It's the middle of the night, and you're dreaming. As you fly like a superhero, you can feel your cape trailing in the wind, see the landscape below and even decide when to land. That's because this is no ordinary dream. Unlike the fragmented and confusing dreams you normally have, this time your mind is fully aware that you are dreaming. You may even be able to control your actions in the dream.
When you're asleep and dreaming, yet become aware that you're having a dream, that's lucid dreaming. This type of dream occurs when the brain slips into a zone between deep REM sleep and wakefulness.
During a lucid dream, events can feel quite real. Let's say, for example, you dream you're driving a car along an undulating road. You crest a hill and start your downward trajectory, tap the brakes and realize they don't work. The car picks up speed and careens out of control. You fight to keep it on the road, pumping the brakes to no avail. You know you're going to die, and, indeed, you do. Your demise is a sudden, fiery impact. But if you die in your dream, will you die in real life?
The answer, thank goodness, is no. At least, we think it's no. The truth is, if someone were to die as the result of a lucid dream, we'd have no way of knowing. That person couldn't tell us about their dream experiences, after all, because he or she would be dead.
There could be some mental benefits to losing your life in a dream, though. To begin with, if you remember having a dream — even if it was a bad or scary dream — you'll at least know why you're feeling unsettled during your waking hours that follow. That's better than a doomed feeling plaguing you all day, giving you a vague sense that you're waiting for the other shoe to drop, when, in fact, you simply died in a dream you don't remember. Some lucid-dreaming experts contend that learning to accept death in your dreams will help you accept death in real life. You'll no longer dread or fear it; death will simply come for you.
A study of college students found that lucid dreams were seven times more likely to make nightmares more tolerable. And, if participants realized they were dreaming during a nightmare, they felt comforted about 60 percent of the time, which could go a long way when you face death in your dreams.