However, these processes can become interrupted or compromised, for example following traumatic life events. More than two-thirds of the general population will experience events that they find traumatic in their lifetimes, in some cases leading to post traumatic stress disorder. Nightmares are among the most common debilitating symptoms of this condition.
But published case studies suggest that lucid dreaming can provide effective relief from chronic nightmares. More controlled investigations have also suggested that lucid dreaming, either as a stand-alone technique or as an add-on to other psychotherapeutic approaches, can be successfully applied to reduce the frequency and severity of nightmares.
There is some evidence that lucid dreaming can be induced, too. In such studies, participants are normally taught a number of techniques, such as questioning the nature of one’s environment during the day – “Is this real or am I dreaming?” – which increases the chances of having a lucid dream. Participants are also asked before they go to sleep to realise that their nightmares are not real. However, it’s not really clear which induction techniques are most effective
In the nightmare study, participants also planned what to do once they were lucid (this helps the dreamer be prepared and maintain clarity of mind when confronted with fearful material). This training reduced the occurrence of nightmares even when the participant didn’t succeed in becoming lucid. Reports suggest that simple alterations – such as changing one item in the recurring dream – can significantly alter the emotional tone and experience of the dream, helping us realise it is not real and that we able to exert control over it.
It would be premature to endorse lucid dreaming as the preferred approach for treating nightmares at the moment. But once we’ve collected enough data about the short- and long-term effects on nightmares and general well-being, there’s every possibility it one day could be.