Sleep Science Friday: Lucid Dreaming


21 May 2021


Lucid dreaming happens when you become aware that you’re dreaming. It is a conscious phenomenon that occurs during sleep, that explores (or pushes) the boundaries between dreams and reality. Much more studies are needed on this, as research has only given a small amount of understanding so far. 

Prof. Brigitte Holzinger, Director of the Institute for Consciousness and Dream Research and Founding Member of the Austrian Sleep Research Association is a pioneer and expert in the field of lucid dreaming. She speaks with ESRS’s Dr. Lyudmila Korostovtseva on this topic – specifically addressing:

  • Techniques to communicate with lucid dreamers 
  • Who can have lucid dreams and can this be trained? 
  • Application of lucid dreams as a treatment for sleep disorders 


Communicating with a lucid dreamer 

Prof. Holzinger has been studying lucid dreaming extensively since 1988 with Stephen LaBerge and Lynne Levitan. Most impressively, she recalls being able to communicate with a sleeping dreamer – which many still don’t understand how it is even possible, even though it was achieved using Stephen LaBerge’s technique. 

His technique involved training volunteers to ask themselves whether or not they were dreaming, whenever they perceived light and consciously communicate with the researchers using pre-determined eye-signals, while still asleep (in a lucid dream state). 


Many didn’t believe much in lucid dreaming which delayed the publication of her paper on lucid dreaming until 20 years after the project.

More recent research from Prof. Holzinger considers lucid dreaming as a different state of consciousness – where the level of perception is heightened as the dreamers questions the narrative of the dream, and sometimes changing the narrative itself. 


Lucid Dreaming – Is It for Everyone? 

Lucid dreaming is most suited to who are fond of dreams, remembers dreams well and keep a dream diary. 

While Stephen LaBerge claims that everyone can have lucid dreams, Prof. Holzinger agrees only to an extent. She suggests that it might be easier for younger people as they have more flexible schedules, more time to sleep and aren’t so much entrenched in daily life. Therefore, they have more “psychological energy” to concentrate on lucid dreaming.  

She does not recommend lucid dreaming for everyone, especially if one has trouble with reality or the recognition of reality. This should only be undertaken under the guidance of a psychotherapist or psychologist trained in (lucid) dream work. 


Whether or not people can become dependent or addicted to lucid dreams is also an important point Prof. Holzinger covers in the video below. 


Applications of Lucid Dreaming 

Prof. Holzinger questions why lucid dreaming isn’t more widely considered as an important tool for psychotherapy – especially in the treatment of nightmares from people suffering from PTSD. 

With the knowledge that this technique was used by Vietnam veterans, she embarked on a research project to prove that the frequency of nightmares can indeed be reduced through lucid dreaming. 

Other fields of sleep medicine which are impacted (both positively and negatively) from lucid dreaming include narcolepsy – sleep onset horror, and triggering sleep paralysis.  


Prof. Holzinger also details how lucid dreaming can impact one’s reality – if you can take control of the direction of your dreams, why can’t you take control of the direction of your life? 


Listen as Prof. Holzinger takes a deep dive into Lucid Dreaming 


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Lucid dreaming is one of the (optional) components of Sleep Coaching Programm at the Medical University of Vienna. Currently the Institute for Consciousnesss and Dream Research (www.traum.ac.at) is also offering Webinars and a Webinar series in English on Sleep Coaching (Holzinger&Klösch). 


Selected papers published by Prof. Holzinger et al.: 

  1. Holzinger et al. (2020). Cognitions in Sleep: Lucid Dreaming as an Intervention for Nightmares in Patients With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Frontiers in Psychology.
  2. Holzinger & Mayer (2020). Lucid Dreaming Brain Network Based on Tholey’s 7 Klartraum Criteria. Frontiers in Psychology.
  3. Holzinger et al. (2015). Studies with lucid dreaming as add-on therapy to Gestalt therapy. Acta Neurol Scand.
  4. Holzinger (2014). „Dream Sense Memory“ Traumarbeit in der Gestalttherapie und die psychotherapeutische Technik des luziden Träumens. Psychotherapie Forum.
  5. Holzinger (2009). Lucid dreaming – dreams of clarity. Contemp. Hypnosis.
  6. Doll et al. (2009). Dreaming, Lucid Dreaming and Personality. International Journal of Dream Research.
  7. Holzinger & Levitan (2006). Psychological correlates of lucid dreaming. Dreaming.


Recent publications from ESRS members: 

  1. Fietze et al. (2021). Initiation of therapy for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome: a randomized comparison of outcomes of telemetry-supported home-based vs. sleep lab-based therapy initiation. Sleep Breath.
  2. Tasbakan et al. (2021). Positive airway pressure (PAP) treatment reduces glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels in obstructive sleep apnea patients with concomitant weight loss: Longitudinal data from the ESADA. J Sleep Res.
  3. Laguna et al. (2021). Serum metabolic biomarkers for synucleinopathy conversion in isolated REM sleep behavior disorder. NPJ Parkinsons Dis.
  4. Trimmel et al. (2021). Seizing the opportunity: factors influencing the discrepancy between subjective and objective sleep. J Clin Sleep Med.
  5. Qin et al. (2021). Heart rate variability during wakefulness as a marker of obstructive sleep apnea severity. Sleep.

Just published an article? Want your research to be featured? Saw something interesting?  Contact us at ESRS…

ESRS Reminders 

Sleep Medicine Committee – Call for New Effective Members 

The Sleep Medicine Committee (SMC) deadline for its Call for New Effective Members is 31 May 2021 

There are several projects that require active and dynamic volunteers as effective members – We Need You! This is your opportunity to shape the future of Sleep Medicine in Europe. To get further information or to apply if you’re already interested, please see more details here. 


Application Deadline Approaching – 3rd Sleep Science School 

Application is open until 31 May 2021 for the third ESRS Sleep Science School, 26 September to 1 October LIVE at the CNRS Villa Clythia site in the city of Frejus at the Mediterranean Sea (South France).  

This year’s, the focus will be on The Functions of Sleep and will be a full week of in-depth lectures & presentations and interactive workshop sessions led by a faculty of international sleep experts. For more information on who can apply and how to apply –  here are additional application details.