How Lucid Dreaming Works

You may have heard of lucid dreaming, the type of dream where the dreamer is aware of dreaming. Is lucid dreaming a real phenomenon? Sleep expert Matthew Walker explains how much we know about lucid dreams so far. 

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Following is the transcript of the video:

Jessica Orwig: What if we could control our dreams?

When most of us dream, our thoughts and actions are involuntary. The dream plays out as if we were watching a movie. But not all dreams are the same. There is another kind of dreaming called lucid dreaming, which is more like playing a video game than watching a movie.

Matthew Walker: By definition lucid dreaming is simply the act of knowing that you’re dreaming whilst you’re dreaming.

My name is Matthew Walker. I am a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California Berkeley.

Most people actually think of lucid dreaming more in the sense of actually beginning to control what you’re dreaming. So, you gain volitional control and you decide what’s going to happen during your dream.

Orwig: Frequent lucid dreamers claim that they can control many parts of the dream such as teleporting themselves to another location, learning to improve real-life skills, or even eating fire. It might sound far-fetched. And until recently we lacked the technology to prove if lucid dreaming was real or not. But a series of recent studies has shed light on the phenomenon.

Walker: Scientists have designed experiments and they’ve been able to demonstrate objectively that when people say that they’re doing something in that dream that they actually are.

Orwig: In 2012, scientists reported results from one of the first experiments that objectively measured lucid dreams using fMRI scanners.  fMRIs measure the rate of blood flow to different areas of the brain, so they can relay information about a person’s thoughts and actions simply through a series of images.

For the study, scientists first asked participants to clench their fists while they were awake. This lit up key areas of the brain on the fMRI scanner. After that, participants were asked to fall asleep and dream about clenching their fists. Sure enough — similar regions of the brain lit up in both cases.

Lucid dreaming comes naturally to some, but many of us have never experienced the sensation. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Walker: How can we actually become more capable of lucid dreaming? Well, it’s a little bit tricky, but you can certainly try to tell yourself that you will remember that you’re dreaming whilst you’re dreaming before you actually fall asleep. So, try to go through a mantra chant as it were. Some people actually try to do deliberative things whilst sleeping, like turning on the lights in a room. And that helps them to become aware that they are dreaming at the moment of dreaming itself and therefore they gain lucid control.

Orwig: Those who can already control their dreams with ease say lucid dreams aren’t only for entertainment but can also be used to expand one’s conscious boundaries.

On the other hand, lucid dreamers have also reported frightening accounts where they have trouble distinguishing reality from the dream. In some cases, this can be a sign of mental illness, and should be taken seriously.

But why do some people have the ability to lucid dream but not others? And what is happening in our subconscious that triggers the experience? There’s still a lot we have to learn about the causes and effects of lucid dreaming.

Walker: It seems to be only around 20 to 30% of the population are actually natural lucid dreamers. So, perhaps if it was so beneficial mother nature would have had all of us being table of lucid dreaming. And the fact that we’re not perhaps means that it’s not necessarily beneficial. But we actually don’t know. Maybe those 20 to 30% of people who do lucid dream are at the forefront of hominid evolution, and they are going to be the next species of preference. We just don’t know.

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Comment (44)

  1. The moment I realise I'm in a dream I wake up. What's even weirder is that sometimes I realise I'm in a dream but still think I have to behave accordingly cause it feels like real life.

  2. Ummmm im dreaming about this boy name james a lot not that always but when im grade 6 ( now ) i dream him a lot and it was like lucid dream because im controlling it but not in the dream . The person me was talking , but in way way deeper i know i was talking i wanna do something but i cant im like a spectator

  3. i only had 1 lucid dream.. what happened you say? i ''woke up'' walked looked at my hand and i had 3 fingers i took two more steps and said ''do i really wanna do this'' went back to bed and woke up.

  4. how to control your lucid dreams?

    when you feel sleep. if you see something walk on your dream ,
    how to know if you are in dream?
    try to bike your hand in your dream and if you dont feel anything begin . controling your dreams and do what ever you want. but dont close your eyes and dont blink to avoid waking up

  5. Just now i had a lucid dream
    And even searched in the internet 2 differentiate from dream 2 real world
    Oh i want 2 go back 2 that stage
    I just want 2 know the ending of the story which was pretty much created nd also lived by me 😠😠

  6. I had these types of dreams and things like sleep paralysis too, except I didn’t have your normal sleep paralysis where you see demons, it’s more of somehow seeing and predicting the future in some sort of’s really weird -.-

  7. I can’t tell if I’m lucid dreaming but if I fall back asleep after waking up and going straight back to sleep I can basically control my dream and wake up if I wanted to so idk

  8. I am aware that I’m dreaming and can occasionally change events and I can also fly when I want to aswell…I can also wake myself up/force my eyes open when having an unwanted dream.. idk if others can do this but I can..

  9. I had one once, so in the dream.I said: This is a dream. I knew it because I dreamed the same dream twice and after I fell back asleep I ofcourse remembered the old dream. After that I woke up. I dont know why, but I directly woke up after saying that it was a dream…

  10. I had an accidental lucid dream once. It was back in 2014. All I remember was I was in an endless white landscape and could generate anything I wanted.
    I remember anything I did make, was white aswell. I had made a large mansion and my memory stops.

  11. I start to dream before I even fully fall asleep. I can fly in my dreams always have to escape danger and yes I have changed my dreams. Evolution is a complete lie and not backed by science as there is no actual proof of any animal actually changing into another.

  12. I always had lucid dreams everyday especially at early mornings. Idk but it has become my practice since I was at a young age to imagine/daydream right before sleeping as I had trouble to fall sleep. I felt the emotions I had in my dream right after everytime I wake up. I know that im dreaming at that time and I dont wanna wake up because my dream was way better than my reality most of the time. As days go by, my dreams becomes stronger and clearer.

    I am depressed btw :3

  13. Okay, my lucid dreams have been mortifying. I’m not even sure it is lucid dreaming, but i need to tell someone. I know that I’m dreaming, and I try to wake up but i can’t. I can’t move, nor do anything as much as I try. It’s terrifying, and it has continued for days now. I’m afraid to sleep! Please, any recommendations?

  14. Why is everyone first jump towards dream sex? I'm sitting here collecting Infinity Stones in my dreams and having more fun than any dream sex I've ever had. The possibilities are infinite (no pun intended) so why stop at real world limitations and actions?

  15. I was practicing LD (lucid dreams) for 2 years. It was a very intresting expirience, I had 1-3 LD in a week. But I had to prepare for them all day. I trained my brain during a day to check if was in reality. I had to think about it at work and when I had rest. My friends said me that I became addicted of LD, and I decided to stop my practice. My daily real life became better. I don't practice 5 years, I 've achieved good result in my work and in relations. But it was a realy cool expirience.

  16. I had a lucid dream when I was about 5 that I was getting out of my room and floating down the stairs to my basement then I teleported to my dads old truck and started driving it, I had that same lucid dream like 20 times.


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