What Is Lucid Dreaming?
Although theories about lucid dreaming date back to the 1860s, it has not been until fairly recently that scientists began to understand more about this rather remarkable phenomenon. Now, the idea of a dreamer taking charge of his/her own dream has captured the imagination of scientists and everyday dreamers alike.
What is lucid dreaming?
Lucid dreaming was defined in formal research by the psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge in his ground-breaking study: Lucid Dreaming: The Power of Being Awake and Aware in Your Dreams. To answer the question, "What are lucid dreams," LaBerge concludes that a lucid dream is one in which the dreaming individual is aware that he/she is dreaming. Frontiers in Psychology reports that though LaBerge first published in 1985, dream theories that form the basis of his work go back to certain French intellectuals of the nineteenth century, particularly Alfred Maury (1861) and Edmond Goblot (1896).
In his research, LaBerge also found that lucid dreamers are not only aware of their dreams, but they can consciously influence the content of those dreams, enabling them to perform pre-arranged tasks. Historically, many scientists have been skeptical of this idea. Most sleep researchers were inclined to believe that lucid dreams were not dreams at all, but rather “brief arousals" to wakefulness during sleep. Nonetheless, empirical evidence began to appear in the 1970s that lucid dreams did occur during REM sleep. However, this was not definitely proven until LaBerge's work came out in the 1980s.
How to Induce Lucid Dreaming
According to the Lucid Dream Society, Stephen LaBerge regards lucid dreaming as a skill that can be acquired. He developed the MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams) technique so that he and other scientists could dream lucidly in the clinical setting. It is a simple technique and one which even beginners find easy to practice. However, it is best not to expect immediate results, and experts recommend giving the process at least a two-week trial. MILD is a four-step process:
1. Improving Dream Recall.
While this may seem like a simple task, improving dream recall is essential to achieving the ability to dream lucidly, according to LaBerge. Keeping a daily dream diary can help improve the ability to remember dreams and is a good first step in the lucid dreaming process.
2. Performing Reality Checks.
A reality check is a simple action performed within a dream that allows a person to determine if he/she is, in fact, dreaming. An example of a reality check is looking carefully in a mirror. If a someone is dreaming, he/she will notice details about the face or body that appear odd or distorted in order to confirm if he/she is in fact dreaming or not.
3. Repeating Dream Affirmations.
In this step, a dreamer needs to repeat statements that help to support and encourage lucid dreaming. Lucid affirmation statements can go something like this: “I'll have a lucid dream tonight," or “Next time I'm dreaming, I'll remember that I'm dreaming." Through building these positive affirmations, dreamers can help to encourage lucid dreaming.
4. Visualizing the Dream.
Unlike the others, this step usually occurs as a dreamer is falling asleep. When beginning to fall asleep, it is helpful to imagine the content of the dream when the mind is in a deeply relaxed state. Using this technique can help prepare the dreamer to experience the kind of dream they desire and thus be able to better control dreaming.
Lucid Dreaming Benefits
Lucid dreaming may be beneficial for some individuals, notes Pennsylvania State University. For instance, it may help build self-confidence in those overwhelmed by the everyday stressors of life. Since the dreamer controls the outcome in a lucid dream, this could help the individual gain the courage to meet daily challenges.
Moreover, research suggests that lucid dreaming may also have clinical implications. It could possibly be used as a therapy for recurrent nightmares and common issues in ailments such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is also believed that it might aid individuals undergoing physical therapy.
The Dangers of Lucid Dreaming
While there are no known side effects to lucid dreaming, experts warn against becoming too preoccupied with it and neglecting important life goals. Lucid dreaming should be used as a technique to help the dreamer improve his/her life, not to escape from it.
As scientists begin to understand more about the benefits of lucid dreaming, it is not surprising that more and more people have grown interested in how to induce the state that allows them to control and become more aware of their dreams. As long as it is not taken to extremes, many see lucid dreaming as a safe means of conquering and even controlling fears.