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Lucid Dreams: When They Occur and How to Have Them

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Lucid dreams - Dr. Axe

Have you ever felt like you had control over your dream? It felt real and vivid, but you were able to determine the narrative? If so, you were lucid dreaming. It’s suggested that about half of all people have experienced lucid dreams at one point in their lives, and far less have these controllable dreams a few times per month.

Although lucid dreaming may interrupt restful sleep, which can become an issue if it occurs frequently, many people describe lucid dreaming as a creative, mood-boosting and even therapeutic experience.

What Are Lucid Dreams?

Lucid dreams are dreams that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when our brains are extremely active. When having a lucid dream, we are actually cognizant of the fact that we’re dreaming.

Lucid dreams have even been characterized as controlled experiences that enable the dreamer to alter dream events.

Some researchers explain this dream state as a good indicator of mental health and well-being, which explains why some people try to deliberately induce lucid dreaming.

When Do They Occur?

Lucid dreaming usually occurs during REM sleep. This stage of sleep happens about 90 minutes after you fall asleep.

It’s the stage you go through right before you enter a deep slumber.

In REM sleep, your heart rate speeds up and breathing quickens. Your brain is active in this stage too, which is what allows for lucid dreaming.

The typical adult only spends about 20 percent of her sleep cycle in the REM stages.

During REM sleep, your brain sends out sensory and motor signals that process emotions, store memories and more. This brain activity is done in the prefrontal cortex, the part that’s in charge of decision making, personality expression and planning.

It makes sense that we can experience fantastical dreams when this part of the brain is so active.

Many times, people have trouble knowing if they are in a dream state or reality when lucid dreaming. It’s described as a “hybrid state of consciousness.”

How to Lucid Dream

Although most people experience lucid dreams spontaneously, there’s developing research and reports on people deliberately inducing lucid dreaming. Why? Many enjoy this altered state of consciousness that occurs naturally.

With lucid dreaming, your conscious is still awake, while your subconscious is dreaming.

There are some techniques that can help induce a lucid dream or train your brain to enter this dream state more often.

  • Practice remembering your dreams: The best way to remember your dreams is to keep a dream journal that describes the events of your dream. This enables dream recall, which helps promote lucid dreaming.
  • Get a good night’s sleep: In order to experience lucid dreaming, you have to enter the REM stage of sleep. It’s actually the last REM stage that’s the longest and can lead to the best experience. Using natural sleep aids can help your body enter that active stage. If you’re tossing and turning all night, your brain may not be able to experience lucid dreaming. Some great sleep aids include magnesium, valerian root, daily exercise and relaxing essential oils (like lavender).
  • Wake-back-to-bed technique: This lucid dreaming technique is meant to help you come out of the deep slumber you are in after many hours of sleeping and bring you back to REM sleep. The idea is to set an alarm about two hours earlier than you’d usually wake up. Then start “daydreaming” or beginning a dream while awake and relaxing in bed. Eventually, in theory, you’d fall back asleep and continue your dream.
  • Finger-induced lucid dreaming (FILD) technique: This FILD technique has gained attention for its ability to help promote lucid dreaming:
    • Set your alarm two hours earlier than normal.
    • Turn off your alarm and get comfortable in bed again.
    • Breath deeply and begin moving your index and middle fingers up and down, as if you were playing two alternating notes on a piano.
    • Keep moving your two fingers until you drift off to sleep.

Benefits

Here are some interesting facts on lucid dreams (LD) that were reported in research published by Frontiers in Neuroscience:

  • LD allow you to exert control over the dream scenario.
  • This is considered by many to be an “ideal state.”
  • LDs are associated with increased mental health, self-confidence and creativity.
  • People may wish to engage in LD in order to engage in problem-solving and wish fulfillment.
  • LD may help ease the effects of traumatic stress, and it may help people overcome fears and promote healing.

1. May Benefit Mental Health

For some people, lucid dreaming can be beneficial for their mental health and self-confidence. This is because a lucid dream is a controlled, ideal state that allows the person to address fears and promote healing.

This dream state may also help people sort through problems, because the prefrontal cortex is the problem-solving part of the brain. Lucid dreaming may help overcome or relieve phobias because people are able to come face-to-face with their fears in a way that feels like reality.

2. Promotes Creativity

Lucid dreaming has been associated with measures of creativity. It’s also been linked to problem-solving successes.

This likely occurs because your conscious mind is mingling with your subconscious dreaminess and even hallucinatory states.

3. May Alleviate Nightmares

There is a therapeutic approach called lucid dream therapy that’s practiced by people who suffer from chronic nightmares or night terrors. Studies indicate that the idea is to allow patients to gain control over their nightmares, which lets them alter the endings of the dream scenarios.

Risks and Side Effects

Researchers suggest that there are some possible drawbacks to lucid dreaming, especially when it’s done on purpose.

For one, it can negatively impact sleep quality and may even cause sleep deprivation. Another possible issue is that these dreams may confuse “psychological reality-fantasy boundaries.”

Studies show that when people try to induce a lucid dreaming state with forced wake-ups, they are disturbing their normal sleep cycles. We know that poor sleep can lead to a number of health issues and have a negative impact on physical and cognitive health.

These health risks associated with lucid dreaming are from frequent, usually induced lucid dreams. For the occasional lucid dreamer, the side effects are minimal, if not nonexistent.

Conclusion

  • Lucid dreams are dreams that occur in the REM stage. In this state, you are aware that you’re dreaming and sometimes able to control the narrative or dream outcome.
  • Research suggests that lucid dreaming may benefit well-being, creativity and sense of self. It may also help people face phobias or fears and promote problem solving.
  • The potential downside of lucid dreaming is that it disturbs the restful, deep slumber of sleep that we need. When lucid dreaming occurs naturally, it’s safe and may be beneficial. But frequent induced lucid dreams may have a negative impact on your natural sleep cycle.
Josh Axe

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