Getting a good sleep is important when it comes to our health and wellbeing. However, as lucid dreams can be stimulating or frightening, it’s natural to wonder if they can affect the quality of your sleep.
What Is A Lucid Dream?
When you sleep, your brain cycles through Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep includes three separate stages; your brain waves, heartbeat, and eye movements gradually slow down. In REM-sleep, your brain is extremely active, and your heartrate and eye movements also increase. Lucid dreaming usually happens during REM-sleep.1
In a lucid dream, you are aware that you’re dreaming and can recognise your thoughts and emotions as the dream unfolds. Sometimes, you may even be able to control what happens in the lucid dream, changing the characters, environment, and the storyline. Lucid dreams are incredibly vivid, and you could wake up slightly confused and dazed as the dream can feel so real.
About 55% of people have experienced a lucid dream at least once in their lifetime, while 23% of people have lucid dreams at least once a month.2
Although it’s not exactly known what causes a lucid dream, certain factors can make them more likely. If you have narcolepsy, a condition that causes people to suddenly and quickly fall into a deep sleep, you could be more likely to experience lucid dreaming. This is because people with narcolepsy tend to drop into REM sleep right away, and it’s during this stage that lucid dreaming occurs.3 Read more about narcolepsy in our article here.
Benefits of Lucid Dreaming
- Decrease nightmares – during lucid dreaming, you’ll know that the nightmare isn’t real, and you might be able to change the dream to something more pleasant.
- Relieve anxiety – being aware that negative dreams are not real can help reduce their negative effects.
- Increase motor skills – visualising physical movements could increase your ability to do them, and this could be done during a lucid dream. When you perform motor skills while dreaming, your brain’s sensorimotor cortex activates – this is the part of the brain that controls movement.4
- Enhance creativity – typically, people who are more creative are more likely to have a lucid dream. This could be due to their heightened ability to recall dreams and visualise events. However, lucid dreams can increase anyone’s creativity and imagination.
Risks of Lucid Dreaming
- Sleep problems – disrupted sleep can create sleep problems, and the risk is higher if you already have a sleeping disorder, like narcolepsy.
- Depression and anxiety – these can be a result of sleep problems and poor quality of sleep.
- Derealisation – lucid dreams can mesh reality and dreaming, which could make it hard to figure out what’s real.
- Dissociation – the overlap of reality and dreaming can also cause disconnection from your surroundings, and even yourself.
How Is Your Sleep Quality Affected?
Dreams that feel all-too-real can wake you up and make it hard to go back to sleep, which negatively affects your quality of sleep. If your dream is unpleasant, it can leave you shaken when you wake up. This might make you more reluctant to go back to sleep.
Also, as people who have lucid dreams are aware that they’re dreaming, many can control the dream itself to an extent. This can lead to a conscious attempt to try to shape the dream. However, going to bed with the intention of controlling your dreams may be disruptive to your sleep. If you are focusing on what will happen in your dream, you could be preventing yourself from achieving a restful sleep. This can become a difficult loop; poor sleep quality leads to more nightmarish dreams, and the possibility of nightmares or unpleasant dreams could keep you from falling asleep at night.
Improving Your Sleep Can Minimise Lucid Dreams
Although you can’t control when lucid dreams occur, you can take steps towards reducing the likelihood of them.
Don’t try to control your dreams. Rather than trying to dictate your dreams, it could be more beneficial to simply let them run their course. If you simply rest your thoughts, you’ll fall into a deeper, more refreshing sleep.
Have a healthy sleeping environment. If you don’t get enough sleep, the risk of having nightmares increases. Keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet makes sure that your sleeping environment is ideal for a good sleep.
Establish a regular sleep routine. Having a set bedtime and wake-up time is another way to make sure you get a good sleep. Wake up at the same time every day – even on weekends! Go to bed only when you feel tired enough to sleep; if you’re restless in bed, your mind will associate your bed with struggling to sleep.
Exercise. Regular exercise is good for both your physical and mental health, and it’ll make you feel more tired for a better sleep. However, limit your workouts to mornings and afternoons.
Avoid stimulants. Although a cup of coffee helps you become alert in the morning, having cups through the afternoon and evening will keep you from getting a deep, restful sleep at night. Avoid alcohol, drugs, and nicotine, too. Even though alcohol can help you feel drowsy to fall asleep quicker, it will actually cause you to have a disrupted sleep, and you’ll find it hard getting back to sleep if you wake up during the night.
Although these tips can help you get a better sleep to minimise the chances of lucid dreaming, the best way to help yourself is to talk to a doctor. A doctor can help you understand your dreams better, especially if your dreams are creating a stressful sleeping experience. Your doctor can also determine if you have a sleeping disorder, and you may be referred to a sleep specialist.