Lucid Nightmares Explained: 3 Steps To Avoid Vivid Nightmares

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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. It feels like you’re very aware of the nightmare, and almost like you’re trapped inside it. 

But don’t worry:

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.

A scary lucid nightmare

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 playtime 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.

But it can be a good thing:

Sometimes lucid nightmares can be our bodies or minds trying to TELL us something. Dreams have been known to act almost like health warnings in some cases.

REPEATED or recurring 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.

A nightmare man holding a needle

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 we have lucid nightmares?

As with any nightmares, they’re more likely to pop up during those times when you’re particularly stressed. This is why people who are pregnant can have more nightmares too. 

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.

There are several ways of turning lucid nightmares into beautiful vivid NORMAL or LUCID dreams however: 

Making the most of nightmares

As crazy as it might sound, although lucid nightmares may be incredibly frightening, you can actually use them to your advantage.

Being chased in a nightmare

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 actually 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 likely.

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. Even if you DO have them, they’re also pretty easy to avoid or stop, if you know how.

Most lucid dreamers experience dreams 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, because not many people actually enjoy nightmares.

1: Have a good sleep routine

Simply having a good and consistent sleeping routine can help avoid 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 unhealthy.

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’). Also make sure to 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 (but overall BETTER) solution, would be to master control of your dreams and learn lucid dream control.

2: Lucid dream to control them

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.

An example of controlling a dream and avoiding a nightmare

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.

3: Avoid scary stimuli

Things like scary movies, negative messages and violent themes can all influence your dreams and nightmares.

Try and avoid exposing yourself to those sorts of things, especially before bed. It’s very common to watch scary movies just before bed because they feel scarier, but by doing that you make nightmares more likely. If you don’t want lucid nightmares, try doing those things at other times.

There are also lots of negative messages and themes on the news. I stopped watching the news and most TV, and now only watch positive documentaries, and interesting or entertaining films and series on things like Netflix. This way I’m much more in control of the messages I consume. 

I actually STOPPED watching horror movies a while ago because the negative messages I felt were doing damage to my mindset, attitude and subconscious mind. You don’t have to be that extreme but if you DO watch horror movies, try and watch them earlier.

Or what you could do is to watch them and then JUST before bed watch something really funny or happy. This will make the last thing you think about happy and positive, so you’re less likely to have a scary dream. 

Why you shouldn’t care about nightmares

Whilst they are horrible, and might ruin your night, they’re not actually something you should worry about at all. 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.

Can you have a lucid nightmare?

Yes, it’s very possible to have a lucid nightmare.

A lucid nightmare simply happens when you’re aware of the fact you’re dreaming but your dream is still scary or uncomfortable. This can happen for a number of reasons but it’s usually because you’re not lucid ENOUGH or you didn’t do a full reality check. 

Lucid nightmares can easily be avoided but they are quite uncommon. If you are unlucky enough to be having regular lucid nightmares, read some of the tips in this article and practice more awareness and dream control methods.

Can you get stuck in a lucid dream?

Well, technically you’re not STUCK, you’re just dreaming when you don’t want to be dreaming. This experience can be referred to as a lucid nightmare or a dream trap but it’s nothing to worry about.

Normally, these sorts of scary dreams end in a few minutes but you can end them faster by closing your eyes and keeping them closed. 

I’m having lucid nightmares every night

If you’re having lucid nightmares every single night, there’s likely a few things you’re doing wrong. Firstly, make sure to sleep on time and get about 8-9 hours every single night, even on weekends. 

Next, make sure you’re doing reality checks, not watching scary movies, and only taking in positive messages and media. Watching the news all the time will put thoughts of fear and anger in your mind, so turn off your TV!

Beyond that, think of this as a good thing. You’re able to REMEMBER dreams (even if they are nightmares) every single night! Turn that dream recall into a good thing by learning to have lucid dreams instead. Most people WISH they could remember their dreams even once!

My lucid dreaming nightmare

There have been several times where I’ve been STUCK inside a lucid dream, and it’s nothing good, trust me. I’ve been a lucid dreamer for years and I’ve tried all sorts of things in the dream space. 

One of the more interesting things I’ve done in the past is to actually TRY and induce nightmares. I used to be a big horror fan, and my curiosity wanted to experience really scary things for REAL in a dream. 

So I induced nightmares but pat of that process stayed with me for a while afterwards, and I ended up being trapped in random unplanned lucid nightmares. It felt very scary and I felt like I couldn’t easily control them.

Then I did some more experimenting with this and found the following things worked really well: 

  • If you hold your eyes closed, the nightmare usually ends fast
  • You’re more likely to have a nightmare if you’re REALLY deeply asleep
  • You’re more likely to have a nightmare if you watch a scary movie before bed
  • If you stay up super late, you guessed it.. nightmares
  • Eating cheese has an effect but not as big as people think
  • Almost any nightmare COULD be turned into a lucid dream if you manage to reality check properly

It was very scary when I was essentially stuck inside a lucid nightmare, but I managed to experiment and figure out some things that would end the experience. You can do your own experimenting, but I’d suggest trying the things above.

How to avoid nightmares

Nobody likes nightmares but there are some steps you can take to become more in control of what you dream about. These things and tips will help you avoid lucid nightmares and other annoying experiences. 

  • Learn to reality check first thing: By doing a reality check first thing in the morning, you avoid things like lucid nightmares long term, and also false awakening loops which can get very frustrating
  • Keep a dream journal: I can’t stress enough how important it actually is to write your dreams down. It helps with dream recall, lucid dreaming and even reducing nightmares
  • Learn the easiest way of lucid dreaming: A very simple guide I wrote showing you the easiest way to start lucid dreaming
  • Improve your sleep quality: By getting better quality sleep, you’re much less likely to have nightmares