Lucid dream

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This article is about the psychological phenomenon. For the Franz Ferdinand song, see Lucid Dreams.

A lucid dream is any dream during which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. During lucid dreaming, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment.[1][2][3]

The term 'lucid dream' was coined by Dutch author and psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in his 1913 article A Study of Dreams,[4] though descriptions of dreamers being aware that they are dreaming predates the term.

History of the phenomenon[edit]


Early references to the phenomenon are found in ancient Greek writings. For example, the philosopher Aristotle wrote: 'often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream'.[5] Meanwhile, the physician Galen of Pergamon used lucid dreams as a form of therapy.[6] In addition, a letter written by St. Augustine of Hippo in 415 AD tells the story of a dreamer, Doctor Gennadius, and refers to lucid dreaming.[7]

Zhuangzi dreaming of a butterfly

In Eastern thought, cultivating the dreamer's ability to be aware that he or she is dreaming is central to both the Tibetan Buddhist practice of dream Yoga, and the ancient Indian Hindu practice of Yoga nidra. The cultivation of such awareness was common practice among early Buddhists.[8]

17th century[edit]

Philosopher and physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) was fascinated by dreams and described his own ability to lucid dream in his Religio Medici, stating: '...yet in one dream I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests and laugh my self awake at the conceits thereof'.[9]

Also, Samuel Pepys in his diary entry for 15 August 1665 records a dream, stating: "I had my Lady Castlemayne in my arms and was admitted to use all the dalliance I desired with her, and then dreamt that this could not be awake, but that it was only a dream".[10]

19th century[edit]

In 1867, the French sinologist Marie-Jean-Léon, Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys anonymously published Les Reves et Les Moyens de Les Diriger: Observations Pratiques ('Dreams and the ways to direct them: practical observations'), in which describes his own experiences of lucid dreaming, and proposes that it is possible for anyone to learn to dream consciously.[11][12]

20th century[edit]

Frederik van Eeden and Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys, pioneers of lucid dreaming.

In 1913, Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik (Willem) van Eeden (1860–1932) coined the term 'lucid dream' in an article entitled "A Study of Dreams".[4][5][12][13][14][15][16][17][18]

Some have suggested that the term is a misnomer because van Eeden was referring to a phenomenon more specific than a 'vivid' or 'lucid' dream.[19] Van Eeden intended the term lucid to denote "having insight", as in the phrase a lucid interval applied to someone in temporary remission from a psychosis, rather than as a reference to the perceptual quality of the experience, which may or may not be clear and vivid[20]

Scientific research[edit]

In 1968, Celia Green analyzed the main characteristics of such dreams, reviewing previously published literature on the subject and incorporating new data from participants of her own. She concluded that lucid dreams were a category of experience quite distinct from ordinary dreams, and predicted that they would turn out to be associated with rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep). Green was also the first to link lucid dreams to the phenomenon of false awakenings.[21]

Lucid dreaming was subsequently researched by asking dreamers to perform pre-determined physical responses while experiencing a dream, including eye movement signals.[22][23] The first experiment of this type was conducted in the late 1970s by British parapsychologist Keith Hearne. A volunteer named Alan Worsley used eye movements to signal the onset of lucidity, which were recorded by a polysomnograph machine.

The first peer-reviewed article on the subject was published by Stephen LaBerge at Stanford University, who developed such techniques as part of his doctoral dissertation.[24] In 1985, LaBerge performed a pilot study that showed that time perception while counting during a lucid dream is about the same as during waking life. Lucid dreamers counted out ten seconds while dreaming, signaling the start and the end of the count with a pre-arranged eye signal measured with electrooculogram recording.[25][26][27] LaBerge's results were confirmed by German researchers D. Erlacher and M. Schredl, in 2004.[28]

In a further study by Stephen LaBerge, four subjects were compared either singing while dreaming or counting while dreaming. LaBerge found that the right hemisphere was more active during singing and the left hemisphere was more active during counting.[29]

