The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
How it begins
Some individuals get the luxury of turning off their lights at night as they pull the covers up tight around their body and drift off into a quiet slumber, not to awaken until the hours of the morning. Others, like myself, have quite literally never experienced a peaceful sleep. I’m 22 years old, and because of my lucid dreams and constant 3 a.m wake-up call, I’m hesitant to fall asleep every night.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my sleep as much as the next person. Considering I tend to be more productive during the day, I like to settle in for the night around 11 p.m, unless I have plans. My nighttime routine begins hours before I actually go to sleep, all in preparation for what would look to be a restful night ahead. I turn on my diffuser and light my candles, switch my LED lights from blue to red, and toggle each switch to night mode on my devices. My seven-step skincare routine is finished by about 10 p.m, and I get cozy with a good book or show to end off the night. Seems luxurious, right? It is, until I close my eyes and find myself thrown into a series of lucid dreams, nightmares and false awakenings, each more terrifying than the next.
What is lucid dreaming? Lucid dreaming is defined as being aware that a dream is taking place but not being able to wake up from it. When lucid dreaming, your body falls into a state of being able to control some aspects of the dream, both in positive and negative ways. Studies show that most lucid dreaming takes place during REM sleep, which is the fourth and final stage of the sleep cycle, otherwise known as the deepest sleep. While 11 per cent of individuals experience one to two lucid dreams a month, I experience at least one to two a night, and I most typically refer to them as lucid nightmares.
My experience with lucid dreaming
When you think of lucid dreams, you might be thinking of the ability to choose chocolate cake over vanilla or to choose what mark you get on an assignment you’re working on in the dream. My dreams are nothing like that. Strangely enough, the majority of them centre around parts of my life being mushed together in ways that don’t make sense, though I don’t even realize that until I wake up. Violence, illness and bad grades make up a large part of my lucid dreams, sometimes jolting me awake, bed sheets soaked with sweat as I shake profusely. They’re dreams so bad that I dread falling back asleep afterwards, out of fear they’ll come back as a recurring dream. The nightmare themes that I experience often involve demons set out to inflict pain or harm on the dreamer and their friends and family members. The dreamer struggles to wake up but can’t. The scariest part is that while I’m able to differentiate between what is real and what is not, nothing I do will allow me to escape the dream, whether it’s good or bad. If I’m in the middle of experiencing a lucid nightmare, I am able to interchange certain actions within the nightmare. For example, if in the nightmare, you are getting out of a car and then getting chased by a murderer, in my mind, I could prolong the time in which it took for the murderer to catch you, though eventually, the end result would still be inevitable. Sometimes this course of action isn’t worth it; I don’t know about you, but I’d rather die right away in a dream than be chased for what feels like hours on end, with no escape.
Sometimes too, the dreams go deeper than that, affecting me physically. For example, if I have period cramps in my dream, I’ll wake up and notice that I’m also experiencing them in real life and vice versa. In an attempt to fix my dreams, I’ll flip my pillow over and roll over onto my other side. Though proven to be a superstition, I’ve convinced myself that it works and have been doing it for as long as I can remember. A lot of the talk around this particular superstition has to do with the cooling effect of the other side of the pillow, as well as switching to laying on the opposite side of the brain, the side that you didn’t have the bad dream on. If you don’t want the dream to recur, I’d suggest this tactic. Though it might be a simple placebo effect, it always helps ease my mind.
Rarely do I remember a good dream. More often than not, I know that I’m dreaming, though sometimes I wake up out of my dream and fall into another dream, wherein that dream I’m waking up yet again. Have I lost you yet? I’m sure I have. The point is, while in the moment I am able to tell the difference between what’s real and fake and that’s certainly not the first thing you’re focused on when dreaming, making the whole process pretty daunting.
Now, you might have thought that lucid dreaming was bad enough on its own. No, my situation gets worse. Years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to a text from a good friend that, in summary, was him asking me if I could pick him up. Due to the fact that he asked me for this favour in the middle of the night, I rolled over, ignoring the text. The next morning, I found out that something bad had happened to him; a situation occurred where he could have really used my help. I kicked myself for not responding to his text, and nearly six years later, the implications have followed me. Every night, without fail, I wake up at least once to check my phone. I’ll respond to any notifications on my lock screen, or at least read through them and go back to bed. It’s as routine as clockwork and plays a huge part in my anxiety, as I’m always fearful that someone might need me and I won’t be there in time for them.
With that being said, mix in those wake-up calls with regular lucid dreaming, and you have my absolutely terrible sleep schedule. I know for a fact I don’t get more than a few hours of sleep in on a regular night, not factoring in nights I stay up later to go out or see friends or even work on assignments. The lower sleep quality caused by lucid dreaming means that it’s always harder to go back to sleep, and more often than not, I’m scared to even go to bed in the first place. If you knew that there was a high possibility of your dreams ending badly every single night, would sleep still be appealing to you?
Lucid dreaming can affect anyone, taking on various different forms. It’s a weird ‘in between’ stage where the dreamer is half awake and half asleep, and for the most part, is not too bad, unless you’re me. If I could go back in time and change anything, it would be my sleeping habits. Being an already burnt out journalism student doesn’t help either, especially because there is no true solution to lucid dreaming, or lucid nightmares, that is. All I can hope for is that as I grow older, maybe the dreams will fade away, becoming nothing more than a faint memory. Until then, if I wake up crying and shaking at our sleepover, don’t be surprised. There’s nothing either of us can do about it.