By the end of its second opening month, Inception had grossed over $570 million dollars.Inception was a huge hit – millions of people flocked to theaters to witness a futuristic world in which science had advanced so far that lucid dreaming was now a common occurrence – so common, in fact, that many could no longer distinguish dreaming from reality, and skilled thieves, such as Dominic Cobb, could steal intimate and valuable of secrets by linking their lucid dreams to any sleeper’s dreamscape.
Inception was essentially a movie on the power and potential of lucid dreaming. However, while lucid dreaming was portrayed as something sinister and shady in the movie, in real life lucid dreaming is a boon and a scientific wonder. Although currently, dreams cannot be “linked” to one another as in Inception, lucid dreaming still has vast advantageous potential.
WHAT IS LUCID DREAMING?
So what exactly is lucid dreaming, what are some of the advantages of perfecting this ability, and how can we begin to lucid dream?
Lucid dreaming is the act of dreaming while being aware that one is doing so (Dement 323). Normally, while dreaming, we do not consciously direct the events happening within that dream. Indeed, how many times in your life can you recall jolting awake in a sweat because of some crazy dream event – going to school completely naked, falling off a cliff, or being unable to run away from something because your feet are glued to the ground? When you lucid dream, you can control the outcome of these events. I’m naked? Well it doesn’t matter, because I’m dreaming – I can just wish a pair of clothes onto my body and they will appear. I’m falling off a cliff? I’ll just fly to safety – maybe even take a vacation to the crystal-clear oceans and paper-white sand beaches of Jamaica. The only limit is your imagination – when you learn how to lucid dream, even recurring, horrifying nightmares can become blissful wonderlands of puppies, candy, and even romantic dates with superheroes.
Many have wondered about the scientific validity of lucid dreaming – is this wonderful ability truly possible? Indeed, it is – in many sleep studies, EEGs have shown an “increased activation of the frontal lobes of the brain,” with weak electrical currents of around 40Hz often being able to induce lucid dreaming (G. Voss & U. Voss 29). Indeed, this data correlates to the fact that lucid dreaming occurs during the REM stage of sleep – high brain activity is a characteristic of REM, for not only is brain analyzing the information within a dream, but also it’s creating more sleep mentation (abstract images and thoughts during dreaming) to process (Dement 33). As the night grows longer, more time is spent in this “rapid eye movement” state, and the chance of dreaming grows proportionally higher (Dement 49). Harnessing the brain during this highly cognitive and unique state through lucid dreaming would be extremely beneficial – one will not just have access to conscious thinking in the waking hours, but in the sleeping hours as well!
Humans live in two cyclic states: wakefulness and sleep (Dement 8). For most people, sleep and the dream state is the perfect time to recharge, relax, and let your subconscious guide you blissfully through the strange wonder of your mind. Some may be wary of lucid dreaming – what if this act of “conscious dreaming” will counteract the relaxing effects of sleep? While this is a valid question, there’s no need to worry: even if one is consciously directing the flow of the dream, restorative sleep occurs during the NREM stage, which is not affected by what occurs during the REM dream period (Dement 39). And what if one’s happy dream turns into a nightmare, or worse, a night terror? Sleep would certainly not be so “relaxing” in that state. Lucid dreaming would be the only way to escape, redirect, or control the nightmare – a much better alternative than letting oneself be sucked defenseless into a world of terror.
APPLICATIONS OF LUCID DREAMING
There are many proven beneficial scientific applications for lucid dreaming. If patients suffering from PTSD can learn how to lucid dream, by planning out how to combat their nightmares during the day, at night, when they feel the onset of a frightening dream situation, these patients can then become lucid and redirect the dream as rehearsed. Lucid dreaming is also highly useful in treating depression – inside a lucid dream, one can go to his/her happy place, resolve issues that had so upset him/her during awake hours, and simply allow that individual to feel more rested, combating the depressing effect of sleep deprivation.
