Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Lucid Dreaming

A lucid dream refers to any dream in which a person is aware that he is dreaming. Aristotle observed: "often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream". One of the earliest references to personal experiences with lucid dreaming was by Marie-Jean-Léon, Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys, but the person most widely acknowledged as having coined the term is Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik (Willem) van Eeden (1860–1932).

In a lucid dream, the dreamer has greater chances to exert control over their participation within the dream or be able to manipulate their experiences in the dream environment. Lucid dreams can be realistic and vivid. It is shown that there are higher amounts of beta-1 frequency band (13–19 Hz) experienced by lucid dreamers, hence there is an increased amount of activity in the parietal lobes making lucid dreaming a conscious process.

Skeptics suggest it is not a state of sleep, but of brief wakefulness. Others point out there is no way to prove the truth of lucid dreaming other than to ask the dreamer. Lucid dreaming has been researched scientifically, with test subjects performing pre-determined physical responses while experiencing a lucid dream.

The first book to recognize the scientific potential of lucid dreams was Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys's 1867 Les Reves et Les Moyens de Les Diriger: Observations Pratiques. This French publication, originally published anonymously, translates as 'Dreams and the ways to direct them: practical observations'. It accounts for Saint-Denys' own experiences, but made also an extensive study of the phenomenon of lucid dreaming. Researcher Celia Green's 1968 study Lucid Dreams, analyzed the main characteristics of such dreams, reviewing previously published literature on the subject and incorporating new data from subjects of her own. She concluded that lucid dreams were a category of experience quite distinct from ordinary dreams, and predicted that they would turn out to be associated with rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep). Green was also the first to link lucid dreams to the phenomenon of false awakenings.

Philosopher Norman Malcolm's 1959 text Dreaming argued against the possibility of checking the accuracy of dream reports. He points out "The only criterion of the truth of a statement that someone has had a certain dream is, essentially, his saying so." The realization that eye movements performed in dreams may affect the dreamer's physical eyes provided a way to prove that actions agreed upon during waking life could be recalled and performed once lucid in a dream. The first evidence of this type was produced in the late 1970s by British parapsychologist Keith Hearne. A volunteer named Alan Worsley used eye movements to signal the onset of lucidity, which were recorded by a polysomnograph machine.

A lucid dream can begin in one of two ways. A dream-initiated lucid dream starts as just a normal dream, and the dreamer eventually concludes it is a dream. A wake-initiated lucid dream occurs when the dreamer goes from a normal waking state directly into a dream state, with no apparent lapse in consciousness. The wake-initiated lucid dream "occurs when the sleeper enters REM sleep with unbroken self-awareness directly from the waking state".

Neuroscientist J. Allan Hobson has hypothesized what might be occurring in the brain while lucid. The first step to lucid dreaming is recognizing one is dreaming. This recognition might occur in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is one of the few areas deactivated during REM sleep and where working memory occurs. Once this area is activated and the recognition of dreaming occurs, the dreamer must be cautious to let the dream continue but be conscious enough to remember that it is a dream. While maintaining this balance, the amygdala and parahippocampal cortex might be less intensely activated. To continue the intensity of the dream hallucinations, it is expected the pons and the parieto-occipital junction stay active.

It has been suggested that sufferers of nightmares could benefit from the ability to be aware they are indeed dreaming. A pilot study was performed in 2006 that showed that lucid dreaming therapy treatment was successful in reducing nightmare frequency. This treatment consisted of exposure to the idea, mastery of the technique, and lucidity exercises. It was not clear what aspects of the treatment were responsible for the success of overcoming nightmares, though the treatment as a whole was successful.

Australian psychologist Milan Colic has explored the application of principles from narrative therapy with clients' lucid dreams, to reduce the impact not only of nightmares during sleep, but also depression, self-mutilation, and other problems in waking life. Colic found that clients preferred direction for their lives, as identified during therapeutic conversations, could lessen the distressing content of dreams, while understandings about life—and even characters—from lucid dreams could be invoked in "real" life with marked therapeutic benefits.

In 1985, Stephen LaBerge performed a pilot study which showed that time perception while counting during a lucid dream is about the same as during waking life. Lucid dreamers counted out ten seconds while dreaming, signaling the start and the end of the count with a pre-arranged eye signal measured with electrooculogram recording. LaBerge's results were confirmed by German researchers in 2004. The German study, by D. Erlacher and M. Schredl, also studied motor activity and found deep knee bends took 44% longer to perform while lucid dreaming. However, a 1995 study in Germany indicated that lucid dreams can have varied time spans, in which the dreamer can control the length. The study took place during sleep and upon awakening. They required the participants to record their dreams in a log and record how long the dreams lasted.

While dream control and dream awareness are correlated, neither requires the other—LaBerge has found dreams that exhibit one clearly without the capacity for the other; also, in some dreams where the dreamer is lucid and aware they could exercise control, they choose simply to observe. In 1992, a study by Deirdre Barrett examined whether lucid dreams contained four "corollaries" of lucidity: knowing that one dreams, that objects will disappear after waking, that physical laws need not apply, and having clear memory of the waking world, and found less than a quarter of lucidity accounts exhibited all four. A related and reciprocal category of dreams that are lucid in terms of some of these four corollaries, but miss the realization that "I'm dreaming," were also reported. Scores on these corollaries and correctly identifying the experience as a dream increased with lucidity experience. In a later study in Barrett's book, The Committee of Sleep, she describes how some experienced lucid dreamers have learned to remember specific practical goals such as artists looking for inspiration seeking a show of their own work once they become lucid or computer programmers looking for a screen with their desired code. However, most of these dreamers had many experiences of failing to recall waking objectives before gaining this level of control.

