thoughts and emotions as the dream unfolds and even control the storyline.

What does lucid dreaming mean? Is it bad?

Dreams, including lucid dreams, happen during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage. The first cycle of REM occurs around 90 minutes after you fall asleep.

"Lucid dreaming means you're entering a deep, natural sleep. Many people find they have fewer nightmares when they are lucid dreaming and get a good night's sleep. They don't toss and turn, they don't feel anxious, and they are usually in the middle of a very deep sleep when lucid dreaming happens," says Dr Ratti. "While it can feel weird to some people, it's actually a healthy way to sleep."

Lucid dreaming is no bad thing. In truth, its proponents claim that lucid dreaming has excellent benefits, such as reducing anxiety and boosting creativity.

Lucid dreaming may have therapeutic effects. Researchers are even looking to lucid dreaming as a therapy to help recurring nightmares, PTSD, and depression.

icon: how to lucid dream © Kayocci - Getty Images how to lucid dream

What are the benefits of lucid dreams?

1. Curb recurrent nightmares

As much as 85% of us have the occasional nightmare. Apart from being unsettling, they don't cause any severe problems. However, if you have recurrent nightmares, it can be a different story, with episodes causing stress, anxiety and sleep disturbances.

Certain medications like antidepressants and those used for high blood pressure can cause nightmares. People who have another sleep disorder or a mental health condition like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may find they have nightmares more frequently than most.

Research has found that lucid dreaming may be useful in treating recurrent nightmares. If you can control what happens during a nightmare, you'll understand it isn't real. This can help you manage or reduce their occurrence.

Therapists use lucid dreaming to reimagine recurring nightmares with a new, positive slant during imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT). It can be used in combination with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to increase dream control.

2. Relieve anxiety

Most lucid dreaming research has focused on people with anxiety related to PTSD and nightmares. However, there is anecdotal evidence that lucid dreaming may ease anxiety caused by other situations, but substantial scientific evidence is lacking.

3. Improve motor skills

Researchers think that lucid dreaming may help develop motor skills. They found that if someone completes a motor task while lucid dreaming, then activity increases in the part of the brain involved involuntary movements. In short, mentally performing an action increases your ability to perform it physically

Lucid dreaming could help people with physical disabilities practice motor skills, which would benefit their physical rehabilitation.

What are the concerns around lucid dreaming?

For most people, lucid dreaming is harmless and could be beneficial. However, there may be a few risks for some, especially using techniques to encourage lucid dreaming.

The various issues of lucid dreaming may include:

  • Poor sleep quality. Vivid dreams may wake you up. Also, if you're interrupting your sleep to wake up purposefully, it can be challenging to get enough deep sleep and overall rest.
  • Delirium and confusion. For people with mental health disorders, lucid dreams may blur the line between the real and imagined world.
  • Depression. Lack of quality sleep can cause or make depression worse.
Lucid dreaming © Artecke - Getty Images Lucid dreaming

How to lucid dream: 4 methods to try

If the idea of lucid dreaming is appealing, there are techniques to train your mind to become aware of your own consciousness. Dr Ratti says: "There's no proven way that works for everyone, but there are some things you can do to push yourself toward having lucid dreams."

1. Dream journals

A strong predictor for lucid dreaming is remembering ordinary dreams, which is how a dream journal may help. "When you keep track of your dreams, you're forced to recall them," says Dr Ratti. "This dialogue between you and your dreams will bring back common dream signs, and you'll enhance the intensity of your dreams. This helps you to lucid dream in the future."

Try to log your dreams as soon as you wake and read your dream journal regularly.

2. Reality testing

Reality testing is mental training that increases self-awareness while awake and penetrates dreams while you sleep.

To learn how to lucid dream, you must be able to tell the difference between dreams and the material world. If you integrate reality checks into your daily life, it will encourage your mind to do them in dreams.

Throughout the day, you'll prompt your mind to notice awareness and see how you interact with your surroundings. Ask yourself if you're dreaming, and confirm the answer by trying to touch things, read, turn on a light or talk to people.

The theory is that metacognition levels, or thinking about thinking, is similar in both waking and dream states. Increased metacognition while you're awake should follow suit while you're dreaming.

3. Wake back to bed

The wake back to bed technique requires you to set an alarm for five hours after going to sleep. When the alarm sounds, stay awake for 30 minutes, and then go back to sleep. You should immediately pass into REM sleep and be more likely to lucid dream.

4. Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD)

The MILD technique was one of the original methods used in scientific research to bring about lucid dreams. It's based on a behaviour called prospective memory, meaning you'll set an intention to do something later, such as remember that you're dreaming.

Before going to bed, you'll repeat phrases like "Tonight, I will notice that I am dreaming." The idea is to program the mind to become lucid during dreams.

What is an example of a lucid dream?

Each lucid dream could be unique or may have recurring scenarios or people. They may be friends, family or even fantasy characters.

Virtually any scene can play out in a lucid dream, including surreal events. People can fly, float, sail off cliffs, jump sky high, develop superpowers and generally do as their imagination allows.

Lucid dreamers may even report that the episodes are more substantial than anything that happens while awake.

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