Depending on how you view your subconscious, lucid dreaming probably feels super enriching or kind of creepy. When you're having a lucid dream, you're aware that you're having a dream, and you may even be able to control what you dream about. I've always been creeped out by lucid dreaming, but some people even teach themselves to lucid dream because of the purported benefits. And newly released research reveals a serious perk of lucid dreaming: People who have lucid dreams may have better mental health.
The study, published in journal Frontiers in Psychology, was conducted by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Almost 200 college students participated in the study, and they all reported their lucid dream habits along with their sleep problems and psychological health — the research team screened for symptoms of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, dissociation, and schizotypy, according to the study. While having frequent lucid dreams didn't affect mental health, people who had intense lucid dreams and also experienced positive emotions while dreaming were less likely to have psychological symptoms. The researchers also made a pretty surprising finding: trying to induce lucid dreams can actually worsen your mental health. So if you don't have lucid dreams but want to attempt them, you could end up worse off than you were before you tried.
People who have lucid dreams often report some seriously intriguing upsides. Psychology Today puts it this way: "You cannot taste fire or fly to the sun or have sex with strangers without potential serious consequences. But you can do all that in your dreams." Lucid dreaming is a way to release inhibitions and live out your fantasies without real-world consequences, according to people who advocate for it.
But there's an important caveat in this study: If you try to induce lucid dreams, you could end up worsening your mental health. If you've never had a lucid dream but are tempted to experience it, it may not be worth it. "Our research is pioneering in the field because we are the first to examine whether the attempt to initiate lucidity can cause damage," study author Dr. Nirit Soffer-Dudek tells The Jerusalem Post. "Many people are tempted to try and reach an alternative state of mind by reaching lucidity, but it seems they may be paying a price. We know from hundreds of studies how much sleep is critical to functioning, health and mood."
Even though lucid dreaming may sound tempting, it's probably not worth the risks the study authors discovered. Part of the reason that it may be damaging is because you spend so much time focused on wakefulness when you're trying to start lucid dreaming, according to the authors. One of the techniques to induce lucid dreaming involves asking yourself whether you're awake or dreaming every few hours, which can bring on dissociative feelings. "My recommendation is to be careful and consider carefully before deciding to fool around with our sleep and dreaming," Soffer-Dudek says in the interview.
This is disappointing news for anyone who enjoys lucid dreams, although I'm relieved about the findings. While I don't have lucid dreams regularly, I have had it happen, so I'm hopeful that it's had some sort of positive effect on my mental health. But trying to trick my brain into lucid dreaming feels like a weird prospect, so I'm not mad that I have a reason to stay away from lucid dreaming. It's not clear whether positive mental health brings lucid dreaming or the other way around, but if you are lucky enough to have the dreams, you may feel better as a result.