Neuroscientist J. Allan Hobson has hypothesized what might be occurring in the brain while lucid. The first step to lucid dreaming is recognizing one is dreaming. This recognition might occur in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is one of the few areas deactivated during REM sleep and where working memory occurs. Once this area is activated and the recognition of dreaming occurs, the dreamer must be cautious to let the dream continue but be conscious enough to remember that it is a dream. While maintaining this balance, the amygdala and parahippocampal cortex might be less intensely activated.[30] To continue the intensity of the dream hallucinations, it is expected the pons and the parieto-occipital junction stay active.[31]

Using Electroencephalography (EEG) and other Polysomnographical measurements, LaBerge and others have shown that lucid dreams begin in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep.[32][33][34] LaBerge also proposes that there are higher amounts of beta-1 frequency band (13–19 Hz) brain wave activity experienced by lucid dreamers, hence there is an increased amount of activity in the parietal lobes making lucid dreaming a conscious process.[35]


Some skeptics of lucid dreaming suggest that it is not a state of sleep, but of brief wakefulness, or "micro-awakening".[36][37] Experiments by Stephen LaBerge used "perception of the outside world" as a criterion for wakefulness while studying lucid dreamers, and their sleep state was corroborated with physiological measurements.[23]

Philosopher Norman Malcolm has argued against the possibility of checking the accuracy of dream reports, pointing out that 'the only criterion of the truth of a statement that someone has had a certain dream is, essentially, his saying so'[38]


Paul Tholey, a German oneirologist and Gestalt theorist, laid the epistemological basis for the research of lucid dreams, proposing seven different conditions of clarity that a dream must fulfill in order to be defined as a lucid dream:[39][40][41]

  1. Awareness of the dream state (orientation)
  2. Awareness of the capacity to make decisions
  3. Awareness of memory functions
  4. Awareness of self
  5. Awareness of the dream environment
  6. Awareness of the meaning of the dream
  7. Awareness of concentration and focus (the subjective clarity of that state).

Later, In 1992, a study by Deirdre Barrett examined whether lucid dreams contained four "corollaries" of lucidity:

  • The dreamer is aware that they are dreaming
  • Objects disappear after waking
  • Physical laws need not apply in the dream
  • The dreamer has a clear memory of the waking world

Barrett found less than a quarter of lucidity accounts exhibited all four.[42]

Subsequently, Stephen LaBerge, a psychophysiologist of Stanford University, studied the prevalence of being able to control the dream scenario among lucid dreams, and found that while dream control and dream awareness are correlated, neither requires the other. LaBerge found dreams that exhibit one clearly without the capacity for the other; also, in some dreams where the dreamer is lucid and aware they could exercise control, they choose simply to observe.[1]

Suggested applications[edit]

Clinical application in treating nightmares[edit]

It has been suggested that sufferers of nightmares could benefit from the ability to be aware they are indeed dreaming. A pilot study was performed in 2006 that showed that lucid dreaming therapy treatment was successful in reducing nightmare frequency. This treatment consisted of exposure to the idea, mastery of the technique, and lucidity exercises. It was not clear what aspects of the treatment were responsible for the success of overcoming nightmares, though the treatment as a whole was said successful.[43]

Australian psychologist Milan Colic has explored the application of principles from narrative therapy to clients' lucid dreams, to reduce the impact not only of nightmares during sleep, but also depression, self-mutilation, and other problems in waking life. Colic found that therapeutic conversations could reduce the distressing content of dreams, while understandings about life—and even characters—from lucid dreams could be applied to their lives with marked therapeutic benefits.[44]

Psychotherapists have applied lucid dreaming as an application for therapy. Studies have shown that by inducing a lucid dream recurrent nightmares can be alleviated. It is unclear whether this alleviation is due to lucidity or the ability to alter the dream itself. A study performed by Victor Spoormaker (nl) and van den Bout (2006) evaluated the validity of lucid dreaming treatment (LDT) in chronic nightmare sufferers.[45] LDT is composed of exposure, mastery, and lucidity exercises. Results of lucid dreaming treatment revealed that the nightmare frequency of the treatment groups had decreased. In another study, Spoormaker, van den Bout, and Meijer (2003) investigated lucid dreaming treatment for nightmares by testing eight subjects who received a one-hour individual session, which consisted of lucid dreaming exercises.[46] The results of the study revealed that the nightmare frequency had decreased and the sleep quality had slightly increased.

