When one night in a state of REM sleep – I suddenly achieved an awareness, which told me that the elaborate birthday party I had thrown my friend was in fact a dream, I was surprisingly calm. The realization of what has happened only settled in the next morning. I felt as if I had gained access to this secret level of being a human. Not only did I have conscious awareness about being in a dream, but I could also control aspects of it, unlike my other dreams where I was merely a passive spectator.
As I kept having more instances of such dreams, my grade 10 self was very eager to take this as a hint leading up to the big revelation – that I was actually the next Teenage Witch. However, I soon found that what I was experiencing were instances of lucid dreams.
Dreams have been analyzed time and again by many psychologists. While Freud believed dreams give us an insight into our secret desires, Rosalind Cartwright, prominent psychologist also dubbed as “Queen of Dreams”, proposed that dreams can be a way to solve issues we face in our day to day lives. However, some theorists also believe that dreams are just a result of chemical reactions occurring in the brain, with little application or meaning to us. In popular media, dreams have often been shown as a medium that connects an individual to a higher power. Scenes where protagonists are prophesized in dreams are not new to us. In some of these scenes, it can be seen that the character already knows that they are dreaming. Lucid dreaming is a very similar state where an individual is aware that they are dreaming. In some cases, lucid dreamers can also manipulate how the dream unfolds or their actions within the dream.
Research has shown that unlike regular dreams, which may occur during any stage of the sleep cycle, lucid dreams usually occur during the REM stage. The activity level in the prefrontal cortex (the frontal lobe of the brain, which plays a significant role in the cognitive functions of humans) of a person in a lucid dream is similar to the prefrontal cortex activity level of that person when they are awake (Pacheco, Lucid Dreams).
But why should one care about lucid dreams? Does it have any benefits other than being a really interesting experience? Lucid dreaming can have many benefits. Through therapy, lucid dreams can help individuals who have recurring nightmares. Lucid dreams can also allow people to further explore their fears and phobias, as they are able to dream of events with a consciousness of them being fictitious (Cohut). While lucid dreaming is also known for wish fulfillment (such as flying or interacting with a loved one who is no longer alive), some individuals have also reported using lucid dreams as a means to practice different skills, such as playing guitar.
Most people have or will experience lucid dreams at least once in their lifetime. However, only approximately 20 percent of people may have monthly occurrences of lucid dreams (Baird et al. 1). But why is there such disparity between frequent lucid dreamers and regular dreamers? Research shows that an increased functional connectivity between temporal association areas and anterior prefrontal cortex can be associated with recurrent lucid dreaming (Baird et al. 1). However, lucid dreaming can be learned and with more practice, one can induce lucid dreams frequently.
Remembering our non-lucid dreams is one of the first steps. This can be done by keeping a dream journal. To remember more details, it is helpful to write down the dream as soon as one wakes up. Another skill that helps one to determine if they are in a state of dream is to know when they are not in a state of dream. As one gains more awareness about the surroundings in their conscious world, it is easier to identify when they are in a state of delusion or dream. This can be learned through relaxation techniques such as mindful meditation.
Lucid dreaming can be a fun and interesting experience. However, without prior knowledge, it might be frightening to wake up in a dream to realize one is in fact dreaming. But with practice, one can gain more control of their lucid dreams. And maybe you can use this time to direct your own screenplay. You can have the superpowers you’ve always wanted. Yes, I can even try being the witch my grade 10 self knew I was destined to be. I hope you have a fun time experimenting with lucid dreams. But readers, please do not forget to get in touch in case you do receive a prophecy that somehow comes true in your life. Though I have discussed the science behind lucid dreams, perhaps you could enlighten us about the magic behind it.