For some individuals, do the risks outweigh the benefits of learning how to induce lucid dreaming? Learn more about this debatable topic in the article below.
WHAT PSYCHOLOGISTS ARE SAYING:
There are several psychologists with clinical degrees who have written on this topic, so let’s begin by reviewing their thoughts. Paul Tholey was a Gestalt psychologist and lucid dream researcher who taught lucid dreaming to many people. In one of his studies, he screened participants for four factors:
low intelligence with the cut-off being an IQ below 90,
psychosis or pre-psychosis disorders,
organic brain disorders (e.g. delirium, dementia, amnestic syndrome, organic delusional syndrome, organic hallucinosis, organic affective/personality syndrome).
If a person possessed one or more of these factors, they were disqualified from participating in the study and learning lucid dreaming. He was also specific in what induction techniques he taught to certain individuals. For example, he did not teach the reflection technique (i.e. asking yourself throughout the day if you are dreaming or waking) to anyone who already struggled with distinguishing between waking and dreaming because he thought it might worsen this condition (Tholey, 1988).
Restrictions in research are different, though, than restrictions in education. When asked, “Should lucid dreaming not be recommended for certain groups of patients? Tholey and LaBerge both claimed that no reservations are necessary” (p. 43, Holzinger, 2014).
Brigitte Holzinger is an Integrative Gestalt psychologist as well as a lucid dream researcher. In her chapter titled, Lucid Dreaming in Psychotherapy, she says, “my concern is that patients with psychosis or leaning toward a loss of a sense of reality may not be suitable candidates for lucid dreaming” (p. 43). Holzinger also notes two other groups who should exercise caution about learning lucid dreaming: 1) people with narcissistic personality disorder, and 2) people with histrionic personality disorder.
Most of us have probably heard about narcissistic personality disorder where there are grandiose feelings of self-importance, among other symptoms. Histrionic personality disorder is lesser-known and is characterized by “a pattern of long-term (rather than episodic) self-dramatization in which individuals draw attention to themselves, crave activity and excitement, overreact to minor events, experience angry outbursts, and are prone to manipulative suicide threats” (APA, 2022).
Although Holzinger outlines several populations who should be careful about learning lucid dreaming, she goes on to say:
“Today, I would not claim that there are those individuals who should not lucid dream. Nevertheless, I recommend that for some, guidance is desperately required; for others, it is recommended; and for still others, it is simply relieving and supportive.” (p. 43)
It is noteworthy that these two psychologists both agree, along with LaBerge, there is no one who should not learn lucid dreaming. Now that we’ve discussed the opinions of some psychologists, let’s take a deeper dive into specific groups of people and the possibilities of them learning how to lucid dream.
PEOPLE WITH AN ADDICTIVE PERSONALITY?
Short answer: It is extremely unlikely for people, even those with addictive tendencies, to have addiction issues with lucid dreaming. People recovering from substance abuse should not engage in drug use during lucid dreams because it can increase their odds of relapse.
Long answer: The American Psychological Association says the idea of an addictive personality is hypothetical because “research has not supported the existence of such a personality, but has identified traits associated with substance abuse, such as impulsivity, behavioral undercontrol, and characteristics associated with neurobehavioral disinhibition” (2022).
So, if you already struggle with traits like impulsivity and not being able to control your behavior, then you will likely run into problems with learning how to induce lucid dreams. Acquiring the ability to induce lucid dreams on a regular basis typically requires controlling your behavior more than non-lucid dreamers because it necessitates consistently following-through on certain practices. The process of learning how to induce frequent lucid dreaming generally requires several months of dedicated practice, at a minimum.
But let’s say you do follow through on the practices needed to induce lucid dreaming. Okay, you still will not induce many lucid dreams, at least not at the beginning. Lucid dreaming is relatively rare overall with people being labeled ‘frequent lucid dreamers' who have the experience only once a month or more (Saunders et. al., 2016). Addiction is “a state of psychological or physical dependence (or both)” (APA, 2022) and it is difficult to become dependent on something that only happens once a month, or even a few times each week.
Addiction is an unhealthy coping mechanism that requires easy access to the substance in order to maintain. Frequent lucid dreaming is far from easy, at least for the high majority of people. But let’s say you do have or acquire the ability to induce lucid dreams on a frequent basis of multiple times each week. Now there are two other factors:
You will need to maintain whatever practices you are doing to induce frequent lucid dreaming, or else the ability will diminish (Schredl, 2013).
Lucid dreaming requires sleep and the body can only handle so much sleep before it forces the mind to be awake.
