What is lucid dreaming?

Lucid dreaming is becoming aware that you’re dreaming, and then, sometimes, being able to take control of the dream. For some reason, when we are usually dreaming we’re just swept up in the dream and are not aware that we’re dreaming. It’s for this reason that dreams are so closely associated with our subconscious, it’s basically our subconscious mind that is in control when we’re dreaming.

How do we know that Lucid dreaming is a real thing? Firstly, there’s a very good chance that you’ve already experienced a lucid dream before. But if you haven’t, they may sound a little far-fetched. One common misconception is that lucid dreaming is a paranormal phenomenon. It’s not. A number of scientific experiments have shown they are real. The way they did this was pretty ingenious. Its based on what’s called REM (or rapid eye movement) sleep. When we dream, our eyes tend to move, even though our eye-lids are shut. What’s more, these eye movements can basically show where the person in the dream is looking, if they are climbing a long ladder in the dream, for example, the dreamer’s real eyes may be looking up and down a lot. If they are waiting to cross a road in the dream, the dreamer’s real eyes may be looking from side to side a lot. Some people, through a lot of practice, learned to make a particular pattern of eye movements in their dream as soon as they became aware that they were dreaming. Then the scientists in the sleep lab where the studies were taking place were able to measure their eye movements and confirm when they saw that pattern occur.

How long do lucid dreams last? Even though most people sleep around 7 hours during the night, not all of this time can be spent dreaming. There are different stages of sleep that we all go through each night, some of which are deep and dreamless. It’s possible to lucid dream up to an hour or more in one go, although 10 to 15 minutes is more common, particularly when you first start. Time can also be distorted when you are in the dream, so however long you are actually dreaming for could seem shorter or longer.

There can be different types of lucid dream. For some people they just happen spontaneously, but rarely, for others they happen spontaneously but a lot. Some people are naturally able to control when they have a lucid dream. Not everyone who becomes lucid during a dream is then able to take control of the dream. Sometimes, particularly for people who are inexperienced lucid dreamers, the act of becoming aware during the dream quickly wakes them up fully and the dream is gone. So one of the key skills is learning to keep the balance: waking up within the dream, but not fully waking up.

Lucid dreaming is probably many thousands of years old. However, one of the more interesting applications is the version practiced by Tibetan monks for at least 1000 years. What they call ‘dream yoga’ involves them deliberately relaxing themselves from wakefulness into sleep, without ever losing consciousness at all!

There is some evidence that, in terms of our brains, lucid dreaming is a distinct and different type of consciousness from our everyday awake consciousness. When we are lucid dreaming, we are at a higher stage of mental focus than when awake. This raises some interesting questions about the potential of lucid dreaming. Who knows if it might be a superior state for solving problems or generating creative insights. Many lucid dreamers already report that it does give them insights into themselves. In a way it is a unique connection directly into our subconscious. Freud was wrong about many things, but he was right when he said that dreams are the ‘royal road’ to the subconscious. Some lucid dreams will interpret the meanings of the things that are happening within the dream, Often finding that they can give insights into their everyday lives. Others even speak directly to people within the dream, posing questions they’d like the answers to. You will never get closer to having a direct conversation with your subconscious mind.

Even for those not interested in talking to their subconscious mind, there are other appealing benefits to lucid dreams. Just the very act of becoming conscious can be very exciting and satisfying. Then there is the fun you can have from controlling or even just observing your dream. Some people also find it appealing for the creative inspiration it offers. Many artists and musicians can receive artworks directly from their subconscious. All they then need to do is remember it when waking.