Holzinger, Klösch, and Saletu managed a psychotherapy study under the working name of ‘Cognition during dreaming – a therapeutic intervention in nightmares’, which included 40 subjects, men and women, 18–50 years old, whose life quality was significantly altered by nightmares.[47] The test subjects were administered Gestalt group therapy and 24 of them were also taught to enter the state of lucid dreaming by Holzinger. This was purposefully taught in order to change the course of their nightmares. The subjects then reported the diminishment of their nightmare prevalence from 2–3 times a week to 2–3 times per month.

Creative application[edit]

In her book The Committee of Sleep, Deirdre Barrett describes how some experienced lucid dreamers have learned to remember specific practical goals such as artists looking for inspiration seeking a show of their own work once they become lucid or computer programmers looking for a screen with their desired code. However, most of these dreamers had many experiences of failing to recall waking objectives before gaining this level of control.[48]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Kahan T.; LaBerge S. (1994). "Lucid dreaming as metacognition: Implications for cognitive science". Consciousness and Cognition. 3: 246–264. doi:10.1006/ccog.1994.1014. 
  2. ^ Adrienne Mayor (2005). Fossil Legends Of The First Americans. Princeton University Press. p. 402. ISBN 978-0-691-11345-6. Retrieved 29 April 2013. The term "lucid dreaming" to describe the technique of controlling dreams and following them to a desired conclusion was coined by the 19th-century Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden. 
  3. ^ Lewis Spence; Nandor Fodor (1985). Encyclopedia of occultism & parapsychology. 2. Gale Research Co. p. 617. ISBN 978-0-8103-0196-2. Retrieved 29 April 2013. Dr. Van Eeden was an author and physician who sat with the English medium Mrs. R. Thompson and was also ... 431) in which he used the term "lucid dream" to indicate those conditions in which the dreamer is aware that he is dreaming. 
  4. ^ a b Frederik van Eeden (1913). "A study of Dreams". Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. 26. 
  5. ^ a b Andreas Mavrematis (1987). Hypnogogia: The Unique State of Consciousness Between Wakefullness and Sleep. Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Incorporated. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-7102-0282-6. Retrieved 29 April 2013. The lucid dream, a term coined by van Eeden himself, had already been noted by Aristotle who wrote that 'often when... 
  6. ^ Véronique Boudon-Meillot. Galien de Pergame. Un médecin grec à Rome. Les Belles Lettres, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Letter from St. Augustine of Hippo". Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  8. ^ Tse-fu Kuan (2008), Mindfulness in Early Buddhism: New Approaches through Psychology and Textual Analysis of Pali, Chinese and Sanskrit Sources (Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism)
  9. ^ Religio Medici, part 2:11. Text available at
  10. ^ "Tuesday 15 August 1665". The Diary of Samuel Pepys. 
  11. ^ D'Hervey de Saint-Denys, Les Reves et Les Moyens de Les Diriger: Observations Pratiques, Paris/Amyot.
  12. ^ a b Kelly Bulkeley (1999). Visions of the night: dreams, religion, and psychology. SUNY Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-7914-9798-2. Retrieved 29 April 2013. The person most widely credited with coining the term "lucid dream" is Frederick Van Eeden, a Dutch psychiatrist who from 1898 to 1912 gathered reports of lucid dreams and performed experiments on his own abilities to have lucid dreams ... 