Lucid dreaming is also incredibly useful for athletes. Imagine that you are an athlete, and you’ve missed a few practices due to a sudden illness. Tomorrow, you’re expected to go back to practice, yet you haven’t been able to drill the coach’s plays at all… or have you? Indeed, you have! Inside a lucid dream, you’ve honed your sensory-motor skills and hand-eye coordination. You’ve created the perfect arena or environment with no distractions, and increasingly difficult “levels” to master once you’ve defeated the current challenge you’ve manifested. Through repetition, you’ve gained mastery over all parts of your sport, whether it be passing a ball, throwing a discus, or memorizing a routine. As memory recall is just as strong in a lucid dream as it is in waking existence, you rise in the morning feeling refreshed, confident, and prepared for the practice ahead (Dement 328). This is not just mere speculation – countless athletes have used lucid dreaming to hone their skills, and the power of dream repetition is backed by science. In a research study conducted by scientist Daniel Erlacher, participants who utilized lucid dreaming to practice coin tossing were able to perform remarkably better in a real-life coin toss than when tested on previous mornings without having practiced in a lucid dream (Taitz 178).
In the previous paragraph, I mentioned some of the scientifically validated benefits of learning how to lucid dream; however, there are so many more uncharted territories in which to use this dreaming phenomenon! Indeed, the possibilities are quite endless for lucid dreaming – for the world is yours, and if you can think it, you can certainly conjure it up and make it a “reality” within your mind. Imagine that you are a surgeon, preparing for a neo-natal surgery you must perform early tomorrow morning. Inside your lucid dream, you imagine all the possible scenarios that could go wrong, and figure out how to respond accordingly to prepare for the worst. Imagine that you are a mathematician who’s been trying to solve some theory for the past few months. The mind is in a different state in the dream world, and maybe, while lucid dreaming, you are able to utilize this fresh and new perspective to solve the complex theory! Imagine that you are a college student hasn’t completely finished studying for a midterm tomorrow morning. It’s 2 AM and you really should get some sleep, but you don’t feel adequately prepared. Well, fear not! Go to sleep, and inside your lucid dream, study the material, essentially sleeping and studying at the same time! Eliminate all distractions and conjure up all the information you know about the material, quizzing yourself, creating worksheets, and reviewing your mental notes. You’re friends will all be so jealous: you’ve solved the age-old problem of getting enough sleep vs. finishing all your studies, all because of lucid dreaming!
Of course, the situations I mentioned in the previous paragraph are merely hypothetical, yet the beauty of lucid dreaming is that anything is possible inside of your dreams. You can improve upon some valuable skill in your life (dexterity, critical thinking skills, musical ability) through constant repetition; you can prevent anxiety and stress in the tangible world by immersing and conditioning yourself in that stressful environment in a dream, thus, improving your confidence in that situation when it happens in real life!
HOW CAN YOU BEGIN TO LUCID DREAM?
At this point, you may be wondering: just how common is lucid dreaming? Well, surveys on lucid dreaming have found that about “50% of people experience a lucid dream at least once in their lifetime and about 20 percent have lucid dreams… once a month or more often”. Even more incredibly, in Germany, about 1% of people asked this question responded that they even had weekly lucid dreams – often more than one lucid dream per week! How have the 1%, and even the 20%, learned how to recognize the lucid dream state, and consequently, learned how to lucid dream at will?
Dr. Stephen LaBerge, famous psychophysiologist and lucid dream researcher, believes that the answer lies in the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD) Technique which is comprised of three steps: Focus Your Intent, See Yourself Becoming Lucid, and Repeat. Broken down, the first step involves reminding yourself as you are falling asleep that your purpose this night is to lucid dream. The second: while keeping this intention in mind, recall a dream from a previous night and analyze how you could’ve recognized it was a dream. Then, imagine yourself becoming lucid within that recalled dream, controlling and directing it as you wish. Finally, repeat the above steps until you drift off to sleep!
By following these steps (as well as possibly purchasing the Nova Dreamer mask or keeping a “sleep journal” documenting the events in all your dreams which combined would highly increase the chance of lucid dreaming) you can begin on the pathway to mastering lucid dreaming.
Happy dreaming everyone! - Kevin Lee
Dement, William C. The Stanford Sleep Book. Stanford, CA: William C. Dement, 2006. Print.
Taitz, Isaac. “A Neurobiological Model of Lucid Dreaming.” Clinical Applications of Lucid Dreaming Therapy. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014. N. pag. Print.
Voss, Ursula and Georg Voss. “A Neurobiological Model of Lucid Dreaming.” Lucid Dreaming: New Perspectives on Consciousness in Sleep. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014. N. pag. Print.