Are lucid dreams useful or harmful to mental health?

In recent years, there has been an increasing number of people who try to initiate lucid dreaming so they can experience things that cannot be experienced in real life.

A woman sleeps (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A woman sleeps
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Most of the time when we dream, we are convinced that what is happening to us is real. In a lucid dream, however, we are aware during our sleep that it’s only a dream. Many of us experience moments of clarity from time to time while dreaming – such as during a nightmare, when we realize that it is just a dream and as a result can wake up or change its course.
In recent years, there has been an increasing number of people who try to initiate lucid dreaming so they can experience things that cannot be experienced in real life, such as flying like a bird. There even are online forums dedicated to the subject and devices on the market that flicker or beep during sleep that are meant to signal to the dreamer that he is asleep. Several studies have also examined the effectiveness of dreaming lucid dreams for reducing frequent nightmares, but they have shown only mixed results.
In a study conducted by Liat Aviram and Dr. Nirit Soffer-Dudek of Ben-Gurion University’s psychology department, the positive and negative effects of lucid dreaming were examined in 187 psychology students. It found that despite the popularity of lucid dreaming and the widely held hypothesis that lucid dreams are beneficial for mental health, people can sometimes do damage to their proactive diving experience.
Aviram, who recently completed her master’s degree in clinical psychology and studied under Soffer-Dudek, says that just being able to have lucid dreams was not related to better mental health, but that lucid dreams can be positive or negative, according to their specific characteristics.
There seems to be a continuity between feelings of control and positive emotion in the emotional state of those who are awake and those who are dreaming. “We found that among those who experienced lucid dreams. those who felt control over dream events, confidence that it was only a dream and a longer period of lucidity also reported lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress than those who experienced a lack of control over the dream.
As part of the technique of creating a lucid dream, the person learns to ask himself repeatedly whether he is awake or asleep – both during the day and in the dream – and also examines it in different ways, such as examining whether he can push his hand through the wall.
The researchers argue that the constant doubt places the person in a kind of intermediate zone between waking and sleeping. Indeed, the study found that those who tried to initiate a lucid dream reported more sleep and stress problems, as well as feelings that they experienced themselves or the world in a detached or “dreamlike” way (dissociative experiences).
The researchers also showed that these symptoms tended to increase within two months after attempts to reach lucidity.
“Our research is pioneering in the field because we are the first to examine whether the attempt to initiate lucidity can cause damage,” Soffer-Dudek explained.
“Many people are tempted to try and reach an alternative state of mind by reaching lucidity, but it seems they may be paying a price. We know from hundreds of studies how much sleep is critical to functioning, health and mood.”
“My recommendation is to be careful and consider carefully before deciding to fool around with our sleep and dreaming,” she said.