For reasons not understood, we are typically unaware that we are dreaming. But have you ever suddenly realised that you were in a dream, or even managed to gain control over your dream narrative? If the answer is ‘yes’, you have experienced a phenomenon referred to as lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is a state of awareness that one is dreaming without leaving the sleep state. It is associated with increased activity in brain areas related to higher cognitive function, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex .
Many people are tempted to learn lucid dreaming. Since it is estimated that only 51% of individuals experience a lucid dream at least once in their lives, several lucid training methods have been developed and commercialised over the years . But which methods are efficient, and more importantly: can lucid dreaming induction be beneficial, or could it be a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
A recent study provided the strongest evidence to date that the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD) technique and the Senses Initiated Lucid Dream (SSILD) technique are equally effective. Both techniques are performed during a short awakening after approximately five hours of sleep to induce lucidity during REM sleep. The MILD technique involves creating a prospective memory intention to remember that one is dreaming, for example repeating the phrase “next time I am dreaming, I will remember I am dreaming”. The SSILD technique involves repeatedly shifting one’s attention between visual, auditory, and physical sensations before returning to sleep .
When having a lucid dream, you are always aware of the fact that you are dreaming, but the degree to which the dream can be influenced varies widely. Some lucid dreamers recognise they are dreaming, but fail to gain control over their dream content . Whether lucid dreaming could have a positive or negative influence seems to depend on the characteristics of the dream in question. Among lucid dreamers, those who have more control over their dream events experience lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, compared to those who lack control . As for clinical applications, lucid dreaming therapy may help treat recurrent nightmares. Even when lucidity is not achieved, the induction exercises may learn patients think critically about the content of their dreams . Another study suggests that lucid dreaming training for insomnia (LDT-I) may be useful as part of the non-pharmacological management of insomnia, as a significant reduction in insomnia severity, anxiety levels and depressive symptoms was found . However, more research is needed for more insight into the therapeutic outcome of lucid dreaming techniques in clinical practise [4,5].
Although the hypothesis that lucid dreaming could be beneficial for mental health seems to be widely held and investigated, one study found that those applying lucid dream induction methods reported more sleep and stress problems. Some even had dissociative experiences, meaning that they experienced the world, or themselves, in a detached or “dreamlike” way . Considering this, and the fact that the majority of research regarding lucid dreaming merely focuses on possible benefits, it is recommended to be careful and considerate regarding lucid dream induction methods [2,3].
Admitting that lucid dreaming is very intriguing, it is currently not entirely clear what impact lucid dreaming training may have on sleep integrity. Since sleep quality and hygiene are crucial for mental and physical health, some researchers encourage future studies to look into the possible downsides of lucid dreaming and its induction methods . In other words: to find out whether lucid dreaming could be a foe in disguise, after all.
 Aspy, D.J. Findings From the International Lucid Dream Induction Study. Frontiers in Psychology 11(2020).
 Soffer-Dudek, N. Are Lucid Dreams Good for Us? Are We Asking the Right Question? A Call for Caution in Lucid Dream Research. Front Neurosci 13, 1423-1423 (2020).
 Aviram, L. & Soffer-Dudek, N. Lucid Dreaming: Intensity, But Not Frequency, Is Inversely Related to Psychopathology. Front Psychol 9, 384 (2018).
 De Macêdo, T.C.F., et al. My Dream, My Rules: Can Lucid Dreaming Treat Nightmares? Frontiers in Psychology 10(2019).
 Ellis, J.G., et al. Managing Insomnia Using Lucid Dreaming Training: A Pilot Study. Behav Sleep Med, 1-11 (2020).