“When you lucid dream, those 8 hours of sleep are no longer wasted. You spend that time doing something fun, and you wake up in a better mood because of it,” Rianne Schimmel, master of controlling her own dreams, says over the phone.
While she sleeps, Schimmel can fly, fuck, fight, form empires and pursue world domination. Fostering limitless power over your sleeping fantasies is a skill anyone can develop, she tells us. But it’s important to consider the dangers along with the advantages.
The intoxicating fun, creativity and god-like control of an imaginative landscape is enough to convince most people the ability is worth learning. But potential consequences like sleep paralysis, realistic sensations of pain, or difficulty differentiating between dreams and reality reveal that lucidity isn’t always so dreamy.
THE BENEFITS OF LUCID DREAMING
Studies prove that humans can be conscious and in control of their dreams. Taking that control while asleep can improve skill development and creativity when awake. “A lot of people I know use the unique visuals and landscapes of lucid dreaming for inspiration in arts, music, and writing,” Schimmel says.
Lucid dreaming can even help people cope with their fears. Many people, including Schimmel, use the technique to overcome crippling night terrors.
“When I was young, I’d have such horrible nightmares that I was afraid to go to sleep,” she says. But lucid dreaming allowed the ability to become aware during her nightmares and change the ritual course of action.
Instead of endlessly running away from a terrifying figure, you can confront it. Instead of falling to your death, you can begin to fly. With the power to create alternate endings, the deep-seated fear surrounding nightmares can subside.
However, that awareness can differ drastically from person to person. Sometimes, cognizance during dreams is enough to make the fantasy feel real, but not enough to convince us we’re safe from harm.
THE RISKS OF LUCID DREAMING
“People tell me they’re scared of sleep paralysis,” Schimmel says, because lucid dreamers have especially high frequencies of sleep paralysis — the feeling of being conscious but unable to move or speak.
“It’s like their mind stays awake while their body falls asleep,” she explains, “then they’ll see frightening visuals, like monsters, and feel scared because they can’t escape.”
Schimmel is right. Studies show episodes of paralysis are often accompanied by frightening hallucinations, in which the person feels a malevolent presence in the room. “It can be really scary to not be able to move your body while your imagination gets carried away,” Schimmel says.
Beyond paralysis, there’s also the prospect of feeling pain. Sensations can be remarkably realistic to lucid dreamers, and naturally, that includes pain. Many people insist getting hurt or attacked in their dreams results in tangible pain even after they’re awake. Thankfully, intense sensations like pain are almost always dulled. “It’s never as vivid as in real life, but it gets pretty close,” Schimmel says.
Dream claustrophobia is yet another common concern, in which people become lucid inside an unwanted dream scenario, and find themselves unable to manipulate or escape.
But both realistic pain and dream claustrophobia become less likely with practice, Schimmel insists, because with years of experience comes an increased level of control. To escape dream claustrophobia, she can summon a door to a new world. To avoid pain, she can ensure weapons never touch her or falling from the sky always ends in a soft landing.
However, even practice can’t prevent lucid dreamers from sometimes struggling to differentiate dreams from reality. “Sometimes during the day, I’ll have these moments where I get confused about if something happened in real life, or only in a dream. You know, we sometimes save these things as a memory instead of a dream,” Schimmel explains.
Of course, just because something can go wrong, doesn’t mean it will. The limited likelihood of risks often doesn’t dissuade lucid dreamers like Schimmel from pursuing total control over their unconscious mind.
Now that Schimmel has enjoyed years of lucid dreaming without any major repercussions, she’s eager to teach others. If you’d like to fly, fuck, fight and form empires with your eyes closed, check out her comprehensive guide to controlling dreams without limitations.