Have you ever been woken up by an incredibly awful dream? One that stayed with you the entire day? Why do our brains do torture us with this kind of pain and agony? A new study from Dr. Denholm Aspy of the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology in Australia might just give us the answer. And it revolves around lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming, for those of you who don’t know, is the scientific ability to become “self-aware” of your dreams. When you’re sleeping, you’re not aware of what’s going on around you. Conversely, when you’re awake, you’re not dreaming. So how can these two be merged?
With lucid dreaming, you are actively aware that you’re dreaming, which allows you to control every aspect of your dream. Many researchers have experimented with different methods by which to prompt a lucid dream. This sounds interesting, but are you still dreaming if you’re controlling every aspect of your dream? I can see how this wouldn’t lead to nightmares as you are dictating the experience, but isn’t there something about dreams that make them useful? While I don’t want to get into what my dream was about last night, let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant. A nightmare, if you will. But it does give me insight into some of my fears. Which then gives me the ability to work on those things in my real life. So why would you want to have lucid dreams?
The study found that technique called MILD (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams) was the most effective. It requires you to wake up after five hours of sleeping and stay awake for a short period of time while repeating the phrase “the next time I am dreaming, I will remember what I’m dreaming”. You also have to imagine the experience of a lucid dream. In the study, those who used this particular method while falling back asleep and were able to achieve sleep within five minutes, were roughly 46% likely to enjoy a lucid dream when they drifted off. Dr. Aspy explains the technique:
“The MILD technique works on what we call ‘prospective memory’ – that is, your ability to remember to do things in the future. By repeating a phrase that you will remember you’re dreaming, it forms an intention in your mind that you will, in fact, remember that you are dreaming, leading to a lucid dream.”
Lucid dreaming doesn’t negatively impact your sleep quality. In fact, Dr. Aspy suggests that those who reported success using the MILD technique were significantly less sleep deprived the next day. His plan for the future is to perfect the method to hopefully make nightmares a thing of the past. But I reiterate my question earlier – aren’t nightmares just a part of everyday life? And in some ways, beneficial?
The dream I had last night felt like it could be real. Which tells me that I have some demons from my past that I still need to work through. While I’m a bit shaken from the thought of what happened, I still think it’s a positive thing. At least in terms of knowing what is happening in my brain and being able to work through that somehow.
So do we really want to get rid of nightmares? I don’t necessarily know the answer to that one. Certainly, I don’t like the fear and the terror I feel when I wake up, but I think it gives us the ability to work on ourselves. We are always going to have fears, so I think there will always be nightmares. I’m interested to see where Dr. Aspy goes with this study and if nightmares will really become a thing of the past.