Though they are seriously exaggerated in the media (we’re looking at you, Inception), anyone who’s had a lucid dream will tell you that there’s nothing quite like it. A dream is considered lucid if you know that you’re dreaming, and you may also have a degree of control over the dream environment and/or your actions within it.
Some aficionados credit lucid dreaming with benefits like increased self-control in their waking life or an improvement in depressive symptoms. The supposed benefits are best taken with a grain of salt, given that there’s not nearly enough research to confirm them, but it doesn’t take a scientist to know that lucid dreaming can, if nothing else, be just plain fun. Read on for five cool facts about this unique state of consciousness.
Lucid dreaming may be a learnable skill
If you’ve never had a lucid dream, or you have but want to increase your level of awareness or control, you may able to learn with practice. A quick Google will reveal a number of techniques, like writing down your dreams or performing "reality checks" in your waking life, that many people claim have allowed them to achieve or improve their lucidity.
Playing video games is associated with having lucid dreams
One study showed that people who play video games are more likely to have lucid dreams. The researcher, Jayne Gackenbach at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, suspects the correlation is due to gamers’ experience with controlling alternate realities.
Lucid dreamers seem to differ from others on a neural level
Again, the research is limited and most studies have been small, but brain imaging scans have revealed that people who report having lucid dreams have more grey matter in the part of their brain responsible for metacognitive processing, suggesting that lucid dreamers may be more self-reflective. It remains to be seen whether these differences can be improved with training.
We’re not sure what exactly causes lucid dreams
Since studies on lucid dreaming are largely based on people’s self-reported dreams, there’s currently no way to know for sure, but some studies show that the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain where regular lucid dreamers may have more grey matter—is more active during sleep. Thus, lucid dreaming may occur when this part of the brain becomes unusually active during a dream.
References to lucid dreaming exist as far back as the ancient world
Ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Hindu writings discuss lucid dreaming. Training to develop the ability to lucid dream was common among early Buddhists, and some ancient writers regarded them as a form of therapy.