Many people are surprised to learn that there are physical benefits of lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming has been shown to improve motor skills, which means it has the ability to help you with any physical activity, from playing the piano to athletic performance. It makes sense, because lucid dreams activate the brain in the same way as waking life. If you work on a math problem in your dream, for example, your left hemisphere is stimulated just as it would be during the day. If you sing in your dream, the right hemisphere is activated.
Dreaming Effects the Physical Body
What you do with your dream body has an effect on your physical body, which is why people can have a physical orgasm when their dream body has an orgasm, or why they wake up with their physical heart pounding when their dream heart was pounding from a nightmare. Dream researcher Daniel Erlacher says, “In one experiment we asked participants to dream about doing deep knee bends. Even though their bodies weren’t moving, their heart and respiration rates increased slightly as if they were exercising.” The extraordinary thing is that the effects from your nightly activity continue into the day. Training your dream body can train your physical body. For those with no time left during the day to do things, it’s like adding a night shift.
Lucid Dreaming Can Improve Physical Performance and Creativity
People are using lucid dreaming to get an edge on their competition. Researchers are working with it to treat PTSD. Sleep scientists in Germany are using it to enhance focus and performance in athletes. Actors, inventors, artists, writers, and musicians are increasingly practicing lucid dreaming to enhance creativity. The psychologist Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel writes, “The process of creation [is] accompanied by the capacity to communicate with the most primitive layers of the unconscious”[i]—layers of the unconscious that can be accessed in your dreams.
[i] “’Creative Writers and Day-dreaming’: A Commentary,” in On Freud’s “Creative Writers and Day-dreaming,” edited by Ethel Spector Person, Peter Fonagy, and Servulo Figueira (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 113.
A study in the Journal of Sports Science suggests that lucid dreaming can be used to help athletes improve their performance. Lucid dreaming researcher Kelley Bulkely offers four remarkable implications:
1) Lucid dreaming could provide a safe arena in which high-performance athletes can practice dangerous moves and risky routines, developing skills at the farthest edges of their abilities.
2) Lucid dreaming could provide injured athletes an opportunity to continue training and skill-building during their rehabilitation.
3) It could enable underprivileged athletes to engage in effective practice of their sports even if they have limited access to physical facilities.
4) Lucid dreaming could give athletes at all levels a powerful psychological means of focusing their minds for optimal game-day performance.
Want to get in some extra training, or grab an edge on the competition? You don’t always have to go back to the gym. Go back to bed. Here are some links and references that support these claims:
“Practicing Skills In Your Sleep Can Be as Effective as Physical Training” Big Think Derek Beres October 23, 2016
Dreaming in general has been connected to creativity for eons, and the literature is replete with examples. The German chemist Friedrich Kekule discovered the molecular structure of benzene in a dream; James Cameron’s dream of a robot-man eventually became the movie The Terminator; Robert Louis Stevenson came up with the plot for his novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a dream; and Paul McCartney’s song “Yesterday” came to him in a dream.
Lucid Dreams and Healing
This connection between dream body and physical body has the potential for lucid dreaming to be used for healing. I talked about this with Robert Waggoner in our interview posted in May (2019). In the Eastern view, the outer body is an expression of the inner subtle body. This inner subtle body is deeply connected with the dream body. Eastern medical systems target the subtle body with things like acupuncture and moxibustion in an effort to heal the gross physical body.
In the West, guided imagery is used to facilitate healing, as in the cancer work of Dr. Carl Simonton. He reports that patients who supplemented standard chemotherapy and radiation treatments with healing imagery survived on average twice as long as expected. Nowhere is imagery more potent, and therefore potentially transformative, than in a dream. In other words, the transformative power of the imagination is proportional to how real it feels, and there’s nothing more real in terms of the imagination than a vivid dream.
The Bengali poet Tagore wrote, “The stronger the imagination, the less imaginary the results.”
Dennis Jaffe MD and David Bresler MD write, “Mental imagery mobilizes the latent, inner powers of the person, which have immense potential to aid in the healing process and in the promotion of health.”
It’s too early to say for sure, but preliminary data suggests that you might be able to initiate self-healing by consciously visualizing the dream body as being healthy. If you can “heal” your dream body, to what extent will you also heal your physical body? One doctor published a paper about a patient with a twenty-two history of chronic pain who cured himself overnight with a single lucid dream. The psychiatrist Mauro Zappaterra says, “I’m no expert on lucid dreaming, but the man woke up with no pain. He said it was like his brain had shut down and rebooted. A few days later, he walks in in the VA pharmacy and actually returns his medication. To me that’s pretty convincing evidence.”
Saunders DT, Roe CA, Smith G, & Clegg H (2016). Lucid dreaming incidence: A quality effects meta-analysis of 50 years of research. Consciousness and Cognition, 43, 197-215 PMID: 27337287
Dresler M, Koch SP, Wehrle R, Spoormaker VI, Holsboer F, Steiger A, Sämann PG, Obrig H, & Czisch M (2011). Dreamed movement elicits activation in the sensorimotor cortex. Current biology : CB, 21 (21), 1833-7 PMID: 22036177
Stumbrys, T, Erlacher D, & Schredl M (2016). Effectiveness of motor practice in lucid dreams: a comparison with physical and mental practice. Journal of sports sciences, 34 (1), 27-34 PMID: 25846062