Are you aware of the concept of lucid dreaming? Maybe you’ve heard about the nightmarish fugue states where people are unable to move as a ghostly/demon being looks at them. That’s lucid dreaming in a nutshell, but it goes so much deeper than that. The official definition of lucid dreaming according to MedicineNet is “the process of being aware that one is dreaming. Some researchers believe that in lucid dreaming, the individual may be able to change the outcome of the dream or control their degree of participation in the imaginary (dream) environment” (Stöppler). Nonetheless, how does any of this relate to chronic illness?
First, we need to learn a bit more about lucid dreaming. Scientists have discovered that this type of dreaming occurs during REM sleep where the brain is more awake. With a test subject, the dreams happened most frequently in the early morning and towards the end of a round of eye movements that happen periodically during REM sleep. Studies done on this type of dreaming have shown that there are several ways in which one “reaches” a lucid state in a dream. Sometimes there is a heightened level of anxiety that leads up to it. Other times, the dreamer just realizes that there is something odd about the situation and therefore concludes that they are dreaming. It all has to do with the higher amount of arousal. Scientists do not know everything about why lucid dreaming happens, but they are able to concur that it is in fact, a real phenomenon.
What does chronic illness have to do with any of this? Hang on, I’m getting there. It has been well documented that those with chronic illnesses most often do not get restful sleep. Painsomnia as the term has been coined, makes it harder for a person in pain to go to sleep, even though they are very tired. Chronic illness creates a sleeping period where one is more awakened than someone without said illness. Another thing to state about chronic illness is the psychological effects. “The toll it can take on your body is bound to affect your ability to cope with psychological and emotional stress” (Lindberg, Sara). The depression and anxiety it puts on a person when fearing another flare for example, is huge. Chronic illness clearly has a big impact on a person’s sleep and mental health.
Now where do these connect? For one, the higher amount of wakefulness alone, should make one with chronic illness a lot more likely to have lucid dreams. While this has not been studied to my knowledge, it does make sense. Second, they both share anxiety and stress as a factor. If you think about someone with chronic illness going to sleep with a constant source of anxiety in their life, it is understandable that they would be more prone to having lucid dreams. Also, lucid dreaming in those who did not normally experience it, were noted as being “sleep deprived, stressed, drugged or physically exhausted” (Reality Sandwich). I would say chronic illness fits all those boxes. Are you starting to see the connection?
Now what? Well lucid dreaming has been shown to be a useful tool in helping to heal your mind. As chronic illness takes such a toll on our mental health, being able to have a say in the situation, or to “fight back”, is beneficial. Using myself as an example, I have had very vivid nightmarish dreams for years. It wasn’t until recently that I found myself realizing I was dreaming and was able to deescalate the situation. Our subconscious takes all our stress, experiences, etc. out in the night for our brain to deal with. So if we have a higher chance of being able to help the process so to speak, it brings a real benefit to us. Lucid dreaming just might be our back door in to healing our mind.
Thank you for reading this article today! What do you think? Do you experience lucid dreaming? Subscribe for more great content and I’ll see you next time, my Un-imaginables!
Lindberg, Sara. “How a Chronic Illness Affects Your Mental Health.” Patient.info, patient.info/news-and-features/how-a-chronic-illness-affects-your-mental-health.
“Lucid Dreaming and Mental Illness.” Reality Sandwich, realitysandwich.com/164556/lucid_dreaming_and_mental_illness/.
“Lucid Dreaming: Awake in Your Sleep?” Dr Susan Blackmore, 30 May 2017, http://www.susanblackmore.uk/articles/lucid-dreaming-awake-in-your-sleep/.
Stöppler, Melissa Conrad. “Definition of Lucid Dreaming.” MedicineNet, http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=156169.
Turner, Rebecca. “12 Amazing Benefits of Lucid Dreaming.” World of Lucid Dreaming, http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/12-amazing-benefits-of-lucid-dreaming.html.
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