If you ever been asleep and aware that you were dreaming you were likely experiencing what is referred to as a “lucid dream.” New research from researchers in the UK is showing that the ability to have lucid dreams equates to better mental health and problem solving abilities.
The concept of lucid dreaming was explored a bit in the 2010 film Inception. In the movie, the dreamers were able to spot incongruities within their dream, to make them aware that they were in fact dreaming. In real life, people who regularly experience lucid dreams have become aware that they are in fact, dreaming and are then able to relax and enjoy the show. Can that be taught or enhanced? Absolutely, but first it requires achieving a high sleep quality and avoiding factors that impair dream activity including many sleeping pills.
The importance of dreams to mental health was clearly shown in studies in the early 1960s by the pioneering dream researcher William C. Dement of the Stanford University School of Medicine. In one of these studies, subjects sleeping in a laboratory setting were awakened the moment dreaming started, as noted by rapid eye movement (REM). After awakening, the subject was allowed to go back to sleep. The experiment continued for one week. During this time the test group reported increased irritability, anxiety, and appetite. In other studies, people deprived of REM sleep exhibited profound personality changes – extreme irritability, depression, anxiety, etc. – that disappeared when they were allowed to dream again.
Reseachers at the University of Lincoln in the UK hypothesized that a key feature of gaining lucidity in the dream state is personal insight. They felt that this ability may also occur in waking life and designed a study to investigate the relationship.
Sixty-eight participants (52 females, 16 males) were recruited into the study with the majority being psychology students at the university. Individuals had to meet the criteria of recalling at least one dream per week to participate. The subjects were assigned to one of three groups.
- Frequent lucid dreamers, experienced lucid dreams more than once a month.
- Occasional lucid dreamers, experienced lucid dreams at least once in their lifetime.
- Non-lucid dreamers never experienced a lucid dream
The subjects completed a questionnaire about their dreaming habits and then took test on a computer that consisted of a series of questions to assess insight and problem solving ability. One of the key assessments of insight was the ability of participants to find a link between three apparently unconnected words.
The results showed that frequent lucid dreamers showed superior performance on solving these insight problems compared to non-lucid dreamers. The underlying trait is thought to be the ability to separate oneself from a situation, and in some sense, observe it. The results from the study showed that the lucid dreamers had this ability in both the dream and real world.
The researchers also noted that this ability to become an observer is also common for people engaged in intense interactive ‘gaming’ or meditation. This suggests that either it may help in improving the ability to experience a lucid dream with meditation, obviously producing perhaps a heightened state of personal insight.
The study also showed frequent lucid dreamers also show superior general problem solving ability, which also suggests that lucid dreaming is associated with higher cognitive abilities (mental function) as well.
First, if you don’t dream or experience lucid dreams – please try my Tranquil Sleep Formula from Natural Factors. It is available at health food stores throughout the US and Canada, as well as online retailers. It is an all-natural sleep aid that improves sleep quality and promotes REM sleep (i.e., dreams)
It has been said, “an uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter from God.” Some dreams are definitely symbolic attempts to sort out the options we can choose in life. Obviously, there are times when dreams are not psychologically meaningful. For example, if you are suffering from indigestion or a peptic ulcer and experience a violent dream where you are getting stabbed in the stomach, I would not recommend trying to uncover some deep psychological issue. The problem with trying to interpret every dream is that not every dream will be meaningful. Nonetheless, I think it is important to try to examine every dream for possible clues for personal growth.
There are many theories on how to interpret dreams. My advice is to focus on how the dream relates to what is going on in your waking life. Often dreams speak to us in symbols, so it may not be clear at first. Examine each person or item in the dream from a simplistic view – what does it mean to you? Describe it as if you were describing it to someone from another planet who has no idea of what anything means here on Earth. To help you with interpreting dreams, here are 7 important questions to ask?
1. What are you doing in the dream?
2. What is the story line?
3. What were the feelings you experienced in this dream?
4. What was your mood upon waking?
5. How does this dream relate to what is going on in your waking life?
6. What are the issues, conflicts and unresolved situations in the dream and how might these relate to your waking life? Is there a parallel?
7. What are the insights have you gained from this dream?
It can be very frustrating trying to recall dreams. Not only do we almost never remember most of them, but the ones we do recall, can easily slip away and evaporate as well. But with a little guidance and effort, you can do it. To start, keep a pad of paper and pen or pencil by your bed. Date the paper the night before. When you awake in the night or in the morning, write something down. Even “I recall nothing this morning” is good to write down. If you are keeping a journal, read the last dream you had.
If you are interested in learning more about dreams, go to the website of The International Association for the Study of Dreams (asdreams.org). This organization is dedicated to the pure and applied investigation of dreams and dreaming.
Bourke P, Shaw H. Spontaneous lucid dreaming frequency and waking insight. Dreaming 2014;24(2):152 DOI: 10.1037/a0036908