Did You Know?
The term 'lucid dreaming' was coined in 1913, by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik Willem van Eeden (1860-1932). He used this term in his article 'A Study of Dreams'.
Dreams are a series of images, emotions, and thoughts that occur during sleep. The term 'lucid dreaming' refers to a kind of dream in which the dreamer has the realization that he/she is dreaming, and has some control on the dream. While Frederik van Eeden is credited with coining this term, there are references to this practice in a French publication named Les Reves et Les Moyens de Les Diriger: Observations Pratiques
, which was written by Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys (1867). The title translates to 'Dreams and the ways to direct them: Practical observations'. The scientific community is not at a consensus regarding the veracity of this phenomenon, and studies are still being conducted.
In the 1960s, Celia Green, a British writer and the founder of the Institute of Psychophysical Research, made the connection between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and false awakenings (when you think that you have woken up but soon realize that you are still dreaming). Stephen LaBerge, the founder of the Lucidity Institute, is known for his seminal work in this field. In 1978, he published data on an experiment, wherein the dreamer indicated his consciousness through pre-determined set of eye movements within the dream state. In another study that was conducted at the Neurological Laboratory in Frankfurt, in 2009, gamma brain waves were recorded during lucid dreaming, thereby indicating the fact that the dreamers were at a higher state of consciousness while they were having a lucid dream.
When Do Lucid Dreams Occur?
Sleep refers to a naturally-recurring state of rest that is characterized by partial or complete loss of consciousness, wherein several bodily functions are suspended. There are five stages in one cycle of sleep. Each cycle lasts for 90 minutes. Each cycle includes four stages of NREM (Non-rapid Eye Movement) sleep and one stage of REM sleep. The first stage of NREM sleep is characterized by light sleep, wherein there is a transition from alpha to theta waves. The second stage of NREM sleep is characterized by rapid brain wave activity called sleep spindles. Both the first and second stage last for brief periods. The third and fourth stage of NREM sleep is the transition from light to deep sleep. It is characterized by delta wave activity. In these stages, the body becomes less responsive to the external environment. The REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage is characterized by increased brain activity and respiration rate, along with the rapid eye movement. During this period, the voluntary muscles become paralyzed. It is during the REM sleep stage that normal or lucid dreams occur. This sleep cycle is repeated 4-5 times throughout the night, but the duration of REM periods increases with every cycle.
How to Have a Lucid Dream
When Frederik van Eeden coined the term 'lucid dreaming', he used the term 'lucid' with reference to mental clarity. Basically, lucid dreams are vivid dreams in which the dreamer is aware that he is dreaming and also has the ability to consciously control his dreams. Though studies have been conducted to understand this concept, some still remain skeptical about this practice. The major reason many people practice this type of dreaming is that it gives them the opportunity to delve into the realm of the unconscious mind and have experiences that are not possible in reality. For instance, dreamers experience flying, traveling to unknown places, or acting out their fantasies in such dreams.
In case of a dream-initiated lucid dream (DILD), a normal dream changes into a lucid dream when the dreamer observes or experiences something that is unlikely to occur in reality. As a result, the dreamer realizes that he is dreaming. In case of a wake-initiated lucid dream (WILD), the dreamer goes from a wakeful state into a dream state. Unlike normal dreams that can appear hazy, lucid dreams appear almost real.
Another technique is mnemonics induced lucid dreaming (MILD). In this method, the dreamer has to think about his intention or desire to have a lucid dream when he is falling asleep. Once he has a dream and experiences or notices something that is highly unlikely, he will realize that he is dreaming. Thereafter, he can try to control his actions in the dream. Lucid dreamers suggest that keeping a dream journal and doing reality checks during the day help. Moving the hand through a solid surface, counting one's fingers, checking your watch, breathing through a pinched nose, flying, reading a sentence twice, etc., are some of the reality checks. When you do these reality checks in your dream state, it might help you realize that you are having a dream. Also, by maintaining a diary about your dreams, you will find it easier to remember your dreams.
If you wish to go directly to lucid dream from a waking state, try to wake up around the REM phase of the sleep cycle, as this is the stage during which dreams occur. Stay awake for 10-15 minutes. Thereafter, go back to sleep. This will increase the likelihood of you having a wake-initiated lucid dream.
Lucid Dreaming for Treating Nightmares
Certain studies have suggested the effectiveness of the practice of lucid dreaming for the treatment of nightmares. Nightmares are bad dreams wherein the dreamer experiences very strong and negative emotions such as terror, fear, or heightened anxiety. It is believed that if people affected by nightmares practice lucid dreaming, they will have the realization that they can change the outcome of the dream. All they need to do is to know that nothing can cause them any harm and learn to counter their fear. Those who practice lucid dreaming have revealed that monsters in the dream turn into friendly creatures in lucid dreams.
On a concluding note, having a lucid dream means having an awareness that you are dreaming. At times, one could have a lucid dream without making a conscious effort. However, mastering the art of lucid dreaming is not easy. It is pointless to have such dreams if you don't remember them. Thus, if you are keen on having such dreams, doing reality checks and maintaining a journal will certainly help. Though lucid dreaming has been found to be helpful in the treatment of nightmares to some extent, further research is still needed to understand its benefits or risks. Those who are skeptical about this practice believe that one's natural sleep pattern could get adversely affected, if one becomes addicted or obsessed with it, and it could cause disassociation (blurring the line between reality or fantasy or waking and dreaming). However, the proponents of this practice disagree. They say that dreams occur only in REM stage, which is 20-25% of total sleep. Though there is no scientific evidence on the dangers of lucid dreaming, it is advisable to consult your doctor, if you are affected by any mental condition, just to be on the safer side.