Lucid dreaming is fun, and that’s what draws most of us in to that world to begin with. The idea that you can live out any fantasy, go on any adventure you can imagine, is a fascinating possibility. But as a powerful tool for connecting the conscious and subconscious minds, it also has a wide range of practical uses.
Dreams are the perfect place to practice for real life events. If there is something you’re anxious about doing in real life, you can rehearse for it in the safe environment of a lucid dream. From running through a speech or presentation, to overcoming the nerves to talk to your crush, the real thing will seem much less daunting when you’ve had the chance to prepare.
Artists from across all disciplines have used lucid dreams to inspire their work and experiment with the creative forces.
Salvador Dali, used a dream incubation technique to create works such as ‘Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944), and would often describe his paintings as “hand-painted dream photographs”.
Paul McCartney famously composed the melody for "Yesterday" in a dream, and James Cameron has credited lucid dreaming as the inspiration behind the flaying scenes from his movie Avatar.
Harnessing the subconscious powers of imagination hasn’t been limited to artists, we also have lucid dreams to thank for a number of scientific breakthroughs. August Kekulé, a German chemist, discovered the structure of the Benzene molecule after working on the problem in a dream and seeing a snake seizing its own tail. Neils Bohr, one of the founders of Quantum Theory, was able to develop a new model for the atom inside a dream, by observing the nucleus of the atom, with electrons spinning around it, much as planets spin around their sun.
It has been well established that athletes who mentally rehearse an activity can improve their performance. This is because your brain cannot tell the difference between a real and visualised event. If you swing a golf club out on the course, or you simply imagine swinging the club while sat indoors, exactly the same areas of the brain activate. As far as your brain is concerned, an imagined event is real.
This means you can use the dream environment to deliberately practice motor skills, like those you use in almost any sport. In a 2016, researcher Melanie Schadlich showed that participants who practiced throwing darts in a lucid dream, showed significant improvement in their ability.1
Not only can you develop your skill, but research suggests that the improvement in performance when practicing in a lucid dream is similar to the actual physical practice of the same activity.2
Just as with sports and athletic pursuits, since performing some action in a dream enhances the same muscle memory as if you had just done the action in real life, you can use lucid dreams to quickly and dramatically improve your ability at almost any activity involving a physical action; playing the piano, practicing Tai-Chi forms, Ballet moves, the list could go on and on!
You can also learn and develop your mental skills. If you’re learning French and want to practice, what better way than to virtually transport yourself to Paris. While you can’t learn any brand new vocabulary, you may be surprised at how much more is stored in your subconscious than you can usually recall with your conscious mind. Speaking with dream characters is excellent practice.
Dreams also give you direct access to the vast problem solving resources of the sub-conscious mind. You can build a virtual model or create a scenario for something you are studying, and then interact with it, to perform an experiment or test an idea. One of history’s most famous inventors, Nikola Tesla, used to do exactly this, and build his new creation in a virtual laboratory in his mind, testing and refining his designs, before bringing them into the real world.
Some early research is showing lucid dreaming has promise as a tool for treatment of both, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Depression. 3 Many lucid dreamers have also reported using their dreams to confront phobias and overcome anxieties from their waking lives. 4
Because of the ability to develop motor skills within a visualised environment, lucid dreaming has also been suggested as having potential applications in physical rehabilitation. Being able to strengthen muscle memory and neural connections with no risk of damage or relapse could be revolutionary in these treatments. 5
The direct connection to your subconscious mind that a lucid dream provides, is an incredible tool for exploring and learning about the self. The practice of Dream Yoga, has been in use for thousands of years as a way to come to know the true nature of the mind, and develop mental discipline.
Western traditions have also picked up the idea of dreams as an opportunity to confront and integrate your Shadow Psyche. Carl Jung believed that this access to the personal unconscious, and the symbolic and archetype representations stored there, made dreams one of the most valuable resources available for our personal development.
Finally, there is a significant overlap in the skills and practices when learning to lucid dream with mindfulness meditation. A huge body of research is expanding the range of benefits from this form of meditation on an almost daily basis; improved cognition, mood, working memory, focus and body image just to name a few. 6
1. Schädlich, M., Erlacher, D., & Schredl, M. (2017). Improvement of darts performance following lucid dream practice depends on the number of distractions while rehearsing within the dream – a sleep laboratory pilot study. Journal of Sports Sciences, 35:23, 2365-2372
2. Stumbrys, T., Erlacher, D., & Schredl, M. (2016). Effectiveness of motor practice in lucid dreams: a comparison with physical and mental practice. Journal of Sports Sciences, 34:1, 27-34
3. El-Solh, A.A. (2018). Management of nightmares in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder: current perspectives. Nat Sci Sleep. 2018;10:409-420
4. Freitas de Macedo, T.C., Ferriera, G.H., Mores de Almondes, K., Kirov, R., Mota-Rolim, S.A. (2019). My Dream, My Rules: Can Lucid Dreaming Treat Nightmares? Frontiers in Psychology, Nov-2019
5. Mota-Rolim, S.A., Araujo, J.F. (2013). Neurobiology and clinical implications of lucid dreaming Medical Hypothesis. 81:5, 751-756
6. Fadel, Z., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B.J., Zhanna, D., Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of Brief Mental Training Consciousness and Cognition, Jun;19(2):597-605