What Are Lucid Dreams?
Lucid dreams are when you know that you’re dreaming while you’re asleep. You’re aware that the events flashing through your brain aren’t really happening. But the dream feels vivid and real. You may even be able to control how the action unfolds, as if you’re directing a movie in your sleep. Studies suggest that about half of people may have had at least one lucid dream. But they probably don’t happen often, usually only a handful of times in a year.
When Do Lucid Dreams Happen?
Lucid dreams are most common during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a period of very deep sleep marked by eye motion, faster breathing, and more brain activity. You usually enter REM sleep about 90 minutes after falling asleep. It lasts about 10 minutes. As you sleep, each REM period is longer than the one before, finally lasting up to an hour.
Neuroscientists don’t know exactly how and why lucid dreams happen. But they have some ideas.
For one thing, studies have found physical differences in the brains of people who do and don’t have lucid dreams. The very front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex -- the site of high-level tasks like making decisions and recalling memories -- is bigger in people who have lucid dreams. That suggests that folks who are most likely to have lucid dreams tend to be self-reflective types who chew over thoughts in their heads.
Benefits of Lucid Dreams
Lucid dreams might help your waking life with benefits like:
Less anxiety. The sense of control you feel during a lucid dream may stay with you and make you feel empowered. When you’re aware that you’re in a dream, you can shape the story and the ending. That might serve as therapy for people who have nightmares, teaching them how to control their dreams.
Better motor skills. Limited studies suggest that it may be possible to improve simple things like tapping your fingers more quickly by “practicing” during your lucid dream. The same part of your brain turns active whether you imagine the movements while awake or run through them during a lucid dream.
Improved problem-solving. Researchers found some evidence that lucid dreams can help people solve problems that deal with creativity (like a conflict with another person) more than with logic (such as a math problem).
More creativity. Some people taking part in lucid dream studies were able to come up with new ideas or insights, sometimes with the help of characters in their dreams.
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