What Are The Risks Of Lucid Dreaming?
6 min

What Are The Risks Of Lucid Dreaming?

6 min

The magical world of the subconscious, what does it contain? Potentially the best way to find out is to enter a lucid state while dreaming. But, are there any risks attached to this almost superhuman power? Do the things that happen to you in your dreams affect you in real life? If you die in your dream, will you ever wake up?

Lucid dreaming is an absolutely fascinating practice. It is probably older than recorded history, but has remained fairly niche throughout most of humanity's time on Earth. These days, it is having a renaissance, and more people are trying it, testing out the manifold benefits for themselves.

Used for tackling phobias, overcoming grief, and even for living out our wildest fantasies, lucid dreaming seems like a free and healthy ticket to just about anything we want. There’s plenty out there regarding best practices and techniques for dream recall. But, are there any negatives?

Can lucid dreaming be dangerous? Does it have any downsides? Can you die while lucid dreaming?

Can Lucid Dreaming Be Dangerous?

Can Lucid Dreaming Be Dangerous?

You may be relieved to hear that the simple answer to this is no. Lucid dreaming does not seem to pose any real dangers. That’s not to say that it can’t be scary, or that it can’t negatively impact your life. But you’re not going to die lucid dreaming, and you’re not going to get trapped in a dream.

In fact, the general consensus appears to be that lucid dreaming has many more benefits than it does drawbacks. For those with sleep problems—for example, nightmares—lucid dreaming may well be a tool that can be used to tackle and overcome these issues.

What Happens if Lucid Dreaming Goes Wrong?

However, that is not to say that lucid dreaming is totally without side effects, or that it is always a completely comfortable process. Here we outline some of the more common negative effects of lucid dreaming, and, always here to help, offer you solutions to them too.

Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia

What Are The Risks Of Lucid Dreaming: Sleep Deprivation And Insomnia

Lucid dreams can be very intense. For most people, the shock of becoming lucid will, initially, cause them to wake up. Depending on your own relationship with sleep, you may be able to fall back to bed, or you may lie awake for some time. Regardless, nighttime waking, even momentarily, reduces the efficacy of sleep.

Therefore, attempting to lucid dream may cause sleep deprivation, which could even lead to insomnia. This final condition can become a spiralling issue if not dealt with swiftly, and comes with a whole host of mental and physical health problems. Any benefits of lucid dreaming will be massively outweighed by the drawbacks of poor sleep.

Solution: Stop or Switch Method

The solution? Stop trying to lucid dream, or at least cut down and reevaluate. If you’re using wake-induced methods—in which you wake yourself up during the night—try switching to a method that doesn’t require a 4am alarm. The MILD (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams) method involves priming yourself by reality testing during waking hours, in the hope that you will continue to do these while dreaming, and become lucid that way. For those experiencing sleep-related issues as a result of lucid dreaming, this may well be the solution.

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Feeling Trapped in a Lucid Dream

Feeling Trapped In A Lucid Dream

It is possible to feel as though you may never be able to wake from a lucid dream. Some people may find that they wake into concurrent dreams, which can be incredibly distressing. Pulling yourself from one dream, only to find yourself in yet another, can be a terrifying experience.

Solution: Relax

Rest assured that it is impossible to become trapped in a dream or a lucid dream, even if you don’t feel that way at the time. So, the thing to do is calm yourself and be aware that you definitely will wake up at some point. Think of all the other dreams you’ve ever had—you’ve woken from all of them, so the likelihood is that you’ll wake from this one too.

By recognising this, you reduce the risk of becoming panicked while in a lucid dream. By not panicking, this shifting from one dream to another is less likely to occur. And, if it does, it will be significantly less distressing. As hard as it may seem, try to settle into it, and just know that you will be awake before you know it.

Lucid Nightmares

Lucid Nightmares

Although you tend to be in control of your dreams when lucid, sometimes the dream can take over, even if you yourself remain lucid. In these instances, a lucid dream can become a lucid nightmare. Understandably, these are very scary experiences. The last thing you want is to be fully conscious in the face of your worst fears, and not be able to do anything about it.

Solution: Face Them

Or is it? While this situation is not desirable, you can try to learn from it. You will be aware that you are dreaming, so even if it’s retrospectively, consider what happened in those lucid nightmares, and you may gain greater insight into your own subconscious.

Overcoming nightmares and phobias is actually considered to be one of the greatest potential benefits of lucid dreaming. And while it can go wrong, you stand to gain much more than you lose in relation to these things. If nightmares are something from which you already suffer, consciously tackling them may be just the way to get rid of them, even if it’s difficult to start with.

Ultimately, it’s up to you. If you find they are recurrent and unhelpful, then you can stop lucid dreaming by ceasing the waking practices that initiate it (reality testing, etc.).

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Hypersensitive Emotions and Feelings

What Are The Risks Of Lucid Dreaming: Hypersensitive Emotions And Feelings

We’ve all had dreams where we fall in love with that person we’ve hardly considered before, and awake thinking that we ought to go and declare our love to them immediately—only to find a few hours later that this infatuation has passed, and we’re left a little embarrassed and uncomfortable at the power and swift fading of our love.

