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Running head: The Effects of Lucid Dreaming on the Frequency of Nightmares

The Effects of Lucid Dreaming on the Frequency of Nightmares


Six patients were offered treatment with the major focus on alleviating nightmares. Three patients were treated through lucid dream training paired with psychotherapy and three were treated through psychotherapy only. Of sixty-eight non-psychotic patients seen in a psychiatry emergency room these six individuals volunteered to participate in our study. The benefits of the skills developed through lucid dream training extended from the alleviation of nightmares into other dynamics of the individuals life. The lucid dreaming technique we chose to use beared successful results in reduction of the severity, frequency, intensity and degree of disturbance of the nightmares. We suggest that further research be done to use lucid dreaming as an adjunctive treatment for patients with nightmares and may also be a useful technique in psychotherapy as well.

The Effects of Lucid Dreaming on the Frequency of Nightmares

The purpose of this study will be to explore the potential effectiveness of applying lucid dreaming techniques as the treatment for recurring nightmares. We have gathered much research suggesting that lucid dreaming should be significantly beneficial to those persons suffering from recurrent nightmares. Lucid dreaming may be able to give clients a new insight into overcoming their own fears with this self-healing technique. This rather new technique will not only help alleviate the nightmares a client experiences, but it will also enhance their self-esteem and self-confidence. Lucid dreaming has proven to be a very rewarding technique used to treat several problems associated with the psychological aspects of one’s world.

A growing body of research has indicated the technique known as lucid dreaming can be used to reduce the frequency and severity of nightmares in an individual. We will define lucid dreaming as follows: ” lucid dreaming is an altered state of consciousness, in which one is aware that one is dreaming” (Abramovitch, 1995, p.141) Nightmares, in reference to our study, will be defined as “vivid and terrifying dreams which arouse the dreamer from sleep.”(Abramovitch, 1995, p. 140). Being that such dreams are not due to another mental disorder or some other identifiable physiological effects or medical conditions(Abramovitch, 1995, p.140)

In recent literature, several authors have suggested various psychological benefits that may be obtained through lucid dreaming (LaBerge, 1985; Brylowski, 1990; Zadra & Pihl 1997) The notion that lucid dreaming may be of benefit in a clinical context, especially in the treatment of nightmares, is not new. In the past decade, several papers have been written concerning the clinical utility of lucid dreaming. Unfortunately few controlled studies have been conducted in the effects of lucid dreaming on the frequency of nightmares.

LaBerge (1985) has made several reports on nightmares becoming lucid through extensive training, thereby changing the course of the dream from a negative to a positive direction. Similar accounts are contained in LaBerge and Rheingold’s (1990) book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming.

Halliday has been involved in two case studies in which he successfully treated recurrent nightmares by applying lucid dreaming techniques during nightmares and attempting to alter the scenery within the dream. In an article written by Brylowski (1990), he reports the case of a client with a case history of major depression, borderline personality disorder, and nightmares. The client experienced nightmares between one and four times per week. Brylowski used the technique of lucid dreaming as therapeutic intervention with his client and in turn assisted the client in reducing the frequency and severity of the nightmares.

Tholey (1988) describes what he calls the “self-healing program ” based upon his research of lucidity training. The program “contains guidelines on (1) in the techniques for inducing and ending lucid dreams, (2) on methods for incubating and manipulating the contents of lucid dreams, (3) on the appropriate behavior regarding resistance (such as ‘defense’ or ‘avoidance’ mechanisms), and (4) on helpful principles for interaction with other dream figures” (Tholey, 1988 pp. 272-273). Tholey reports his program to be successful in the treatment of recurrent nightmares as well as improving other symptoms the client may be suffering such as anxiety, shyness, and social adjustment difficulties.

In this study we have attempted to identify that lucid dreaming is beneficial in the treatment of clients suffering from frequent nightmares. It was assumed that the techniques developed by well known researchers in the field of lucid dreaming will provide a more holistic, self-healing response within the individual undergoing treatment for nightmares than the use of more evasive techniques such as drug therapy, shock therapy, and neurosurgery. Study the effects of lucid dreaming on the severity and frequency of nightmares is a very important step that must be taken in order to provide support for the technique as a beneficial tool in the psychiatric field.



Six of the 68 non-psychotic patients, who were seen in a psychiatry emergency room during the midnight shift over a three month period who reported nightmares volunteered to participate in our study. The clients case history was organized in the context of a crisis intervention format. An attempt was mad to put the current situation in perspective by reinforcing positive past and current experiences, developing short and long range plans. Each client was asked to report his/her dream and nightmare experiences. Volunteers were paid for their participation and treated in accordance with the “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct ” (American Psychological Association, 1992).

Design and Procedures

An eighteen week contract was negotiated with three of the individuals for lucid dream therapy of nightmares with the following stipulated: ” (1) A dream/nightmare journal was to be kept and brought to therapy each week, (2) The mnemonic induction of lucid dreaming (MILD) technique was given to” (Brylowski, 1990 p.80) each individual “to be practiced each night, and instructed to read the book, Lucid Dreaming, by S.P. LaBerge. MILD is technique in which the person repeats before falling asleep ‘The next time that I’m dreaming I want to remember to realize that I’m dreaming.’ This has been reported to increase the frequency of lucid dreams.” (Brylowski, 1990, p.80) Each individual ” was told that the MILD technique could be modified when any recurrent dream themes were identified. A modified MILD inserts the theme as an added cue to remember to realize that you are dreaming, i.e. ‘The next time I’m dreaming about (recurrent theme) I want to remember to realize that I’m dreaming” (Brylowski, 1990, p. 80), and (3) ” Connections of dream content with current or developmental issues could be noted but we would focus on resolving the fear and terror of the nightmares.” (Brylowski, 1990, p.80).

