Lucid Dreaming: Asleep and Aware
Lucid dreaming is an issue that has been studied as far back as 1896. A Lucid dream
is one in which the dreamer is aware that he/she is dreaming and is sometimes able to take
control. Lucid dreams are an actual phenomena that do occur in REM sleep.
Dr. van Eeden was the first recorded person to study dreams in which the dreamer is
aware they are dreaming. In 1896 he began recording his dreams. Over a period of one
year he recorded 352 dreams, but only eight were lucid (Dreams 784).
The actual definition of a lucid dream, is a dream in which the dreamer mentally
awakens in the dream and becomes aware that it is only a dream. This "awakening" is
usually triggered by the dreamer noticing something in the dream that is far too unusual to
be real (Blackmore 362). The actual term lucid dreaming was first used by the Dutch
psychiatrist Fredrick van Olen in 1913. It simply means "clear dreaming" (Blackmore
Surveys and research have shown that 50 percent of all Americans have had at
least one lucid dream in their life that they could recall (Lucid Dreaming 365). When a
dreamer becomes lucid there are physical changes on the outside of the body and brain
patterns also change. There are usually pauses in breathing and changes in heart rate. The
amount of brain activity is more heightened than that of a regular dream, but less than
when waking. It has also been observed that a person having a lucid dream shows more
brain activity than a waking person under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs such as
LSD (Lucid Dreaming 364).
A lucid dream is usually provoked by an earlier day of heightened stress or anxiety
(Lucid Dreaming 364). They usually occur at the end of an eight or nine hour sleep
Several methods have been developed for inducing lucid dreams. The simplest and
most common method is known as the MILD method, or Mnemonic Induction of Lucid
Dreaming. This method consists of waking in the early morning from a dream and
remembering what the dream was about. Then as the dreamer returns to sleep he or she
should remind themselves that the dream is not real as they return to the original dream
(Lucid Dreaming 366).
The second method involves work during the day. The person should constantly
ask them self when they are awake, "Am I dreaming?", then look for a clue to prove they
are. Then when the person falls asleep they will be reminded to ask the same question and
in turn realize the dream is not real (Lucid Dreaming 366).
Another method involves the use some kind of an external device that will create a
signal to the dreamer that they are dreaming. Keith Hearne was the first person to
incorporate this strategy. He would watch the dreamers eyes for rapid eye movement
(REM) to show that they were dreaming. He would then spray them with water to signal
to them that they were dreaming. This method was fairly unsuccessful (Blackmore 366).
In 1989 Dr. Steven La Berge invented the "Dream Light". This device is a mask
that the dreamer wears that contains a small LED for signalling dreams and a small
computer that detects when dreams begin. The "Dream Light" is available to the public
and over 2,000 have been sold. It retails for about $900. This is the most simple method
but few can experience it due to the cost (Blackmore 366).
Once the dreamer becomes lucid they can do many interesting things such as
communicating with the outside waking world. This can be done with the eyes or through
breathing. When a person falls asleep, all their muscles are paralyzed except for the eyes
and internal organs. By moving the eyes from left to right a predetermined number times,
a person can signal things to the outside world. Keith Hearne first discovered this in 1978
and used it to prove that lucid dreams are real and happen in REM sleep. He used a
polygraph to determine that when his subject moved his eyes left to right eight times, he
was indeed in REM sleep, and aware of the fact. A person can also signal that they are
dreaming by breathing rapidly (Blackmore 366).
With the ability to communicate while dreaming and being able to control the
dream, many questions that have remained unanswered about dreams can finally be solved.
It has been proven that in the deep state of REM sleep, all muscles except for the eyes are
paralyzed. Using lucid dreaming and eye movements, it has been shown that when actions
are performed in a dream, the brain still sends electrical impulses to the muscles to
correspond to those actions. The impulses just have no effect (Blackmore 367).
This same principle also applies to the use of different brain hemispheres. Dr.
Steven La Berge performed experiments involving the use of different sides of the brain in
dreams. It has been proven that when waking, the right side of the brain is used for
artistic things such as singing, while the left side is used more for technical actions like
math. La Berge had dreamers sing and count in their dreams and a polygraph showed that
the same side of the brain shows more activity than the other, just like when
Another similarity between lucid dreams and a waking state is the ability of the
eyes to track smoothly from left to right. When a person closes their eyes and tries to
move them smoothly from left to right, the motion is naturally jerky. The eyes need
something to physically follow for them to move smoothly. Another of La Berge's
experiments showed that when the eyes follow something moving in a dream they are just
as smooth as if they were following something in reality (Horgan 51).
One myth that has been disproved by La Berge's research is that dreams occur in
an instant. This is not true. The time that elapses in a dream is the same length as the time
that elapses in the physical world. La Berge showed this by having his subject signal with
their eyes, count to ten, then signal again. La Berge observed that the time between the
two signals was eight seconds, the same time it took the person count to ten when they
were awake (Blackmore 366).
In addition to learning more about how actual dreams work, there many more
advantages to lucid dreaming. Dreamers can perform tasks in their dreams before they
must actually be done. Take for example an athlete. A runner can run his race in his
dream over and over and win. A business man who has to give a speech the next morning
can practice his speech in his dreams in front of a dream audience. The possibilities are
endless (Colt 49).
Many great leaders have been influenced by their dreams. Samuel Coleridge
claims that he wrote the great poem "Kubla Kahn" in a dream. Friedrich Kekule, the
discoverer of the molecular structure of benzene, said it came to him in a dream (Horgan
Study of lucid dreams continues today mostly at the Lucidity Association, founded
by Dr. Steven La Berge. La Berge is the leading authority on lucid dreams today
Lucid dreams have been studied for over 100 years and still not everything is
known about them. Thanks to the work of people like La Berge and Hearne, more is
becoming known each day. Also technological advances such as the polygraph have
helped to prove that lucid dreams are real. All may never be known but at this rate,
everyone could be a lucid dreamer by the millennium.