- Lucid dreaming means being consciously ‘awake in sleep’ or ‘awake in a dream’.
- Lucid dreaming is directly connected to self-awareness and self-reflection.
- The prefrontal cortex and frontopolar brain regions are generally inactive during sleep, but in lucid dreamers, they become more active.
- There is a significant size difference of the frontopolar cortex in lucid dreamers and normal, non-lucid dreamers.
- Lucid dreaming is a safe and controlled environment where we can just ‘be’ and ‘do’ without consequences.
I Think, Therefore I Am – A Quick Overview
Have you ever been aware of the fact that you can never stop thinking; regardless of whether you’re awake or asleep, your brain is constantly processing information, memories, thoughts, scenes, feelings, sensations, etc. Whatever it is that we’ve perceived, our brain will process and continue thinking about it.
For this reason, solely, we as humans are completely aware of our existence.
If you recall the famous quote by René Descartes ‘I think, therefore I am’, you’ll get to realize how profoundly self-aware it is and how it excellently applies to our topic.
But, what does lucid dreaming have to do with all of this? Well, lucid dreaming shows how well aware we can be even in our dreams.
Consciousness works differently during sleep, so when we’re able to self-reflect while we’re asleep, we’re surely on a whole new level of self-awareness.
So, in the following paragraphs, we’re going to explore what truly lucid dreaming is and how it can teach us about ourselves, the world, the perception and the reality of everything around us.
Sleep And Dream Overview
Before we get into the topic of lucid dreaming, it is important we understand how dreams come to be in the first place. Dreams are often described as a conscious experience that occurs only while we’re asleep.
Dreams also occur during the REM sleep phase or deep sleep. During this phase, we’re able to function as if we’re awake, but the storylines and experiences are often limited or completely surreal.
Through REM sleep, our visual cortex and all other brain areas responsible for emotion and memory processing become activated. You can consider this sleep phase as a virtual reality concept, only without all the VR equipment.
On the other hand, brain areas that are responsible for higher thought processes, like the frontopolar area of the cerebral cortex are inactive. These brain areas in particular, however, are responsible for lucid dreaming, which we’ll explain in the following paragraphs.
What Is Lucid Dreaming?
In its least complicated explanation, lucid dreaming is the state of being ‘awake’ while you’re dreaming, or when you’re consciously aware of what happens in the world of your dream.
In this state, some people are able to even move their bodies or control the happening and outcomes of their dreams. Waking up ‘in the dream’ is something only a small percentage of people can actually experience or initiate consciously.
That happens because brain areas that are usually inactive during REM sleep (like frontopolar cortex) become active.
It is believed that people can train themselves into lucid dreaming by keeping a dream journal, going through the happenings of the day right before bedtime, and many other techniques. These techniques usually refer to the wake- initiated lucid dreams, where you’re trying to keep the brain active as you fall asleep.
However, it is safe to say that lucid dreaming is incredibly hard to achieve on its own, and again, only a small number of people (generally biologically predisposed) are able to experience lucid dreaming.
How Did We Become Aware of Lucid Dreaming?
A few decades ago, an American scientist and psychologist under the name of Stephen Laberge decided to tackle the notion of self-aware dreaming for his dissertation.
He decided to put his theories about lucid dreaming to the test in a so-called sleep lab. He demonstrated that he can consciously control the movement of his eyes in a previously agreed manner.
As soon as he fell into the lucid dreaming, he could move his eyes back and forth for as long as he wanted.
This experiment alone has commenced an avalanche of scientific studies since it has disrupted everything we knew about sleep up until this event.
Researches became increasingly interested in brain activity during sleep and possible active regions of the brain that are responsible for the so-called conscious sleeping and dreaming.
What Happens When We Experience Lucid Dreaming?
For years scientists had no idea how people enter lucid dreaming and what is it that exactly happens to lead people into such a state. Only in 2012 did researchers at the Max Planck Institutes for Psychiatry in Munich and Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig come to a breakthrough.
