IJoDR

The future of lucid dreaming treatment
Commentary on “The neurobiology of consciousness:
Lucid dreaming wakes up” by J. Allan Hobson
Josefin Gavie1 & Antti Revonsuo1, 2
School of Humanities and Informatics, University of Skövde, Sweden
1

Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Turku, Finland
2

1. Introduction there after lucidity is reached. The participants in LDT are
taught different lucid dreaming induction techniques, such
Hobson (2009) provides us with a timely and useful review
as questioning the nature of the environment ‘Is this real or
of the history and the latest developments in lucid dreaming
am I dreaming?’ and to intentionally recognize the fright-
research. It seems that lucid dreaming is, although meth-
ening scenery of their nightmare to be a dream. The par-
odologically a challenging phenomenon to study, neverthe-
ticipants then choose some feature or content of the dream
less becoming a part of the mainstream cognitive neuro-
that they will attempt to change when lucid, so that the dis-
sciences. As Hobson’s review shows, our understanding of
tressing nightmare will be redirected to a different track with
what kinds of states of consciousness and brain areas are
an alternative (and less fearsome) ending.
involved in the production of lucid dreams has improved
Converging results from LDT studies suggest that lucid
considerably.
dreaming treatment is in fact effective for reducing night-
Hobson (2009) does not discuss the potential practical
mares. Several of the participants in such studies have
applications of lucid dreaming. In particular, it has been
shown a decreased frequency of nightmares (Spoormaker
argued that lucid dreaming may have potential as a thera-
& van den Bout, 2006; Spoormaker, van den Bout & Meijer,
peutic tool against recurrent nightmares (Green & McCreery,
2003; Zadra & Pihl, 1997) and for some the treatment also
1994; Halliday, 1988; LaBerge, 1985; LaBerge & Rheingold,
contributed to a slightly improved subjective sleep quality
1990; Tholey, 1988). Therefore, the aim of the present com-
(Spoormaker et al., 2003). However, some participants did
mentary is to draw attention to the potentially important ap-
experience fewer nightmares after engaging in LDT even
plication that connects lucid dreams with nightmares: Lucid
though they had not become lucid at all and consequently
Dreaming Treatment (LDT).
could not have lucidly altered the content of their dreams.
Nightmares and lucidity are closely related phenomena
This suggests that the mere idea or feeling, necessarily
also because, in some dreamers, highly unpleasant dreams
included in LDT, of being potentially able to control and
may evoke unprompted lucidity. For people who suffer
master one’s nightmares might play an equally vital role for
from recurrent nightmares that lead to sleep problems and
reducing nightmares (Spoormaker & van den Bout, 2006;
increased anxiety, lucidity might prove to be a potentially
Spoormaker et al., 2003; Zadra & Pihl, 1997). Perhaps the
useful tool that offers a way to control the content of the
feeling of potential control reduces anxiety as such, and the
dream and thereby master the threatening situation within
reduced levels of anxiety lead to a lesser frequency of night-
the dream. This could lead to a reduced frequency of night-
mares.
mares, to less frightening nightmares, and thus alleviate
some of the suffering related to recurrent nightmares.
3. Nightmares in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
2. Lucid Dreaming Treatment Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder
which may develop from exposure to a life-threatening or
A nightmare is defined by DSM–IV as an extremely fright-
otherwise traumatizing event. The symptoms of PTSD are
ening dream resulting in direct awakening and as having a
collected under three clusters, where one cluster consists of
negative impact on different aspects of waking life (Ameri-
intrusion and persistent recollection of the traumatic event,
can Psychiatric Association, 2000). Research studies have
including nightmares. Posttraumatic nightmares are de-
investigated the effects of LDT to reduce nightmare fre-
fined by the cluster of symptoms related to the traumatizing
quency. The two key components of the treatment are, first,
event and are thus defined as recurring nightmares of the
learning to use cues that help the dreamer to become lucid
event (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Research
during nightmares and, second, learning what one can do
has shown that posttraumatic nightmares are among the
most common symptoms in PTSD patients: up to 60-80%
of PTSD patients suffer from them.
Treating PTSD as such does not necessarily reduce the
Corresponding address: frequency of nightmares (Spoormaker, 2008). PTSD and
Josefin Gavie, School of Humanities and Informatics, Univer- nightmares may in fact become intertwined in such a man-
sity of Skövde, Sweden. ner that nightmares strengthen PTSD symptoms and PTSD
Email: j_gavie@hotmail.com in turn causes nightmares. Disturbed sleep and nightmares

