Lucid dreamers spend up to a third of their lives exploring realities of their own invention and coming to understand themselves within the context of the unreal. While no one knows how many people regularly lucid dream, Benjamin Baird, a neuroscientist and dream researcher at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, hazards a guess that the percentage is a little below one, meaning as many as 700 million might be actively dreaming. But what can be said about that population? Why would someone want to lucid dream?
“To my mind,” says Baird, “the highest ‘practical’ use of lucid dreaming for healthy individuals is in creativity, art and problem solving.”
There’s a strong potential for lucid dreaming to help resolve mental issues and anxiety, since capable lucid dreamers can create tranquil environments or the conditions necessary to work through mental issues. For lucid dreamers nights can be vacations from reality, but they are often treated as practice for reality. Lucid dreaming, in other words, gives flexibly minded people an edge.
No wonder so many people are trying to figure out how to do it.
Methods for stimulating lucid dreams range from the simple — meditate, play video games — to the time consuming — write down your dreams. Some people even catalogue “dream signs,” which are recurring objects that appear in dreams (think: the totems from Inception ). A team led by Stephen LaBerge at Stanford University has gone so far as to develop a sleep mask that flashes red LED lights while an individual is asleep, potentially reminding the brain of its ability to control a dreamscape. Baird also says some drugs and herbal supplements might also help and so could electric brain stimulation. Which is all to say, a lot of smart people are working to make lucid dreaming a fundamental part of the human experience in service of enhancing the human experience.
“When we become lucid in a dream, the area of the brain that becomes more active is the prefrontal cortex,” says Rawal, a dream researcher at the University of Sussex. “That’s the area of the brain that allows you to make decisions consciously.”
Zach Fishbein can attest to this. An aerospace engineer at space tech company Orbital ATK, Fishbein has been able to lucid dream since he was just a kid. He spends many of his dreams these days creating pacific situations where he can simply meditate and enjoy a restful environment of his choosing — no matter what he has to wake up to. Fishbein credits lucid dreaming with allowing him to fully enjoy life with a clear, calm mind. Here’s his account of one of those restorative dreams.
Illustrations by Maggie Brennan.