The phenomenon of “waking up” inside a dream might sound a lot like the plot of a sci-fi movie. But is it actually possible to have some control over the way your dreams play out? In fact, the answer is yes. With lucid dreaming, some people can direct their dreams like a play. And the potential benefits of doing so can be pretty amazing.
A lucid dream is one where the sleeper becomes aware they’re having a dream as it’s happening. Sometimes (but not always) the sleeper may be able to control the dream’s narrative. This could mean they create new characters, alter a series of events, or even take on a superpower! Like all types of dreams, they occur most often during REM sleep, or the final stage of a sleep cycle.
While researchers don’t technically know why some people have lucid dreams more than others, studies have shown that differences in brain anatomy could be one possible answer. Only about half of adults have experienced them at least once in their lives, while an even smaller percentage surveyed have them on a regular basis.
Although more research is needed to definitively prove the mental health benefits of frequent lucid dreaming, scientists have suggested that it could have some positive long-term effects, like:
Despite what some movies and sci-fi novels might suggest, there's no risk of getting stuck in a lucid dream. Although it’s possible to have a dream that feels like it lasts for days, at some point you must wake up and the dream state will end.
However, researchers suggest that intentional and frequent lucid dreaming could pose the following risks to your long-term health:
If you’re already suffering from sleep deprivation, a sleep disorder, or a mental health condition, it’s best to seek your doctor’s advice before inducing lucid dreams.
To study lucid dreams, researchers have come up with a few methods to induce them. If you’re interested in some of the potential benefits, the Sleep Foundation recommends trying these techniques:
1. Reality testing
This practice involves repeatedly doing a task throughout your day that helps you verify whether or not you’re dreaming. This might mean trying to do something supernatural (but safe!), like pushing your hand through a solid object. By doing this while awake, the idea is that you will train your brain to do the same once in a dream state, helping you distinguish dreams from reality.
2. Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (or MILD)
With this technique, you’ll go to sleep with the intention of remembering that you’re dreaming once it happens. Before falling asleep, repeat a phrase like “Next time I’m asleep, I will realize I’m dreaming.” After this, sleep for a period of 5 hours, wake up, repeat the same phrase again, and go back to sleep.
3. Wake back to bed (or WBTB)
Similar to the MILD technique, the wake back to bed method involves waking yourself up in the middle of the night and then remaining awake for 30 – 120 minutes before going back to sleep.
4. Take steps to ensure good sleep
While optimizing your overall sleep hygiene will not directly trigger lucid dreams, it will promote healthy, normal sleep cycles. This means your REM cycles will be sufficient enough to produce lucid dreams in the first place. You can improve your sleep hygiene by:
For more information and resources on lucid dreaming, we encourage you to read the following:
What Is Lucid Dreaming? by Verywell Mind
Stages of Sleep by the Sleep Foundation
How to Lucid Dream by the Sleep Foundation
Is Lucid Dreaming Dangerous? by the Sleep Foundation
Applications of lucid dreams: An online study. by APA PsycNet
Waking up with aches and pains? Your sleep position could be the problem. A...
Struggling to get the kids out the door on time? A little tinkering with...