Lucid dreams aren’t something we usually fear, we enjoy them, we want them. But when a dream becomes a nightmare, suddenly lucidity doesn’t seem that desirable anymore.

What are lucid nightmares?

A lucid nightmare is just a lucid dream, only it’s a lot darker and can be quite terrifying. Like a lucid dream, you’re aware that what you’re seeing isn’t real, you know you’re dreaming. Only difference is that the wonder is gone, you don’t want it to carry on or see how it plays out, you want to wake up and be done with the nightmare.

Lucid nightmare that you can't escape

Even though you know it’s a dream, your aware state of mind just makes the nightmare more vivid, it will feel more real than any other ordinary nightmare.

Some people have the ability to control their lucid dreams, but usually in lucid nightmares that power is lost, and you can only watch, aware but powerless. So you can see how these might be more scary than regular bad dreams.

Why do we have lucid nightmares?

When we dream, it’s almost like time to shine for our unconscious mind. If you think of dreams as our minds sorting through our thoughts, it makes sense that sometimes fears or anxieties are brought into our dreams by our unconscious. The nightmares may be about things we don’t even realise we’re stressed or worried about, or even scared of.

Sometimes lucid nightmares can be our bodies trying to tell us something, instead of our minds. Dreams have been know to act almost like health warnings. Repeated nightmares that show us images or scenarios that relate to health issues or diseases can be a way of our bodies trying to make us aware that something is wrong.

I know, I know, sounds like something to be dubious about, but it’s something that’s been acknowledged by doctors and medical professionals, and led to the diagnosis of several people before it’s too late. So don’t dismiss lucid nightmares too quickly, they are scary but they can have a purpose!

When do they happen?

As with any nightmares, they’re more likely to pop up during those times when you’re particularly stressed. Let’s take exam season for example, I’m sure almost all of you have had bad dreams in the run up to that dreaded exam, dreams of sitting it or dreams of the result. These things play on our minds, and it’s no different when we’re asleep.

If you’ve experienced trauma of any kind, you might also find yourself in lucid nightmares, people with PTSD often find their sleep terrorised by horrific dreams with manifested memories of traumatic events. You don’t have to let them characterise your nights sleep though..

Make the most of them

As crazy as it might sound, although lucid nightmares may be incredibly frightening, you can actually use them to your advantage. If you know it’s a dream, try and look past the fear of it and maybe you’ll realise something that’s been playing on the back of your mind, something you didn’t know was bothering you. Maybe an issue you can address in real life.

You might be desperate to wake up, but letting the dream play out might actually make you feel better in the long run. Facing your fears in your dreams can lessen the terror of similar real life situations and also make future nightmares less frequent.

Change your view of the dream, and you might even enjoy the nightmare. We all watch horror movies every now and then, we like the thrill. Watch the dream as you would a movie, detach yourself from it, you know its not real!

Think of Stephen King (a famous lucid dreamer), I’m sure his dreams are probably darker than most, they might not even end well, but he makes something of them, books and films, so we can enjoy the terror he felt. Our dreams can be entertaining.

How to stop having lucid nightmares

The good news is that lucid nightmares are actually quite unusual. More often than not, if we slip into a nightmare after a lucid dream, we lose consciousness, even if before the nightmare began we had both awareness and control.

Most lucid dreamers experience lucidity without any terror at all. In fact, lucidity is often used to battle night terrors, not induce them. But in the rare cases where we remain lucid in our nightmares, you probably want to know how to stop them, just in case you don’t fancy sitting them out.

Simply having a good and consistent sleeping routine can sort out lucid nightmares. If they’ve become regular the likelihood is that it’s because you’re not getting enough sleep, or your sleeping pattern has become irregular.

Make sure you  go to bed at a reasonable time (though I know sometimes it can be tempting to stay up for ‘one more game’ or ‘one more episode’) and sleep in a dark room, this way you should get a decent nights rest and hopefully you’ll be free from both tiredness and nightmares.

Perhaps a more difficult solution, would be to master control of your dreams. If you can already control your lucid dreams, it’s just a small step to transferring that control to nightmares. It would just take more practice and focus. If you haven’t ever controlled a dream though, it might be a bit more difficult or take a little longer, but once you’ve mastered it your nightmares shouldn’t be an issue anymore.

They’ll be yours to manipulate. Part of the fear of lucid nightmares is the feeling of being powerless, and just having to watch, but control the situation, and you become more than a spectator. You can think of yourself as the film director of your dreams. If none of that works for you, there’s always the age old technique of shouting at yourself to wake up in your dream. If you’re aware, it might just work.

Why they’re nothing to worry about

Whilst they are horrible, and might ruin your night, they’re not actually something you should worry about. Obviously if they become regular and start to affect your sleep then it would be worth stopping them and regaining your rest. But there are some benefits, look back to the ‘health warning’ dreams, they could save lives!

They can also help you learn more about yourself, you can understand your fears through nightmares, and even face them. And even if you don’t manage to confront your fears, and the nightmare just continues, you haven’t lost anything, remember it’s not real.