Although theories about lucid dreaming date back to the 1860s, scientists did not begin to understand more about this rather remarkable phenomenon until fairly recently.
What Is Lucid Dreaming?
Psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge, a pioneer in understanding lucid dreaming, defined a lucid dream as one in which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. LaBerge’s research found that lucid dreamers are not only aware of their dreams, but they can consciously influence the content of those dreams.
While he first published about the topic in 1985, dream theories that form the basis of his work go back to certain French intellectuals of the nineteenth century, particularly Alfred Maury (1861) and Edmond Goblot (1896). Historically, however, many scientists have been skeptical of this idea. Most sleep researchers were inclined to believe that lucid dreams were not dreams at all, but rather brief moments of wakefulness during sleep.
Empirical evidence began to appear in the 1970s that lucid dreams did in fact occur during REM sleep, and LaBerge's work authoritatively supported the existence of this phenomenon starting in the 1980s.
How to Induce Lucid Dreaming
According to the Lucid Dream Society, LaBerge regards lucid dreaming as a skill that can be acquired. He developed the MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams) technique so that he and other scientists could dream lucidly in the clinical setting.
MILD is a simple technique, which even beginners find easy to practice. However, it is best not to expect immediate results; experts recommend giving the process at least a two-week trial.
MILD is a four-step process:
1. Improve dream recall: Improving dream recall is essential to achieving the ability to dream lucidly. Keep a daily dream diary to aid your memory and develop your skill at dream recall.
2. Perform reality checks: While dreaming, do simple actions to determine if you’re dreaming. An example of a reality check is looking carefully in a mirror to see if anything appears odd or distorted.
3. Repeating dream affirmations: Repeat positive statements that encourage lucid dreaming, such as “I'll have a lucid dream tonight," or “Next time I'm dreaming, I'll remember that I'm dreaming."
4. Visualizing the dream: When your mind is deeply relaxed as you fall asleep, imagine the content of your desired dream. This can help your mind create a specific kind of dream and better control it.
Lucid Dreaming Benefits
Lucid dreaming is more than just a curiosity. The practice can have psychological benefits for some dreamers, notes Pennsylvania State University. For instance, it may help build self-confidence in those overwhelmed by the everyday stressors of life.
Research also suggests that lucid dreaming may also have clinical implications, such as in therapy for ailments that involve recurrent nightmares, like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some experts also believe that lucid dreaming can aid people who are undergoing physical therapy.
A Caveat for Lucid Dreaming
While there are no known side effects to lucid dreaming, experts warn against becoming so preoccupied with it that you neglect important life goals. Lucid dreaming should be used as a technique to help the dreamer improve life, not to escape from it.
As scientists begin to understand more about the benefits of lucid dreaming, it is not surprising that more and more people have grown interested in how to induce the state that allows them to control their dreams. Many see lucid dreaming as a safe means of conquering and even controlling fears in order to meet the stresses of life with courage.