17/06/2014 08:58 BST | Updated 13/08/2014 06:59 BST

Dreaming for Real


At the moment, one of the hottest topics in the area of personal well-being is lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is the ability to become aware that you are dreaming, while you are dreaming, and then using this awareness to influence your dream and choose what you experience in it.

A recently published study by Steven Jones and Tadas Stumbrys in the International Journal of Dream Research investigated the ability of lucid dreaming to be positively associated with both mental and physical health. Even though no direct correlation between lucid dreaming and both physical and mental well-being was proved by this study, the authors feel that it is an area that warrants more research.

Although lucid dreaming holds the promise of improved health and happiness, actually putting it into practice can often be quite confusing for anyone who would like to realise the benefits. There is a popular misconception that lucid dreaming is all about controlling your dreams and everything you experience in them. Even if it were humanly possible to completely control all the imagery that you unconsciously generate, the real value of lucid dreaming is the opportunity to choose your dream content rather than attempting to limit it.

We all naturally have the ability to dream lucidly, and everyone experiences a type of lucidity, however brief, as we fall asleep and when we wake from sleep. Rather than using these natural opportunities, many aspiring lucid dreamers rely on a variety of devices and apps that claim they can reliably induce a lucid dream with absolutely no intervention on the part of the dreamer, apart from just lying there and sleeping. Unfortunately, none of these products actually live up to their marketing hype and can often produce a less than pleasant dream experience.

Most of these devices attempt to predict when you are dreaming and then alert you to that by using a system of flashing lights or playing particular sounds. Although the sales literature might suggest that this will immediately transport you to a tropical island with a celebrity of your choice, it very rarely works like that in dreaming reality. The most common dream that people have is being chased, and the flashing lights of the lucid dreaming device are often integrated into the dream as the flashing lights of a pursuing police car or other emergency vehicle. Rather than using the lucid dream state as a way of making choices, the dreamer feels that they have no choice except to run away and avoid their pursuers.

There are also drugs and supplements that a dreamer can ingest to increase the chances of lucidity, such as galamantine. These, however, can often cause the equivalent of a bad trip when using LSD. Both drugs and devices can take the power of the lucid dreaming experience away from the dreamer, rather than empowering an individual to create the lucid dreams of their choice.

Instead of relying on technology or specific substances, the best way to access the increased levels of self-awareness experienced during lucid dreaming is to use your natural human ability to do it. This may take a little bit of patience and persistence but is ultimately far more rewarding as it gives you the power to work with your dreams rather than feeling that you have to rely on external devices or stimulants.

The optimum time to practice lucid dreaming is as you fall asleep or as you wake. In both cases, you will be balanced between conscious awareness and the unconscious generation of imagery and will have the opportunity to make choices about the images that you are unconsciously generating. This can be a little frustrating at first and takes a bit of practice, but it is like learning to ride a bike. The first few times can be a little wobbly and the experience does not last too long but with practice and persistence, a natural balance between conscious awareness and unconscious imagery can be effortlessly maintained. By practising lucid dreaming while falling asleep and waking up, you will naturally have far more opportunity to become lucid while in a deeper dream state.

The ability to make choices while you dream will naturally be carried over into your waking life, where you will start to recognise valuable opportunities and the choices that you can make to explore them. Rather than feeling that you have to control everything in your waking life, you can choose to open up possibilities that will lead to a sense of fulfilment you could never have previously dreamt of.