Lucid dreaming is a very grey area of research in the sleep industry. A lucid dream is a state where it allows you to consciously control your dreams, when all the major senses such as vision, smell, taste, touch, and feel could be as real as when you’re wide awake and conscious.
We don’t exactly know if there’s a specific way each individual is able to induce themselves and enter into a state of lucid dreaming, but there are many ways one can practice and attempt it. In this article, I want to share my stories of patients I have encountered over the years, to possibly help another person, and hopefully help others who are facing their own health unknowns.
In saying that, why are some people so curious about this state of dream? Is it beneficial, exciting or dangerous?...
Let’s talk about it.
*Please note names in the story below have been changed to maintain patient confidentiality*
1: When and how does a Lucid Dream happen?
Sleep is divided into two major stages, REM, and Non-Rem.
The REM cycle, or also known as Rapid Eye Movement sleep, is the stage of sleep when your skeletal muscles are “paralysed”, followed by a rapid movement of your eyes.
A lucid dream usually occurs during REM cycle, where your skeletal muscles have lost their movement due to certain neurotransmitters (a chemical that carries messages between brain cells) being released in the brain, research has shown that lucid dreaming is accompanied by an increased activation of parts of the brain that are normally suppressed during sleep. The 2 major neurotransmitters responsible are Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) and Glycine, these neurotransmitters are specialised cells in the brain that prevents muscles to be active, and are also the neurotransmitters that keeps you in a sleeping state. Although GABA and Glycine, is required to keep you in a REM cycle, you do need another neurotransmitter to activate the process of dreaming. ACh, or also known as Acetyl-Choline, is the neurotransmitter responsible for memory, learning, and dreaming. The level of ACh is almost identical during REM and wake cycle, and ACh is the possible neurotransmitter that helps us be more aware of our surrounding during the state of lucid dream.
We get an average of 4-5 sleep cycles a night (see picture below), experiencing 4-5 REM cycles per night, Lucid dreaming represents a brain state between REM sleep and being awake.The first REM cycle starts approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep, and it is typically the shortest REM cycle. The amount of time spent in REM cycle gets longer as the night progresses, with the longest amount of time spent in REM cycle occurring right before waking up, and this is also when, with practice, lucid dream is easiest experienced.
2: Why is it fun or beneficial to go into a state of lucid dream?
There are many reasons why people want to experience lucid dreaming. People are attracted to lucid dreaming just because they want to experience things or events that are impossible to achieve in waking reality. During a lucid dream, activities like flying over breathtaking sceneries, walking on the moon, or swimming with the dolphins can feel very real. An experienced individual could have complete control of it, and manipulate any way they would like it to, all with no consequences. Lucid dreaming can also help some patients deal with struggles in real life, such as:
Grieving – People are able to “visit” their lost loved ones, giving them emotional support and gaining a sense of self love with a living purpose. I have seen patients who came out of depression after practicing lucid dreaming, they were able to see their loved ones, communicate with them, and lived a much happier life.
Fantasy – Is it true that you can learn how to lucid dream and have sex with your ultimate fantasy? Yes it is. The experience could also feel like the real thing. Muscular responses and elevated heart rate could also be a result of orgasm in lucid dream. However, not all fantasy is necessarily a physical one.
Overcoming phobias – People who have phobias about sharks or spiders could practice handling or facing them in lucid dreams, which will calm them down when actually coming across real sharks or spiders in real life.
Introverts – Terrified of being in an unfamiliar environment such as a party or work function full of strangers? Trouble making friends? Why not try a few pick up lines in your dream, who knows, it may help make you a confident person in real life.
Public Speaking – Experts say about 75-80% of the human population have a slight fear of conducting public speaking. Some CEOs or high ranking managers have tried using lucid dreaming as a practicing tool to overcome the fear of speaking in front of a crowd.
3: How do you induce lucid state dreaming?
With enough practice, you can actually become an expert in gaining control of your dreams, every single night.You may not be able to maintain lucidity in the first few weeks, but with enough patience and perseverance, it will become second nature. Let us talk about a few ways we can try achieve a state of lucid dreaming.
a) Keeping a record of your dreams
Leave a notepad beside your bed, every morning right after waking up, recall and write down your dreams in as much detail as possible.
Before going to bed, read what you have written for the past week, this will help you remember and recall what you dreamt about a few days back, it will also help you feel the dream was as real as waking life.
(iii) Reading your dreams like this will help you recognise the pattern, and with practice, you will be able to control your dreams pretty much every night. Try experimenting with a change in scenario when you come across a similar dream!
Meditation is an effective way to help one enter into a lucid dream state. As you meditate, focus on something very specific you want to dream about, make sure your environment is nice and quiet, so nothing distracts you. You may use things like aroma sticks or scented candles (make sure candles are not placed near curtains or flammable things around the house!) to assist in calming you down.