International Journal of Dream Research Volume 3, No. 1 (2010) 13

41-44. Earlier studies show that an attempt to treat PTSD patients and other chronic night. In future studies. & S. LaBerge. posttraumatic nightmares may effective against nightmares.. A Cognitive Model of Recurrent Night- ability of survival of the organism (Revonsuo. Swanberg & Kensinger. Diagnostic and Sta- follow-up of the effects of LDT on the participants. At the emotional level this & Aware in Your Dreams. A. (2000). Conscious Mind. Rather it is an encour. too. mares. Knowing that it is possible to master one’s nightmares in... (2003). and Psychosomatics . The Reinterpretation of Dreams: An Evo- over-activation of a dream generation mechanism whose lutionary Hypothesis of the Function of Dreaming. J. 19. then the nightmares might prove to play Although only little published research has been dedicated to an important role in enhancing and prolonging the other the investigation of Lucid Dreaming Treatment. Lucid treatment for nightmares: a pilot-study. C. Furthermore. Lucid Dreaming: The Paradox of Consciousness During Sleep. 793-1121. Spoormaker. & Rheingold. (1985). Halliday.. the original traumatic event and in relation to symptoms of Hobson. and rehearse Behavioral and brain sciences . Spoormaker. For PTSD patients the Research . strengthen. Thus. In this case fear refers both to the feeling of fear during New York: Plenum. New York: Ballantine Books. J. 4. E. tion of nightmare frequency may consequently lead to bet- A study by Spoormaker and van den Bout (2006) made ter life quality during wakefulness. 1 (2010) . V. The reduc- duce the other PTSD symptoms considerably. This failure may have been due to the low base. means that the intense feelings of fear that were originally LaBerge. Exploring the World of Lu- experienced will be re-experienced every time the PTSD re. tistic Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed. V. 75. (1988)... but so far there are very few studies the treatment of PTSD in general. Conclusion fear. Lucid dreaming that merely try to carry out their biological function. If the posttraumatic night- mares increase the patient’s general levels of anxiety and 5. Spoormaker (2008) sug. treatments for chronic nightmares. nightmares are not only a significant component of PTSD mare sufferes with LDT. (Eds. (2000). 781-788. M. 2006). A. Sleeping Brain (pp. J. I. This further underscores the need to find effective were found. Lucid 14 International Journal of Dream Research Volume 3. but its Bout. & Hipolito. V.). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Press. & Meijer. 15- The fear experienced by the PTSD nightmare sufferer may 22. cid Dreaming. (2008) Sleep preferentially enhances memory for emo- 2008) and that threatening events are very common in the tional components of scenes.D. E. (2009). 305-307). the posttraumatic nightmares. survival-related memories and thereby enhance the prob. and only one participant was ac. Fear: A Key Component Green. ducing the fear associated with the original traumatic event LDT could turn out to be an effective supplement to the in waking life. treating has presented preliminary and promising results. normal subjects (Payne. 2006) and to the relatively brief intervention that failed effectiveness is in need of substantial future exploration and to lead to a high frequency of lucidity within the participants. DSM–IV (American Psychiatric Association. independently of the other PTSD symptoms. S. content of their nightmares are typically reflecting the origi. M. ing that LDT is effective in reducing nightmares. A. In J. Sleep disturbances in Incidentally. LDT) might re. CNS Spectrums . whether utilizing LDT as a treatment for posttraumatic night- because the nightmares are not just a secondary symptom mares can actually reduce nightmare frequency and aid the of PTSD but instead could play a central part of the prog. in this study no significant symptoms but that they also can develop into a disorder of changes of PTSD severity or the subjective quality of sleep their own. The Neurobiology of Consciousness: Lucid avoidance as everything associable with the actual events Dreaming Wakes Up. and remind him or her vividly of the original traumatic event every night. New York: Ballantine Books. Therefore. This would make LDT a useful supplement in treatment of PTSD. Swanberg. (1994). validation before LDT might become more widely applied in Furthermore. & Kensinger. R.). thus have its origin in over-activated emotional mechanisms Spoormaker. 1. Psychotherapy dreaming allows the dreamer to take control of the dream. J. recent research has shown that REM sleep the aftermath of trauma and posttraumatic stress disor- strengthens especially negative emotional memories even in der. (1990). Lucid Dreaming: The power of Being Awake nal traumatic events quite directly. too (Valli & Revonsuo. gests that more attention should be paid to the PTSD night. patient to master their fear in the nightmares.g. 2009). Gackenbach. 611-615. should be substantially increased. International Journal of Dream Research . (2006). I. If LDT is found ress of PTSD. LDT shows promising line for PTSD symptom severity (Spoormaker & van den potential for the reduction of nightmare frequency. & McCreery. & van den Bout. K. LaBerge describes fear as one of the leading features of PTSD. G.IJoDR may in fact be a risk factor for developing and maintaining stead of being a helpless victim possibly contributes to the PTSD (Mellman & Hipolito. 11. 389-394. Stickgold. agement for future research to investigate the effect of LDT on PTSD with larger groups of diagnosed PTSD patients References and by using more intense lucidity interventions and longer American Psychiatric Association. 2. effectiveness of LDT should be compared to other cogni- tually diagnosed with PTSD. reduction of nightmares with LDT. van den Bout. suggest- the PTSD nightmares successfully (with e. C.A. Mellman. I. Payne. 23. More and better studies would be needed to establish mares as such. 2000). T. it might also be effective in re- develop into a disorder of its own. Psychological Science dreams of nontraumatized subjects.. this research PTSD symptoms during wakefulness. London: Routledge. H. only a few of the participants suffered from the appropriate patient populations. S. sleep-wake confusion.. No. (2006). However. According to DSM-IV. Lucid dreaming: Using nightmares and mares. Conversely. PTSD nightmares may be interpreted as the Revonsuo. directly exploring this possibility. International Journal of Dream evokes the immense feeling of fear. on the basis of this tive-restructuring techniques: larger sample sizes should be single study it is premature to draw any final conclusions on used and the intensity and length of the lucidity intervention the effectiveness of LDT on PTSD. (2008). The biological function is to preserve. Stickgold. fear is a key component of night. lated nightmares occur. 2000).

International Journal of Dream Research Volume 3. 181-186. Valli. New York: Plenum. P. IJoDR dreaming treatment for nightmares: a series of cases. 263-287). 50-55. LaBerge (Eds. A. L. Gacken- bach. (2009). Sleeping Brain (pp. The Ameri- can Journal of Psychology . (1997). 1 (2010) 15 . O. In J. Tholey. & Pihl. 13. & Revonsuo. A. K. Zadra. 17-38. & S. (1988). Psychotherapy and Psycho- somatics . The threat simulation theory in light of recent empirical evidence: a review. 66. R.. 122. Dreaming . Lucid dreaming as a treatment for recurrent nightmares. Conscious Mind.). A model for lucidity training as a means of self-healing and psychological growth. No..