What Is Lucid Dreaming And Is It Safe?

Sleep is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. But getting a set number of hours each night isn't quite enough (and the magic number isn't even eight hours). You need to get quality sleep.

There are plenty of things you can do to ensure a good night of sleep before your head even hits the pillow. And things like scrolling your phone or tossing on a bad mattress might be keeping you up late. But once you're asleep, you're sort of at the mercy of your dreams. Good or bad, you're stuck with them — and their effects on your sleep quality — until morning.

Stuck, that is, unless you know how to induce lucid dreaming. This is a state of sleep where the person knows they are dreaming, according to a 2019 study in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience. When the sleeper becomes aware that they are in a dream, they can actively change or even end it.

If this sounds like something with horror-movie potential, you're not wrong. The same 2019 study called for caution when researching lucid dreaming. It is backed up by a second 2019 study in the same journal, this one asking if a lucid dreaming habit was helpful or harmful. Ultimately, they concluded that there is not enough research to know for certain.

The safety question around lucid dreaming

Scientists aren't yet sure of the wide-ranging effects of lucid dreaming, but that hasn't stopped people all over the world from working to cultivate the ability. Proponents say that lucid dreaming can lead to wish fulfillment as people control their dreams, improved problem solving as the mind works more creatively, and even the ability to wake themselves from nightmares (as outlined in this HuffPost article).

Some researchers, like those at Sleep Foundation, warn that regular lucid dreaming can affect your sleep-wake cycle, however. This is because lucid dreams occur almost exclusively when you are in the REM state of sleep, as detailed in this 2009 study published through the Sleep Research Society.

Regular dreams can take place across all stages of sleep, which led these researchers to theorize that lucid dreams start as regular dreams that change when the sleeper realizes they're dreaming. Either they enter REM and realize they're dreaming, or the realization kicks them into REM. From there, the lucid dream can interfere with the sleeper's natural rhythms, leading them to get less rest while they're asleep.

Over time this can lead to sleep deprivation, putting the person at risk for depression and anxiety — among other issues. This is, however, just a theory, and one based on the assumption that lucid dreamers activate this ability regularly. Occasionally changing a dream or ending a nightmare, however, has no proven ill effects. And, as every study on lucid dreaming currently suggests, more research is needed before we fully understand this ability.