There has been a surge of interest in lucid dreaming due to mounting scientific research which suggests that it can be beneficial to health, as well as hold the potential to improve motor learning which could have a range of different applications.
Researchers are now looking at ways in which this can be utilised in healthcare. One example includes harnessing lucid dreaming to aid in the physical rehabilitation of people that have sustained a sports injury.
While there have been many interesting developments on the lucid dreaming front, this article will look more specifically at the effects of lucid dreaming on sleep quality.
What is lucid dreaming?
Put simply, lucid dreaming refers to the state of achieving conscious awareness while asleep, giving people the freedom and control to manipulate their own dreams. For many people, lucid dreaming happens spontaneously, and research shows that most people report having experienced at least one episode of lucid dreaming in their lifetime.
However, it is also possible to self-induce a lucid dream through various techniques such as meditation.
Lucid dreaming has also seen various pop culture references, most notably in the film Inception which came out in 2010. In the film, the protagonist played by Leonardo DiCaprio is consciously aware during dream states and manipulates and determines the outcomes of his dreams as a result. The product is a very complicated film that is notoriously difficult to unravel!
When and why do lucid dreams occur?
Research suggests that lucid dreaming happens during REM sleep cycles that occur during the final hours of morning sleep. During these periods, thresholds are lower than in earlier REM periods, so as the body is slowly gearing up for wakefulness, this can be fertile ground for slipping into these neither awake nor fully asleep hinterlands.
These lower thresholds mean that it is possible that the dreamer could start processing stimuli identifying the external world and be able to distinguish this from an internal dream experience.
The result produced is the ability to recognize that you are in fact dreaming. Research also shows that certain sleep orientated circumstances such as taking an afternoon nap, going back to sleep after awakening in the morning, and even stress can initiate a lucid dreaming experience.
How might this affect sleep quality?
Given the circumstances surrounding lucid dreaming, and the experience that people have with it, it is only natural to wonder whether it could affect sleep quality. While there is not currently a clear cut answer to this question, it is reasonable to deduce from current research that lucid dreaming could have a negative effect on sleep quality.
The fact that you are not fully awake or asleep while you lucid dream, would suggest that during these periods, you are not achieving a restful sleep. In fact, having many lucid dream episodes could indicate a sleep disorder such as narcolepsy, which is characterised by instantly dropping in and out of the REM cycle.
The occasion lucid dream experience can have a positive effect
The fact that an afternoon nap and stress can be a common cause also suggests that episodes of lucid dreaming, particularly if they are frequent, could be a sign that you are not following a healthy sleep schedule and that measures should be taken to manage stress levels.
For people wishing to try out various techniques for inducing lucid dreaming, this may not be a good idea, as going to bed with the intention of controlling your dreams could be disruptive and interfere with your body’s natural rhythms. It is best to let it occur naturally, however, trying it as a one off for the experience is unlikely to cause any harm. In fact, some research shows that it could even have a positive effect on emotional health and physical fitness.
Lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis
While lucid dreaming can be a pleasant experience, sleep paralysis can be quite the opposite. It tends to occur during the same stage of the sleep cycle and for similar reasons in some cases to lucid dreaming.
It seems that the borders between the two are quite thin, with the difference being that sleep paralysis tends to occur closer towards the end of an REM cycle, which is at a more advanced stage of being closer to waking up than lucid dreaming. The temporary inability to move or speak which is experienced during this state is a natural mechanism designed to paralyse our body, in order to stop us from acting out our dreams when we are not fully awake.
Research on the effects of lucid dreaming are still undergoing
While more research needs to be done to fully determine the effects of lucid dreaming on sleep quality, findings so far suggest that repeated episodes could have an adverse effect on sleep quality, and in some cases could even be a sign of a health condition, or at the very least, a disruption in your sleep patterns.
Despite this, there are as we have seen, various positive effects of lucid dreaming so far documented that have the potential to help people, such as improved physical fitness through motor learning as well as the potential of improved emotional health.
Impaired sleep can seriously affect your quality of life and productivity. Behavioral changes implemented under the guidance of an experienced clinician can improve sleep quality and help you feel more alert and functional on a regular basis. Sleep is a third of your life – make it count!
Alaska Sleep Clinic is the most comprehensive multisite sleep lab in Alaska with clinics in Anchorage, Wasilla, Fairbanks, and Soldotna and we continue to expand our services to those with sleep disorders.
Angie Randazzo, PhD, is a specialist in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with expertise in sleep disorders. No other CBT sleep specialist provides care in the state of Alaska. She is available to Alaska Sleep Clinic’s patients via telemedicine, through SleepTM.