Awake While Dreaming?

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You are in a meadow, walking. You reach the edge of a steep cliff, but you don’t stop…… wait, are you OK? Yes! You seem to be gliding effortlessly through the cool breeze, feeling fantastic. You realize that you are FLYING!

But, what do you want to do next? Talk to God or dine with Keanu Reeves? Welcome to the world of lucid dreaming.

A lucid dreamer acts according to his or her own will, being fully aware of the dream state. Quite impressive, when I find it difficult to even recall my out-of-control dreams the next morning. Inception introduced us to expert-level lucid dreamers who could intersect a dream inside another dream in yet another dream. Now, that sounds phenomenal but quite impossible. Though surreal in the movie, science attempts to explain it.

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Inception in Real-Time.
Image credit: Methodshop.com via Flickr
Licensed under CC by-SA 2.0.

Lucid dreaming is a fascinating phenomenon which invariably happens during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Although our bodies are paralyzed when sleeping, REM can give us control over our eyes through voluntary rapid movements. In fact, the lateral prefrontal cortex part of the brain, which is switched off in regular dreams, gets activated during a lucid dream. One possible explanation of lucid dreaming is that maybe the control for consciousness gets switched on in the activated prefrontal cortex, enabling dreaming and self-awareness to work hand-in-hand. Hence, the dreamer is able to perceive the reality of the dream and navigate it according to his or her own will.

Dr. Stephen LaBerge from the Lucidity Institute claims that he can do it on a whim, and all of us can lucid dream as well with proper practice. Simple techniques like maintaining a dream journal, observing dream patterns, meditating before sleep, and replaying dreams in your mind once you are awake can prove to be effective for beginners.

If you choose to learn, it goes beyond recreation. Studies have shown lucid dreaming to be a beneficial therapy for conditions like PTSD and recurrent nightmares. Lucid dreaming, like meditation, helps us to gain control over thoughts. Practicing the techniques mentioned above gives a better grasp on reality, and  we are better connected to the present, not being hindered by thoughts and emotions from the past. It also leads the way to one of our most evolved brain functions of metacognition (reflecting on one’s own actions and thoughts).

Lucid dreaming can be hard in the beginning. You need to consistently try but once you get the hang of it⁠—be it skiing down Mount Everest or diving into the Mariana Trench⁠—nothing will be off limits. Lucid dreaming can be like your new-found superpower. So, do you want to fly? I say go for it!

unnamed-3-2About the Author:
Ankita Roy
is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Georgia working with bean roots. She plays mommy to two kittens and can whip up a curry to fire your taste buds in no time. True to her cooking skills, she enjoys trying out new cuisines to satisfy her passion for everything flavorful. She is an executive member of the Indian Student Association. You can reach her at ankita.roy@uga.edu. More from Ankita Roy