|April 24, 2012||Posted by Alaa Jasim under lifestyle, science|
” … Someone mentions it’s like a dream. I laugh and say that’s because I am dreaming. I am now lucid … “
The human mind is a weird, scary, almost alien place. It is evident that the mind is at its freest when we are asleep dreaming, where, if we are to believe the Freudian theory, our deepest desires and wishes are laid bare. Some also believe that our dreams represent the body healing itself, and the mind, to put it in mechanical terms, clearing out its hard drive to get ready for another day.
But what about other types of dreaming? What about dreams that can lead to sleep disorders? Dreams we can influence?
We all know that sleep is extremely important for keeping our bodies healthy and our minds fresh, but there are still a lot of strange phenomena regarding how we think while we sleep, what exactly we are doing when we dream, and how we dream when we do. Perhaps the different levels of sleep affect the lucidity of our dreams, or even how we dream or what we dream about – we don’t know. And why do our dreams sometimes go haywire?
With the help of a willing volunteer who was practising lucid dreaming and keeping a dream diary, I decided to explore the subject.
” … I remember reading to start with small goals, for example to look at your hands, so I look down at my hands and almost trip on the stairs because I am distracted. A boy comes up the stairs behind me so I sit down to let him pass, very happy that I have achieved this … “
Lucid dreaming is where the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. This can often occur when the person who is asleep sees something in their dream that they register as surreal – perhaps they are flying, for example, or something just isn’t quite right. Being aware of the fact that you’re dreaming can sometimes mean that you have a degree of control over the dream, and if you keep the experience positive then it supposedly shouldn’t harm you in any way.
According to many people who have had them, a lucid dream is something that we all simply have to experience during our lives. But is lucidity really that good?
” … I’m not scared, just annoyed that something went wrong. I go back inside and close the door … “
Although our volunteer says she rarely has nightmares, the above quote could indicate that, were she not lucid, the dream would have been a nightmare. However, her awareness that she was dreaming meant the rational part of her brain knew there was nothing to worry about. In fact, lucid dreaming has been used as a treatment for nightmares and has been shown to have a real impact in acting against them. It has also been observed to be beneficial in fighting depression. A common perception of lucidity in dreaming is that it is detrimental to your mental health; the converse could in fact be true. Many of us have never had a lucid dream: are we missing out on a way to improve our health?
But this raises a question: if sleep talking and sleepwalking are considered sleep disorders, should lucid dreaming be too? There doesn’t seem to be any strong evidence so far to show that lucid dreaming can be damaging, but I am nevertheless left wondering if it might be. Dreams are usually subconscious experiences, and it strikes me as odd that pulling dreams from the subconscious into the conscious part of the brain doesn’t have any lasting effects. After a long period of time, couldn’t repeated lucid dreaming mess with your mind a bit?
” … I decide to experiment with how much control I have over my dream world. I go up to a door, decide what kind of room it is going to be, and go through the door. It is similar so I am pleased. I then go to another door in this new room and think, ‘OK, this time it is going to be a large green glade with a lake at the far side,’ and hold a clear picture of what I want in my head. I am sure to think, ‘this is what there will be,’ not, ‘this is what there should be,’ as last time. I open the door and there is a glade, almost identical to the one I was imagining … “
Here, it seems obvious that the dreamer is keeping the dream as conscious as possible, attempting control as well as lucidity. The determination is pretty clear, and the control means that she’s pretty safe, but what if she gets distracted? What if she loses control of a certain aspect – say the lake becomes shark-infested water? Could that be dangerous for our dreamer?
The contents of our subconscious are subconscious for a reason. It has been said that the things in your subconscious can confuse and, by some accounts, even terrify the conscious part of your mind. Sometimes this is because there are parts of your subconscious that your conscious, waking mind cannot yet deal with. Sound like a good thing to be fiddling with? I didn’t think so. Meddling with these hidden terrors can encourage lucid nightmares, which in some cases can be uncontrollable. These in turn can lead to false awakenings, which can quite literally tease your mind right to the edge.
And so we have to ask ourselves: could there be a point where a lucid dreamer wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between dreams and reality? At that point they would be a danger to themselves as well as to others.
” … The girl sat next to me taps him on the shoulder for me to get his attention. I tell him I am lucid dreaming. He seems impressed. I lean over and hug him … “
It’s fairly clear from this extract of our volunteer’s dream journal that she’s not at the stage where she’s confusing dreams with reality, but could she get there? Lucid dreaming is supposed to be a positive experience, but maybe it’s pushing the limit too far. After all, some say it can cause anxiety issues, and maybe the positive experiences will start to lead to negative ones, leading to goodness knows what else. Is it worth that risk? The subconscious is subconscious for a reason.
We don’t yet have the answers to these questions. Although I’m wrapping this up knowing a little more about lucid dreaming, and there is a part of me comforted that lucid dreaming won’t drive my volunteer towards mental illness any time soon, part of me wonders if that could still happen after a prolonged period exposure to lucidity. I wonder if that’s something that could actually be studied. On the other hand, perhaps the worst thing that lucid dreaming can do is cure nightmares, which really isn’t so bad at all.
Thank you to N. Duke for allowing me to include parts of her dream diary.
- Can you control your dreams? – CNN
- My Lucid Nightmares – A Danger of Lucid Dreaming – japtaker
- Lucid Dreaming FAQ – The Lucidity Institute
- Why do we dream? – Rebecca Turner
- Freud’s Approach to Dreams – ThinkQuest
- Lucid dream – Wikipedia