Controlling Your Dreams Is Cool and All, but Can Lucid Dreaming Be Dangerous?

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If there's any aspect of real life that feels like playing a video game, it's lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming grants us creative control over our dreams, giving us VIP access to the playground of our subconscious. (The practice is also linked to higher self-confidence and overall better mental health1.) While getting to dictate what happens next in our dreams is undeniably cool AF, questions about how it can affect us linger on: Are there any repercussions to controlling your dreams? Is lucid dreaming safe, or is lucid dreaming dangerous?

Considering the mystery that surrounds dreaming, it’s not a silly question to ask. “Lucid dreaming is like having a foot in both worlds: the conscious, waking world and the subconscious dream world,” says dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg, author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life. The idea of towing the line between reality and the dream world is a little scary, but the benefits of lucid dreaming are abundant and worth pushing past any initial fears you might have, says Loewenberg. “If you're able to lucid dream, it is one hell of a superpower!”

Experts In This Article

Ahead, dream experts answer your most pressing questions about the safety of lucid dreaming and the potential dangers of controlling your dreams.

Is lucid dreaming dangerous?

Potentially, yes. But the risks of lucid dreaming primarily revolve around our waking life, not the actual act of lucid dreaming itself.

Firstly, lucid dreaming can throw a serious wrench in your sleep habits, especially when you repeatedly try to have them on purpose. Certain lucid dream techniques, like the Wake Back To Bed method, require you to wake up in the middle of the night and then go back to sleep, with the goal of dropping directly into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep with greater consciousness. Doing this regularly—and thus constantly cutting into your sleep for the sake of lucid dreams—can open yourself up to the consequences of not getting enough sleep, which range from minor (like a bad mood or poor concentration) to major (like an increased risk of diabetes and dementia).

That’s why some experts like dream decoder Theresa Cheung, author of The Dream Dictionary From A to Z, warn against using lucid dream techniques that involve cutting into precious snooze time. These techniques are kind of like a shortcut for lucid dreaming, which makes them all the more tempting to try (especially for people who don’t have dreams at all). But “sleep is very restorative and healing in mind, body, and soul,” says Cheung, “and anything that interferes with your sleep hygiene, to me, isn't good news.”

Another reason why lucid dreaming can be dangerous is that it can blur the lines between reality and dreams, especially when done repeatedly and in quick succession. When you have consistent control over your dreams *and* your waking life, differentiating between the two can get tricky, which is one reason why Loewenberg recommends against trying to lucid dream every single night.

The potential psychological effects of lucid dreaming become more dangerous for people who struggle with some form of psychosis2—like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or manic episodes. This muddying of the waking world and the dream world can exacerbate existing symptoms and could potentially reinforce any flawed perceptions of reality they have.

Keeping this in mind, lucid dreaming can actually be beneficial when done responsibly. It has even been used as a therapeutic intervention for people who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)3. “A lot of therapists will use the consciousness within the dream to [help the client] overcome trauma,” explains Loewenberg. “You actively face whatever it is that has traumatized you in a safe environment—you're very safe in your own head.”

Can you get hurt lucid dreaming?

Possibly—but again, not in the way you think. It's unlikely that you'll physically harm yourself while lucid dreaming.

Despite a growing amount of research, the topic of whether we can experience real pain during our dreams is still subject to debate. There have been plenty of studies conducted on pain in dreams4, with new research suggesting that we do in fact experience pain while asleep5 (or something similar to it, at least). One 2017 study found that the brain activity associated with real-life pain and the brain activity associated with imagined, in-dream pain5 are closely correlated.

What we know for sure is that any physical harm we experience in the dream world exists only in the dream world. In other words, you can't pull a Freddy Kreuger in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Can lucid dreams be scary?

Just like normal dreams, lucid dreams can get intense (er, or downright terrifying). That initial moment of realization that you’re dreaming can be especially overwhelming if you’ve never experienced it before. But just like any kind of skill, the more you do it, the better you're gonna get at it, says Loewenberg. “Calm down when you become aware that you're dreaming,” adds Cheung, who recommends actively reminding yourself that you’re the one in control.

Since our dreams, lucid or not, aren’t bound by the physical limitations of reality, literally anything can happen in them. In the dream world, you run the risk of running into something totally nightmarish, like, say, a 30-foot-tall talking tarantula. The benefit of running into said spider while you’re lucid, though, is that you have the awareness needed in order to decide what happens next.

“When lucid dreaming, it’s important to try to ground yourself and focus on an object in the dream which doesn’t trigger fear,” says Cheung. Whenever we acknowledge a character in our dreams, they tend to stick around. If said giant spider appeared while you were in the middle of something else during your dream, try diverting your attention back to what you were initially doing.

If that doesn’t work and the spider insists on sticking around, confront it outright. Rather than turn away from the giant spider, try challenging it, suggests Cheung. “Summon your fear in the dream and ask it what it wants,” says Cheung. “Often, the fear dissipates when you face it and show it compassion.”

If that doesn’t work, Cheung recommends reaffirming to yourself that you’re the one calling the shots in your dream. “Remind yourself that you are in control, and think of something you want in your dream which makes you feel safe,” says Cheung. That is the beauty of lucid dreaming, after all: You get to decide what happens next.

What should you not do in a lucid dream?

Just as our waking life decisions can affect our dreams, our in-dream actions can determine how a lucid dream will pan out.

Lucid dreaming is exciting—so exciting, in fact, that our excitement can take us out of the lucid dream entirely, says Loewenberg. Attempting to immediately do something super cool in a lucid dream (for example, flying a space shuttle) could even make you wake up. When you first become aware that you’re dreaming, calm down, says Loewenberg, and start by making small changes to your dream instead.

Because lucid dreams defy the laws of physics that we experience in our waking life—like the law of gravity, or the law of reflection—we can’t expect our dreams to abide by those laws. This is why many dream experts suggest against looking in a mirror while you’re lucid dreaming, as the reflection staring back at you might be distorted or strange, since your brain is attempting to re-create an image of what it thinks you look like.

As mentioned earlier, lucid dreams can get scary, just like any other dream. In order to prevent your lucid dream from becoming a lucid nightmare, don’t actively try to think about things that scare you. “Keep it positive,” says Loewenberg.

More than anything, though, “don't overdo it,” says Loewenberg about attempting to lucid dream night after night. “You need to allow the subconscious to do its thing,” she says, and if you’re always trying to take control of your dreams, you could be missing out on an important message from your subconscious.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Soffer-Dudek, Nirit. “Are Lucid Dreams Good for Us? Are We Asking the Right Question? A Call for Caution in Lucid Dream Research.” Frontiers in neuroscience vol. 13 1423. 24 Jan. 2020, doi:10.3389/fnins.2019.01423
  2. Calabrese J, Al Khalili Y. Psychosis. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from:
  3. Holzinger, Brigitte et al. “Cognitions in Sleep: Lucid Dreaming as an Intervention for Nightmares in Patients With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 11 1826. 21 Aug. 2020, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01826
  4. Zadra, Antonio & Germain, Anne & Lavigne, Gilles & Donderi, Don. (1998). The Nature and Prevalence of Pain in Dreams. Pain Research and Management. 3. 155-161. 10.1155/1998/946171.
  5. Siclari, Francesca et al. “The neural correlates of dreaming.” Nature neuroscience vol. 20,6 (2017): 872-878. doi:10.1038/nn.4545

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