I have been a lucid dreamer all my life.
At first, I had no idea what it was or what was happening. I probably just thought is was a regular dream state, but obviously there was much more to it!
For anyone who does not know, lucid dreaming is the ability to recognize when you’re dreaming and then having the power to take control of that dream. It’s like waking up in a movie that you’re writing, directing, designing the sets for, and starring in, all at the same time. During lucid dreams, most people are able to perform wild feats of strength, travel instantly to distant planets, fly through the sky or be romantic with their favorite supermodel. Interestingly, why lucid dreams occur and why some people are able to control them is a bit of a mystery.
Nearly half of the population has had a lucid dream at least once in their lifetime, and a fifth of the population report having about two lucid dreams per month! However, those that take the time to master lucid dreaming, like any other skill, are few and far between. Although lucid dreaming isn’t fully understood, we can take a look at the research and determine which factors make someone a likely lucid dreamer.
Common Physical Characteristics of Lucid Dreamers
Lucid dreaming has been linked to higher-than-normal levels of brain activity during sleep, especially in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain deeply involved with the sense of self, conscious awareness, language and memory. In some laboratory studies, lucid dreamers can even send eye-movement signals to researchers to let them know that they are aware and dreaming. (Kinda like Inception!)
MRI scans have also shown that lucid dreamers have more gray matter volume which may indicate higher levels of conscious thought, self-discipline and making decisions, all of which might foster the critical self-awareness needed to dream lucidly.
Sleep Disturbances Linked to Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming has been linked to sleep issues like narcolepsy and sleep paralysis. People with narcolepsy often suffer from sudden attacks of sleepiness, extreme daytime drowsiness, fitful sleep, and vivid nightmares. Narcoleptics have low levels of hypocretin, a substance in the brain that aids alertness and keeps people from having REM sleep at inappropriate times. Because narcoleptics have to wrestle with the boundary between consciousness and unconsciousness, they may be more likely to maintain awareness during their dreams and then exert control. This is good news because one study suggests that lucid dreaming may help narcoleptics cope with nightmares.
Personality Traits Of Lucid Dreamers
Lucid dreamers seem to have some personality traits in common. The most important one may be self-awareness. While we’re awake, each and every one of us has the ability to think about our own thoughts, emotions and behaviors. That’s called metacognition. When we’re unconscious, we lose that ability. (It makes sense. We are without consciousness.) However, lucid dreamers carry metacognition over to the dream state are able to use it to manipulate or control their dreams. This isn’t the only link. Other common personality traits include:
- Dream Recall: People who are good at remembering their dreams are also more likely to be lucid dreamers.
- Introspection: An introspective person tends to think a lot about why they do what they do and as a result they may be naturally metacognitive
- Creativity: Some studies have found that lucid dreamers are more creative than their counterparts. (Your sleep chronotype can determine when you’re most creative).
- Multi-Tasking: To be a successful lucid dreamer, you have to exist in the dream state while maintaining a level of self-awareness. It’s probably no surprise to learn that lucid dreamers often consider themselves to be good at focusing on multiple tasks at the same time, though the current brain research shows that people really aren’t good multitaskers, single tasking remains the most efficient way of focusing and completing tasks. When you are finished reading this post, watch this video, I recently answered a barrage of sleep questions on Nordic Now.
Behaviors that Promote Lucid Dreaming
Even if you’ve never had a lucid dream, it doesn’t mean that you won’t or can’t. There are instances of people participating in dream studies who weren’t lucid dreamers going in but were able to learn how to do it before the end of the study. So It’s quite possible that anyone can pick up the skill if they set their mind to it and practice a little. And there are even a few behaviors that make lucid dreaming more likely.
Meditation: People who meditate regularly are more likely to report lucid dreams. Meditation helps people develop an awareness of their mind in the moment and improves overall self-awareness. In other good news, meditation helps you sleep better in general, so I definitely recommend it.
Vitamin B6: This vitamin helps keep your nervous and immune systems healthy. It can also help you remember your dreams. Studies have found that people who took a dose of vitamin B-6 before bedtime were more likely to remember their dreams. The participants said their dreams were more vivid than usual, too. (Vitamin D is also important for healthy sleep)
Practice: People who practice lucid dreaming will get better at lucid dreaming. One of the simplest techniques is to draw an X on your hand and get into the habit of looking at the X throughout the day, so when you’re dreaming and you don’t see the X on your hand, you will know that you are in a dream state and will be able to take control of the situation.
Although we don’t know for sure why lucid dreaming occurs, we can construct a profile of the average lucid dreamer. He or she would have:
- An active prefrontal cortex and a brain with high gray matter volume.
- They would likely be introspective, creative and self-aware.
- There’s a good chance they may struggle with a sleep disorder.
- It’s also likely they’d be skilled at remembering their dreams.
However, it seems that just about anybody has the capacity for lucid dreaming if they’re willing to practice it. So the mystery remains.
Dr. Michael Breus
P.S. Sleeping comfortably through the night is critical to good sleep (and a dreaming state), the easiest upgrade for better sleep is a new pillow. I sleep on the Everpillow. If you sleep on your side, you’ll love the Curve.