Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
In a lucid dream, you are aware that you are dreaming and may even be able to control different aspects of your dream. Lucid dreaming occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep in which much of your dreaming occurs. Around 20% of people experience lucid dreaming once a month, and a small number of people manage to have lucid dreams several times a week. Up to half of people never experience a lucid dream.
Some researchers propose lucid dreaming as a tool that can improve your well-being, boost self-confidence and creativity, and help you achieve goals and solve problems in your waking life — although the evidence for these benefits is debatable. Early research suggests lucid dreaming may also have therapeutic potential for people who experience nightmares due to post-traumatic stress disorder.
For many people, lucid dreaming is a pleasant experience they would like to have more often. However, since dreams take place while you are asleep, it takes practice and effort to do so. Enter lucid dream masks, a new tool that may make the process easier.
Most lucid dream masks look similar to a traditional sleep mask. They are made from soft materials that should feel comfortable on your face while you sleep. Where they differ is their technology. Lucid dream masks include built-in sensors that monitor your sleep stages and features that gently alert you when you reach REM sleep, helping you become aware of the opportunity to begin lucid dreaming without fully waking you up.
Lucid dream masks use timers or movement sensors to estimate when the dreamer is in REM sleep. Then, depending on their specific feature set, lucid dream masks alert the dreamer using audio, visual, or tactile cues:
These signals are meant to be stimulating enough to alert the dreamer, without being so disruptive as to rouse them from sleep. Since the person is dreaming, the cue may become a part of the dream environment. For example, the visual cues may show up as lights in the dream, or the audio signals may sound like a phone ringing.
Most lucid dream masks allow you to adjust the intensity of the dream cues, either directly on the device with an adjustable switch or digitally via an app or website. Whether the mask emits light, audio, or tactile cues, it is up to the dreamer to recognize the signals and understand that they are experiencing a dream.
The simplest lucid dream masks use a timer to estimate when you have entered REM sleep. However, the timing of REM sleep can vary from person to person, depending on their age and if they drink alcohol, take medications, or have a sleep disorder, which often overlaps with a neurological or psychiatric disorder. A lucid dream mask that relies solely on a timer could deliver light cues during a non-REM stage of sleep, disturbing the person’s sleep quality instead of helping them lucid dream.
Other lucid dream masks use infrared sensors to identify REM by monitoring changes in your eye movement. During REM sleep, your eyes move rapidly from side to side, a key feature of REM that differentiates it from other stages of sleep.
Other lucid dream masks contain EEG electrodes to monitor changes in brainwave activity and an accelerometer to monitor body movements. These types of masks use brainwave and body movement activity to identify REM. Your brain waves speed up during REM, and your brain temporarily paralyzes your body to prevent you from acting out your dreams.
Wearing a lucid dream mask does not guarantee you will experience a lucid dream, especially if you are new to lucid dreaming. Even with regular practice, lucid dreams are rare. Once a person has mastered traditional lucid dreaming techniques, a lucid dream mask may increase their likelihood of experiencing one. Lucid dreaming techniques include:
The last two techniques in particular, WBTB and MILD, have been shown to increase the frequency of lucid dreams, even among beginners. A person’s likelihood of experiencing a lucid dream triples after WBTB. After practicing these techniques for five weeks, 50% of beginners were able to experience at least one lucid dream.
When used in tandem with these techniques, a lucid dream mask may make a person more likely to experience a lucid dream. One early study had participants wear a lucid dream mask during sleep, which sent light cues when they entered REM sleep. To test against a potential placebo effect, the participants knew the mask was a lucid dream mask, but they did not know that it had been programmed to only send the light cues every other night.
While participants reported lucid dreams on nights the dream mask sent light cues as well as on nights it did not, they were more than twice as likely to have a lucid dream on nights the mask sent cues. They were also significantly more likely to say they noticed the lucid dreaming cues on nights the mask was on, leading researchers to conclude that the light cues were effective in increasing the person’s likelihood of lucid dreaming.
Researchers have not yet studied lucid dream masks for potentially negative effects. However, it is possible the light and sound cues could reduce sleep quality. Exposure to electric light at night, even for short periods of time and in dim settings, can disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm. Similarly, environmental noise exposure triggers a stress response that can disturb sleep and lead to sleep deprivation the following day.
Researchers warn that regularly inducing lucid dreams has two potential drawbacks. It can blur the lines between fantasy and reality, and it may reduce your sleep quality. Lucid dreamers display increased prefrontal cortical brain activity during sleep. In normal sleep, activity in this brain area is inhibited. Further, the WBTB lucid dreaming technique is rooted in disrupting sleep, which may lead to more sleep issues.
Also, while lucid dreams may have some therapeutic potential for people with chronic or PTSD-induced nightmares, other studies suggest otherwise. More research is needed to determine if lucid dreaming or lucid dream masks produce negative effects, whether in terms of sleep quality, mental health, or both.
Lucid dreaming researchers acknowledge that more research needs to be done on how to induce lucid dreaming, with or without a mask. The current body of research is limited, with many studies being either low-quality or having a small number of participants.
However, lucid dream masks may help make other techniques, such as MILD and WBTB, more effective. Beginners may want to start with these techniques before investing in a lucid dream mask.