A second contract was negotiated with the remaining three clients who were used as control group. This contract consisted of step one and three as noted above with the experimental group but omitted the mnemonic induction of lucid dreaming (MILD) technique.

Each individual was scheduled weekly for psychotherapy with a trained professional to record data. “Through Socratic questioning” (Brylowski 1990, p.80) each individual in the experimental group, was helped to deal with his/her dreams as “internal constructs that need not be feared but could be used as tools for cultivating lucidity and understanding” (Brylowski, 1990, p. 80) oneself. The recognition that “this is a dream” was used to reinforce the client that they were already in bed and safe from harm. The core of the therapy “was cultivating dream lucidity in an effort to prevent the reemergence of nightmares and to maintain access to intrapsychic matters.” (Brylowski, 1990, p.80). “The rationale for this treatment is as follows: by repeatedly rehearsing the recurrent dream together with a task which is intentionally carried out at a preselected salient point in the dream, the subject will remember to carry out the task when the recurrent dream occurs.” (Zadra & Pihl, 1997 p. 51).


Those participants in the experimental group yielded a positive outcome from the lucid dream training as treatment for their recurrent nightmares. The alleviation of frequent nightmares in these three cases parallels the results reported by other authors who have used lucid dreaming to treat nightmares. (Zandra & Pihl, 1997). Although the control group was not given the benefit of lucid dream training, the participants did make some positive strides in dealing with their nightmares through psychotherapy.

The results of our study support the idea that treatments based on lucid dream induction can be of therapeutic value. Even in the three cases where lucid dreaming was not applied, the subjects clearly made some improvement. This eighteen week period reported,” covering 24 sessions of psychotherapy, was helpful by: “(Brylowski, 1990)

(1) lowering dream anxiety in the crisis period thereby helping to create hope and faith for a resolution of their crisis state.

(2) re-establishing a relatively stable lifestyle.

(3) identifying a number of core psychological issues that needed further attention.

(4) reinforcing use of rationalization, intellectualization, and cognition through the approach used in the dream work.

(5) developing the capacity to master reactions to intrapsychic conflicts.

(6) demonstrating experientially that cognition’s con sometimes affect emotional arousal.

(7) enhancing therapeutic rapport to maintain motivation for staying in therapy.

” The overall effect was to prepare the patient for a more dynamically -oriented psychotherapy where” (Brylowski, 1990, p.82) they could begin to work through other life stressors and understand their effect on current behavior, “with the goal of furthering continued personal growth” (Brylowski, 1990, p.82).


We began researching this topic to come to a particular conclusion that lucid dream training can be beneficial in the treatment of frequent and severe nightmares. Our study has yielded positive results. ” Approximately 5-7% of adults report a current problem with nightmares…more recent studies indicate that the prevalence may be considerably higher(Zadra & Pihl, 1997, p. 50) “Though the prevalence of recurrent nightmares has not been specifically investigated, thier occurence has been documented in a variety of individuals including otherwise normal clients, victims of sexual assault or abuse, psychosomatic patients, and war veterans” (Zadra & Pihl, 1997, p. 50). These statistics provide us with a wide array of individuals which may benefit from lucid dream induction.

As discussed by Tholey(1988), the ability to become lucid in one’s anxiety dreams can lead to important insights for both the client and the therapist. “Dream lucidity can give rise to positive psychological elements which carry over into waking life”(Zadra & Pihl, 1997, p.54).

” The direct, cognitive, goal-oriented approach to the patient’s dream life served many direct and indirect functions:” (Brylowski 1990, p.83) 1.) directly affected in a brief period of time was the frequency and intensity of nightmares, through the introduction of lucidity and the adaptive behavior of the dream ego which it made possible, 2.) Socratic questioning, assumption testing, self-reflection (all initially learned for application to the dream life) had applicability in waking life.

This study has yielded positive results in the favor of our hypothesis. Lucid dreaming techniques applied as treatment for frequent and severe nightmares has considerably helped the three cases noted above. It still remains unclear whether the effects of lucid dreaming alone is the primary factor for alleviation of the nightmares being that so many other intrinsic and extrinsic factors exist within the lives of the participants. “Nonspecific factors such as disclosure, placebo effects, and exposure to the nightmares in the waking state may contribute to observed reductions in nightmare frequency and associated distress” (Kellner, 1992, p.661). “Furthermore, there is some evidence to indicate that simply recording one’s nightmares can lead to a decrease in nightmare frequency”(Zadra & Pihl, 1997, p.54)


Abramovitch, H. The nightmare of returning home: A case of acute onset nightmare

disorder treated by lucid dreaming. The Isreal Journal of Psychiatry & Related Sciences. 1995;32(2):140-145.

Brylowski, A. Nightmares in crisis: Clinical applications of lucid dreaming techniques. Psychiatric Journal of the University of Ottawa.1990;15(2):79-84.

Kellner, R. Neidhardt, J. Krakow, B. Pathak, D. Changes in chronic nightmares after one session of desensitization or rehearsal instructions. American Journal of Psychiatry 1992;149:659-663.

LaBerge, S.P. Lucid Dreaming. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1985.

Tholey, P.A model for lucidity training as means of self-healing and psychological growth; in Gackenbach J, LaBerge S (eds.): Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain. New York, Plenum Press, 1988, pp 262-290.

Zadra, A. Pihl, R. Lucid dreaming as treatment for recurrent nightmares. Psychotherapy & Psychosomatics. 1997; 66:50-55.

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