Long-Term Meditators have More Frequent Lucid Dreams
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“All that we see or seem/Is but a dream within a dream.” – Edgar Allan Poe
We spend about a third of our lives in sleep, but we know very little about it. It is known that sleep is not a unitary phenomenon. Rather, it involves several different states that can be characterized by differences in physiological activation, neural activity, and subjective experiences. Dreaming occurs several times each night during a particularly deep stage of sleep called rapid eye movement or REM sleep. Dreams have been the subject of much speculation and theorization but little empirical research.
An intriguing form of dreaming is the lucid dream where the individual is aware that they are dreaming. They may even be able to affect the content of the dream. These are quite common with about three quarters of people having a lucid dream at least once. It has been reported that meditation and mindfulness may increase the likelihood of lucid dreams. But there is very little empirical research on the subject.
In today’s Research News article “Increased lucid dream frequency in long-term meditators but not following MBSR training.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6490164/), Baird and colleagues recruited adults who were meditation naïve and long-term meditators who meditated at least 200 minutes per week for over 5 years. The meditation naïve participants were randomly assigned to a wait-list condition or to receive 9-week programs of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Health education. Training occurred over 9 weeks for 2.5 hours each week and included daily home practice. Participants were measured before and after training and 6 months later for how often they recalled dreams, lucid dreams, and mindfulness.
They found that long-term meditators had almost 2 and a half times more lucid dreams than meditation naïve participants while the groups did not differ on dream recall frequencies. There were no differences in lucid dream frequency with different meditation practices or amount of meditation experience. Among the long-term meditators those that had frequent lucid dreams were significantly higher in mindfulness especially the observing, acting with awareness, and decentering facets. Further, they found that neither the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Health education programs produced any significant changes in lucid dreaming in the meditation naïve participants.
These findings have to be interpreted with caution as the types of people who engage in long-term meditation might be significantly different than those individuals who do not choose to meditate. It could be that people who have frequent lucid dreams are exactly the same kinds of people who are attracted to meditation practice. The fact that mindfulness training with the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) did not influence lucid dream frequency supports this interpretation. Additionally, the fact that there the amount of meditation experience was unrelated to lucid dreaming also supports this interpretation.
Nevertheless, the results suggest that long-term meditators have relatively frequent lucid dreams. It is not known why this might be true. But it can be speculated that this is due to the fact that meditation practice improves meta-cognition, the ability to be aware of one’s own thoughts. This ability may make the individual more aware of their conscious process during dreams, lucid dreaming. It is also possible that increased mindfulness produced by meditation practice promotes lucid dreaming. It remains for future research to investigate these potential mechanisms.
But it is clear that long-term meditators have more frequent lucid dreams.
“You know that magical moment when you wake up within a dream and know you’re dreaming? That’s lucid dreaming. It’s a skill you can develop and a beneficial meditation practice you can do.” – Andrew Holecek
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Baird, B., Riedner, B. A., Boly, M., Davidson, R. J., & Tononi, G. (2019). Increased lucid dream frequency in long-term meditators but not following MBSR training. Psychology of consciousness (Washington, D.C.), 6(1), 40–54. https://doi.org/10.1037/cns0000176
Strong conceptual and theoretical connections have been made between meditation practice, mindfulness and lucid dreaming. However, only a handful of empirical studies have evaluated the relationship between lucid dreaming and meditation, and conclusions remain tempered by methodological limitations. Here we evaluate the relationship between meditation, mindfulness and lucid dream frequency using several complementary methods. First, using a cross-sectional design, we evaluate differences in lucid dream frequency between long-term meditators and meditation naïve individuals. Second, we evaluate the relationship between lucid dream frequency and specific facets of trait mindfulness in both meditators and non-meditators. Third, using a blinded randomized-controlled design, we evaluate the impact of an 8-week mindfulness course on lucid dreaming frequency. Our results show that lucid dreaming is more frequent in long-term meditators compared to meditation naïve individuals. Additionally, lucid dream frequency in meditation-naïve individuals was associated with a capacity to verbalize experience, while lucid dream frequency in long-term meditators was associated with observational and decentering facets of trait mindfulness. However, an 8-week mindfulness course did not increase the frequency of lucid dreams. Together these results support a continuity between increased awareness of waking and sleeping states, provide a novel form of evidence linking meditation training to meta-awareness, and support an association between meditation practice and lucid dreaming, but leave open the specific nature of this connection.