Imagine you’re at the edge of a cliff. You look down. The ground is so far down, you can’t even make out the details. Your toes curl as if to grasp the ground for stability. You realize you’re holding your breath. You gasp for air.
A gust of wind blows, making your whole body teeter. You can’t hold on anymore and the ground moves from under you. You’re falling. You frantically flail your arms, attempting to grab anything nearby.
“I wish I was somewhere else,” you think. “In Rome eating a gelato is better than this.“
You close your eyes as you continue to fall. This is the end.
But you don’t feel the end. You open your eyes. You’re in Rome with a strawberry gelato in your hand.
What in the world happened?!
Welcome to the world of lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is when you’re aware that you’re in a dream state with the ability to control your surroundings. By reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of what lucid dreaming is, how it works, and how you can prepare for the experience.
Is Lucid Dreaming Real?
Some people may think lucid dreaming is just a bad dream. After all, your senses are heightened, images are vivid, your emotions are intense… is this real?
Lucid dreaming has been scientifically studied and is quite real. It possesses unique and “discernible neural correlates,” which means this kind of dreaming is not just psychological, but physical as well.
Lucid dreaming was confirmed for the first time by the scientific community at Hull University in 1975. Nowadays, scientists explain that lucid dreaming works as a hybrid state – a blend of the waking and REM state.
What Happens When You Lucid Dream?
Lucid dreaming occurs during the REM state of sleep. And in this state, you’re able to become consciously aware of your dreams.
With this conscious awareness, you can influence what happens in your dream. You become the creator of your dream reality. And the power is exhilarating.
Is Lucid Dreaming Dangerous?
That’s a great question, especially if you’re a first-time lucid dreamer. The answer is no, it’s not dangerous. Lucid dreaming is generally considered safe.
There are a number of inaccurate myths and misconceptions that surround lucid dreaming, but this phenomenon has been studied extensively by researchers.
However, although there aren’t any significant dangers of lucid dreaming, we do advise practicing with caution. Without awareness and practice, lucid dreaming may cause:
- Sleep deprivation. Because your dreams can be so vivid, you might have trouble going back to sleep, which might cause sleep loss.
- Confusion and hallucinations. Some people with mental health disorders may have trouble distinguishing between reality and dreaming.
Just make sure you enter the dream world with knowledge and proper preparation, so you can have a safe and enjoyable lucid dreaming experience.
Is Lucid Dreaming Scary?
Now, as incredible as it is to craft your own dreams, sometimes it can be a bit scary. There are several “scary” situations that may occur:
1. Sleep paralysis
The most common negative experience lucid dreamers have is sleep paralysis, which is the inability to move when you’re asleep.
Sleep paralysis happens to everyone, each time they enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Since we have vivid dreams during REM sleep, our body enters a state of paralysis to prevent us from acting out those dreams.
Lucid dreaming happens in a state between consciousness and unconsciousness and it is very easy to slip fully into either state.
When you enter REM sleep and have a lucid dream, it is possible to become conscious during this state when your body is still paralyzed. Hallucinations and ominous feelings can also accompany this stage of sleep, so paired with the paralysis, it can be terrifying to experience.
It may sound scary, but being aware of the possibility and knowing that it is totally natural can help you overcome the fear if it happens to you.
Fear perpetuates sleep paralysis and makes it intensify and continue.
Relaxing into the paralysis and remembering that it is natural is the only way to overcome it.
It is not dangerous and will not harm you.
2. Getting trapped in a dream
Some people feel that they will get trapped in their lucid dream, unable to wake up and come back to reality.
This has, of course, never happened.
You can feel safe knowing that everyone who has ever had a lucid dream woke up in the safety of their bed.
This fear often results from a “false awakening” experience where a lucid dreamer attempts to wake up but realizes that they are still dreaming.
Upon attempting to wake up again, the lucid dreamer discovers that they are still dreaming. This cycle can continue for some time until the dreamer is able to pop themselves back into reality.
This fascinating phenomenon can be frightening, but it can also be seen as an opportunity to explore an altered reality.
Fighting the cycle will likely result in more false awakenings, but giving in to it and accepting that you are lucid dreaming can awaken a world of possibilities to explore.
You won’t get trapped, so just give in to the experience and test out your abilities to control your environment.
You will eventually wake up, just as you do every time you go to sleep.
3. Lucid nightmares
Just like any dream, lucid dreams can become nightmares.
Lucid dreamers are conscious of this experience, which can make the nightmare even more frightening.