  13. ^ Tim Bayne; Axel Cleeremans; Patrick Wilken (4 June 2009). The Oxford Companion to Consciousness. Oxford University Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-19-856951-0. Retrieved 29 April 2013. Van Eeden (1913), who coined the term lucid dreaming,... 
  14. ^ Allan Angoff; Betty Shapin; Parapsychology Foundation (1973). Parapsychology today: a geographic view; proceedings of an international conference, held at Le Piol, St. Paul de Vence, France, August 25–27, 1971. Parapsychology Foundation. ISBN 978-0-912328-21-8. Retrieved 29 April 2013. Best known is Frederik van Eeden (1860–1932), physician, author and poet, who became interested in psychical ... 431), wherein he coined the term "lucid dreams," that is the type of dream in which the sleeper knows that he is dreaming. 
  15. ^ Pier Luigi Parmeggiani; Ricardo A. Velluti (30 December 2005). The Physiologic Nature of Sleep. Imperial College Press. p. 551. ISBN 978-1-86094-557-1. Retrieved 29 April 2013. The term was coined by Frederik van Eeden (1913). 
  16. ^ New Scientist. New Science Publications. January 1990. Retrieved 29 April 2013. The term "lucid dreaming" (which isn't a very good one since it means much more than vivid or clear dreaming) was coined by Frederik van Eeden, a Dutch psychiatrist, ... 
  17. ^ Psychology Today (1989). PSYCHOLOGY TODAY: APRIL 1989. Retrieved 29 April 2013. Society for Psychical Research, that the Dutch physician Frederik Willems Van Eeden wrote of having a "lucid" dream. Van Eeden may have coined the term, but it was Hugh Calloway, an English contemporary, who was the first to ... 
  18. ^ Tipiti: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America. 1–2. Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America. 2003. p. 195. Retrieved 29 April 2013. The term "lucid dream" was coined by the Dutch psychotherapist Frederik van Eeden (1913), as one of the nine categories of his dream typology. 
  19. ^ Blackmore, Susan (1991). "Lucid Dreaming: Awake in Your Sleep?". Skeptical Inquirer. 15: 362–370. 
  20. ^ "Lucid Dreaming Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Lucidity Institute". 
  21. ^ Green, C., Lucid Dreams, London: Hamish Hamilton.
  22. ^ Watanabe Tsuneo (March 2003). "Lucid Dreaming: Its Experimental Proof and Psychological Conditions". Journal of International Society of Life Information Science. Japan. 21 (1): 159–162. The occurrence of lucid dreaming (dreaming while being conscious that one is dreaming) has been verified for four selected subjects who signaled that they knew they were dreaming. The signals consisted of particular dream actions having observable concomitants and were performed in accordance with a pre-sleep agreement. 
  23. ^ a b LaBerge, Stephen (1990). "Lucid Dreaming: Psychophysiological Studies of Consciousness during REM Sleep". In Richard R. Bootzin; John F. Kihlstrom; Daniel L. Schacter (Eds.). Sleep and Cognition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association. pp. 109–126. ISBN 978-1557982629. 
  24. ^ Laberge, S. (1980). Lucid dreaming: An exploratory study of consciousness during sleep. (PhD thesis, Stanford University, 1980), (University Microfilms No. 80-24, 691)
  25. ^ LaBerge, S. (2000). "Lucid dreaming: Evidence and methodology". Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 23 (6): 962–63. doi:10.1017/S0140525X00574020. 
  26. ^ LaBerge, Stephen (1990). in Bootzin, R.R., Kihlstrom, J.F. & Schacter, D.L., (Eds.): Lucid Dreaming: Psychophysiological Studies of Consciousness during REM Sleep Sleep and Cognition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, pp. 109–126.
