Patients often ask about dreaming when being evaluated for their sleep disorders. One recent patient, a young female, acted timid when we started discussing her dream life. Initially, she seemed afraid to mention that her dream life is very vivid, almost as if she is living a different life in a parallel universe.
This patient reports she is aware of her dreams and often changes them at will, as if switching the channel on a television. This experience is known as lucid dreaming.
Patients usually describe lucid dreaming as an exciting experience. They often begin the discussion with the caveat, “I know this is weird, but…” They may describe being able to change and create their dreams, solve problems, or stop and restart a dream just like watching a movie on their DVR.
Patients who lucid dream often look forward to the fun they are able to have in their dreams. One pleasurable experience that’s been described repeatedly is the ability to fly. Patients also report facing fears that occur in nightmares.
One small pilot study showed that those who practiced lucid dreaming were able to overcome their fears. My patient tells me that when she has a nightmare, she becomes a superhero to confront the evil in her dreams.
Lucid dreaming can also be used to practice skills for scenarios that occur in real life. For instance, if a patient is going to be speaking in public, practicing the speech beforehand in their dreams can help them be more comfortable when it’s time to actually speak in front of people.
The practice of lucid dreaming goes back more than one thousand years, with the oldest accounts dating back to Tibetan Buddhists, who believed lucid dreamers were more enlightened.
But some lucid dreamers are not so enamored with their ability. These patients often say that they feel as though they have been awake all night, and may complain that they never feel rested.
Either way, lucid dreaming is an interesting phenomenon, and many books have been written on the topic. When patients relate their dreams as if they live them every night, explain that they are likely lucid dreaming. They can find more information from the Lucidity Institute, which is conducting several ongoing studies.
Sharon M. O’Brien, MPAS, PA-C, works at Presbyterian Sleep Health in Charlotte, N.C. Her main interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.
- Spoormaker V, van den Bout J (October 2006). “Lucid Dreaming Treatment for Nightmares: A Pilot Study.” Psychother Psychosom. 2006;76(6):389-394.
- LaBerge S, Levitan L. Lucid Dreaming FAQ. Version 2.31. Last updated: October 25, 2007.