Have you ever had a dream where you were aware that it was a dream? You might have found that you were able to control both your actions and the actions of others within the dream. If so, you’ve likely experienced a lucid dream.

Lucid dreaming takes place when the person having the dream knows they’re in a dream. There’s still a lot of research left to be done on lucid dreaming and its causes, but researchers have been able to identify some potential benefits and dangers of lucid dreaming. They’ve also identified a few ways to increase your chances of experiencing a lucid dream.

Lucid dreams aren’t as uncommon as they may sound for those who haven’t experienced them. Roughly 55% of people report having experienced a lucid dream in their lifetime. 23% of people report experiencing them regularly.

How Do Lucid Dreams Work?

A lucid dream is one where you’re fully aware that it’s happening. Lucid dreams can feel very real, but the dreamer is aware they’re in a dream. This awareness doesn’t necessarily cause the dream to end. On the contrary, it gives the dreamer a greater level of control over the dream.

Lucid dreams take place most often when someone is in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. REM is the fourth sleep stage. During this stage, the sleeper’s heart rate and brain activity both increase. REM lasts about ten minutes during the sleep cycle and increases during each subsequent cycle. Most adults experience four to six full sleep cycles throughout the night.

Lucid dreaming can happen at different levels. Some dreamers might have a vague awareness that they’re in a dream. But other people, especially those who intentionally experience lucid dreams, find they can control and manipulate the dream to make it more enjoyable.

How Do Lucid Dreams Help?

You might be surprised to learn that lucid dreaming can be a good thing. Studies have linked lucid dreaming to many real-life benefits. It’s worth noting; however, that research to back up many of these benefits is limited.

Reduced Anxiety

For people who deal with chronic anxiety, lucid dreaming can be an effective treatment. For many people, anxiety stems from a feeling of lack of control. In a lucid dream, individuals may feel empowered and in control, which can help them to feel less anxiety in real life.

Decreased Nightmares

Lucid dreaming can be an effective tool in helping people to overcome recurring nightmares or stress dreams. Frequent nightmares are common in people who struggle with PTSD, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, substance abuse, and more. Lucid dreaming allows people to identify when they are dreaming and then control the dream. For someone who often experiences nightmares, just the awareness that it’s a dream can help provide relief.

Improved Motor Skills

Studies have linked lucid dreaming with improved motor skills. It’s essentially a way of practicing motor skills, even though you aren’t necessarily doing that particular movement. It could even be helpful to people who need to go through physical therapy. The mental practice helps with the physical execution.

Increased Creativity

The link between lucid dreaming and creativity runs two ways. Those who are creative are more likely to experience lucid dreams. Similarly, experiencing lucid dreams can help make someone more creative. It can be an effective way of testing your imagination.

Improved Problem-Solving

Just as lucid dreaming can help with creativity, it can also help with problem-solving. Similar to how it can be a way of practicing certain motor skills, it can also be a way of practicing one’s ability to solve problems, making it easier to do in real life. 

Potential Downsides

Lucid dreaming can have plenty of benefits, but it’s also important to discuss the potential dangers as well. First, lucid dreaming can impact someone’s sleep quality. Having vivid dreams can cause someone to wake more often, making it more difficult to fall back asleep. Similarly, it can cause someone to spend less time in deep sleep. This is especially true of lucid dreaming techniques that involve intentionally waking up during the night.

Lucid dreaming can also lead to other potential dangers such as sleep paralysis, confusion, and hallucinations. These negative side effects can be even more pronounced in those who struggle with mental health disorders.

How To Lucid Dream

Not only are lucid dreams possible, but research has shown that people can intentionally have lucid dreams. Here are a few steps to follow to help you experience lucid dreams:

  1. Reality testing: This technique, also referred to as reality checking, is a way of determining whether or not you’re really dreaming. Individuals perform these reality tests both during the day and at night to differentiate between dream and reality. Examples of reality testing could include trying to accomplish an impossible task, such as breathing with a closed mouth and nose or pushing your hand through a solid object. Another reality testing method involves looking for things that change but shouldn’t. For example, look at the text in a book, look away, and then look back. In reality, the text wouldn’t change. If it does change, you can easily tell you’re in a dream. Similarly, look for mirrors or tattoos on your body. If they look different than they normally do, you’re likely in a dream.
  1. Wake-back-to-bed (WBTB): This technique requires you to set an alarm for about five to six hours after you fall asleep. Stay awake for a short amount of time, and then return to sleep. The goal of WBTB is to immediately immerse yourself into REM sleep, which is when lucid dreams occur.
  1. Dream journal: Experts believe that the better you remember your dreams, the more likely you are to lucid dream. As a result, forcing yourself to remember your dreams by writing them down can help you lucid dream. Once you become more aware of your dreams, you’ll learn to recognize them as they’re happening. You can identify patterns that recur in your dreams.
  1. Meditation: Those who practice meditation and other mindfulness exercises become more aware of their surroundings and are more likely to be aware of their dreams.
  1. Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD): This technique involves convincing yourself that you’ll remember your dreams. Like WBTB, MILD involves waking up after a period of sleep and before going back to sleep, telling yourself repeatedly that you’ll remember your next dream.

Final Thoughts

Lucid dreaming is the phenomenon where the person experiencing the dream is aware of what’s happening. It might sound unusual, but more than half of people have experienced such a dream. In other words, they know they’re dreaming. Lucid dreaming hasn’t been fully studied, but researchers have been able to identify both benefits and dangers that come with it. There are even steps people can take to create a lucid dream or increase their chance of experiencing one.