Lucid Dreaming: An Overview
By Logan Volkert
What is Lucid Dreaming?
Lucid dreaming is when you’re aware that you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. It is a state of awareness, and as such, it may be possible to control what happens in your dreams. However, having the ability to control time and space is not a requirement of lucid dreaming, nor is it guaranteed that you will be able to. Sometimes, lucid dreamers turn a flower into a field, and other times, they pick the flower, smell its fragrance, and know that it is all but a dream.
If this sounds a bit out there, don’t worry, I, too, was skeptical at first. After experiencing a lucid dream for myself, however, I was captivated and began studying the phenomenon more intently. For this article, I will discuss the science behind lucid dreaming, and I will briefly explain some methods that have helped me experience it.
The Science Behind Lucid Dreaming
When studying dreams, objective science aims to avoid the Freudian practice of interpreting dreamworlds and their meanings. Instead, it seeks to prove that lucid dreaming is real, and it does so through finding facts rather than building off assumptions. To start, researchers needed a launch point, and so they used a study conducted by Stephen LaBerge in 1990. In LaBerge’s experiment, researchers found that participants having a lucid dream were able to voluntarily move their eyes in specific patterns and control their breathing (Neider). Although LaBerge explained the science behind why they were able to do so, researchers at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) wanted to expand on his findings.
To do this, researchers used an electroencephalograph (EEG) to record and observe how neurons in the brain communicate during sleep. In layman’s terms, this means that researchers stuck a series of “patches” to participants’ heads to graph and monitor their brain wave patterns. Using this method, researchers found that during a lucid dream, there is an increase in neuron activity happening in the brain’s front lateral regions (Neider). These brain regions facilitate cognitive functions like self-awareness, and they mostly deactivate during sleep, hence our inability to realize when we’re dreaming. Neuron activity does naturally increase during the REM-cycle of sleep, but for those who were lucid dreaming, activity levels far exceeded that of the norm. Perhaps then, lucid dreaming may be attributed to this increase in activity, as researchers found the phenomenon to commonly occur during or after the succession of the REM-cycle.
While the study found no correlation between the ability to lucid dream and the efficiency at which participants could complete cognitive tasks, researchers did suggest that the extended activity taking place within the brain may possibly contribute to introspective capabilities, like that of self-reflection and emotional regulation. These, however, are areas that require further study.
Because this study was much too dense to cover in its entirety, I will link it here for anyone interested.
Methods to Achieve a Lucid Dream
I would highly recommend you read about these methods in more detail, as these are brief, simple descriptions. I also left out the Mnemonic Induction (MILD) method because it is complicated and demands a more thorough explanation.
Method 1: Reality Checks
Check your reality, literally. Every hour of every day, check your watch, look away, and look back to ensure that time is following the laws of physics. Pinch yourself (gently). Ask yourself if you’re dreaming. Plug your nose and try to exhale (this is what I personally do). The goal here is to get your mind to become aware that it is aware. Meta, I know, but in doing so, you will train your brain to “check reality” while you’re dreaming. These checks cannot be done on autopilot, as success hinges on you embracing a high level of awareness. One of my most vibrant lucid dreams happened because I plugged my nose but was still able to breathe, and I only decided to do that because I first realized that something seemed off. (A shopping mall was an inflatable bounce house, but without practicing awareness in the real world, my dreaming mind likely would’ve accepted that sight as normal.)
Method 2: Wake Back to Bed (WBTB)
Most “veterans” recommend newcomers start here, but they may also suggest pairing WBTB with reality checks. Begin by setting your alarm for 4-5 hours after you fall asleep. Once it goes off, do a small activity that requires at least partial awareness, but don’t exert yourself too much, as you don’t want to fully wake up. After 15-20 minutes, return to bed. When you begin falling back asleep, intend to lucid dream. Tell yourself you will, visualize it happening. Remain aware for as long as possible, and, especially if you practice checking reality, your overactive mind might maintain that awareness after you’ve fallen asleep. If it does, you will have a lucid dream.
Keep in mind that lucid dreaming will not happen overnight; it takes a great deal of practice and intent. If it takes you a while, months even, don’t get discouraged. Love the process, and the results will reciprocate.
References:Neider, Michelle et al. “Lucid dreaming and ventromedial versus dorsolateral prefrontal task performance.” Consciousness and cognition vol. 20,2 (2011): 234-44. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2010.08.001