Dreaming is one of the most stimulating and interesting processes humans undergo in their life. This is a human process on which significant research has been done. However, there is a lesser researched process associated with dreaming, which is perhaps, even more interesting than the former. This is lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming refers to the process of being aware that one is dreaming while they are doing it. In some cases, the dreamer may even gain control over a part of the dream’s plot and scenery. To put it simply, if normally dreaming can be described as watching a movie, lucid dreaming is like playing an interactive video game.
Stages of sleep
Sleep can be categorized into stages, on the basis of Rapid Eye Movement (REM). There are four such stages of sleep. NREM stage 1, NREM stage 2, NREM stage 3, and REM sleep. NREM stage 1 is a transition period from wakefulness to sleep that lasts for five to ten minutes. NREM stage 2 lasts for around 2 minutes, in which the body begins to enter a calmer state. The deepest sleep occurs in NREM stage 3, where the muscles relax completely and blood pressure and breathing rates drop. Lastly, the body enters REM sleep, a stage where the brain becomes active and the eyes move rapidly. This is the time when dreams occur.
How to induce lucid dreaming
About 55 percent of people have experienced lucid dreams at least once in their lifetime. However, frequently experiencing lucid dreams is a rare phenomenon. A mere 23 percent of people experience lucid dreams once a month. Since it is such an interesting process but people rarely get to experience it frequently, there are ways which have been devised in order to induce such kinds of dreams.
This process of induction of lucid dreams can be divided into three main categories- cognitive techniques, external stimulation during sleep, and intake of specific substances.
The category of cognitive techniques is further divided into three techniques- ‘Wake Back to Bed’, ‘Mnemonic Induction of lucid dreaming’, and ‘Wake initiated lucid dreaming’. The technique of wake back to bed entails sleeping for 5 hours and waking oneself up just before entering REM sleep. Then, it requires falling back to sleep after 20- 90 minutes of being awake.
The second technique- Mnemonic induction of Lucid dreaming (MILD) refers to telling yourself that you will lucid dream before going to sleep each day. Another task that eases this process is maintaining a dream journal.
The third technique- Wake initiated Lucid dreaming (WILD) involves laying down and engaging with one’s hypnagogia until they experience a hypnogogic hallucination. Next, they must visualize the scenario they want to find themselves in when they are dreaming.
For the second category of techniques- external stimulation involves the introduction of tactile and visual stimuli during sleep. Previous research has proven that external stimuli like vibrations and flashing lights introduced to a person in the REM stage may trigger lucidity.
In the third category, specific substances need to be consumed before sleeping in order to induce lucid dreaming. However, these substances may be harmful or addictive and therefore, should be avoided.
Effects of lucid dreaming on the body
Similar to any other concept, lucid dreaming has both- advantages and disadvantages. Lucid dreaming often naturally occurs in people who have some unresolved trauma from their past. Since it allows the dreamer to engage with the scenario, they may be able to resolve this trauma through their dreams. Thus, lucid dreaming leads to reduced anxiety. Further, it leads to lesser nightmares, enhanced motor skills, and lastly, increased creativity.
On the flip side, revisiting past trauma through lucid dreams may trigger anxiety and depression. Thus, it is advised to engage in this activity in a controlled manner. It may also lead to sleep problems such as sleep paralysis. Since the mind is actively engaging with a scenario in the lucid dream, in the state of wakefulness, there might be derealisation and dissociation.
Mental processes involved in lucid dreaming
In regular REM sleep dreaming, brain activity is reduced, since the mind is not actively engaging with the plot and scenery of the dream. However, during lucid dreaming, brain activity is most increased and concentrated in the cerebral cortex. Lucid REM sleep activates this part of the brain, which would otherwise remain dormant during normal sleep. Since the cerebral cortex is the seat of consciousness, it’s activation implies higher voluntary control over the body and raised self-awareness. In addition to this, the frontal, parietal and occipital lobes are also activated.
Lucid dreaming is one of the most fascinating experiences that a person can undergo in their life. However, there is still limited research regarding this topic. This is because it is difficult to study a process such as this at a larger scale. The sphere of lucid dreams remains filled with mystery. With rapid technological advancement, however, neurologists and psychologists have collaborated to find answers to the many questions we may have regarding this captivating world of dreams.