There has been much talk recently of lucid dreaming, with movies such as Inception glorifying the practise – and over-dramatizing it somewhat too. If you’re not sure what lucid dreaming is, then it’s basically where you become aware, in your dream, that you are dreaming. Once you are aware you’re dreaming you can then control your responses to things going on in the dream. You can’t necessarily control the dream environment itself, but you can control your responses to elements within the dream.
Is Lucid Dreaming Dangerous? Can You Get Stuck in a Lucid Dream?
Lucid dreaming in and of itself isn’t generally dangerous. The human body has some pretty efficient safeguards in place to make sure that you can’t move while you’re dreaming such as the release of specific neurotransmitters which paralyze our skeletal muscles. Sometimes these safeguards fail and then people do end up acting out their dreams physically. This is fortunately, fairly rare. But if it occurs it’s not just going to affect Lucid Dreaming, it’ll likely affect conventional dreaming too – and needs a professional medical assessment fairly urgently to avoid potential bodily injury.
There is no evidence that engaging in lucid dreaming can lead to REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder at this point, although research is still ongoing in various areas.
There is however, some evidence that Lucid Dreaming can be problematic for those with mental health issues such as psychosis. Indeed, I have experienced a patient who was utterly convinced they could fly because they had been doing so very recently. The patient was no longer asleep, but was utterly convinced that their abilities existed. Hospitalisation was required in order to prevent the patient harming themselves.
MedicalNewsToday has an article on this topic and state that people’s natural sleep/wake cycle will take over and the person will wake up at the time their sleep cycle is due to end. Other sources state the same thing. However, as can be seen from the anecdotal case above, if a person is liable to experience psychotic episodes it’s possible that one might believe they can do things in reality that they could in their lucid dream.
On the other side, it can be quite common for people dreaming to believe they’ve woken up when in fact they haven’t. This can lead to some significant mental distress while it’s ongoing as this can lead to a feeling of sleep paralysis whereby you believe you’re awake but you’re not. But because you’re still asleep you’re paralysed by those safeguards we mentioned in the beginning.
Some sources state that this feeling of being unable to wake up is more common in conventional dreams (or often nightmares) compared to lucid dreaming though.
Importantly though, having a dream, lucid or otherwise, will not keep you asleep longer than your normal sleep cycle. You cannot drop into a coma just because you’re having a good lucid dream. Some might in fact end up disappointed when they wake up and realise it was all just a dream.
How Do You Get Out Of A Lucid Dream?
The quickest and best way to get out of a lucid dream is to wake up. Sometimes this is not as easy as it sounds and on occasion you’ll be aware that you’re dreaming and so tell yourself to wake up – and think you have. Only to find later that you’ve not actually woken up. This is known as a false awakening and can be really quite confusing. Often these types of false awakenings are accompanied by a form of sleep paralysis because you feel like you’re awake but you’re not.
Many people say that the best way to actually wake yourself up is to simply yell at yourself “Wake Up! Wake Up!”. For many people, most of the time, that is sufficient to wake them up.
Others state that a guaranteed way to wake themselves up is to attempt to do something risky, such as jumping off high buildings, cliffs or similar. Or by banging their dream heads against a hard surface or something similar. Many liken this to trying to kill themselves in their dream. I don’t recommend this at all. As we’ll see later it won’t kill you in reality, but if it succeeds in waking you up the awakening is usually a considerable jolt and will often result in a significant heightened heart rate and potentially headache – as well as higher blood pressure! In my experience jumping off tall buildings in a dream only serves to enable me to fly – not wake up.
In most cases, it’s better to realise you’re dreaming and just go along with it. What else would you be doing right now except sleeping anyway? Unless that sound you’re hearing in your dream is actually your alarm clock or the smoke alarm, there’s not likely to be any reason to stop the dream early. And it is the alarm clock you’ll likely wake up shortly anyway.
Can You Stay In A Lucid Dream Forever?
No. At the end of your sleep cycle you will wake up.
As we’ve seen above, if you have particular mental health issues such as psychosis, it is possible you can believe you are still asleep but this is not an effect of the lucid dream itself, but the mental health illness. If you know you are susceptible to psychosis it’s probably not all that advisable to actively seek lucid dreaming although there’s little evidence that one causes the other. And there’s no evidence that believing you’re in a dream when you’re actually awake results from lucid dreaming more than normal dreaming either.
In the vast majority of cases you will likely wake up before you actually want to in any case. You’ll possibly feel quite disappointed that the dream ended abruptly – at the end of your sleep cycle or due to some external factor such as sun on your face, or loud noises from outside.
Can You Die In A Lucid Dream?
In another post we address the idea of whether dying in a dream can lead to dying in reality. The spoiler for this is that although you can die in a dream (I have done it myself) you will not die in reality (and I am living proof). This would be no different whether the dream is lucid or conventional. Incidentally, this pretty much rules out a huge plot line in The Matrix, whereby people who were plugged in to the Matrix would die in reality if they died while plugged in – unless there’s some additional mechanism that actually causes the Matrix entrants to die.
So, to summarize this, yes you can die in a lucid dream – but it will not kill you in reality as a result.
You cannot get stuck in a lucid dream even though sometimes it may feel like you are. You will always wake up at the end of your sleep cycle. In very rare circumstances, you may believe you are still in your dream even when you’ve actually awoken. This would need to be recognised by other people and professional help sought on your behalf. But it’s very rare and is very unlikely to have been caused by lucid dreaming itself but rather by a mental illness that has manifested this way.
Lucid dreaming, for the average person, appears quite safe. There is some research that suggests that for people with psychosis issues it may not be a good idea.
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3: Soffer-Dudek N. (2019). Are Lucid Dreams Good For Us? Are We Asking The Right Questions? A Call For Caution In Lucid Dream Research. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2019; 13: 1423. Fetched from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6993576/ on January 5th 2022.