  27. ^ LaBerge, Stephen; Levitan, Lynne (1995). "Validity Established of DreamLight Cues for Eliciting Lucid Dreaming". Dreaming 5 (3). International Association for the Study of Dreams.
  28. ^ Erlacher, D.; Schredl, M. (2004). "Required time for motor activities in lucid dreams" (Scholar search). Perceptual and Motor Skills. 99 (3 Pt 2): 1239–42. doi:10.2466/PMS.99.7.1239-1242. PMID 15739850. 
  29. ^ LaBerge S.; Dement W.C. (1982b). "Lateralization of alpha activity for dreamed singing and counting during REM sleep". Psychophysiology. 19: 331–32. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.1982.tb02567.x. 
  30. ^ Muzur A., Pace-Schott E.F.; Allan Hobson (November 2002). "The prefrontal cortex in sleep" (PDF). Trends Cogn Sci. 1;2(11) (11): 475–481. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(02)01992-7. PMID 12457899. 
  31. ^ Hobson, J. Allan (2001). The Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 96–98. ISBN 978-0-262-58220-9. 
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  33. ^ Harms, R. (n.d.). "Polysomnography (sleep study). Definition". Retrieved April 21, 2014. 
  34. ^ LaBerge S., Levitan L., Dement W.C. (1986) Lucid dreaming: physiological correlates of consciousness during REM sleep. Journal of Mind and Behavior 7: 251(121)–8(8).
  35. ^ Holzinger B.; LaBerge S.; Levitan L. (2006). "Psychophysiological correlates of lucid dreaming". American Psychological Association. 16 (2): 88–95. doi:10.1037/1053-0797.16.2.88. 
  36. ^ Schwartz, B.A.; Lefebvre, A. (1973). [Conjunction of waking and REM sleep. II. Fragmented REM periods.] [in French] Revue d'Electroencephalographie et de Neurophysiologie Clinique, 3, 165–176.
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  39. ^ Tholey, P. (1980). "Klarträume als Gegenstand empirischer Untersuchungen [Conscious Dreams as an Object of Empirical Examination]". Gestalt Theory. 2: 175–91. 
  40. ^ Tholey, P. (1981). "Empirische Untersuchungen über Klartraüme [Empirical Examination of Conscious Dreams]". Gestalt Theory. 3: 21–62. 
  41. ^ Holzinger B (2009). "Lucid dreaming – dreams of clarity". Contemporary Hypnosis. 26 (4): 216–224. doi:10.1002/ch.390. 
  42. ^ "DREAMING 2(4) Abstracts - The Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams". 
  43. ^ Spoormaker,-Victor-I; van-den-Bout,-Jan (October 2006). "Lucid Dreaming Treatment for Nightmares: A Pilot Study". Psychotherapy-and-Psychosomatics. 75 (6): 389–394. doi:10.1159/000095446. PMID 17053341. Conclusions: LDT seems effective in reducing nightmare frequency, although the primary therapeutic component (i.e. exposure, mastery, or lucidity) remains unclear. 
  44. ^ Colic, M. (2007). "Kanna's lucid dreams and the use of narrative practices to explore their meaning." The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work (4): 19–26.
  45. ^ Spoormaker, V.I.; van den Bout, J. (2006). "Lucid dreaming treatment for nightmares: a pilot study". Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 75 (6): 389–94. doi:10.1159/000095446. PMID 17053341. 
  46. ^ Spoormaker, V.I.; van den Bout, J.; Meijer, E.J.G. (2003). "Lucid dreaming treatment for nightmares: a series of cases". Dreaming. 13 (3): 181–86. doi:10.1037/1053-0797.13.3.181. 
  47. ^ "Holzinger, B., Klösch, G., & Saletu, B. (2012). Cognition in Sleep - A Therapeutic Intervention in Patients with Nightmares and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 21st Congress of the European Sleep Research Society, 1, Retrieved April 21, 2014". 
  48. ^ Barrett, Deirdre. The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use their Dreams for Creative Problem Solving ... and How You Can, Too. Hardback Random House, 2001, Paperback Oneroi Press, 2010.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]