Lucid dreaming is simply being aware you are dreaming while you are dreaming.
Studies suggest than about half of the population has experienced a lucid dream at some point in their lives. While most of those are spontaneous lucid dreams, some people train themselves to seek out lucid dreaming and can initiate lucid dreams several times per week. (This is where the float tank comes in—more on that in a minute.)
For experienced lucid dreamers, the ability to control a dream’s environment or action is what makes it so desirable. In an in-depth New York Magazine article, one longtime lucid dreamer described his favorite activities as flying, destroying cities, gorging on pastries at bakeries, flying space ships, and playing with his children, who live several hours away.
Other lucid dreamers value simply being able to recognize they are in an unpleasant dream and instantly awaken—as one neuroscientist and experienced lucid dreamer describes in Scientific American, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a lucid dream that wasn’t a nightmare.”
The Science of Lucid Dreaming
Scientific research on lucid dreaming is not extensive, but a few studies have validated the experience and explored some possible explanations for how lucid dreams occur. In a frequently-cited study at Frankfurt University, experienced lucid dreamers were actually able to signal researchers that they were lucid by a designated pattern of eye movements detectable during sleep.
Lucid dreaming takes place during the REM sleep cycle—the final cycle of sleep before waking, when most dreams occur. But the brain behaves a little differently during a lucid dream: during the Frankfurt study, EEG recordings of six experienced lucid dreamers revealed that lucid dreaming “constitutes a hybrid state of consciousness with definable and measurable differences from waking and from REM sleep”.
Lucid Dreaming & Float Therapy
If little research has been conducted on lucid dreaming, and even less—that is, none—has focused specifically on flotation REST and lucid dreaming. However, firsthand reports describe the float tank as a fertile environment for lucid dreams.
Some experienced lucid dreamers report that while in an isolation tank, lucid dreams are more intense, easier to initiate, and longer-lasting than dreams they experienced outside the tank.
Well-known float therapy advocate Richard Bonk has even developed a system combining lucid dream initiation techniques with floating—and describes experiencing lucid dreams approximately 80% of the time he uses his system, with spontaneous lucid dreams increasing in and out of the tank as well.
Indeed, float therapy can aid the pursuit of lucid dreams even during regular sleep (i.e., not in the tank). For lucid dreaming, being able to reliably enter the REM state is crucial—and flotation therapy helps individuals who may struggle with insomnia or disrupted sleep experience REM more consistently.
Lucid Dreaming Techniques
There is a huge amount of literature available on lucid dreaming techniques—different ways to help initiate lucid dreams (often referred to as “going lucid”), make lucid dreams last longer, and experience a greater sense of control during the dream.
Most lucid dreaming techniques revolve around triggering the realization that you’re dreaming. The first steps often include keeping a dream journal to increase your awareness of your dreams, and identifying common themes or signs in your dreams. Many lucid dreamers recommend habitually questioning your waking state at all times—i.e., practice asking yourself if you’re dreaming or awake during the day, so that when you are sleeping the habit will pop up in your dreams. If you are able to answer—in your dream—”Look, there’s a fuzzy clock, which I know is a theme in lots of my dreams. I am dreaming!”…then you have initiated a lucid dream.