Comparison of dreams with waking consciousness has traditionally focused on claims that the dreaming mind maintains only a simple awareness of perception and emotion, but lacks the self-reflective awareness and metacognition, that is, awareness of one`s current state of consciousness, which is assumed in wake. Lucid dreams are distinct in that the dreamer does have insight into the present state of consciousness, and is able to maintain some awareness of the fact that they are dreaming, along with a varying degree of control over their thoughts, actions, and dream qualities. While this distinction is tied to the dream state, the truth is that even in waking we often wander around in a state of semi-consciousness, simply perceiving and experiencing emotions as they arise without affording much reflective awareness or attention to the present moment.
The practice of mindfulness is aimed at improving an individual`s capacity to maintain awareness of the present moment, with an open and non-judgemental mind, and to diminish automatic habits of mind-wandering and other auto-pilot behaviors. Evidence shows that increased mindfulness is associated with enhanced well-being and decreased negative rumination. Relating to dreams, mindfulness has been shown to be inversely related to dream anxiety and negative dream quality (Simor, Koteles, Sandor, Petke, & Bodizs, 2011). Taken together, by improving attention to the present moment`s consciousness while cultivating an accepting attitude, mindfulness may similarly increase the likelihood and frequency of lucid dream experiences, a dream state characterized by both awareness and positivity. The authors, Stumbrys, Erlacher, and Malinowski (2015), recently set out to test this relationship.
The main measure for assessing mindfulness was the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI; Walach, Buchheld, Buttenmuller, Kleinknecht, & Schmidt, 2004), which measures two interrelated factors of Acceptance and Presence, using 14 items on a 4 point scale. Acceptance refers to the accepting and appreciative attitude towards experience, while Presence refers to sustaining full awareness of experience as it is happening. Presence has been linked to improvements in a wide range of cognitive abilities, perhaps due to the role of cognitive control in maintaining focused attention and continuously monitoring the stream of consciousness. While mindfulness training does not explicitly aim to enhance awareness in the dreaming state, there are many traditions which have linked cultivating awareness in wake with lucid dreaming at night; lucid dreaming itself has even been considered an ideal state for meditative awareness (particularly in Tibetan and Toaist Dream Yoga traditions). Further, while many meditation practices do not specifically define mindfulness, they often have similar aims of promoting awareness and acceptance. Thus, the authors investigated a potential influence of prior meditation practice, even those not explicitly defined as mindfulness practices, on lucid dream frequency.
528 participants (290 men, 238 women) recruited through a German lucid dreaming website responded to an online questionnaire regarding dreaming, meditation, and mindfulness. Both dream recall frequency and lucid dream recall frequency (defined as a dream where `one is aware that one is dreaming during the dream`) were estimated per week. Participants were asked if they had any meditation experience, for how long they had practiced, and estimated how many hours per week they practiced. Lastly, they completed the aforementioned Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory questionnaire.
The main findings of the study showed that participants who reported having prior meditation experience also reported higher lucid dream frequency, with approximately 4.28 vs 2.55 lucid dreams per month. Further, those having meditation experience also reported higher FMI mindfulness scores. Specifically, years of experience and hours of practice per week were correlated with mindfulness scores. The authors conducted more complex analyses to extricate the mediating role of meditation on the relationship between mindfulness and lucid dreaming. What they found was, only in those subjects who have prior meditation experience was there a significant correlation between FMI mindfulness score and lucid dreaming frequency. Those subjects without meditation experience showed no relationship between FMI score and lucid dream frequency.
Thus, their hypotheses were partially confirmed; individual mindfulness is positively related to lucid dream frequency but only in those subjects who practice meditation. Further, these individuals report higher mindfulness and lucid dreaming frequency in general than people without meditation experience. The authors conclude that “higher awareness cultivated during daytime is also reflected in higher awareness of one`s mental states while dreaming.” Future research may seek to delineate which types of meditation practice are most directly influential on dreaming, and perhaps in the future, the possibilities of practicing meditation even from within the lucid dream state.
Michelle Carr, Ph.D, is a researcher at Swansea University Sleep Laboratory. She holds a PhD in Biomedical Science from the University of Montreal, where she conducted research at the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory. Prior to that, she received dual degrees, a BS in Brain and Cognitive Science and a BA in Psychology, from the University of Rochester in 2010. Her work focuses on the role of REM sleep and dreams in emotional memory, along with comparative studies of nightmare disorder and PTSD. Other research interests include sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming, consciousness studies, and the use of dreamwork in psychology.
Simor, P., Koeteles, F., Sandor, P., Petke, Z., & Bodizs, R. (2011). Mindfulness and dream quality: the inverse relationship between mindfulness and negative dream affect. Scandinavian journal of psychology, 52(4), 369-375.
Stumbrys, T., Erlacher, D., & Malinowski, P. (2015). Meta-Awareness During Day and Night The Relationship Between Mindfulness and Lucid Dreaming.Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 34(4), 415-433.
Walach, H., Buchheld, N., Buttenmüller, V., Kleinknecht, N., & Schmidt, S. (2006). Measuring mindfulness—the Freiburg mindfulness inventory (FMI).Personality and Individual Differences, 40(8), 1543-1555.