"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." ~Inception (2010)
Lucid dreaming is defined as a dream state where the person dreaming is aware they are observing or participating in a dream and, with that awareness, may be able to control some aspects of it. Past research about this unusual sleep ability estimates that about 50 percent of people have experienced at least one lucid dream in their lifetime, and nearly 20 percent of people are able to lucid dream on a regular (-ish) basis.
In the movie Waking Life (2001) by Richard Linklater, a young guy (played by Wiley Wiggins from Dazed and Confused) lives his life wandering in and out of liminal states, observing various everyday events and experiences, often participating in philosophical discussions. He gradually begins to realize he's part of a perpetual dream cycle, sometimes "waking up" within it -- i.e. recognizing his state of lucid dreaming -- but eventually despairs over feeling trapped inside this dream world. The viewer can't know the psychological state of the "awake" Wiley Wiggins character because we never meet him, but the film suggests frequent lucid dreaming would be a bad sign. However, in real life, research may prove this to not be the case at all.
According to Psychology Today, a new study published by Frontiers in Psychology found that aspects of lucid dreaming are a possible indication of psychological health, and may also suggest a lack of mental illness or pathology. Psychologists at Ben-Gurion University in Israel recruited 187 participants to join their sleep diary study. They measured these people for various psychological indications, including sleep quality, sleep experiences, lucid dreaming, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, stress, depressive symptoms and more. Researchers also had some people record a dream diary for two weeks.
The results were noteworthy. Lucid dreamers who experienced more intense lucid dreaming, on average, exhibited less depression, anxiety and stress than low-intensity dreamers. Seemingly intense dreams mean a person is more psychologically sound than a person with typical "boring" dreams. However, there was no difference in the psychological well-being of high-intensity lucid dreamers compared to non-lucid dreamers.
Interestingly, Hollywood movies tend to play up the opposite scenario. In the film Vanilla Sky (2001), Tom Cruise's character recognizes his lucid dreams for what they are -- a fierce longing to reunite with a woman (Penelope Cruz) that he loves and has lost.
"My dreams are a cruel joke," he says. "They taunt me. Even in my dreams I'm an idiot ... who knows he's about to wake up to reality."
Upon deeper dive into the internet annals of lucid dreaming, I found multiple stories of people who claimed to fall in love with a dream "character" and revisit that person, or have sex dreams that also happened to be lucid. Personally, I remember having lucid dreams about a boy I liked when I was a kid, and I also remember "dream dudes" I fell in love with for a night (a "dream lover," perhaps) when I was a young adult . Since the characters made up by your mind aren't real, one might wonder if they're an aspect of yourself or a composite of people you've met. Either way, dream lovers (lucid or not) seem like a fun thing to look forward to. Just don't get too attached; they may not visit -- or haunt! -- your dreams forever.
On that note, remember how adorable "Dream Lover"-era Mariah Carey was? Mariah recently revealed to PEOPLE Magazine that she struggles with bipolar disorder. We hope the diva -- who told Interview magazine in 2007 that she needs 15 hours of sleep and informed V magazine readers she uses 20 humidifiers at bedtime -- lucidly conjures one of her past dream flames in the coming months. We realize the practice isn't a cure all for depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue, but also, it probably doesn't hurt.