Antonio Zadra, Ph.D., of the University of Montreal Ctr for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine and co-author of “When Brains Dream,” helps us to comprehend the Lucid dream experience, How to have Lucid Dreams, Benefits of lucid dreaming, dangers of Lucid Dreaming, Techniques for Lucid Dreaming, its applications, and what they reveal about the dreaming brain.
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Antonio Zadra – Ph.D., co-author of “When Brains Dream”
I study dreams for a living, everything from recurrent dreams to sex dreams, to nightmares, but as a dream scientist. There’s one aspect of dreaming that I’ve always been particularly fascinated about, and that is lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreams are those in which you know that you’re dreaming while you’re still in the dream.
I know how cool these dreams can be. Because when I was in college, I had a lucid dream that changed my life. It was a long and unusually vivid dream in which I was wrongly convicted of a crime incarcerated stabbed by an inmate and later managed to escape by sprinting across the prison yard and leaping over this 15 foot barbed wire fence.
But it was only when I landed on a field of snow on the other side of the fence, in my dream that I realized something was wrong. The prison yard behind me, it was covered in grass, not in snow and my stab wounds. They had magically healed and come to think of it that miraculous 15 foot leap.
Well, that didn’t make much sense either. Only one explanation did make sense. I was dreaming. I picked up some snow in my dream and Marvel that the coldness permeating my hand. I knew that my real body was asleep in my bed, but everything in the dream looked and felt so real. It was mind boggling.
I then threw a snowball at the first person. I saw a rather large man standing nearby, curious about how he’d react. The men got upset and threatened to punch me out. And when he took a few steps in my direction, I panicked forgetting for a moment that I was dreaming. I later encountered other intriguing dream characters, including this one, gentlemen, who tried to convince me that the whole thing wasn’t a dream.
By the time I finally woke up, I was hooked. I wanted to learn more about this incredible experience I just had. And so because of this lucid dream, I became a dream scientist a few months after I had this dream, I became aware of these fascinating studies coming out of Stanford university. Researchers there had showed that while in REM sleep, the sleep stage most closely associated with vivid dreaming lucid, dreamers could use these pre agreed upon ice signals such as repeatedly looking left, right to communicate with the researchers while they were asleep and dreaming. It turns out that the eye movements, lucid dreamers performed in their lucid dreams could be picked up by electrodes monitoring their actual REM movements under their closed eyelids in the sleep lab.
Having someone become aware that they’re dreaming while they are sleeping in a lab, that’s pretty cool. But having them communicate this to you from inside their dream, that’s mind-bending.
This research not only proved that lucid dreams are real, but also that lucid dreamers could use these left right left right eye signals to timestamp the exact moment at which the start and finish specific tasks in their dreams.
These ice signals, they tell researchers where to look in their recordings.
For example, between signal one and signal two for corresponding changes in that person’s brain and bodily activity, a variety of skills like singing, counting, doing squats, even having sex in lucid dreams have been studied in this way in sleep labs around the world. What these studies tell us is that the events we experience in our dreams produce effects on our brains that are remarkably similar to what we would expect.
If we experienced the corresponding events during wakefulness. In other words, to our brains, dreaming of doing something is pretty much equivalent to actually doing it. Moreover now appears that two way communication with lucid dreamers may be possible opening up a whole new frontier in this line of research, but offering an innovative way of exploring dreams. It Isn’t the only benefit of lucid dreaming.
- Several studies, including from our own laboratory have shown that lucid dreams can be used to treat nightmares.
- Pilot data indicates that lucid dreaming can foster creativity
- or even be used much like imagery, rehearsal techniques to practice motor your skills like skiing or playing darts.
- More fascinating, lucid dreams allow you to explore and interact with parts of your mind, your unconscious, if you wish in ways that you can’t in non-lucid dreams or during wakefulness, for that matter.
Now, people give talks on lucid dreams. They often emphasize how easily anyone can learn to have Lucid Dream or ‘How you can do anything in a lucid dream’. But truth of the matter is it’s really not all that simple.
Facts and Figures about Lucid Dreams/ Lucid Dreaming
Only about 20% of people report having lucid dreams even once a month.