They’ve discovered that various brain regions become active within seconds of a lucid dream being signaled. The main region responsible for this are the prefrontal cortex and frontopolar region. But, the problem was that not everyone can experience lucid dreaming, but rather certain individuals.
Detailed MRI findings have shown, however, that individuals who experience lucid dreaming have a larger frontopolar region of the cerebral cortex than individuals who never experience such a state.
The same goes for people who also have strong visual metacognitive skills. Either way, this region becomes extremely active and correlates with the so-called metacognitive skill of an individual.
There seems to be a direct connection with a person being incredibly self-aware and being able to initiate and experience lucid dreaming. There are assumptions that people can all of a sudden learn to become self-aware, which has shown no success in current testings and findings. It will take more studies and research with suitable volunteers to actually see whether lucid dreaming can be taught and controlled.
The Appeal Of Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming has become a rather popular topic in the past few years. You can come across numerous lucid dreaming guides on the Internet.
A quick Google search and you will find tutorials, courses, guide videos, and thorough explanations/research on how you can learn to experience lucid dreaming.
Even though there are no concrete success methods (at least not backed by scientists), it is believed that simply asking questions like ‘Am I dreaming?’ throughout the day can initiate lucidity during bedtime. But, why do people want to experience lucid dreaming so much?
It seems that the main appeal of lucid dreams falls under the ‘impossible in real life’ category. People want to experience things they could never in their normal, regular life.
They maybe want to overcome a particular fear, practice new skills, or practice what they’ve learned in the real world. Lucid dreaming seems to be a safe environment where we can do and make mistakes without any real consequences.
So, lucid dreaming can even be seen as a form of a problem-solving concept, healing, learning to deal with reality, etc. The things we do in such dreams can truly shine a light on the things we should and could be doing in the real world.
It is a controlled environment where even our craziest imaginations and scenarios can take place, and we don’t have to deal with the outcomes.
The Benefits and Risks of Lucid Dreaming
Let’s assume for a second that everyone can learn to dream lucidly. In such a case, one cannot help but wonder what the benefits and risks are for such a state.
The benefits of lucid dreaming could fall under the ‘self-reflection’ umbrella.
One can use such a state to learn about themselves, explore their fears, wishes, passions, and maybe even complete self-actualization which could be helpful in real life.
People who want to experience deep meditation or seem to ponder a lot about difficult decisions and important life events can use lucid dreaming as a mental rehearsal; safe and with no consequences.
On the other hand, lucid dreaming can lead to sleep paralysis, which often occurs during deep or REM sleep.
Sleep paralysis can be described as a state between waking and dreaming, which is often described as terrifying. In such a state, people experience hallucinations, inability to move certain body parts, or complete body paralysis.
Everything feels realistic and each emotion is more prominent and less controlled.
Sometimes, people even experience what is called as ‘dream claustrophobia’ or inability to wake up from a lucid dream (of course, they eventually wake up, but because lucid dreams are manipulated and controlled, inability to pull yourself out of a scenario can be extremely stressful and scary).
Should You Try Lucid Dreaming?
As mentioned before, there are no guaranteed scientific methods that you can use to learn to dream lucidly.
However, if you do decide to follow some of the advice and courses online, you should be aware of the risk. As mentioned before, there is a high risk of sleep paralysis and dream claustrophobia, especially if you’re embarking on this journey for the first time.
Moreover, if you’re someone who suffers from a personality disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, or any other mental disorder, we surely advise you to refrain from lucid dreaming. It can significantly complicate your condition.
Furthermore, it can also disrupt your sense of reality, and you can have a hard time determining what is real or what is a dream.
Lucid dreaming has been a mystery for a long time, and even though there are studies and research, there is always something we miss or can’t figure out.
However, the appeal of this wake/sleep state isn’t really surprising; people are always looking for ways to experience new and surreal things, and lucid dreaming seems very appealing.
We hope this text has provided you with new information and what you needed to know about lucid dreaming. But, if you want to try it yourself, make sure to consult with a doctor or medical professional who is familiar with your medical history.