What is Lucid Dreaming?

Have you ever had a dream so real that you thought about it for days, or woke up with the answer to a problem that you’d thought unsolvable? What if you could control your dreams so that instead of falling off a cliff in a nightmare, you decided to fly? It sounds unbelievable, but some people can actually manipulate their dreams. How do we get these special powers, though? It takes practice, but it’s not impossible: the answer lies in lucid dreaming. 

Understanding Lucid Dreaming

Lucid dreams used to be associated with the altered mental state caused by drugs like psychedelics. However, lucid dreaming is not related to psychedelics. Lucid dreams are simply dreams during which the dreamers are aware that they are dreaming. 

Lucid dreams generally occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. They are a relatively common occurrence, but people often experience them differently. Those who remember their lucid dreams consider them fun and creative opportunities for adventure and problem-solving.

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Some people tend to wake up immediately during a lucid dream, while others can identify that they're dreaming and remain asleep. When a person becomes aware that they are dreaming, they can then influence their dreams to create positive experiences. 

Ray Kurzweil is a proponent of lucid dreaming, describing it as a way to "make fantastic things happen." To practice, Ray assigns himself a problem before falling asleep and then searches for the solution in his dreams.

When we sleep, our rational faculties are muted, which means that creative solutions can come to us more easily. Sigmund Freud described rational faculties as brain censors, which stop the brain from thinking of anything too "strange" or unrealistic. Our logical guard is down when we sleep, which makes new thoughts and solutions possibilities instead of improbabilities.

How to Lucid Dream

There are different ways to lucid dream. Sometimes people stumble into lucid dreams, and sometimes they can only be achieved by practice and intent. 

Reality Checks: Reality checks work by simply asking yourself, "Am I awake right now?" For instance, if you repeatedly stare at a poster in real life, you may dream of it. When this happens, you can verify that you're dreaming by noticing if words have changed – something that would never happen in reality. Another common reality check has you draw an "x" on your hand and take note of it every day. If you look at your hand and notice that the "x" isn't there, you'll know you're in a dream.

Mnemonic Induction: Some succeed at lucid dreaming by setting the intention to do so before falling asleep. Tell yourself, "Tonight I will notice what I am dreaming," to program your brain to achieve in-dream lucidity. You can also induce a lucid dream through intention by focusing on a particular topic for 15 to 30 minutes before falling asleep.

Remembering Dreams: People who can remember their normal dreams are more likely to experience lucid dreams. Being more aware of our surroundings is also helpful for lucid dreaming. 


Benefits of Lucid Dreaming

Ray Kurzweil's reason for lucid dreaming is similar to many others; he uses it for problem-solving and creative thinking. Ray offers an excellent example of what we can achieve while we sleep. Not only has he decided whether or not to take a deal in his sleep, but he's also come up with the revolutionary ideas behind new technologies and algorithms.

Studies have shown that sleep helps us absorb information. A study by Northwestern indicated that lucid dreaming can help enhance an existing memory by reactivating newly acquired knowledge. 

Lucid dreaming has even been used as a tool during therapy to overcome phobias and fears, acting as exposure therapy in a safe environment. Repeated exposure to the feared object or experience without the risk of harm means that a person can overcome their phobia or fear in a safe space.

Myths Debunked 

There are several unrealistic misconceptions about the side effects and repercussions of lucid dreaming. Some people have expressed a fear of getting "stuck" in a lucid dream, as is shown in the film Inception. There's no need to worry about getting "stuck," since the point of lucid dreaming is that the person is aware that they're asleep. Some people also think that lucid dreaming makes you feel more tired, but that isn't true either.


Now It’s Your Turn

People who have experience with lucid dreams often suggest that others experience it themselves. Most people should be fine, but if you experience symptoms of mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, then lucid dreaming is not recommended for you. 

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