And, those proficient lucid dreamers that do the left right left right eye signals in the lab. Well, they represent less than 1% of the population.
And studies have also found that up to half of lucid dreamers report, not being able to change much if any, anything in their dreams. So while lucid dreaming is a learnable skill, it often takes considerable time and effort.
How to Lucid Dreaming?
That being said, if you’re interested in learning to have lucid dreams, well, here’s a few steps to get:
- Keep a Dream Diary
Firstly, Keep a dream diary. This will greatly improve your dream recall.
2. Get into the habit of asking yourself, am I dreaming?
While awake, get into the habit of asking yourself, am I dreaming? Whenever something unusual happens to you, think about how you got there and what was going through your mind right before you asked yourself this question.
The idea is to develop a critical frame of mind while you’re awake, that will hopefully carry over we’re into your dreams.
3. Perform daily reality checks.
Actions meant to determine if you’re awake or dreaming. They include things like reading or pressing your fingers up against your Palm. They’re called reality checks because unlike in waking life, they tend to misfire in dreams.
If you try reading a book in your dream, for example, the letters and words may make little sense or appear to jump about or change. If you look away and back at the text. Again, one reason this happens is because when you’re dreaming, there is no physical pain page or book in front of you. All the sentences you see are created by your imagination. So it’s hard for your brain to keep trying back of all of these phrases as the dream unfolds, as for pressing a finger against your head and in my go right through your poem or create some other unusual sensation because well, you’re dreaming.
(How to Lucid Dreaming: Problems faced when you’re Lucid Dreaming)
Now, if you’re like most people, once you realize that you are in fact dreaming, you’ll want to use this awareness to try to influence what happens next in the dream. Many lucid dreamers find that willing things into existence doesn’t work very well. What does work is expecting things to happen in the dream.
Here’s how to do it: How to Lucid Dreaming (Techniques of Lucid Dreaming)
Suppose you’d like to make a fancy house or a yummy dessert or a particular person appear in your dream. Take the time to imagine the object or scene, then slowly turn around in your dream. Expecting that seem to be there. Chances are that the person or object or something pretty close to that will be there.
You can also use this expectancy effect to make objects appear in your dreams. For example, by telling yourself that you will find the object behind some furniture or even inside your pants pocket, some experience lucid dreamers will open doors in their dreams, envisioning whatever they want waiting for them on the other side. But this expectancy effect only works if you’re convinced you can do it.
If you have any doubts, well, here’s what can happen:
When my friend, Sarah was a young girl, she’d often dream of this large menacing Wolf chasing her through a forest. When she told her father about this dream, he told her the next time she had the dream, she should face the Wolf and tell it, stop. You can’t hurt me. This is a dream.
Well, a few weeks later, Sarah had her dream again, but remembered the words her father had told her to say, as soon as she finished repeating her father’s words, the Wolf came in close, looked her in the eye and growled. He ripped off her arm with the vicious snap of its jaws.
So what went wrong?
Well, Sarah May have said the right things in her dream, but part of her was also afraid of what the creature might do. This sense of fear was probably registered by her brain and contributed to the dreams nnnerving ending.
A similar dynamic can be seen in people who while in the middle of a fantastic flying dream, start to wonder how it is that they are able to fly and promptly tumble back to earth. So what we feel and think in our dreams often plays a role in how the dream will unfold.
Over the past few decades, science has made significant progress in our understanding of lucid dreams, but there are many challenges ahead:
We still don’t have a good understanding of the neural underpinnings behind lucid dreaming or the brain based processes that can facilitate their occurrence. And we still don’t have a safe and reliable way of inducing lucid dreams or of making them last longer. And we’re ways away from understanding how the brain goes about creating the people we encounter in our dreams. Many of whom do and say things as if they had their own thoughts and feelings.
When I started this talk, I mentioned a character in my lucid dream who tried to convince me that the whole thing, wasn’t a dream. I dreamed about him again on several other occasions. And in one lucid dream, I asked him if he ever dreamt. He said, “of course I do whenever I’m asleep only. I try not to wake up whenever you are in my dream.” When I asked him why he grinned and said, “Because you disappear!”