Can Lucid Dreaming Help You Gain Insights When You Are Awake?

lucid dreaming

What is lucid dreaming? How have famous dreamers used it in their waking lives? And what do scientific studies reveal? Learn how to get started with lucid dreaming…

I was running on a mountain trail with a giant rubber band the size of a hula hoop in my hand. Suddenly, I was aware I was dreaming. As I approached the edge of a drop-off, I had the thought “I can fly right now if I want to.”  Using both hands to grasp the rubber band, I fashioned a sling I could sit on, and jumped off the edge of the cliff. Soaring high over pine trees and lakes, I was euphoric. Now this is sleeping, I thought.

What is lucid dreaming?

A lucid dream is simply a dream in which the dreamer is aware of the dream and is therefore able to exert some control over the dream. The term ‘lucid dream’ was coined by Dutch author and psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in his 1913 article A Study of Dreams, though people have been lucid dreaming long before he came up with the phrase. Even the philosopher Aristotle wrote about them, saying “often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.”

Who are some famous lucid dreamers?

James Cameron, the director of Avatar, cites lucid dreaming as one of his biggest inspirations. He told Hollywood Today:

“I’ve kind of realized that what I was trying to do was create dream imagery, create a lucid dream state while you’re watching the film.”

Salvador Dali, the eccentric surrealist painter, used to pre-program his dreams. Many of his works are inspired by lucid dreams, including the bizarre Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening.

There is a lot of suggestion that Stephen King has dabbled in lucid dreaming – in his 1995 novel, Insomnia, for instance. In an interview with Naomi Epel, King said:

“I’ve always used dreams the way you’d use mirrors to look at something you couldn’t see head-on, the way that you use a mirror to look at your hair in the back. To me that’s what dreams are supposed to do. I think that dreams are a way that people’s minds illustrate the nature of their problems. Or maybe even illustrate the answers to their problems in symbolic language.”

Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein were also thought to be frequent lucid dreamers.

Is there science behind lucid dreaming?

A study in the Journal of Neuroscience published in January of 2015 makes a connection between metacognitive ability (the ability to reflect on, and report, one’s mental states) and frequent lucid dreamers. Research showed that the brains of frequent lucid dreamers were different –  particularly skilled at monitoring their own thoughts. It is possible that future studies will show a link between controlling lucid dreams and monitoring our own thoughts while awake.

What are the benefits of lucid dreaming?

Psychologists at the University of Lincoln in England found in a June study that people with frequent lucid dreams are better at cognitive tasks that involve insight, like problem-solving.

Three groups were studied (non-lucid dreaming, occasional lucid dreaming, and frequent lucid dreamers). The frequent lucid dreamers scored much higher on problem solving tests.

Researchers hypothesized that the insight that frequent lucid dreamers have in their waking state might be helping them in their dream state, and vice-versa. An aware state of mind during a dream will open up a vast potential of possibility for the dreamer.

Parinaz Samimi, MPH with SleepTrain, says that lucid dreamers can “solve complex problems, address emotional issues in personal relationships, and enhance general self-awareness and mindfulness even when awake – simply by actively participating in their dreams. It’s an opportunity to make the eight or so hours in which you sleep a very productive time.”

I’m in. How do I get started with lucid dreaming?

Lucid dreaming takes commitment. By setting up proactive habits and practising them daily, regular lucid dreaming is attainable. Here are the steps I suggest to begin lucid dreaming:

1.    Be well-rested.

Go to bed! An over-tired mind will sleep too deeply to lucid dream, while a rested body will spend more time in REM sleep –  exactly where you need to be to successfully lucid dream. Experts suggest that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Try to go to bed early –  you’ll need extra time in the morning to journal (see step four).

2.    Wake slowly.

Loud alarms do not help with this, so consider an alarm clock that wakes you slowly. Keeping your eyes closed, review your dreams, trying to recall them with as much detail as possible.

3.    Journal right away.

Keep a dream journal beside your bed with a pen so you can record your dreams right away. Write quickly, capturing images, words, and ideas. Details can come later. You should be spending at least fifteen to twenty minutes completely recording your dreams. A key component in lucid dreaming is awareness of the dream.

4.    Throughout the day.

Think about your dreams from the previous night several times throughout the day. Sincerely asking yourself “is this a dream?” several times a day will teach your body awareness that will carry on into your sleep. The ability to recognize the dream state is key in successful lucid dreaming. Positive affirmations such as “tonight I will fly” or “tonight I will solve my problem” will help lay the groundwork for a productive and enjoyable lucid dream.

5.    While dreaming.

After practicing the previous four steps regularly for a while, you should experience a lucid dream. The first mistake dreamers make when they realize they are in a dream is startling themselves awake. Make an effort to stay in the dream. If it helps, focus on moving your hands or touching your knees. Relax and observe the dream.  Once you gain composure and confidence, start exploring.

Why not thoroughly enjoy the eight hours you sleep at night? Face fears, conquer demons, soar over mountains, ride a unicorn – the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.