Something we see all the time is people wondering if lucid dreaming is safe. The thing about lucid dreaming is that there are a whole lot of different ways that people have tried to make it happen, and some of them can have negative consequences to your health. With that said, the most common questions we see take this to be a bit of an extreme by asking things like, “Can you die from lucid dreaming?,” and, “Can lucid dreaming kill you?”
Generally speaking, the answer to both of those is no. However, we do want to stress that some approaches can be harmful, especially for people with preexisting mental health issues. In the following, we’re going to take a look at what we meant by this and what some of the available evidence shows us.
Point Blank: How Dangerous is Lucid Dreaming?
Back in 2019, a paper came out titled “Is It a Good Idea to Cultivate Lucid Dreaming?” In this paper, they looked at three primary issues that could cause problems for people doing lucid dreaming work. Those problems were as follows:
- Sleep disruption from induction approaches
- Changes in cerebral state during lucid dreaming
- Sleep disruption from increased lucid dreaming frequencies
It’s important that nowhere in this paper did any lucid dreaming death concerns become apparent. However, the goal was to answer some potential questions for those who want to know is lucid dreaming harmful. Along these lines, we’ll look at their findings in each of these three potential problem areas.
Sleep Disruption From Induction Approaches
A common lucid dreaming technique is called MILD, or mnemonic induction of lucid dreams. While there exist a myriad of variations under the MILD umbrella, the key thing to recognize is that they virtually all involve forcing yourself awake at different intervals. Here’s what Vallat and Ruby had to say about that.
Such stimulation is intrinsically associated with the risk of awakening (or arousing) the participants, and thus of decreasing sleep depth, disrupting sleep architecture and/or shortening sleep duration.
They continued by tying in the fact that a lot of people suggest using different substances along with MILD-based techniques:
Several substances have also been used to stimulate LD… In this case, in addition to the previously mentioned risk, there is also the risk of disturbing the balance between the serotonergic and cholinergic systems which are jointly involved in regulating sleep. Disturbing this balance may impact sleep structure integrity…
In this way, they identified two different ways that sleep could be disrupted from commonly discussed techniques. While we don’t recommend these methods specifically, a lot of people do. In that way, if you’re asking how dangerous is lucid dreaming, the answer they’re giving us here is that it depends on the methods you use.
Cerebral State Changes in Lucid Dreaming
As it turns out, the little bit of data we do have indicates cerebral state changes during lucid dreaming. Consider the following:
In a pioneering EEG study, Voss et al. (2009) succeeded in recording the brain activity of three dreamers while they were experiencing a lucid dream. They observed an increased activity in the gamma frequency band in the frontal lobe in lucid rapid eye movement (REM) sleep as compared to non-lucid REM sleep and concluded that LD constitutes a hybrid state of consciousness in-between sleep and wake (Hobson, 2009)…
While the amount of evidence we have indicates that there are changes in cerebral activity, we don’t really know if that has negative effects, which they elaborate on in the following:
This study encouraged people to use tACS to induce LD, which again raises questions about safety notably of chronically using a method that affect cortical electrical activity (there are currently no clinical information on chronic or repeated use of tACS).
So this is one of those things that we don’t really know about just yet. However, we like for lucid dreamers to be informed of the potential risks so that they can make their own decisions that are right for themselves.
Sleep Disruption From Lucid Dreaming More Frequently
This third issue is more of a hypothetical one as well because they don’t really know what the effects are. The writers of this paper elaborate on this point:
…one may still wonder what is the impact of “replacing” a regular sleep stage by a hybrid sleep stage on general health and notably on the function of sleep, given the well-known involvement of good sleep in good health and especially of REM sleep in emotional regulation and memory consolidation…
Again, they don’t really know, but it’s definitely something they think should be a consideration when trying to answer general questions like, “Is lucid dreaming harmful?”
The Bottom Line: Can Lucid Dreaming Kill You?
Probably not. Can you die from lucid dreaming? Unless you use some technique that is completely irresponsible like ingesting chemicals that you don’t know the origins of, then it seems unlikely.
While lucid dream death doesn’t really seem like it’s a concern, the authors of this paper did come to an important conclusion: Any lucid dreaming methods that require you to take substances or wake yourself up repeatedly probably aren’t going to do you any favors.
What’s more is that there aren’t really any reasons to do these things anyway. Approaches like the DILD technique get a lot of positive talk because they work, they’re easy to use, and they don’t require you to do anything like the above. If you want to explore lucid dreaming, that’s where we suggest you start for these reasons and more.
- Vallat, R., & Ruby, P. M. (2019). Is It a Good Idea to Cultivate Lucid Dreaming?. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2585. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02585
- Hobson, A. (2009). The Neurobiology of Consciousness: Lucid Dreaming Wakes Up. International Journal of Dream Research, 2(2), 41–44. https://doi.org/10.11588/ijodr.2009.2.403
- Voss, U., Holzmann, R., Hobson, A. et al. Induction of self awareness in dreams through frontal low current stimulation of gamma activity. Nat Neurosci 17, 810–812 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3719
Jesse G. is a long-time fan of the esoteric in all of its forms and its effects on performance, happiness and stress in a variety of people. His work centers primarily around allowing people to use a variety of areas to figure out what works best for them as individuals.