At this point, one might argue that a person can sleep as much as humanly possible (e.g. 12 to 16+ hours each day). While this is a possibility, it is an unlikely one if you have responsibilities such as a job where you are busy 8+ hours most days. On the other hand, addiction usually interferes with responsibilities so a person might shun their duties in favor of sleeping/dreaming.
If you find yourself starting to oversleep with the goal of experiencing lucid dreams, take a step back and re-evaluate why you are seeking so much lucid dreaming. The answer might be purely for escapism and you would probably be happier putting all this energy towards changing your circumstances (e.g. seeking counseling, moving away, changing careers) in order to be in a place from which you don’t want to escape.
If you do find yourself in the situation described above, you may even use one of your lucid dreams to learn more about yourself. For example, try asking an intelligent dream character: Why do I want to have so many lucid dreams? Or, what would bring me more happiness? You might be pleasantly surprised by the insight(s) you can acquire about yourself from lucid dreaming.
Of the thousands of cases I have heard/read about with lucid dreaming over the years, there has only been one who struggled with addiction to lucid dreaming (Barroso, 1987). The chances of addiction are so slim they are negligible. So do not worry about becoming addicted to lucid dreaming, just keep an eye on oversleeping for the purpose of experiencing lucid dreams and you should be fine. Worst case, step away from lucid dreaming and consult a mental health professional for assistance.
Within this discussion of addiction and lucid dreaming, there is another topic needing to be addressed: substance abuse recovery. For individuals struggling with substance abuse, drug dreams are common, especially in the beginning phases of recovery. Drug dreams are “dreams in which withdrawing or recovering drug users dream about situations where drugs, drug paraphernalia, drug use, or other drug users are present” (Tanguay, Zadra, Good, & Leri, 2015). These dreams typically consist of themes such as personally using drugs, seeing others use drugs, and resisting or seeking the use of drugs.
For people recovering from substance abuse, correlations have been found between dreams containing drug use and cravings that are longer, more intense, and more frequent (Halikas et. al., 1991). Cravings, combined with stressful situations, can lead to higher chances of relapse (Breese et. al., 2005). This means, for recovering addicts, it is not wise to engage in drug use during lucid dreams because it can increase the probability of cravings as well as the possibility of relapse. When used in certain ways, though, lucid dreaming might be able to help people struggling with addiction (Tholey, 1988), but that is a topic for another article.
PEOPLE WITH PSYCHOSIS?
Short answer: As with any new psychological practice, people with mild to moderate psychosis should be careful about learning lucid dreaming by getting the approval of their therapist and being conscientious of where they are receiving education on the topic. People with severe psychosis should do the same, but also take extra precautions about learning lucid dreaming by only doing so with a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Long answer: It’s a complicated issue and research is just beginning to look into this specific subject. Thus far, there is only a handful of studies investigating the effects of lucid dreaming on aspects such as psychosis, dissociation, schizotypy, etc. (Aviram & Soffer-Dudek, 2018, Mota et. al., 2016). This is an area needing much more research before definitive claims can be drawn.
Psychosis is defined as:
“An abnormal mental state involving significant problems with reality testing. It is characterized by serious impairments or disruptions in the most fundamental higher brain functions—perception, cognition and cognitive processing, and emotions or affect—as manifested in behavioral phenomena, such as delusions, hallucinations.” (APA, 2022)
On the one hand, there is a study demonstrating evidence for a correlation between deliberate lucid dreaming and increased dissociation and schizotypy symptoms (Aviram & Soffer-Dudek, 2018). On the other hand, this study did not measure how lucid dreaming was being deliberately induced. If these participants were deliberately inducing through constant sleep disruption and a lack of sufficient sleep, then the induction strategies might be the culprit. We know sleep deprivation is linked to increased symptoms of psychosis, even in healthy individuals (Waters et. al., 2018).
Additionally, psychosis is characterized by impaired reality testing. Thus, people with psychosis might benefit greatly from learning reliable methods of reality-checking in order to resolve and reduce their reality monitoring errors. In other words, this might be the exact population who can take advantage of the therapeutic potential of lucid dreaming, with one caveat: it is learned to be practiced in a healthy manner (e.g. sufficient sleeping and not jumping off a building to test one’s reality). Also, their education in lucid dreaming should likely be tailored as Tholey described (i.e. not practicing the reflection technique).
