Exploring the Healing Potential of Lucid Dreaming on Stress Biomarkers for PTSD

June 13, 2024
IONS Science Team

In the realm of dream research, the concept of lucid dreaming—where individuals become aware they are dreaming and can even control the narrative of their dreams—has long fascinated scientists and dreamers alike. But beyond its intriguing nature, could lucid dreaming hold the key to alleviating trauma? 

Throughout history, many cultures have believed in the healing power of dreams, from ancient Grecians and Egyptians to Carl Jung’s psychological theories, Ayurvedic practitioners, and Native American traditions. Modern research suggests that lucid dreaming could further enhance the healing potential of these dreams.

One possible application of healing lucid dreaming is for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be difficult to treat. In a pilot study, we found that after attending a healing lucid dreaming workshop, participants experienced sustained relief from PTSD symptoms. The study also looked at the relationship between healing lucid dreams and salivary alpha-amylase (sAA), a marker of autonomic nervous system activity often associated with stress. In healthy individuals, sAA levels sharply drop between the time the person wakes up and 30 minutes after awakening (the difference between these two time points is called the “slope”), whereas because PTSD severely dysregulates the nervous system, trauma survivors frequently exhibit atypical responses in sAA. When we measured sAA slopes in two pairs of participants from the pilot study, we found that those participants who experienced healing lucid dreams had decreased waking sAA slopes compared to those who did not, possibly suggesting a link between having healing lucid dreams and reduced stress levels. 

In our new study, we dove into examining the relationship between healing lucid dreams and sAA. Can one healing lucid dream alter waking sAA slopes? Do multiple healing lucid dreams have a cumulative effect on sAA slopes? Does the intensity of the lucid dream impact sAA slopes? This study aimed to explore all these questions, potentially offering a novel approach to mental health care. 

Learning how to lucid dream

Eighteen participants – who had all experienced multiple traumatic events – took part in an intensive six-day online workshop designed to teach techniques for inducing healing lucid dreams. The workshop also included in-depth instruction on sleep neuroscience, mindfulness practices, and sleep hygiene, as well as guided meditations, yoga Nidra sessions, dream-sharing circles, and dream planning lessons. Additionally, participants learned methods like reality checks, dream signs, and mnemonic techniques, with opportunities to practice each night, learning how to transform trauma through dreamwork and lucid dreaming. 

Each morning, participants collected saliva samples to measure their sAA levels and recorded their dreams, noting any instances of healing lucid dreams.

What did we find?

Out of the 18 participants, eight experienced at least one healing lucid dream during the workshop, with saliva samples successfully obtained from 13 participants, four of whom had seven healing lucid dreams combined. The sAA levels varied considerably from day-to-day, with some participants showing no clear sAA patterns, while others had significant fluctuations.

Let’s jump into the questions we wanted to answer with this study.

Can one healing lucid dream alter waking sAA slopes? Our analysis found no significant overall change in sAA slope linked to healing lucid dreams. 

Do multiple healing lucid dreams have a cumulative effect on sAA slopes? While more healing lucid dreams tended to be associated with higher sAA slopes, this trend was not statistically significant.

Does the intensity of the lucid dream impact sAA slopes? Interestingly, there was a significant correlation between the intensity of healing lucid dreams and changes in sAA slopes, suggesting that more intense healing lucid dreams might have a more substantial impact on stress biomarkers. However, a single participant drove this result, so more research is needed to confirm these fascinating findings. 

What does it all mean?

Overall, these findings highlight the potential of healing lucid dreams for PTSD relief, though we need further research with larger sample sizes to draw more definitive conclusions, especially since sAA levels were so different between people.

This study underscores the profound interconnection between mind and body by exploring how mental experiences, such as healing lucid dreams, might influence physiological markers like sAA. The potential for healing lucid dreams to impact sAA levels reflects the idea that mental and emotional processes can have measurable effects on our physical state. Despite the challenges and mixed results, the study highlights the importance of holistic approaches to mental health that consider both psychological and physiological factors. It reinforces the concept that interventions targeting the mind, such as lucid dreaming techniques, could potentially lead to beneficial changes in the body, particularly in managing stress and PTSD symptoms.

While the effects of lucid dreaming treatment for PTSD remain inconclusive, identifying reliable physiological biomarkers for healing lucid dreams could significantly advance their therapeutic use for mental health conditions like PTSD and depression. 

Read the publication this blog is based on.

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