Research shows lucid dreaming can boost creativity and relieve anxiety. Here’s how to do it.
By Anna Bonet
Lucid dreaming is the thrilling experience of knowing or being consciously aware that you are dreaming while you’re asleep. Dream awareness and developing the ability to control your dreams is said to boost creativity, build confidence, and experts believe you can even develop motor skills during the night hours. But what triggers lucid dreams, can you learn to control it and does it come with any side-effects?
We spoke to sleep scientist Dr Kat Lederle from Somnia and Theresa Cheung, dream expert and Sunday Times bestselling author of The Dream Dictionary (HarperCollins, out now) about how lucid dreaming works, the benefits and risks and how to start controlling your dreamworld tonight:
What is lucid dreaming?
Lucid dreaming is the experience of being conscious that you are dreaming, while you are asleep. ‘These are dreams in which the dreamer is fully aware that they are dreaming and can direct them,’ explains sleep scientist Dr Kat Lederle.
While sleeping you are aware that the events unfolding in your mind aren’t really happening, but the dream often feels real. The great thing about lucid dreams is that you may even be able to plan your adventures and dictate what happens next. ‘So if you want to fly, that is exactly what you can decide to do in your dream,’ adds Dr Lederle.
What causes lucid dreaming?
Experts don’t know exactly what triggers lucid dreams or why they happen, but you are more likely to experience them during certain sleep stages. ‘Sleep studies show that lucid dreaming is most likely to occur in the final stage of sleep before you wake up called REM, or rapid eye movement sleep,’ says dream expert Theresa Cheung.
Sleep studies show that lucid dreaming is most likely to occur during rapid eye movement sleep.
‘Scientists don’t know for sure why we dream but what we do know is that it is possible to tap into creative and problem solving abilities in a lucid dream in ways that simply aren’t possible when a person is awake,’ she continues. ‘In other words, lucid dreaming can help you fulfil your full potential and forgive the pun, live the waking life of your dreams!’
Lucid dreaming benefits
Harnessing the powers of lucid dreaming comes with a number of emotional and creative benefits:
- Lucid dreams encourage creativity and confidence
Learning to direct your dreams can have powerful consequences in your waking life. ‘Lucid dreaming gives you the ability to role play, safely face your fears and explore your infinite creativity,’ says Cheung. ‘The confidence and creativity boost this can bring to your waking life is potentially life changing.’
- Lucid dreams allow you to practise skills
Experts believe that you can practice motor skills during lucid dreaming, and effectively refine and develop certain skills that can then be applied in waking life, says Dr Lederle. ‘Mental rehearsal of a skill (mental practice) typically takes place in the waking life,’ says Dr Lederle. ‘However, lucid dreaming enables the dreamer to also mentally practice a sports move or playing an instrument during the sleep phase.’
- Lucid dreams can help relieve anxiety
If you struggle with anxiety, harnessing the power of lucid dreaming may be able to help. ‘There is research to indicate that lucid dreaming really can help you relieve anxiety and help you control nightmares,’ says Cheung.
- Lucid dreams may help you to grieve
If you have been bereaved and you’re struggling to come to terms with your loss, some people have found that lucid dreaming can really help. ‘Studies show that meeting a departed loved one in a lucid dream can significantly ease the grieving process,’ explains Cheung.
5 ways to control your dreams: lucid dreaming tips
Keen to experiment with lucid dreams but don’t know where to start? Hypnotherapist and lucid dream coach Leah Larwood runs online courses teaching people how to lucid dream to support their wellbeing and creativity. Try her top 5 dream control tips:
- Set your intentions
Motivation and intention is arguably one of the most important factors in your success in having a lucid dream. Make sure you explore your reasons fully, ensuring you settle on something that is going to be beneficial to your wellbeing, relationships or career. Feel your motivation in your body and tap into this strong motivation before you go to sleep.
- Keep a nocturnal journal
Start writing down your dreams each morning. Dream journaling will establish a stronger relationship with your dreaming mind. The more you’re able to recall your dreams, even just fragments, the easier it will be for you to have a lucid dream.
- Practise mindfulness
Practising mindfulness will allow you to become more aware of your thoughts, and this will be very useful in your quest to become lucid. Mindfulness is also handy for entering the lucid state from awake.
Try to stay mindful as you fall asleep and pass through that sleepy state before you drift off, also known as the hypnogogic. If you’re lucky, and you manage to stay mindful, you may enter straight into a lucid dream.
- Have reality checks
Try some reality checks during the day. Every time something surreal, unusual or uncanny happens in the day, ask yourself: Am I dreaming? If you get into this habit you’re more likely to ask yourself that same question within an actual dream, which can trigger lucidity.
- Try the Wake Back to Bed technique
The Wake Back to Bed Technique is arguably the most effective way to have a lucid dream. Set an alarm for at least two hours earlier than you would normal wake. Stay awake for 30-60 minutes. You can try some mindfulness or read – you want to be awake, not over-stimulated.
After this time, set your alarm for two or more hours’ time (the time you want to wake for the day) and go back to sleep with a strong intention to gain lucidity. Recite a lucidity affirmation in the present tense such as: ‘Tonight I lucid dream’.
Lucid dreaming potential risks
While there are numerous emotional benefits associated with lucid dreams, a word of warning from the experts: proceed with caution and seek guidance from a sleep specialist before you proceed.
‘If someone is vulnerable emotionally, for example, depressed, experiencing trauma or recently divorced or bereaved, it is advisable to work with a dream therapist or a counsellor before doing this kind of deep inner work,’ advises Cheung.
‘Also be aware that some of the techniques or practises used to induce lucid dreaming, such as the alarm clock method, are more likely to cause sleep problems and the negative effects associated with these problems than lucid dreaming itself.’
While there are many benefits to having lucid dreams, proceed with caution and seek guidance from the experts before you proceed.
Dr Lederle agrees that lucid dreaming may come with adverse affects, particularly when they are induced rather than naturally occurring or unplanned.
‘When we lucid dream the brain activation differs to normal REM dreams,’ she says. ‘This change in brain activity and potentially the changes to sleep structure resulting from using induction techniques, which could result in poor sleep quality.
‘However, not much research has been carried out looking into the potential negative consequences of lucid dreams.’