DEREALIZATION AND DEPERSONALIZATION
Two states that will often manifest with psychosis are derealization and depersonalization. Derealization is defined as “a state characterized by a diminished feeling of reality; that is, an alteration in the perception or cognitive characterization of external reality so that it seems strange or unreal” (APA, 2022). Depersonalization is defined as:
“A state of mind in which the self appears unreal. Individuals feel estranged from themselves and usually from the external world, and thoughts and experiences have a distant, dreamlike character. In its persistent form, depersonalization is observed in such disorders as depression, hypochondriasis, dissociative states, temporal lobe epilepsy, and early schizophrenia.” (APA, 2022)
While derealization and depersonalization can occur with psychosis, they can occur without psychosis as well. These states can lead to their own disorder (Büetiger et. al., 2020; Michal et. al., 2016), but they do not always lead to a disorder. In fact, some people intentionally seek these states as part of their spiritual and/or religious practices. For an excellent explanation of this particular topic, read an article written by Kristen LaMarca (2021) by clicking here.
PEOPLE WITH CERTAIN SLEEPING DISORDERS?
Short answer: Intrusive lucid dreaming seems to be common in people with certain sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy. Anyone who is already experiencing too many lucid dreams, from a subjective point of view, probably should not learn techniques for inducing more lucid dreams.
Long answer: People with sleeping disorders do not need to worry about learning lucid dreaming, but they do need to worry about how they are learning lucid dreaming. Depending on the sleeping disorder, an individual may or may not be getting enough sleep and that is the important component to consider. Let’s look at some common sleeping disorders and how they might be impacted from learning lucid dreaming.
Sleep Apnea. With this condition, it is common to wake up in the morning and still feel tired because of micro-awakenings constantly occurring throughout one’s sleep. There are several ways to treat sleep apnea, such as a CPAP machine pictured below, and following through on these treatments will help an individual with this condition to feel better upon awakening. The important aspect of learning lucid dreaming with sleep apnea is getting enough quality sleep in order to feel well-rested the next day.
There are many ways of learning lucid dreaming which involve sleep disruption (e.g. Wake-Back-To-Bed technique), but there are other ways of learning lucid dreaming which do not involve sleep disruption (e.g. reality-checks). These methods which do not involve sleep disruption are likely the ideal way to practice for people with sleep apnea. Education from a qualified professional can help people with this condition learn how to incorporate lucid dreaming in a healthy manner.
Sleep-State Misperception. Just like it sounds, this condition is characterized by misperceiving one’s current sleep stage. Many people with insomnia are sleeping from a physiological standpoint, but they do not subjectively feel as though they are asleep because their mind is alert. This leads to the misperception that they are not sleeping at all!
For these individuals, learning lucid dreaming from a qualified professional can likely be beneficial for the condition. This is because a professional can give them the information they need in order to properly classify which stage of sleep they are currently experiencing. Resolving this misperception leads to a higher quality of sleep and an increased likelihood of feeling well-rested the next day.
Narcolepsy. People with narcolepsy seem to experience more lucid dreaming than the general population (Dodet et. al., 2015; Rak et. al., 2015). This is likely a physiological side-effect from the abrupt transitions between waking state and Rapid-Eye-Movement sleep that define the condition of narcolepsy. For some people with narcolepsy, and for some people without narcolepsy, this high frequency of lucid dreaming is unwanted because it can be exhausting (Mallett et. al., 2022).
Not everyone with narcolepsy has intrusive lucid dreams but, for those who do, learning how to induce lucid dreaming is likely not a good idea because it will lead to even more lucid dream experiences. However, people who have intrusive lucid dreaming (with narcolepsy or not) might benefit from learning potential applications of the lucid dream state. By learning how to apply this unique state of mind, people with intrusive lucid dreams might be able to make the experience more enjoyable and less fatiguing.
Is lucid dreaming dangerous? No. Is there anyone who should not learn lucid dreaming? No. Due to the plethora of misinformation on the topic, everyone should be conscientious about where they are receiving education on lucid dreaming and how they are practicing it. In particular, people with psychosis should get the approval of a qualified mental health professional before practicing, or be taught by one, depending on the severity. However, there is no one who should not learn lucid dreaming.
Struggling with mental health issues? Here are some resources that can assist you in seeking and receiving help (in the United States):
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
American Psychological Association (2022). Addiction. APA Dictionary of Psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/addiction
American Psychological Association (2022). Addictive personality. APA Dictionary of Psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/addictive-personality
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American Psychological Association (2022). Derealization. APA Dictionary of Psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/derealization
American Psychological Association (2022). Histrionic personality disorder. APA Dictionary of Psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/histrionic-personality-disorder
American Psychological Association (2022). Psychosis. APA Dictionary of Psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/psychosis
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