However, lucid dream nightmares can actually be less frightening than normal nightmares, because the dreamer is able to exert some control over the dream.
If you experience a nightmare in a lucid dream, unlike a normal nightmare, you have the ability to remind yourself that it is just a dream.
Typically, when you experience a nightmare, you have no way of distinguishing it from reality.
In a lucid dream, your awareness gives you the advantage of saying, “I’m in a dream. This is all in my mind.”
Some experienced lucid dreamers actually have the ability to transform their nightmares into pleasant dreams.
If you encounter something unfriendly in a lucid dream, since you know it is all in your mind, you can let the unfriendly thing attack you and observe what happens.
Lucid dream nightmares give you a great opportunity to conquer your fears, unlock your courage, and process negative feelings.
4. Being unable to distinguish the dream world from reality
This fear gets a lot of press and may likely be the biggest reason people fear lucid dreaming.
Just like any activity that lets someone escape from reality, it can become addicting for those who have a hard time dealing with reality.
Unlike other addictions, however, lucid dreaming is really easy to stop.
For the vast majority of lucid dreamers, being able to distinguish reality from the dream world is not a problem.
Even those who make a profession out of lucid dreaming (authors, teachers, and public speakers) are able to balance their time between the two worlds, without confusing the two.
If you have a mental illness or suffer from other addictions, you may want to consult a professional psychologist before attempting lucid dreaming. Your risk of being awake and thinking you’re dreaming is extremely low, but for those with certain mental conditions, it may be a possibility.
If you’re attempting lucid dreaming as a form of self-discovery or simply as an interesting hobby, this possibility is unlikely to occur.
Can You Die in Real Life From a Lucid Dream?
Because there are no real dangers to lucid dreaming, the simple answer to this is: no.
No matter how exciting or exhilarating the experience of lucid dreaming is, the reality is: it’s still just a dream.
Which means it’s no different than any other dream.
Even if you die during your lucid dream, you’ll wake up safe and sound in your bed.
In fact, some researchers suggest lucid dreaming is an excellent opportunity to confront an existential fear of death.
Will lucid dreaming affect my sleep quality?
Although we mentioned being cautious of sleep deprivation, many lucid dreamers feel refreshed and awake after a lucid dreaming experience.
Going on adventures, learning about yourself and playing around in the dreamworld can be invigorating and exciting.
Since lucid dreaming happens during REM sleep, the body and mind are able to get the rest they need and continue through their normal processes.
Being aware of the dream state doesn’t seem to affect this for most people.
Occasionally, lucid dreaming may feel like a tiring experience.
If this does occur, simply lessen the time you spend attempting to lucid dream. Try getting a full night’s sleep every night and then attempting to lucid dream a couple times a week during naps.
This will eliminate any possible sleep deprivation you might experience.
How to Safely Practice Lucid Dreaming
As you go through your experiments with lucid dreaming, it may not be possible to avoid some negative effects, but you can turn them into positive experiences using the tips below.
Remember: it’s just a dream
Keep in mind that everything you experience during lucid dreaming is simply that – a dream.
You will always wake back up to the safety of your warm bed. If you can keep this in mind during your experiments, it will lessen the effects because you’ll realize that nothing can hurt you when you’re dreaming.
The real world presents far more dangers than anything you could dream about. Even the most violent nightmare will leave you safely in your bed without a scratch.
Make it a habit, not an obsession
When you’re first starting to lucid dream, it can be an exciting and thrilling time.
It’s important, however, to practice in moderation.
By making a lucid dream habit, you’ll be able to make it an important part of your life, without making it an obsession. Try to only spend a couple hours each day reading about it or practicing.
All things in moderation.
Give in to the process
Just like most fears, the worst thing you can do is fight against them.
If you’re afraid of false awakenings or losing touch with reality, you’re more likely to experience them. When we have a fear, we create pathways in our brain that are constantly on guard for those fears.
Sometimes this makes us experience things that we wouldn’t otherwise experience. If you experience something frightening, sink into the feeling and even “ask for more.”
It sounds counter-intuitive, but it is actually an excellent way to stop fear right in its tracks.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and for your lucid dreaming practice is to begin practicing mindfulness meditation.
Taking just 10-30 minutes each day to focus on your experiences, without judgment, can do miraculous things for your life.
The habit of mindfulness is powerful and can instantly calm you down in moments of fear. This tool will be invaluable if you experience a negative effect during your lucid dreams.
It’s also an invaluable tool for life.