Can Lucid Dreaming Help Ease Mental Woes?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

From sorting out relationship woes to combating post-traumatic stress disorder, experts are finding new ways lucid dreaming can heal the mind.

Two men were chasing Thomas Peisel down a hallway.

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When he realized he was dreaming, he stopped and waited for them to approach. One of the men reached out with a flaming hand and told Peisel: “Don’t let your fire go out.”

“He shakes my hand and I instantly feel a surge of energy,” Peisel says. “In my dream, I was running away from my potential and from myself.”

Peisel was lucid dreaming, or consciously traveling through the dream world in full awareness that he was asleep.

Popularized in the 2010 movie Inception, lucid dreaming has been a recorded practice for centuries. Experts say the practice has many therapeutic benefits.

The Benefits of Lucid Dreaming

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Peisel, who is currently touring to promote his book A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics, has used lucid dreaming to find closure to a past relationship.

“That was a really powerful, transformative experience for me, when I met her in the dream world and was able to talk to her about it,” he told ishonest. “To be in front of her and say the things I needed to say, I woke up feeling complete closure and being healed by it.”

While there is anecdotal evidence of people ridding themselves of anxiety, the majority of the research has focused on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and nightmares.

Both researchers and dreamers are exploring the mind’s potential to heal the body. And in some experiments, lucid dreamers have been able to clench their fists while asleep, showing that a dreamer can still control his or her body while asleep.

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To begin lucid dreaming, Peisel says, a person must accept three foundational ideas:

  1. Know you are a dreamer: You don’t have to change anything. Knowing that, you can still have access to a vivid and expansive dream world. “It’s like breathing. I can’t teach you how to breathe, but I can teach you to be mindful of your breathing,” Peisel explains.
  2. Get curious: Along with mental preparation, keeping a notebook next to your bed to record your dreams can help.
  3. Know that you’re safe: “No matter what you face or what comes at you, you’re always safe and can’t be harmed,” says Peisel.

Waggoner says telling yourself you’re about to dream before falling asleep can be enough to start the process. “Some people simply use the power of suggestion,” he explains. “It can power people into becoming lucidly aware.”

One technique Waggoner uses involves looking at his hands for five minutes before falling asleep. When he “finds his hands” in the dream, it alerts him that he’s dreaming and lucid.

“Then you tell yourself as you’re going asleep that you’re returning to that dream,” Waggoner said. (Read Waggoner’s tips for entering a lucid dream here.)

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While it doesn’t always begin instantly, a person can re-script bad dreams into good ones with enough practice.

“Lucidity is a spectrum,” Peisel said. “There are infinite possibilities. It varies from having no control to having a complete oneness with the experience.”

A Dreamer’s First Experience with Lucidity

Thomas Mancini, a college student from New Hampshire, has been trying to dream lucidly for about a year and half. His aim is to explore the limitless opportunities of the dream world. He also wants to address recurring nightmares that sometimes cause him to scream in his sleep.

After many attempts, he had his first lucid dream this week. He fell asleep in his dorm and “awoke” in his bed at home.

During the dream, he says he felt uncoordinated, as though he were suddenly much taller. He was hungry, but while he couldn’t open the cupboard doors, he could scratch behind his head. His dog didn’t notice that he was there, but his girlfriend did and made him something to eat.

“My only advice would be to question the world around you, especially as you drift off to sleep. It seems like something that could carry over into your sleeping mindset,” Mancini said. “Also, think of what happened in your dreams when you first wake up and then analyze them. I’ve been doing both of these every night for about a week and now I’ve had my first successful lucid dream.”

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