During meditation, your breathing pattern plays a big role. Remember to take nice, calm, and slow breaths. Count 1 when you breathe in once, then 2 when you exhale. Count up to number 10, and then reset the numbers, do not exceed the number 10 as a bigger number may be too complex and will make it more difficult for you to focus on the topic in hand. It may seem boring and you might feel restless, but do this for about 20-30 minutes, focusing on what you want to dream about. After a few weeks, you’ll realise how powerful this technique is in terms of helping you focusing and handle stress.
c) Plan your dreams
Planning a dream before you go to bed could be an effective way to pick what you would like to dream about. For example, you plan to sleep for 8 hours. Set an alarm for 6 hours, and after waking up, spend about 30 minutes writing down what you would like to dream about, lie back down thinking about what you have written, if you’re thinking about being on an island, visualise the salty wind blowing against your face, imagine the warm water on the beach splashing against your legs, roam and run (or fly) as fast as your can on your private island, you may then be able to continue and expand what you have written down. Remember to let your imagination run free!
The most important and hardest thing to do is to remember you’re actually dreaming. Once you realise you’re in a dreaming state, manipulating it should be fairly simple. By constantly repeating “I will be aware I am dreaming” before you head to bed, you may actually end up realising you’re in a dream state. This is also known as Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming.
e) Be aware of unusual events
Have you ever felt some things are impossible? Such as a flying cow? Or your teeth falling out? If you do, chances are you may be dreaming. Take note of these bizarre events, and play along with it. Who know, you may be able to ride a flying cow.
4: Dangers of lucid dreaming
Lucid dreaming can put a toll on your body. During a lucid dream, your brain is very active, too much of it may actually make you more tired during the day. Sometimes it can be exceptionally dangerous for some individuals. Some drugs or enhancing supplements may even cause damage to your nervous system. If using enhancing drugs, remember to use them responsibly and understand the risks that come with them.
In saying that, I have personally come across patients who have used lucid dreaming for self-harm.
In one of my hospital rotations, I was assigned to the mental health department for 6 weeks. During my rotation, I met Jane, who was a patient diagnosed with a severe case of schizophrenia. Jane likes to write, but she wasn’t writing imaginative stories, the bizarre thing was, she was listing down everything that was in her room, from pillows, to TV remotes, to door handles. Doctors, nurses, even case managers weren’t able to figure out why. Everyday, she would wake up, draw a big cross against some of the items she has listed down, and continue listing other things she may find during the day.
One fine morning, 8am.
“Yup, time to record our usual clinical observations. Blood pressure is fine, body temperature is fine, heart rate is…. Jane, why are there red, painful scars on your wrist??”
Turns out, Jane has been listing down everything she has access to in her room, and have been experimenting self harm in her dreams using her list of items.
Jane’s item of choice? A piece of almond.
Needless to say, almonds were off her menu for the rest of her stay.
5. Drugs that induces lucid dreaming
Currently, there is no specific medically proven drugs that has proven to promote lucid dreaming, but people around the world has been experimenting on different things to enhance their lucid experiences. Keep in mind to use these supplements responsibly, as some of them may have risk to your health and wellbeing. Below are lists of popular products people are using to enhance their lucid dreaming experiences.
- LucidEsc – LucidEsc is listed as a “Lucid Dreaming Memory Support Supplement”. It is intended for people who are after dream support and help people become lucid in their dreams. The main ingredient in LucidEsc is Choline, a similar compound as ACh, the molecular compound responsible for memory, learning, and dreaming, as discussed in the above topic. It also contains an ingredient called Huperizine A, a compound responsible in memory and making your dreams more vivid, helping you remember your dreams better.
- Galantamine – Galantamine is a natural product made from daffodil, usually used to treat patients with Alzheimer and Dementia, to improve their short and long-term memory. Galantamine is responsible in preventing the break down of ACh in the brain.
- Vitamin B6 – Vitamin B6 is also another supplement people have been using to promote lucid dream. It doesn't only help with dreams being more vivid, it also helps the individual taking it remember their dream better the next morning. Vitamin B6 is found in meats, whole grains, vegetables, nuts and bananas. You won’t get enough Vitamin B6 to induce lucid dream just by consuming those particular food, a concentrated amount in pill form (100mg-250mg) will be more effective.
- Melatonin – Melatonin is known to increase REM sleep, the stage of sleep where you’re most likely to dream.
- Mugwort – Mugwort is a type of herb mainly found in Europe, Asia, Alaska, and North America. It is used to enhance dream recall, make sure you drink lots of water when taking mugwort, as it is known to cause dehydration. There are many ways of taking mugwort; smoking, pill form, and tea are common ways people have been using mugwort.
- DreamLeaf – DreamLeaf is a company that came up with the red and blue pill, designing each pill containing a cocktail of compounds specially to enhance lucid dream. The pills are designed to lengthen your REM cycle, allowing you to stay in a dream state for a longer period of time.
Now that you have read this article, hopefully it has given you insights in terms of how lucid dreams come about, and how they can be induced naturally and artificially. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done about lucid dreaming. It’s not an easy thing to achieve, it may be easier for some than others, but along with enough time and patience, keep up your techniques for a few weeks and you may become an expert at it.