Previous research and anecdotal evidence have suggested that lucid dreaming may be associated with certain benefits, such as decreased stress, increased creativity, and enhanced psychological well-being. However, these relationships have not been experimentally confirmed. Further, several of the techniques involved in lucid dream training may have inherent psychological benefits, regardless of whether someone successfully has a lucid dream.
For instance, one technique to induce lucid dreams is called the "reality check," whereby a person takes 30 seconds to ask themselves whether they are dreaming and to then really become aware and observe the environment, imagining what it would be like if a dream. This technique is done around 10 times a day and is similar to other waking mindfulness practices, where you are trained to attend to your surroundings and be more present. Mindfulness itself is associated with decreased stress and is indeed used as a stress-reduction program quite regularly. Another technique to assist with lucid dream recall is simply keeping a daily dream diary, which more generally improves all dream recall. Daily journaling is also associated with some psychological benefits.
For this reason, a recent study was designed to assess whether lucid dream training and then successfully having lucid dreams was associated with personal growth above and beyond training with only mindfulness and journaling techniques.
To test this, the authors compared the personal growth of three groups of college students over a one-month period. One group of 19 participants completed a weekly lucid dream training with daily diaries throughout the month; one group of seven participants completed a weekly mindfulness training with daily diaries; and one group of seven participants had no weekly meetings or daily diaries. All participants completed a packet of questionnaires before and after the month which measured several personality and psychological attributes, including levels of self-esteem, stress, life satisfaction, coping self-efficacy, emotion regulation, and creativity.
The lucid dream technique of reality checking (as described above) was replaced in the mindfulness group with a comparable exercise where participants observed their hands and attended to the sensations or actions of their hands, but did not question whether they were awake or dreaming. These techniques were done around 10 times a day, and both groups kept daily dream diaries. The daily diary included questions on the quantity and quality of sleep the night before, a dream report, and a 16-item mood scale (Profile of Mood States) to assess several negative and positive mood states.
An analysis was conducted to compare the three groups of participants; first, to assess how participants changed in the questionnaire measures across the month, the baseline scores were subtracted from the post-test scores, to see whether participants improved in any measures. Overall there were no differences between the groups for changes in self-esteem, life satisfaction, coping self-efficacy, emotional regulation, stress, or creativity across the study.
However, when looking at the daily measures within the mindfulness and lucid dreaming groups, the mindfulness participants particularly showed a decrease in daily stress over time, which is consistent with the use of mindfulness as a method of stress reduction. This effect was not found in the lucid dreaming participants.
Nevertheless, because the benefits of lucid dreaming may depend on successfully having and recalling a lucid dream (as opposed to just practicing the daytime lucidity techniques), the authors then analyzed whether having a lucid dream was associated with psychological benefits. This turned out to be true. There were 39 reported lucid dreams, and analyses showed specifically that the morning after a lucid dream, participants reported improved mood, namely increased "vigor," and also reported having an overall less stressful day. Furthermore, those who had more lucid dreams across the study also had generally less stressful days and more life satisfaction than those who had fewer lucid dreams.
Overall, the study suggests that mindfulness and daily journaling is associated with decreased stress over a month-long period. Lucid dream training seems to be effective when lucid dreams are successfully induced, in that nights with lucid dreams were associated with immediately decreased stress and increased vigor the following day, and more generally greater lucid dream recall was associated with decreased stress and higher life satisfaction at the end of the study period.
Thus, some of the positive benefits of lucid dreaming were confirmed here with an experimental study, with the caveat that lucid dream training may only be beneficial when participants are able to successfully induce lucid dreams.
Konkoly, K. & Burke, C. Can Learning to Lucid Dream Promote Personal Growth? Article to appear in Dreaming Journal.