Lucid Dreaming for Healing PTSD

November 14, 2022
IONS Science Team

Have you ever had a dream where you knew you were dreaming and you could intentionally influence what was happening within the dream? That’s called a lucid dream. What if you could use the dream for self-development or physical or mental healing? That’s exactly what many lucid dreamers report they do.

Recently, research has begun to look at whether lucid dreaming can alleviate symptoms, including nightmares, for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a debilitating condition and it is notoriously difficult to treat. People experiencing PTSD can live in a heightened stress response state and have a difficult time feeling safe because their minds/bodies don’t realize the traumatic event is over. The person can experience flashbacks and nightmares of the traumatic event, intrusive thoughts, dissociation, and intense negative emotional and physiological reactions, as well as a constellation of other symptoms.

Recent theories propose that lucid dreams might provide a safe environment where individuals with PTSD can deliberately confront and resolve traumatic memories while the brain and body’s stress responses are dampened in the sleep state.

Since lucid dreaming is a skill that can be learned, we performed a pilot study to investigate whether a lucid dreaming workshop could reduce PTSD symptoms.

Study Design

The study aimed to evaluate whether internally-generated intentions in a lucid dream could influence our physiology and promote healing. We recruited 49 adults who were experiencing chronic PTSD symptoms for the study. For six days, the participants attended an online lucid dreaming healing workshop where they were taught the neuroscience of lucid dreaming, mindfulness practices for deep relaxation, sleep hygiene principles, practices to increase dream recall, and multiple lucid dreaming induction techniques. The induction techniques included: attention to dream signs, reality checks, wake-up-back-to-bed sleep protocol, mnemonic technique, and falling asleep consciously. The workshop also included guided meditations, yoga Nidra sessions, periods of silence and reflection, dream-sharing circles, lucid dream exercises, and dream planning lessons. Over the six days, participants tracked their dreams. We performed a follow-up with the participants one month after the workshop.

In addition to subjective reports of PTSD symptoms and other measures of well-being, we also collected saliva samples from a small subset of subjects because certain saliva markers can indicate stress levels. We hypothesized that we would find reduced stress markers the morning following a healing lucid dream.

What did the Study Find?

Participants reported significantly fewer PTSD symptoms and nightmares after the workshop (versus before the workshop) and these results persisted even at the one-month follow-up. We also saw significant improvements in overall well-being and a lessening of negative emotions. We did not, however, find differences in these measures between those who experienced healing lucid dreams, normal lucid dreams, or non-lucid dreams. In other words, while the workshop did reduce PTSD symptoms, nightmares, and negative emotions while improving overall well-being, we can’t say lucid dreams are what caused the effect.

We did find that those who had experienced healing lucid dreams had a lower stress response in their saliva samples when compared to controls. These results are promising although preliminary, and more research is needed as the sample size was very small.

We also found that the workshop was successful in inducing lucid dreams as most participants (76%) achieved at least one lucid dream during the study, exceeding expectations. Over half of the participants who reported a lucid dream also indicated that the dream was a healing lucid dream, meaning that they were able to recall their dream plan for experiencing healing during the lucid dream.

What Does it Mean?

The study demonstrated that a lucid dreaming workshop reduced PTSD symptoms, nightmares, and negative emotions while improving overall well-being. This finding is important because not only does it contribute a treatment option for a difficult-to-treat condition, but it also highlights the intricate connection between our bodies, minds, states of conscious awareness, and personal healing. The creative possibilities to leverage these experiential states are endless and have implications as a powerful untapped resource for many personal and health issues.

While we can’t solely attribute the positive effects of the study to lucid dreams, we know dream lucidity is associated with increased well-being and positive mood, so it is possible it contributes in a meaningful way, although further research is needed.

More generally, the workshop included elements of group therapy, such as social support, interpersonal learning, group cohesion, and a safe and respectful environment – all factors that have been shown to contribute to reducing PTSD symptoms. While our current healthcare models focus on the individual and on pharmacological solutions, these findings also remind us of the value of human connection, relation, and support. We are more interconnected than we perceive on a day-to-day basis and tapping into that connection can heal us.

Our Next Lucid Dreaming Study

We are currently conducting a follow-up lucid dreaming study. Stay tuned for the results!

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