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Lucid dreaming is being aware that you are dreaming while still in the dream. It may or may not be accompanied by active control of the dream. Lucid dreaming can be fleeting, as events in the dream overtake the dreamer's focus, or it can be so complete that even awareness of waking life and its memories are fully available within the dream.
Psychologists sometimes use lucid dreaming as a tool to help patients 'dismantle' recurring nightmares. By becoming aware in the moment that a nightmare is only a dream, the lucid dreamer can choose to face and conquer the danger or threat, gaining a sense of power that spills over into waking life.
There is growing support that there may be very practical uses for developing the skill of lucid dreaming and dream control. For example, overcoming phobias and practicing for upcoming events in which one wants to succeed are ways in which lucid dreaming can be helpful. Ending an unhealthy relationship or taking a chance on a new career direction are other situations in which lucid dreaming might be utilized. The idea is that by creating desired scenarios first in dreams, the brain becomes pre-programmed, in a sense, to deliver the desired result. Lucid dreaming does not guarantee success, but it can be a useful tool.
The scientific community did not take lucid dreaming seriously until Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D., published his groundbreaking research in 1981. Through studies conducted at the Sleep laboratory at Stanford University in the late seventies, LaBerge —- a lucid dreamer himself —- devised a way to communicate from within a lucid dream to the outside world.
In dream state, the body's muscles are paralyzed as a form of self-protection. This makes signaling from a lucid dream problematic. However, the muscles that control the eyes remain unhampered. LaBerge prearranged to signal that lucid dreaming had begun by following his dream finger as he moved it up and down, then side to side. Since it was known from previous dream research that our physical eyes often mimic the motion of our dream eyes, it was hopeful that the ocular polygraph would be able to record these movements.
With an EEG to measure brain wave activity and an ocular polygraph to record eye movement, LaBerge attempted to lucid dream in the lab. As lucid dreaming began, he moved his dream finger up and down, then sideways, following it with his gaze to signal the lab. The ocular polygraph clearly recorded the movements, marking the first time anyone ever communicated from within a dream to the outside world.
Upon LaBerge's personal success, he gathered other lucid dreamers to the lab who used various methods of eye signals, some prearranging to signal from within the dream state approximately every 10 seconds. The dream subjects signaled about every 13 seconds, consistent with their waking state estimations of "10-second" intervals. Results were unambiguous and lucid dreaming moved from the backwaters of parapsychology to enter mainstream science.
Most people have four to five dream periods throughout the night marked by REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. REM periods are broken up by periods of quiet sleep. The first REM period may not last more than a few minutes, but REM periods extend throughout the night, with later shifts lasting 45 minutes or more. Consequently, people do most of their dreaming in the early morning hours.
Various techniques have been proposed for inducing lucid dreaming, but the first step is simply to start becoming more aware of your dreams. Several books are available about lucid dreaming, including LaBerge's own, Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life.
@Buster29, I wish I could get better control over my dreams sometimes. I've had a few lucid dream experiences like yours, but mostly I'm stuck on the sidelines watching helplessly as things unfold. Sometimes I'll dream I'm back in high school, but it's not really my old school and I have no idea where I'm supposed to be. Other times I'll find myself in a small town or on a deserted road, then realize I'm miles away from home.
It's times like that when I wish I could be a lucid dreamer and get myself out of a really frustrating situation. I'll wake up and feel like it really happened, but I can't control it while I'm asleep.
I can't do it all the time, but I can occasionally take control of a dream and change the outcome. It has to be a dream that starts close to my usual wake-up time. I'll realize I'm semi-awake, but I'll still be in the dream, too. Mostly, I'll dream that I'm flying and then I'll consciously decide to fly back to my house. I might be driving a car in the dream and I'll decide to drive it to the garage.
My lucid dream experiences usually don't last very long, and I'll often wake up immediately after they end. It's a matter of realizing you're standing in both worlds, the dream one and the real one.
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