awakening beyond sleep: the future of lucid dreaming

The mystical experience of dreaming constructs a world all on our own, filled with symbolism and wisdom unique to each dreamer. For many, it’s like watching a private movie while sleeping; the scenes simply slipping away once we awaken for the day. The possibility of consciously navigating the boundless realms of our dreamscapes has fascinated society since the Ancient Greek times and is passionately being studied by modern neuroscientists. 

Lucid dreaming occurs when the dreamer recognizes that they are, in fact, dreaming – giving them access to control their thoughts and actions in the dream. Thanks to the advancements in science and technology, neuroscience has a better understanding of this once uncharted phenomenon. 

Lucid dreams occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep; the final stage of the sleep cycle. Having the cognitive ability to question if you are awake or not is the key piece to lucid dreaming. It’s believed that people who experience lucid dreams have an increase in frontal lobe activity — providing a higher level of thinking, planning, and self-reflection in their waking life. There are techniques to train a person and increase the likelihood of having lucid dreams, such as mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD) and wake back to bed (WBTB). 

MILD is a method where the dreamer wakes up after a period of sleeping, repeating a variation of  “Next time I’m asleep, I’ll remember I’m dreaming”. This method trains the brain to begin recognizing dreams from reality. WBTB is a similar technique to MILD, often used in tandem, where the dreamer awakens in the middle of the night and after a period of time — between 30–120 minutes — falls back asleep and into REM. If you aren’t keen on disrupting your sleep, it’s possible to train your brain during the day, with reality testing. 

To test reality, pause at different times during the day to see whether you’re dreaming. You can try doing something impossible like punching a hole through your leg, or a task that’s often difficult to do in a dream such as reading a book. Techniques like this prime your mind to notice strange details, alerting yourself when you’re in a dream state. Lucid dreaming isn’t without risks, however, and if you’re interested in practicing, take note of the potential dangers. It’s possible for the dreamer to experience less sleep quality, due to frequent vivid dreams throughout the night. Since lucid dreams tend to blur the line between reality and what’s imagined, people who suffer from certain mental disorders may want to stray away from lucid dreaming, as it could cause hallucinations or confusion.

The future of lucid dreaming may contain more questions than answers, but these questions allow the door to open for exploration and discovery. 

Dream interpretation can help a person better understand themselves and how their brain processes specific emotions and circumstances. It creates a safe space to explore our subconscious and bring insight into our waking lives. Dreams can heal, inform, and bring spiritual wisdom to those who choose to analyze. 

Dream therapy has long been used as a practice to decode what dreams mean in relation to our waking lives. But what about lucid dreams? Lucid dreaming has the potential to become a leading practice in psychotherapy, with Lucid Dreaming Therapy (LDT) already being studied to help with nightmares in patients suffering from PTSD

The idea behind LDT is to teach patients the techniques to lucid dream and further alter the storyline of the nightmare. It’s been found that about 80% of PTSD patients suffer from nightmares, causing significant impacts on functioning throughout the day or night. Taking an active role in one’s dreams, or nightmares, through lucid dreaming, allows the dreamer to begin healing the brain from the trauma that haunts them in a safe, unconscious state.

Brain–computer Interface (BCIs) is a computer-based system that analyzes brain signals, translates them into commands and are then transferred to a device, carrying out a wanted action. The advancement of BCIs technology could make a huge impact on the psychotherapy world by aiding in the healing process of patients with PTSD. Since BCIs monitor brain activity and emotions, it can detect when a person enters REM sleep and subsequently send cues to assist in lucid dreaming. 

Devices have already been manufactured, such as the iBand — an EEG brain-sensing headband helping to achieve lucidity. This BCI mechanism detects the REM stage from different frequencies discovered in the brain. It’s designed to reach the patient through the dream, by performing a series of flashing lights and audio to remind the dreamer they are dreaming. BCIs could very well be a key tool to traversing the future landscape of lucid dreaming.

Virtual Reality (VR) has been compared to unlocking a dream state and similarly unlocks a portal of possibilities to what lucid dreaming can become. Studies confirm that virtual reality training can enhance and increase lucid dreaming in sleepers. While participating in VR, the lines between what is real and pretend become blurred, forcing the user to question reality, much like the ‘reality testing’ method. 

No longer the plot of a sci-fi movie, even Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a part in the future of lucid dreaming, however controversial it may be. AI technology is developing and getting better at reconstructing what we see based on brain activity. Labs have already used AI to scan brains and re-create images that were recently shown to subjects. With this technology being developed, re-creating our dreams could be the next big breakthrough.

In this day and age, entertainment is always at our fingertips and we are able to record and share almost every aspect of our waking lives with people. The one aspect that we are restricted to only speaking of is our dreams. An idea that’s been discussed and thought about is playing back our dreams, to either share or analyze for personal reasons. There are a multitude of reasons one might desire to interpret their dreams, with the practice dating back to 3000–4000 BC. 

Looking even further into the future, could we turn our dreams into entertainment – a personal cinematic adventure while we sleep? The possibility of premade dream sequences that we choose to slip into might not be a far-off dream anymore, changing the way we seek amusement and pleasure. 

With more research into lucid dreaming unfolding, a whole new world of fresh and exciting possibilities is spread out before us, reshaping the futurity of spiritual growth and entertainment. What lies ahead for lucid dreaming is just the beginning, if you dare to dream.

1 thought on “awakening beyond sleep: the future of lucid dreaming”

  1. Dear Kaitlin Slack, thank you for this comprehensive and forward facing article on the fascinating topic of Lucid dreaming. My rudimentary understanding of the process of dreaming is that the brain pathways are in reverse of processing sensory stimulation. During the day signals from the body go to primary sensory centres in the brain and then proceed to other structures for recognition and interpretation. They are then analyzed for meaning and planning responses in the frontal cortex. We dream in reverse of how we perceive. When we dream a memory of a triumph, conflict or problem etc emanates from the frontal cortex back to primary sensory centres to find images, sounds, fragrances to create a story, a solution, a validation. Dreaming is essential for the brain to debrief and plan the next day.

    Thank you for the abundance of caution which you extend to those with mental health challenges. Many of us destabilize with even a few nights of disrupted sleep. I dream vividly just before waking on account of my 3 bedtime psychiatric medications. I once kept a dream journal. Trusting us and our to hope, health, happiness and harmony.

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