Other researchers have described the phenomenon of lucid dreaming not as a part of sleep, but as a brief wakeful state, or "micro-awakening". Experiments by Stephen LaBerge used "perception of the outside world" as a criterion for wakefulness while studying lucid dreamers. Although their sleep state was corroborated with physiological measurements, LaBerge admits the criterion is subjective. Physiologically, brain activity during REM sleep is similar to wakefulness. Dr. John Allan Hobson illustrates the ambiguity of these experiments, as LaBerge's subjects always experienced their lucid dream while in a state of REM. Hobson concludes that lucid dreaming is a state of both waking and dreaming. Fellow dream researcher Michael Schredl found Hobson's conclusion to be over-simplifying, saying that the physiological state of lucid dreamers appears to be closer to other states of consciousness, such as meditation, than to wakefulness.

As pointed out in the first paragraph of this article, even though it has only come to the attention of the general public in the last few decades, lucid dreaming is not a modern discovery. In early Buddhism it was a common practice among people in the monastic community. As preserved in the ancient Sarvastivada school's Sutra on Mindfulness of the Body in the Madhayama agama (equivalent of Pali Kayagatasati) it states that monks and nuns under practice should be 'Understanding (having awareness in) the four postures and states of being asleep or awake'. Documented since the 8th century, Tibetan Buddhists and Bonpo were practicing a form of dream yoga held to maintain full waking consciousness while in the dream state. One important message of the book is the distinction between the Dzogchen meditation of awareness and dream yoga. The Dzogchen awareness meditation has also been referred to by the terms rigpa awareness, contemplation, and presence. Awareness during the sleep and dream states is associated with the Dzogchen practice of natural light. This practice only achieves lucid dreams as a secondary effect—in contrast to dream yoga, which aims primarily at lucid dreaming. According to Buddhist teachers, the experience of lucidity helps us understand the unreality of phenomena, which would otherwise be overwhelming during dream or the death experience.

In Western culture, the phenomenon had been referred to by Greek philosopher Aristotle who had written: "often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream". Also in a letter written by St. Augustine of Hippo in 415 AD about a story of a dreamer, Doctor Gennadius, refers to lucid dreaming. The dreamer reported that he didn't realize he was in the dream world but the man whom he met in his dream reminded him about this and pointed out that his experience was a proof of life after death.

An early recorded lucid dreamer was the philosopher and physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682). Browne was fascinated by the world of dreams and described his own ability to lucid dream in his Religio Medici: "...yet in one dream I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests and laugh my self awake at the conceits thereof". Similarly, Samuel Pepys in his diary entry for 15 August 1665 records a dream "that I had my Lady Castlemayne in my arms and was admitted to use all the dalliance I desired with her, and then dreamt that this could not be awake, but that it was only a dream". Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys argued that it is possible for anyone to learn to dream consciously. In 1867, he published his book Les Rêves et les moyens de les diriger; observations pratiques ("Dreams and How to Guide them; Practical Observations"), in which he documented more than twenty years of his own research into dreams.

In the 1950s, the Senoi hunter-gatherers of Malaysia were reported to make extensive use of lucid dreaming to ensure mental health, although later studies refuted these claims.

Animals dream too.
A 2012 report by the BBC claimed that "interest in lucid dreaming has grown in recent years", and corroborated this with examples of the many telephone apps that exist to help people experience the phenomenon. One such app was downloaded half a million times in six weeks, the report says.

During most dreams, sleepers are not aware that they are dreaming, no matter how absurd or eccentric the dream is. The reason for this has not been determined, and does not appear to have an obvious answer. There have been attempts by various fields of psychology to provide an explanation. For example, some proponents of depth psychology suggest that mental processes inhibit the critical evaluation of reality within dreams.

Certain physiology studies suggest that "seeing is believing" to the brain during any mental state. If the brain perceives something with great clarity or intensity, it will believe that it is real, even when asleep. Dream consciousness is similar to that of a hallucinating awake subject. Dreams or hallucinatory images triggered by the brain stem are considered to be real, even if fantasy. The impulse to accept the experience as real is so strong the dreamer will often invent a memory or a story to cover up an incongruous or unrealistic event in the dream. For example, "That man has two heads!" is not usually followed with "I must be dreaming!" but with something like "Yes, I read in the paper about these famous conjoined twins." Other times there will be an explanation that, in the dream, makes sense and seems very logical. However, when the dreamer awakes, he will realize that it is rather far-fetched or even completely absurd.


  1. The book of Saint-Denys got two English translations. One is an unabridge version, downloadable at http://ebooks.readbook5.com/download.php?new=31a1618b34ad5747642f0afbb8055e51&title=Dreams%20and%20How%20to%20Guide%20Them&eDonkey=87D2FCA01DC2AB46A94E777B6FB8CB76&Filesize=4088301&Extension=pdf

    the other is an complete integral translation and downloadable at

  2. Overcoming the dream logic can be such an obstacle. I'm a natural lucid dreamer, but find that the lucid dreams come far more frequently when I read, talk, and think about the concept of lucid dreaming. (That's why I read this right now before sleep.)

  3. Hello, very nice website, I have written articles about lucid dreams in particular from their origins in Plato's Hyperuranium, which develops through the Sephirot (tree of life), are quite complex articles, and I understand that someone may find it difficult to read them, but if you are interested i give you the link: http://hokmaph-iperuranio.blogspot.it/2017/05/articles-iperuranio-world-of-ideas.html