Eyes wide shut: the science of lucid dreaming

Monday 6th June, 2016


Can the body heal itself mentally and physically through dreams? Alive talks to two men who believe it can.

Image: Flickr, Mary Quite Contrary

The state of lucid dreaming is like our own version of The Matrix or Inception – the dream is real. A lucid dream is one where you’re actively aware that you are dreaming, like during a nightmare when you think to yourself: “Wake up!” We’ve all probably had one, even if we weren’t aware of the term.

But some people claim to be purposeful practitioners of lucid dreaming. They believe it can change lives, fundamentally altering the way we see reality and our own consciousness.

“When you are in a lucid dream, you’re in a state close to hypnotherapy – you can heal your body and your mind,’’ says London-based Charlie Morley, author of the bestselling Dreams of awakening: Lucid dreaming and mindfulness of dream & sleep.

‘’When you are lucid, you can direct the brain to respond in certain ways and create new neural pathways – pathways towards physical healing and integration of past trauma,” Morley explains.

Charlie Morley Image: Charlie Morley

Lucid dreaming can supposedly activate parts of our brain that help us face phobias and anxieties, or enhance our abilities.

Morley has worked with a group of soldiers since July 2015, 80 per cent of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suffers from recurrent nightmares.

“If I can teach the soldiers how to become lucid during nightmares, they can become aware of the fact that it is a dream, and not experience the trauma over and over,” says Morley.

Research from the University of Northampton also suggests that lucid dreaming could make you more creative. As lucid dreaming expert Dr Rory Mac Sweeney says: “The only rules that apply in that world are those we import from the waking state. A lucid dreamer bends the rules of reality.’’

We spend a third of our lives asleep. When we are in a dream state the brain isn’t resting – it is very active and ready to respond. This is where lucid dreaming comes in.

Dr Rory Mac Sweeney Image: Dr Rory Mac Sweeney

“It’s very similar to what they did in The Matrix. When Neo goes into the matrix, they tell him he can fly. He tries but he can’t because his system is so strongly engaged in ‘reality’," claims Morley.

“He needs to practise in order to be able to do so – that’s very much a like a lucid dream. With training you can change belief patterns such as ‘I’m not good enough’ in the waking world.

“There is no need for drugs to induce it. You just train the brain.”