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Lucid dreams have been reported for millennia, but only recently has there been an upswing in lucid dream research. While lucid dreaming is not yet formally employed in psychiatric practices, studies have shown the potential power of using lucid dreams to improve our psychological well-being.
At the end of the 1970s, when Stephen LaBerge started to work on his doctorate on lucid dreaming at Stanford University, he faced a seemingly impossible challenge: how could he scientifically prove that lucid dreaming was a real phenomenon.
At that time many dream scientists assumed that lucid dreams were a contradictio in terminis: a contraction in terms and, thus, impossible by definition. These scientists reasoned that lucid dreams might just be ordinary dreams in which we merely dreamed about lucid dreaming. Others argued that lucid dreaming might be a hybrid state of slumber in which our mind lingers between dreaming and wakefulness and that lucid dreams could not occur during full-fledged REM sleep.
These arguments did not convince LaBerge who, like many others at the time, had experienced plenty of lucid dreams in his lifetime that did not feel like fake lucid dreams or a hybrid state of dreaming and waking. LaBerge needed to conduct a scientific experiment in order to verify the existence of the phenomenon.
In the early 1980s, LaBerge was the first to publish on the scientific validation of lucid dreams and has been on the cutting edge of lucid dream research ever since. Please visit the Lucidity Institute website for more information on the science of lucid dreaming.
On one occasion, a research subject was awakened from REM sleep in a sleep lab after making a highly distinctive series of quick, regular left-right-left-right eye movements. When the scientists in the lab asked what the subject was just dreaming about, he replied that he had been dreaming about observing a long volley in a game of table tennis.
This episode inspired further research that eventually discovered that the direction dreamers move their eyes behind their closed eyelids during a REM sleep period matches the eye movements they make from within the dream they are experiencing.
LaBerge knew from experience that during a lucid dream, lucid dreamers can consciously and intentionally look in any direction. This led him to devise an ingenious experiment to verify the existence of lucid dreaming by instructing his research subjects to make a distinctive and pre-determined eye signal as soon as they became lucid in a dream. Using electroencephalogram (EEG) and eye movement measurements, LaBerge was able to identify this pre-determined eye signal while his subject was dreaming in uninterrupted REM sleep. This validated the existence of lucid dreams as a phenomenon that can occur during REM sleep in which dreamers have attained dream awareness and can intentionally manipulate their dream experience.
Thanks to this method of verifying lucid dreams through eye signals, LaBerge was the first person to publish a paper on the scientific verification of lucid dreams. This method is still considered the most reliable way to verify a lucid dream. LaBerge’s pioneering work has inspired a new generation of dream researchers to contribute to the field of lucid dreaming. Much current research is focused on the development of cognitive techniques and devices to help users induce lucid dreams with greater reliability.
Please visit the Lucidity Institute's website for free access to more of LaBerge's scientific studies of lucid dreaming. Have a look at our TEDx talk to learn more about the science and worldwide practice of lucid dreaming.
Q: Doesn't lucid dreaming mess up the natural function of our ordinary dreams?
A: No. There's nothing harmful about lucid dreaming. Many people experience lucid dreams spontaneously as part of their ordinary sleep habits.
Physiologically, it seems that it is only REM sleep that our brain needs to remain healthy and functional. Whether you manipulate and transform dream imagery when you're lucid in a dream or not, you are still experiencing REM sleep and that is what counts.
Psychologically, it is important to know that we control our dreams all the time, whether we are lucid or not. All of our dreams are controlled by our thoughts and feelings while we are dreaming. Lucidity doesn't change this. When we become lucid in a dream, we are able to apply our thoughts and feelings to the dream more effectively because we know that we are experiencing a dream.
Q: Will controlling my dreams cause me to get less rested?
A: No. We control our dreams all the time, no matter whether we are lucid or not. In this way, lucid dreaming does not make you wake up more tired because we control our dreams as much as do as when we're not lucid.
When you're lucid, you’re able to shape dream experiences that are much more emotionally rewarding. These lucid dream experiences will often lead lucid dreamers to wake up with more energy, feeling emotionally satisfied and more present.
Q: Is lucid dreaming suitable for everyone?
A: Lucid dreaming is as natural as meditation or the practice of mindfulness. However, if you're currently undergoing any psychiatric treatment or have undergone treatment in the past, we recommend you discuss your condition and your plans to explore lucid dreaming with your doctor before you continue.
Q: Will lucid dreaming lead to reality disorder?
A: The effect of lucid dream training on psychological well-being seems to be quite the opposite. In order to have lucid dreams, one has to be precisely able to recognize dreams as dreams and not mistake dreams for waking life reality. Lucid dream practice explicitly requires the development of reality awareness and so inherently wards off reality disorder.
Tim Post, Founder of Snoozon. Active lucid dreamer, researcher and trainer of our Online Course in Lucid Dreaming.