The popularity of dream studies goes in waves and right now the dream wave is cresting. As New York dream researcher Ross Levin told me recently, "Dreams are hot right now." It's not too surprising that in times of turmoil we dare to dream. But what are the practical applications?
In the hierarchy of dreaming, lucid dreaming -- where you partially control your dreams -- is the highest level. Current research shows that lucid dreaming can help improve problem-solving skills and creativity, overcome fear, improve confidence, hone new skills, and dramatically increase "flow," the mental state in which you are fully immersed in what you are doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and success in the process of any activity. Lucid dreamers can also act out fantasies and, you guessed it, frequently report orgasmic experiences during sleep.
Dream experts say lucid dreaming leads to higher levels of consciousness and greater facility in dealing with the stresses and conflicts of waking life. Sara Mednick, a psychologist at UC San Diego and the author of Take a Nap, Change Your Life, reports that napping with REM (dream) sleep promotes creativity and improves problem-solving. You can read an interesting post about the benefits of napping here.
As it turns out, men are more active lucid dreamers than females because the process lends itself to the need for control. Plus, guys have a sense of needing to go through initiation. Lucid dreaming is used for calling on monsters and confronting battles, getting churned up and spit out. Ryan Hurd, a 34 year-old dream researcher and active lucid dreamer based in San Diego, recently wrote in his blog, Dreamstudies.org, that "working with your dreams will revitalize your career, rekindle your love life, and unleash your creativity so you can go after what you really want in life... by simply paying attention to your dreams, the dreams you have will also change, becoming more clear, more directed, and more focused on the issues you are most interested in."
Men and women can use dreams to dramatically improve their emotional intelligence and therefore become better lovers and more successful at work, sports, etc. -- and have a lot of fun in the process. Dreaming is like the ultimate virtual training camp, complete with games and fantasies.
Interestingly enough, video games can enhance lucid dreaming. Although President Obama has come down hard on video games for promoting a sedentary lifestyle, dream psychologist Jayne Gackenbach says they're like a training camp for dreams and can make lucid dreams even more lucid. So keep playing. And keep dreaming.