Lucid dreaming is a dream phenomenon in which the dreamer is fully aware he or she is dreaming. It consists of a few distinct characteristics including having most if not all cognitive abilities, a strong sense of conscious awareness, and full memory of reality and previous dream experiences. Evidence of this is shown through Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. In the REM stage of sleep, eye movements in reality correspond with eye movements in the dream state. For example, a participant in a study becomes lucid in a dream, and can make specific eye signals to researchers showing them the participant has entered a lucid dream state. Various techniques can be used to induce lucid dreaming, such as asking throughout the day “am I dreaming? ” in the hopes of asking that same question in a dream. Dream signs, such as teeth falling out, or text changing can serve as a signal that it is a dream, and can induce lucidity in dreamers. There are some individual differences that exist with lucid dreamers. It has been found that those with a high internal locus of control report have more frequent dream recall and lucidity; those with an external locus of control have just the opposite. The benefits of lucid dreaming are potentially vast, but recent research has focused primarily on reducing the frequency of nightmares in those who have frequent night terrors. It has also been shown to potentially lower emotional disturbances such as stress and anxiety if practiced properly.
Lucid Dreaming: Induction, Individual Differences, and Benefits
Defining Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming can be simply defined as an altered dream state. It can also be called conscious dreaming or dreams of clarity, terms stemming from the psychiatrist Fredrik Willems van Eden in 1913 (Holzinger, 2009). More in depth, it can be described as complete awareness while dreaming, so aware that every aspect of the dream can be manipulated and influenced. All sensory input is still available in the dream, and dreamers can touch, feel, taste, see, hear, and smell (Carskadon, 1995). Not only those characteristics, but lucid dreamers can also reason and think clearly; dreamers know they are in this altered state and can do essentially anything they want. This could include anything from flying to walking on the moon. Tholey (1980) describes lucid dreams as having a certain number of specific characteristics: these include being fully aware of the dream, having memory of real life, having most or all cognitive sensory abilities intact, memory of previous lucid dreams, and a strong sense of conscious awareness. In some cases dreamers even report the dream seeming more real than reality itself.
Historically it is a relatively new concept, but Holzinger et al. (2008) notes that Tibetan Buddhists were the first to learn how to induce a similar dream state, by using specific induction techniques. They would use it as a form of meditation and for potentially new abstract experiences. Up until Freud and his theories on dreams would lucid dreaming begin to become a popular and studied subject. On a biological level, Holzinger (et al. 2006) discovered that activity in the left parietal lobe increased during lucid dreaming, an area of the brain related to self-awareness.
Today therapeutic uses for lucid dreaming are being widely studied as well as methods used to induce them. Benefits can range from the treatment of nightmares, or night terrors, to relieving stress in everyday life (Holzing et al. 2009). According to La Berge (1980), lucid dreaming may be difficult, but is indeed a skill that can be learned and applied through various methods. Schredel Erlachor(2004) reported that four out of every five people have reported having at least one lucid dream at some point in their life. How then if so many people report a lucid dream, along with those who can do it on demand while sleeping, can it be proven to exist?
Evidence of Lucid Dreaming
In 1978, Hearne conducted his famous experiment in which he recorded eye movements while a subject was sleeping, becoming the first to discover Rapid Eye
Movement (REM) sleep. This gave way to the first scientific evidence of lucid dreaming in 1988 as Piller (2009) notes that a group of researchers through an experiment discovered that while dreaming REM sleep corresponds with the eye movements the subject was making in their dream. They also discovered that breathing patterns and intensity was the same in the dream as in reality depending on the activity.
In another study, Erlacher Schredl (2004) conducted an experiment to determine whether or not cardiovascular exercise in a lucid dream had any physical cardiovascular correlates in reality. They had five participants who could consistently and reliably lucid dream and had them stay in a controlled environment sleep laboratory for 2-4 consecutive nights. While dreaming they were to perform a specific exercise while lucid, that exercise being squats. The participants were monitored while sleeping, and when they became lucid they were to give a specific eye command, in this case moving their eyes left to right a number of times, signaling to the researchers that they were going to begin performing the exercise. They would then begin performing the squats, ten repetitions, then do the specific eye signal, wait 25 seconds, then perform the exercise again, then stop giving the eye signal in each stage.
In conclusion of their study it was reported that physical exercise performed while lucid dreaming does moderately correlate with physical activity in waking life such as a
moderately increased heart rate.