Unlike regular dreams, lucid dreams involve the realization of being in a dream while it is happening.
An estimated 55% of adults have had at least one lucid dream in their lifetime, and as many as 23% of adults experience one or more lucid dreams per month.
It may be possible to learn how to have lucid dreams through specific techniques. However, some techniques for lucid dreaming are more effective than others.
People interested in actively exploring their dreams can read about the research behind lucid dreams, find strategies for having them, and learn about their potential benefits and risks.
What are Lucid Dreams?
Lucid dreams are dreams in which a person knows that they are in a dream.
Researchers describe lucid dreaming as a hybrid state between sleeping and wakefulness. Lucid dreaming typically occurs during rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, the last stage of the sleep cycle, which is when the most vivid regular dreaming usually occurs.
In some cases, the dreamer can control the content of the dream. But more often, a person does not fully dictate what happens in the dream. Studies estimate that only about a third of lucid dreams can be intentionally controlled by the dreamer.
How Do Researchers Study Lucid Dreams?
Because lucid dreams are uncommon and sporadic, they can be difficult to study. However, detailed sleep studies have demonstrated that lucid dreaming is real. Researchers have even been able to communicate with people who are actively having a lucid dream.
In some cases, researchers first train study participants to have lucid dreams. Then they use sensors to track a sleeping person’s brain waves, eye movement, and muscle activity. This can help determine when dreaming occurs, including lucid dreaming. After waking up, people may also record their dream content in a dream journal.
Techniques for Lucid Dreaming
Many techniques have been proposed for stimulating lucid dreams. The evidence is mixed about their general effectiveness and their ability to consistently trigger lucid dreams.
Still, certain techniques may help induce lucid dreaming, and different approaches can be used together. Evidence indicates that some people are more prone to lucid dreaming, so these techniques may not work for everyone.
Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams
The mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD) technique involves mentally reinforcing a plan and intention to have a lucid dream.
The MILD technique includes another approach to lucid dreaming called wake-up-back-to-bed (WBTB). WBTB is based around intentionally waking up after sleeping for about five hours and then going back to sleep.
During the waking period, the MILD technique requires repeating a phrase about how the next dream will be a lucid dream. For example, the phrase may be something like, “In my next dream, I will be aware that I’m dreaming.”
The goal of the MILD technique is to have a lucid dream sometime after falling back asleep. One study found that falling asleep again quickly best promoted lucid dreaming. Other research has found that being awake for 30 minutes or more gives someone a higher chance of having lucid dreams.
The Senses Initiated Lucid Dream Technique
The senses initiated lucid dream (SSILD) technique is another method used to try to trigger lucid dreaming.
The SSILD method involves waking up five hours after falling asleep and focusing on the senses of sight, touch, and sound before going back to sleep. By increasing mental attention to different sensations, those who practice SSILD may more easily become aware of being in a dream after they fall asleep again.
Reality Testing for Lucid Dreams
Reality testing is the ongoing process of closely paying attention to one’s environment while frequently differentiating between wake and dream states over the course of the day.
The idea behind reality testing is to develop a habit of noticing surroundings and whether they exist in a dream or in reality. Then, when this habit is employed during a dream, it may trigger lucid dreaming.
Several studies have found that reality testing alone rarely induces lucid dreams. Because it can be performed during the day, reality testing can be combined with other techniques like MILD, but studies so far have not found a clear benefit to this approach.
External Stimulation Techniques for Lucid Dreams
External stimulation techniques aim to trigger lucid dreaming with environmental stimuli such as flashing lights, vibrations, or musical tones.
The concept behind this approach is that external stimuli may be incorporated into a dream, becoming cues to induce lucid dreaming. Although these stimuli may become part of the dream’s content, in many cases, they do not provoke lucid dreaming.
Medications for Lucid Dreams
Various substances have been tested to induce lucid dreams. While certain medications have shown some success in small studies, more in-depth research is needed to understand how effectively and consistently they enable lucid dreaming.
Is it Safe to Have Lucid Dreams?
Despite significant interest in lucid dreaming, there is a lack of scientific evidence about its safety or its benefits and risks.
Because lucid dreaming is rare for most people, it is unknown exactly what effect inducing lucid dreaming has on overall health. Studies about the relationship between lucid dreaming and mental health have had mixed results.
In addition, frequent lucid dreaming may be related to an underlying disorder. For example, people with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, tend to have more lucid dreams.
For these reasons, people with mental health conditions or preexisting sleep problems may wish to talk with a doctor before attempting to have lucid dreams.
Effects of Lucid Dreaming on Mental Health
The connection between lucid dreaming and mental health is uncertain. However, there is reason to believe that lucid dreams may blur the line between dreams and reality, which could worsen hallucinations for people who experience episodes of psychosis.
Overall, given the lack of medical or scientific evidence, lucid dreaming may not be recommended for people with clinical psychiatric conditions unless they first talk with a mental health professional.
Further research is ongoing to better understand the mental health implications of lucid dreaming and whether lucid dreaming can be used to support mental health.
Effects of Lucid Dreaming on Sleep Quality
One widespread concern is that lucid dreaming may negatively affect sleep quality.
Many of the methods to induce lucid dreams involve altering regular sleep patterns. Some techniques deliberately interrupt sleep by waking the dreamer up after a few hours, while others increase sensory arousal to trigger lucid dreams.
Trying to induce lucid dreams may lead to fragmented sleep, but more research is needed to better understand the specific impacts of lucid dreaming on sleep.
People who use lucid dream induction techniques should make sure they are still getting enough sleep each night. If they have symptoms of sleep loss, such as excessive daytime sleepiness, they should consider talking with their health care provider about their sleep patterns.
What are the Potential Benefits of Lucid Dreams?
Although the exact benefits of lucid dreaming are not clearly established, there are some proposed potential benefits.
- Managing nightmares: Lucid dreams may help some people overcome and navigate problems with repeated nightmares.
- Improving skills: Lucid dreams have been linked to creativity and problem-solving. They may also enable dreamers to rehearse tasks and skills and therefore improve performance during waking hours.
- Dream enjoyment: For some people, the main benefit of lucid dreaming is that they may be able to exert control of their dream content, allowing them to have realistic and enjoyable in-dream experiences like flying.
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