Is lucid dreaming dangerous?

© Clare R Johnson, PhD

Can it be dangerous to wake up inside a dream?

fireworks-170110_640As awareness of lucid dreaming grows, this question is getting asked less often. But it still crops up. Even just ten years ago, after I’d given a talk on lucid dreaming, a psychoanalyst in the audience might object that the dream is a sacred message from the unconscious and that it was therefore unwise to ‘interfere’ with it by becoming lucid and guiding it.

Yet not all lucid dreams involve active dream control; the lucid dreamer can just as easily (and sometimes a lot more easily!) go with the flow of the dream. And are dreams somehow more ‘sacred’ than waking life experiences? If we make conscious choices in waking life situations, why might it not be OK to do the same in dream situations?

Dreams which have an important message for the dreamer tend to repeat themselves until they get heard, as can be seen in the case of recurring nightmares. Lucidity is itself a way of getting the dreamer to notice the dream and recall it more clearly upon awakening.

To test this, when you next become lucid ask yourself if there’s a reason why you became lucid in this particular dream. Perhaps you are waking up to the particular aspect in your life that the dream refers to? Or maybe this dream is encouraging you to focus consciously on what is happening in dreamland so that you recall it more vividly when you wake up.

Lucidity is also an effective way of getting to the ‘important message’ of the dream, as can be seen in the many documented cases of people becoming conscious inside a nightmare and asking the nightmare image: What do you want? What do you represent? What lesson are you here to teach me?

These days, lucid dreaming is known to have psychological benefits: it can be a useful tool in helping people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as resolving regular nightmares. As Lucid Dream Therapy kicks off, people are learning to become their own therapists by reacting to their dream imagery in positive and psychologically helpful ways. Through lucid dreaming, people can dissolve psychological and creative blocks and experience fun and freedom which can quite simply help them to wake up in a good mood, fresh and relaxed and ready to face the world.

I have also been asked if lucid dreaming could destabilise psychologically unstable people. So much here depends on the individual’s nature and circumstances that it’s impossible to generalise. Lucid dreaming is a naturally occurring phenomenon and it’s possible to have spontaneous lucid dreams any time. This means that arguing for or against the practice of lucid dreaming becomes a moot point.

mala-beads-688163_640However, if someone is psychologically fragile due to trauma, bereavement or abuse, or is lost in substance abuse or suffering from debilitating nightmares or psychotic episodes, they would be advised to get help from a registered counsellor or therapist before actively pursuing any type of deep introspective activity, whether this is meditation, lucid dreaming, or yoga. If you are feeling desperate, depressed, suicidal, please talk to someone who is qualified to help you. If you are very low, you need to be nurtured first and foremost.

I’m a qualified yoga instructor and I’ve seen that for people who are psychologically fragile, even the simple act of lying down in a safe space and breathing from the belly can trigger strong emotional reactions as memories and locked-up feelings surface. This release is in itself not a bad thing. But it’s important that someone is there to calm and reassure the person, and assist their process.

Lucid dreaming is a natural, spontaneous occurrence in sleep. Little children have lucid dreams before they even know there’s a word for them. Lucid dreams are just as natural as nonlucid dreams, so it’s worth asking yourself: Is dreaming dangerous? We dream every night. We need to dream in order to stay sane and healthy. Having explored nonlucid dreams and lucid dreams for 40 years, I can say that the dreaming mind is deeply wise, creative and helpful. If we take a respectful path into lucid dreaming, we can reap the benefits on many different levels and emerge happier, healthier people.

In this video clip from a lucid dreaming talk at the Dream Research Institute in London, I discuss the question of whether or not it’s dangerous to have lucid dreams – first seriously, and then playfully, through poetry.