Perhaps you have already done so. In the midst of a dreamlike experience, you realize that you are dreaming. This is a lucid dream, that is to say a dream where the dreamer knows that he is dreaming. Rather than being subject to what his unconscious invents, the lucid dreamer can then influence the heart of the dream and shape it consciously.
Although it has long divided researchers and specialists for lack of tangible proof, lucid dreaming is today a recognized and studied scientific phenomenon. But what are its features, benefits and can anyone do it?
What is a lucid dream?
“A lucid dream is a dream where the dreamer becomes aware of his dream”, defines Tristan Moir, psychoanalyst and specialist in the language of dreams. Lucid dreaming occurs during REM sleep, the last stage of the cycle and the phase during which we dream the most. Most of the time, lucid dreaming manifests itself spontaneously, but varies from person to person. “Lucid dreams take place more readily in men,” says the specialist. Children and people with narcolepsy also have more.
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The ability to lucid dreaming is not as rare as one might think. According to Dr. Kristen LaMarca, Doctor of Clinical Psychology and lucid dream specialistmost people remember at least one lucid dream, and “about a quarter of the population have such a dream at least once a month,” she writes in her book. The power of lucid dreams. For Paul, 40, it’s an innate faculty: “Since my early childhood I’ve had lucid dreams and for 15 years now I’ve been able to put a name to it.” Pauline, 26, experienced lucidity during nightmares: “I had some spontaneously. But that’s after reading the book The sixth sleep of Bernard Werber that I became aware of the term lucid dream and that one could provoke it voluntarily! In a week of practicing different techniques, I managed to have my first lucid dream.
Lucid dreaming in the service of the science of dreams
Scientific proof of the existence of lucid dreaming was made in the 1970s, thanks to Californian researcher Stephen LaBerge. “Stephen LaBerge had the idea of asking a sleeper to send a signal if he knows he is dreaming,” explains Isabelle Arnulf, neurologist and director of the sleep pathologies unit at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. He thus demonstrated that, since their eyes were not paralyzed during REM sleep, his subjects could move them in order to signal to him when they were lucid.
Since then, scientists have been using other reporting codes. “We use the muscles of the face. We ask sleepers to frown three times or to make three small smiles, ”explains Isabelle Arnulf. “Nothing moves on the face but with electrodes, we can detect the intention of movement.”
Lucid dreaming falls within the field of study of the science of dreams. “In scientific research, it is a fabulous tool. We are in the process of exploring what happens in dreams thanks to this model,” enthuses the neurologist. Lucid dreaming allows scientists to make great breakthroughs in the study of human consciousness.
Creativity rather than dream control
Contrary to popular belief, lucidity does not mean control your dreams. “At the level of consciousness that one has of being dreaming, there are several levels. Some people will simply be conscious spectators of their dream. Others, with a little higher consciousness, can modify it. This is what the people who train there try to do in terms of personal development”, specifies Isabelle Arnulf.
Paul clearly distinguishes these two types of lucid dream: “Those whose environment and scenario are created at my will, and those which are not at all modelable despite a certain lucidity. They are the most mysterious and it is in this type of dream that I like to explore, to look for writings or other sources of information.
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Lucid dreaming should be influenced more by our creative mind than our desire for control. “It allows you to create images, to move where you want, to invent a world, different paradigms,” says Tristan Moir. “It’s very pleasant because everything is very clean. You can fly away, pass through the wall. There is a movement in a virtual space a bit like in a video game”, abounds Isabelle Arnulf. Many people use it to fuel their fantasies of all kinds. The lucid dreamers report positive effects on their mood, due to satisfaction and the feeling of being able to accomplish what one wants. “I woke up with a big smile, a lot of energy, even a slight regret at having come out of my dreams in which I could absolutely control everything,” says Paul. This is also the limit for Tristan Moir: the lucid dream can “prevent from engaging in reality”.
What are the benefits of lucid dreaming?
“In therapy, we use lucid dreaming to make nightmares or unpleasant dreams disappear,” notes Isabelle Arnulf. Léa, 34, now manages to control nightmares to turn them into a lucid dream. “Once you realize you’re dreaming, in a nightmare, that one isn’t scary anymore. During a fairly significant nightmare, I became lucid and chose to be friendly towards my enemy. I had a feeling of calm and of having made peace with an aspect of myself,” she confides.
Tristan Moir sometimes suggests to his patients to bend the heart of the dream, for a therapeutic purpose, in order to confront their ghosts and their inner demons. “When, for example, a person has recurring dreams, I encourage him to put himself in the conditions of lucid dreaming. In general, these are rather distressing dreams, dreams of pursuit which are quite frequent”, he specifies. “I invite the person to turn around and look at whoever is chasing them. And at that moment, if the person manages to have this inflection in the dream, it will completely change the meaning of the dream and the distressing dreams will disappear”.
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There are some methods for lucid dreaming. They can be brought on by using techniques like “induction” before sleeping. A method of developing the intention to remember to be aware of upcoming dreams before going back to sleep. Keeping a dream journal can also help.
Another technique for switching to lucid dreaming consists of “waking up at 5 a.m., the start of the increased phase of paradoxical sleep, waiting 1 hour before going back to sleep and paying attention to the mental experience we have”, analyzes Isabelle Arnulf. However, this method of interrupting sleep can cause sleep deprivation and sleep paralysis. Memorizing an object before going to bed in order to find it in the dream or looking at your hands once immersed in the dream, are also possible techniques. Disciplines such as dream yoga or meditation can helpinduce lucid dreaming.
“The lucid dreaming is not dangerous for health”, insists the neurologist. For Tristan Moir, the lucid dream is interesting when it is used for therapeutic purposes but raises the question of the message of the dream, the very function of the dream. “If the dream is directed by the conscious, it no longer has the value of a message”.
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