Lucid dreaming, the state of being aware that one is dreaming while still in the dream state, has been found to have positive associations with subjective sleep quality, mental well-being, and a reduced sense of loneliness, according to a recent study published in Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice.
While concerns about the potential adverse effects of lucid dreaming on sleep and mental well-being have been raised, this research suggests that the overall experience tends to be positive.
The study, conducted by Dr. Tadas Stumbrys, an assistant professor at the Institute of Psychology at Vilnius University, aimed to investigate the potential adverse effects of lucid dreaming.
“Every time I would give a talk on lucid dreaming, there would be always someone in the audience who would ask exactly the same question: ‘Are there any adverse effects of lucid dreaming?'” Dr. Stumbrys told PsyPost. “The truth was that before conducting this research, there was not any systematic research on the potential side effects of it. This has prompted me to look into this topic.”
A comprehensive literature review published inFrontiers in Neuroscience in 2020 underscores Stumbrys’ comments and highlights the need for more research on lucid dreaming risks.
“It seems that we may be cultivating a shared blind spot by focusing solely on the possible beneficial effects of LD induction, without taking into account possible risks,” Dr. Nirit Soffer-Dudek, the head of clinical psychology at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel wrote.
To explore the topic, Stumbrys conducted an online survey with 489 participants from various countries, primarily the United States. The participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their dream-related experiences, sleep quality, dissociation, and mental well-being.
To gain insights into the participants’ dream-related experiences, they were asked about the frequency of dream recall and specific phenomena such as lucid dreams, nightmares, false awakenings, sleep paralysis, and out-of-body experiences. The participants also reported on the emotional quality of their lucid dreams and whether they occurred spontaneously or deliberately induced using techniques.
To assess sleep quality, the participants completed the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, which examined different aspects of sleep, including duration, disturbances, latency (time taken to fall asleep), efficiency, and subjective sleep quality.
Dissociation, characterized by a sense of detachment or disconnection from oneself or the surroundings, was measured using the Multiscale Dissociation Inventory. Participants rated the frequency of dissociative experiences, such as disengagement, depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself), derealization (feeling the world is unreal), emotional constriction/numbing, memory disturbance, and identity dissociation.
Mental well-being was assessed using the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale, focusing on positive aspects of mental health. Participants also answered questions about feelings of loneliness and social isolation using the UCLA Loneliness Scale.
The study found a positive association between the frequency of lucid dreams and other sleep-related experiences, such as dream recall, nightmares, false awakenings, sleep paralysis, and out-of-body experiences.
Most reported lucid dreams were emotionally positive, with only around 10% considered negative. Dream recall frequency, false awakening frequency, and out-of-body experience frequency were significant predictors of lucid dream frequency.
The frequency of lucid dreams showed no association with overall sleep quality scores or dissociation. However, when examining sleep quality aspects separately, higher lucid dream frequency correlated with more sleep disturbances, greater subjective sleep quality, and lower dysfunction.
Similarly, when analyzing different facets of dissociation, lucid dream frequency was linked to higher levels of derealization but fewer memory disturbances.
Regarding mental well-being, the frequency of lucid dreams was positively associated with improved mental well-being and reduced feelings of loneliness. Deliberately induced lucid dreams were also linked to higher levels of mental well-being.
And while the study suggests that lucid dreaming is generally a positive experience, it is also important to acknowledge that previous research has shown that a small percentage of lucid dreams can have negative or unpleasant aspects.
Some individuals have reported experiencing anxiety, difficulty distinguishing between dream and reality upon waking, or disruptions in their regular sleep patterns due to intense preoccupation with achieving lucidity.
A 2020 study found that lucid dreamers can also find themselves unable to wake up from frightening dream elements, effectively becoming trapped in “lucid nightmares.”
Another comprehensive longitudinal study conducted in 2018 found that actively inducing lucid dreams may have the unintended consequence of blurring the boundaries between reality and the dream world, potentially leading to an escalation in symptoms associated with “dissociation and schizotypy.”
The same study found that lucid dream frequency didn’t correspond to psychopathology and lucid dream intensity, and positive lucid dream emotions were “inversely associated with several psychopathological symptoms.”
“The results indicate that lucid dreaming seems to be a relatively safe approach to engage with the dream plot while being asleep, without evident detrimental effects,” said Dr. Stumbrys. “However, people should be mindful that there is some other research showing that too intense preoccupation with lucid dream induction techniques, some of which require sleep interruption, may result in certain detrimental effects.”
It is also important to acknowledge the limitations of this recent study. The data collection relied on an online survey, which may have introduced selection bias, as participants self-selected and might have had more positive experiences with lucid dreaming. Additionally, the study’s correlational design does not allow for causal conclusions.
Dr. Stumbrys highlighted the need for future research to employ longitudinal studies over an extended period, observing a group of lucid dreamers and measuring changes in a broader range of variables. Such studies would provide more robust evidence and shed further light on the potential benefits and risks of lucid dreaming.
Tim McMillan is a retired law enforcement executive, investigative reporter and co-founder of The Debrief. His writing typically focuses on defense, national security, the Intelligence Community and topics related to psychology. You can follow Tim on Twitter:@LtTimMcMillan. Tim can be reached by email: email@example.com or through encrypted email:LtTimMcMillan@protonmail.com