Have you ever started dreaming and suddenly become aware that you are dreaming without waking up? If so, you have experienced lucid dreaming
Imagine drifting off every night into a world of your choosing where you control the storyline. Welcome to lucid dreaming.
Waking up on the right side of the bed is easier when you’ve had sweet dreams. Whether you’re sipping cocktails on a private island with Harry Styles or find yourself armed with superpowers, what goes on in our heads while we sleep can have a huge impact on our day-to-day emotions. So, what if we said there’s a way to control the outcome?
The science behind it
You’ve probably heard of lucid dreaming before, but its powers are often underplayed. “The soft definition of lucid dreaming is a dream in which you become aware that you are dreaming without waking up,” explains Dr David Luke, associate professor of psychology at the University of Greenwich. While 55% of adults say they’ve experienced at least one lucid dream, for some people, “you are also able to consciously take control of your dream”, says Dr Luke.
This phenomenon has been proven by scientists and psychologists. “During lucid dream studies, the prefrontal cortex activity levels have shown that the brain is as active as if it is awake. The prefrontal cortex is also the part of your brain that handles emotions, learning, memory and problem-solving, which may explain why the dreamer is aware and able to self-reflect during a lucid dream,” explains Heather Darwall-Smith, psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council of Psychotherapy (UKCP).
The benefits of lucid dreaming
Sure, the idea of being able to control your own dreams sounds cool, but lucid dreaming can have a number of benefits that could help to improve your waking life, too. The ability to lucid dream can help combat recurrent nightmares and allow you to rewrite the plot of your dream as you go. Need to talk in front of a large crowd or prepare for a big work presentation? Instead of dreaming the worst-case scenario, why not use your dream to practise and rehearse?
Active lucid dreaming can have long-term benefits, too. “It can enhance your sense of agency in the world, raising self-esteem and life satisfaction, as well as reducing stress and improving memory,” says Dr Luke. Studies show that if someone practises a skill in their lucid dream, there are noticeable improvements in that skill in reality, which could be game-changing for people that rely on physical skills for work.
Interestingly, there are similarities among people who have the ability to lucid dream. “Those with elevated levels of mindfulness have more lucid dreams, as do people who tend to recall their dreams more frequently,” says Dr Luke. And luckily, dream recall is something that can be learnt, it just requires a lot of commitment and patience. “Tell yourself repeatedly before you sleep that you will recall your dream in the morning. Having regular sleep patterns, getting plenty of sleep and keeping a dream journal will help aid recall,” says Dr Luke.
Once you’ve successfully worked on your dream recall, there are some other steps to take before you can expect to master lucid dreaming. “Check your reality. Ask the question, ‘Am I dreaming?’ We have to train ourselves to ask this question when we are awake as often as possible, so that asking it becomes habitual and eventually seeps into our dreams,” says Dr Luke. Often in our dreams, our mind can trick us into thinking that we’re awake, so Dr Luke advises trying to “tell the time or read something in your dream. These things are very hard to do in a dream and can often reveal the truth that we are actually dreaming.”
While films such as Inception might make us fear that controlling our dreams could result in us getting stuck in them forever, you can rest easy knowing that it’s impossible to get stuck in a dream. However, there are a couple of things to be aware of before you set out on your lucid dream mission. To start with, remember that lucid dreaming means your brain and body aren’t getting the deep rest they usually require. “Sleep is an important factor in mental health and well-being, and anything you do to disrupt it can significantly affect your emotions and memory,” says Darall-Smith. Plus, if you have any mental health issues, it’s advised you seek expert advice before attempting to lucid dream. “Lucid dreams combined with fragmented sleep may negatively affect emotion and blur the line between what’s real and what’s imagined in people with certain mental health conditions,” she says. So, if lucid dreaming is for you, get practising and you could soon be enjoying that getaway with Harry Styles as often as you like.
How to keep a dream journal
With dream recall being an imperative part of learning to lucid dream, psychotherapist and spokesperson for UKCP Heather Darall-Smith explains how to keep a dream journal.
“Put a notebook by your bed and scribble down the memory of the dream as soon as you wake up – the memories disperse very quickly.”
“Track your feelings and whether you are left with any emotional charge. Were you aware of your feelings and emotions in the dream? Without analysing the experience, write it down. Make it a consistent habit. The process of keeping a dream diary is to increase metacognition, so it requires repetition.”