Nightmares are a frequent symptom of narcolepsy, and lucid dreaming—being aware of the dream state while dreaming—is known to be effective in nightmare therapy. This suggests that lucid dreaming might be a promising therapeutic tool for narcolepsy patients.
Armed with this information, Martin Dresler, PhD, scientist, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, Germany, and colleagues set out to evaluate the frequency of recalled dreams (DF), nightmares (NF), and lucid dreams (LDF) in narcoleptic patients compared to healthy individuals. The team also explored if dream lucidity provides relief during nightmares in narcoleptic patients.
For the study, “Increased Lucid Dreaming Frequency in Narcolepsy,”1 published in the October 2014 issue of Sleep, the authors interviewed 60 patients with narcolepsy (ages 23 to 82, 35 females) as well as 919 healthy individuals (ages 14 to 93, 497 females). According to the study, both groups were assessed with previously validated dream recall frequency scales via telephone interviews. Rating scales were used to access NF and LDF.
The researchers found that patients with narcolepsy have a markedly higher lucid dreaming frequency than control subjects, even when statistically controlling for higher general frequency of remembered dreams. “The differences between narcolepsy patients and control subjects in lucid dreaming frequency were strikingly high,” Dresler says. The study showed that 70% of patients who have lucid dreams reported a positive impact of dream lucidity on the distress experienced from nightmares. “Dream lucidity enables dreamers to influence dream content, thereby potentially also altering negative dream mentation,” the study authors wrote.
The authors state that “patients could be instructed to use dream lucidity to confront fearful dream elements in nightmares…and change the course of the dream plot.” This is due to the fact that lucid dreaming is a skill that can be induced by training or electrical brain stimulation.
While the findings show promise for lucid dreaming as a therapeutic strategy for patients suffering from nightmares, more research on lucid dreaming is needed, particularly regarding induction strategies, says Dresler, who notes that his team has repeatedly investigated the neural basis of lucid dreaming and is still conducting studies in this area.
As for future research, Dresler says most studies on lucid dreaming work with very small sample sizes, as lucid dreaming is a rare phenomenon. “Reliable strategies to induce lucid dreaming are needed in order to conduct studies with larger sample sizes,” he concludes.
1. Rak M, Beitinger P, Steiger A, et al. Increased Lucid Dreaming Frequency in Narcolepsy. Sleep. 2014 Oct 17. pii: sp-00352-14. [Epub ahead of print].