Lucid dreaming refers to a state of conscious awareness that one is dreaming while one is experiencing a dream during sleep. While this state of consciousness is relatively rare among the general population, those who have practiced achieving lucidity in dreams may find themselves in the state somewhat regularly. Beyond the simple awareness that they are dreaming, many practiced lucid dreamers also report varying degrees of control over the contents and scope of their dreams. Flying, ending nightmares, and exploration of fantastic landscapes are just a few of the most popular and well-known uses of the lucid dream state.
Lucid dreamers wishing to make use of this uniquely limitless state of consciousness may be interested in the following practical, research-based applications of the lucid dream state. First, however, one must become adept at achieving lucidity during dreams.
In order to turn a standard dream into a lucid dream, an individual must first realize that they are dreaming, then remain in their dream long enough either to observe their surroundings or perform an act or movement within their dream setting. This can be difficult, as the realization that one is dreaming can be startling and often triggers wakefulness very rapidly. With practice, however, lucid dreamers can maintain lucidity without waking for increasing intervals, eventually allowing them to make conscious and purposeful use of their lucid dream state.
Recognizing that one is dreaming during a dream can be difficult, and does not happen naturally for most individuals. Dreams often contain settings, characters, or series of events that range from slightly surreal to downright nonsensical. For reasons unknown, these incongruities with reality rarely trigger the realization that one is dreaming. That said, the best way to spark lucidity in dreams is not to try to spot inconsistencies with waking reality, but to train oneself to ask whether one is dreaming frequently enough in one’s waking life that this habit seeps into one’s dreams. This practice is popularly referred to as a reality check. If an individual asks themselves whether they are dreaming multiple times per day, every day, this ritual should eventually cement itself synaptically as a habit.
If a reality check habit is developed and maintained, an individual should eventually begin to perform it in dreams as well as in waking life. Ideally, once you begin to ask yourself whether you are dreaming often, the answer will eventually be yes, and a lucid dream will be triggered.
Another practice known to increase the likelihood of achieving lucidity is dream journaling. As most have experienced, dreams, even those vividly recalled upon waking, tend to fade rapidly out of memory with the passage of time. For reasons unknown, dreams do not seem to be encoded into our long term memories anywhere near as effectively as waking experiences. Writing down the settings, contents, characters, and (for lack of a better word) plots of our dreams not only creates a lasting record to refer to, but also aids in dream retention and detail recall in the long term. Successful lucid dreamers write down everything they can remember about their dreams immediately upon waking, before the memories of their dreams have begun to fade significantly. Most practitioners find that the act of writing down every bit of minutia they are able to retain causes them to recall additional details that were not immediately remembered upon waking.
A dream journaling practice increases the likelihood of achieving lucidity for two reasons. First, keeping a record of the contents of one’s dreams allows one to recognize common themes, settings, moods, objects, and other dream features across multiple dreams. The recognition of one of these repeating features during a future dream can serve as a lucidity trigger. Second, recording dream content while awake gives the conscious mind an opportunity to re-explore one’s dreamscapes from a waking perspective, which may increase the likelihood that the conscious mind will become active during subsequent dreams.
Once one can achieve dream lucidity on an occasional or regular basis, the following uses of the lucid dream state may be of interest:
The Lucid Dream State as a Venue for the Rehearsal of Physical Tasks
Athletes, dancers, gymnasts, and other physical performers have long used waking visualization as a practice technique to hone their performance. During waking visualization, athletes mentally picture themselves successfully completing an upcoming physical task as vividly and realistically as possible. A 1998 study using figure skaters empirically demonstrated that pre-performance visualization can positively affect subsequent performance. During the study, those skaters who were instructed to visualize the successful completion of their routines were rated significantly higher than control subjects by a panel of judges who were not aware of the subjects’ groupings.
While visualization requires the conscious mental creation of a physical setting in which to rehearse tasks, dream settings are manifested autocreatively, meaning they are sourced from a dreamer’s mind, but without volition or intention. This being the case, it is likely that dream settings, whose physics manifest based on individuals’ cumulative subconscious experience of real-world physics, might represent actual physical conditions more closely than consciously-imagined settings.
A study conducted in 2010 using practiced lucid dreamers confirmed that physical task rehearsal can improve real-world physical performance. Subjects in this study were asked to attempt to toss a coin into a cup placed on the ground a set distance away from them 20 times. Their success rates were noted, then then the subjects were divided into three groups. One group did not practice the task, another group practiced the task while awake, and a third group rehearsed the task during a lucid dream. Next, all three groups completed the coin-tossing task again. The two groups that practiced the task improved their scores significantly more than the control group, indicating that lucid dream practice, like waking practice, is effective in improving physical performance.
While physical movement is inhibited by the brain stem during REM sleep to prevent the acting-out of one’s dreams, the neural activity associated with physical rehearsal in dreams closely resembles that seen during real-world practice. This makes lucid dreams an ideal venue for practicing athletic feats and other physical tasks.
Lucid Dreams as Reservoirs of Subconscious or Unconscious Knowledge and Ability
Have you ever heard a song or seen a piece of art in a dream that does not exist in the waking world, but was far beyond your capability to create? Since dream content is manifested autocreatively, you technically composed both that song and that piece of art. In fact, you created the entire setting, including the buildings, characters, and everything else you saw or heard during your dream. While some characters, locations, and physical objects may be memory-based recreations of their real-world counterparts (your dog or your refrigerator, for instance), many components of your dreams are entirely original.
A 2012 study reported that 29.9% of frequent lucid dreamers used the lucid dream state to solve problems (e.g. working out an effective fix for a programming bug that they were unable to address while awake), while 27.6% used lucid dreams to gain creative insight or inspiration (e.g. painting or composing original music).
The lucid dream state seems to be an ideal venue for both insight and creation, as it allows for a merger between conscious intent and autocreatively manifested dream content. Since dream characters are autocreatively manifested, but able to speak and interact, they can be an ideal point of access for otherwise unavailable insight or information. In an explorative 1989 study, lucid dreamers were instructed to ask characters they encountered while dreaming to draw original images, create original rhymes, and name real words unknown to the dreamer. The results were surprisingly impressive. In most cases, the dream characters were able not only to come up with creative rhymes and images but also to produce real words unknown to the dreamer. Some dream characters even provided real words in languages the dreamers were not familiar with.
Problem-solving and creative ability may be less inhibited in the lucid dream state than in waking life. By enlisting the aid of dream characters and exploring the contents of one’s dreams while lucid, increased insight and creativity may be applied to real-world tasks, projects, and problems.
Dreams represent a frontier in psychology. The purpose of dreaming remains unknown, and the mechanisms through which dream content is manifested remain mysterious. Lucid dreams offer a unique window into a state of consciousness whose limits are unknown, and whose many applications remain to be discovered.
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