Why Aren't We Always Lucid In Dreams?
Alright, get ready for the science!
We know that lucid dreaming is a state of awareness that one is dreaming within the sleep state. Many dream reports indicate that self-reflection and volitional or willful control are more noticeable in lucid dreams compared with non-lucid dreams. Mostly on these grounds, lucid dreaming has been associated with metacognition, or the ability to monitor or report on one's own mental states.
In a study titled "Metacognitive Mechanisms Underlying Lucid Dreaming" by Elisa Filevich etc. published in the Journal of Neuroscience, it was recorded that high-lucidity groups showed greater gray matter volume in the anterior prefrontal cortex compared with those in the low-lucidity group. They also found that differences in brain structure were mirrored by differences in brain function, with the anterior prefrontal cortex being more active during thought monitoring.
Their results reveal that there are shared neural systems between lucid dreaming and metacognitive function, in particular in the domain of thought monitoring. This finding contributes to our understanding of the mechanisms enabling higher-order consciousness in dreams.
So basically lucid dreaming and metacognition share some underlying mechanisms, particularly with regards to thought monitoring. This relationship had been previously theorized, but never confirmed at the neural level.
Metacognition is the key. It is possible to control the frequency and contents of our lucid dreaming by training ourselves to monitor our thoughts while we’re awake. Mindfulness Meditation, which initiates this process, has been shown to increase the frequencies of lucid dreams and has also been shown to increase gray matter.
In the study "Meta-Awareness During Day and Night: The Relationship Between Mindfulness and Lucid Dreaming", it was shown that lucid dreams occur much more for those who practice meditation, or in other words, practice metacognition.
So why aren't we always lucid during our dreams?
There is a lack of metacognition during the day and especially while we are asleep. The fact that different areas of your brain become pretty much inactive during sleep doesn't help either. Somehow metacognition is able to stimulate those areas, increasing lucidity.
Brain State Deactivation:
Neuroscientist J. Allan Hobson has hypothesized what might be occurring in the brain while lucid. The ability to recognize our dreaming may also in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is one of the few areas deactivated during REM sleep, and where working memory occurs. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is also an area that has been shown to increase in grey matter for those who meditate.
When this area is activated and recognition of dreaming occurs, you must be cautious enough to let the dream unfold, but be conscious enough to remember that it is, in fact, a dream. While maintaining this balance, the amygdala and para-hippocampal cortex might be less active. To continue the intensity of the dream, it is expected that the pons and the parieto-occipital junction stay active.
Lucid dreaming occurs in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This sleep state has physiological similarities to the waking state, including rapid, low-voltage desynchronized brain waves.
Electrochemical activity regulating REM seems to originate in the brain stem and is characterized most notably by an abundance of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, combined with a nearly complete absence of neurotransmitters histamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which are REM-Off monoamine neurotransmitters.
TIP: To make your brainstem more active, try taking lucid dreaming supplements like Galatamine. They act as reversible acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors. This means their primary effect is to block the normal breakdown of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine.
The cortical and thalamic neurons of the sleeping brain can fire more readily than in the deeply sleeping brain. The right and left hemispheres of the brain are more coherent in REM sleep, especially during lucid dreams. There are also higher amounts of beta-1 frequency band (13–19 Hz) brain wave activity experienced by lucid dreamers, hence, an increased amount of activity in the parietal lobes indicating lucid dreaming as a conscious process.
Now we know why we aren't always lucid in our dreams. If you have the intention to always be aware in your dreams then practicing metacognition through meditation and cultivating all day awareness is crucial
Keep on Livin' Lucid Dreams...