Well, with lucid dreams, such occurrences can be even more powerful. Not only love, but loss and grief can become amplified in and by the dream state too. While in a lucid dream, we can feel extraordinarily powerful emotions that we usually wouldn’t, and sometimes this can be distressing.

Solution: Embrace Them

What can be done about it? Embrace it. As with all emotions in life, to be overcome, they must be fully recognised and accepted. This is what lucid dreaming is all about. Consider why you are feeling this way. Do you have a deep sense of loss buried within that you can’t access in your conscious life? If so, use the lucid state to explore your subconscious and figure out what’s lurking there. You may find your waking self grateful for it.

Sleep Paralysis While Lucid Dreaming

Sleep Paralysis While Lucid Dreaming

It is possible, albeit rare, for lucid dreaming to become sleep paralysis. Although they are distinct phenomena—with lucidity generally seen as indicating a good relationship with sleep, and sleep paralysis indicating a bad one—there is crossover. As both happen on the brink of REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep), one may become the other.

Whereas lucid dreaming can be scary and insightful, sleep paralysis tends to be downright horrible, and has a terrible impact on quality of sleep. In a sense, the two states are opposed. Think of lucid dreaming as your wakefulness entering the dream state, and sleep paralysis as the dream state invading wakefulness.

Solution: Rest

Although the contents of sleep paralysis tend to shed little light for us, other than placing terrible and terrifying thoughts in our heads, its occurrence can be useful. Sleep paralysis is strongly linked to stress and poor quality of sleep. If it occurs regularly, it may be worth assessing your lifestyle and taking it as a signal that some rest could be in order.

That’s the best way to be rid of sleep paralysis. Reduce stress and try to get regular, sufficient hours of sleep. In most cases, it should pass relatively quickly. In the event that lucid dreaming is causing sleep paralysis, take some time off. Stop waking in the night, perhaps even stop recording your dreams for a bit. With reduced recall, the force of your lucid dreams will fade too.

Confusing the Lucid Dream World with Reality

Confusing The Lucid Dream World With Reality

Though rare, this can be very disconcerting. Both in the dream and waking state, it is possible to be unable to distinguish between lucid dreaming and reality. The clarity of dream memories can infiltrate your waking life, and the dreams themselves can be so vivid that they become totally lifelike. It is clear why being unable to differentiate between sleeping and waking would have fairly negative effects.

Solution: Stop

In this instance, all you really can do is stop. Maybe come back to it again, once you feel grounded, but if you’re losing your sense of reality, all the other benefits are washed away. Ceasing recording your dreams is essential in this instance. By breaking the connection with those lifelike memories, you will quickly be able to distinguish between the two states again.

Are Lucid Dreaming and Reality Shifting the Same?

Are Lucid Dreaming And Reality Shifting The Same?

Reality shifting, or dimension jumping, and lucid dreaming are not quite the same, though they share similar states. The main difference is that reality shifting tends to be entered from and during a waking state—sort of like a waking lucid dream. It’s characterised as a transliminal state, in which the body and mind become so relaxed that they can enter something like a dream state while still technically awake.

Though there’s controversy surrounding the effects of both, proponents of reality shifting claim that it is much more powerful than lucid dreaming. The other major difference is that, in reality shifting, you enter a desired reality. So, prior to entering the state, “shifters” will be aware where they want to go and what they want to do there, whereas people who are lucid dreaming will awake within a dream during REM sleep, and then manipulate it from there.

That’s another difference. Reality shifting seems to be about living out fantasies or entering your own desired reality. In a colloquial sense, “living your dreams”. Lucid dreaming, on the other hand, is more literally living your dreams, or living in your dreams. While many lucid dream in order to control their realities and live out fantasies, it is also a very useful tool for exploring the subconscious. With reality shifting, this is less achievable; it is overall a more conscious activity.

Safe Lucid Dreaming: The Bottom Line

Safe Lucid Dreaming: The Bottom Line

Lucid dreaming is safe. That’s the takeaway from this. Of course, it is not without potential problems and side effects, but these are easily manageable and, except in rare cases, minimal or non-existent.

The main thing to bear in mind is that you are becoming conscious in the very depths of your subconscious mind. This is going to be shocking, and at times very scary. It’s in the nature of the pursuit. However, what you stand to gain from this practice far outweighs what you stand to lose. Many of the apparent downsides to lucid dreaming can be turned into points of healing, if carefully managed.

Like with all things in life, moderation is key. Start slow. Don’t expect or intend to be doing this every night, at least not until you have a greater understanding. Plan to do it once or twice a week, and assess how it’s going for you. Be honest with yourself. If you feel it’s beneficial, keep going. If you feel it’s causing you problems, then stop. Thankfully, by stopping the waking practices of lucid dreaming, you can bring it to an easy halt. Though, hopefully you won’t need to. Happy dreaming!

Adam Parsons
Adam Parsons
Professional cannabis journalist, copywriter, and author Adam Parsons is a long-time staff member of Zamnesia. Tasked with covering a wide range of topics from CBD to psychedelics and everything in between, Adam creates blog posts, guides, and explores an ever-growing range of products.
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