How exciting it would be to be able to live in a parallel world, where our imagination could take flight, and in which we were free to experience whatever we want without any fear of repercussions? A world where things happen, we experience them, we feel them, and then we wake up. Yes, we are really talking about dreams, that state our body indulges in while we are sleeping, but in which the mind wanders free, and finds itself immersed in adventures that are just like real life.
Although most of the dreams we have every night happen involuntarily and unconsciously, there is a type of dream in which we remain aware and that can be controlled by the mind of the person dreaming: these are known as lucid dreams.
A lucid dream is one in which the person knows that they are dreaming and can take control of the narrative and what happens in the dream to various degrees, thereby influencing the course of the dream.
While dreams can usually occur at any stage of the sleep cycle, some studies have shown that lucid dreams occur in the REM sleep phase. This is the part of the sleep cycle characterised by a loss of tone in the postural muscles, the activation of the muscles that control the face and the distal part of the legs, and by an increase in brain activity, except in the limbic system where neuronal activity decreases.
During this phase of sleep, while being aware of being asleep, those who are having this specific kind of dream can control and change what happens in the dream.
Why do we have lucid dreams?
The ability to control your movement in lucid dreams has often been associated with metacognition, the awareness that a person has or develops of their cognitive processes and how they function. It has been discovered that the ability to control the events that take place in dreams involves increased activity in the frontal lobes of the brain, the area that is usually inhibited during sleep and that is linked to conscious thoughts, intuition, and decision-making when the person is awake.
Therefore, those who have lucid dreams are stimulating a part of the brain that is usually suppressed while we sleep and are having non-lucid dreams.
Spontaneous and induced lucid dreams
Lucid dreams can occur both spontaneously and by using certain induction techniques.
Spontaneous lucid dreams are usually much rarer and more difficult to predict, while you can actually train your mind to enter this dream state through the use of various induction techniques.
The main ones used in the scientific field include:
- Reality Testing: this is based on the fact that in dreams, you are not usually self-aware. Therefore, this technique involves the introduction of simple control tests during the waking phase in order to trigger a habit in the brain and stimulate it to repeat the same activity when dreaming starts. Using this technique, it is possible to achieve the necessary clarity of mind you need to distinguish between dreams and reality.
- Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD): in this technique the goal is to train the brain to recognise the difference between the dream state and the waking state. In particular, this ability is invoked by repeating a specific phrase on waking up after a period of sleep such as, “the next time I dream, I want to remember that I am dreaming”.
- Wake Back to Bed: this technique involves waking up in the middle of the night and going back to sleep only after a certain period of time has elapsed, usually between 30 minutes and two hours.
Lucid dreams are a type of dreamlike state that human beings have been having for millennia and that still fascinate us today. It encourages us to reflect on the power and capabilities of our brain and the functioning of the human mind.