What is a lucid dream?
People engage in lucid dreaming when they realize that they are dreaming, while still asleep. This is not considered a pathological concept – meaning, it is not a disorder if you are able to lucid dream. Studies show that 26-77% of people have had at least one lucid dream at some point. To consistently learn to engage in lucid dreaming, some people elect to “train themselves” to do so. Many times people elect to train themselves to lucid dream to make their dreams more pleasurable.
I have had patients ask me to teach them to lucid dream and I do not embark on this journey because: 1. While we can’t say for sure, it seems at least possible that lucid dreaming could disturb sleep quality, and 2. Some theories about possibly experiencing confusion between reality and fantasy and violating such natural boundaries.
Lucid dreamers are typically not experiencing a problem or disorder, unless someone chooses lucid dreaming because of nightmares. If someone is having nightmares (i.e., essentially horror movies during dreams), we first find out if there is history of trauma, and if so, first start by referring for management of trauma, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. If they continue to have nightmares, we then pursue a protocol called “Imagery Rehearsal Therapy” which is evidence-based for reducing nightmare frequency and severity.
Since the pandemic, we are seeing more people complaining about vivid dreams and trouble sleeping. Actually, more than 50% of our population is now struggling with sleep. And this is a time when sleep is more important than ever since sleep supports healthy immune system functioning. This increase in sleep complaints is why we expedited more support (video coaching with PhD’s) in our sleep app, DrLullaby, which provides evidence-based sleep lessons and sleep logging to optimize sleep for all age-groups.
What is happening in the brain when you lucid dream?
Research shows different EEG (brain wave) activity (i.e., different strength of brain wave activity) during REM sleep (the stage of sleep when dreams occur) in those who are lucid dreaming compared to those who are not. A small sample size study showed activation in brain regions responsible for insight and agency (bilateral precuneus, cuneus, parietal lobes, and prefrontal lobes) during lucid dreams. In a study where researchers stimulated the frontal lobe, they found increased self-reflective awareness in dreams. Overall, it sounds like activation of the frontal lobe, and shifting in brain wave activity, is at least relevant in the process of lucid dreaming.
Are lucid dreams triggered by anything? Or could anyone have one at any time?
There are times when people can randomly just become aware that they are dreaming (i.e., lucid dream). Typically though, people make a decision to train themselves to lucid dream. The most common reason we see is people wanting their dreams to be more pleasurable. That said, there is some data to suggest that certain medications can increase lucid dreaming (cholinergic and dopaminergic drugs). As mentioned above, I have had patients ask me to teach them to lucid dream and I do not embark on this journey because: 1. While we can’t say for sure, it seems at least possible that lucid dreaming could disturb sleep quality, and 2. Some theories about possibly experiencing confusion between reality and fantasy and violating such natural boundaries. I would argue instead of learning to lucid dream, it is best to focus on getting enough sleep. Using a digital health tool like DrLullaby is a great way to start a journey on learning healthy sleep habits. You don’t need to have a “problem” to benefit from working on getting more sleep. Most Americans are not getting the sleep they need and would benefit from working on healthy sleep habits. Prioritizing enough sleep DrLullaby is a great way to start learning about sleep and improving the quality of life. Rather than focusing on possible mood benefits from changing the tone to the dream, it’s instead better to consider mood benefits of increasing sleep and improving sleep habits. This also does not have the unknown risk of sleep quality disturbance and blurring the reality vs fantasy lines.