It is estimated that 1 in 10 people, here in the UK, will suffer with PTSD at some point in their lives. “PTSD is a disabling psychiatric disorder catalysed by a traumatic event,” explains Lucid Dreaming Teacher Charlie Morley. “The symptoms of PTSD include panic attacks, flashbacks, severe anxiety and 50-70 % get nightmares,” he continues. The stats are even higher for the veteran community where it is estimated that 80% have had PTSD. “ A lot of veterans don’t get diagnosed because of the stigma. So there’s a lot of sub clinical PTSD – undiagnosed veterans.” In fact there’s a wide range of trauma that can catalyse PTSD, from the sort of things armed forces veterans experience to victims of childhood abuse to people who’ve been in car crashes.
Lucid dreaming teacher Charlie Morley has been teaching for 15 years and working specifically with veterans and people with PTSD for 7 years. And he has uncovered some astonishing links between lucid dreams and PTSD treatment. “Lucid dreams occur when you know it’s a dream when it’s happening. I can teach this at will. It’s a learnable skill through self-hypnosis practices, certain meditations, waking up at a certain time of night and visualisation.”
For many people their first experience of a lucid dream is a nightmare. “Because you want to wake up,” observes Charlie, “nightmares can be really good ways of having lucid dreams.” He reckons we need to reframe nightmares from being a sign that a person is broken. “Actually a nightmare is a sign of a healing mind.”
According to Charlie there have been dozens of scientific studies that show lucid dreaming can cure nightmares. “That’s well known, not only this it can affect waking symptoms of PTSD as well as panic attacks,” he comments. But in his particular recent study (2021), he taught people how to lucid dream so that they could become conscious in their nightmare and then pro-actively integrate their trauma.
At the beginning of this study, the participants (all suffering from chronic PTSD and two thirds female, most from UK or US) had their PTSD symptoms scale analysed. They completed a big questionnaire that doctors use to analyse how traumatised they are. And at the end of this got a PTSD score. The participants then spent one week with Charlie teaching them how to lucid dream. “It was a workshop where each night they were trying out techniques to precipitate lucid dreaming.”
At the end of the week the participants took the same PTSD test. It was found that with all of the participants their score had dropped so low they didn’t have PTSD any more. 85% of participants no longer had PTSD. The scientists found it hard to believe. So the participants were tested again after 4 weeks and the score had still stayed low.
“It’s insane,” comments Charlie, “we never thought we’d get those results. I was as shocked as anyone else.”
55 people participated in that pilot 2021 study. There was an in house psychotherapist – the group needed a lot of support – and the whole thing was organised with the Institute of Noetic Sciences from San Francisco, a big US research group. More recently Charlie has done another study with 100 people in a randomised controlled trial (which is the gold standard for research studies). “We haven’t released the data to that yet but we seem to have come to the same conclusion.”
So although it hasn’t been proven as long term of permanent yet, the prognosis may well be that PTSD can be cured by lucid dreaming. “I certainly had a hunch,” says Charlie hopefully. “But I’d never had it tested by science before.” The studies have been so important they’ve been featured in Traumatology, a top peer-reviewed journal for trauma.
In the meantime Charlie is busy training up psychotherapists so they can teach their PTSD patients lucid dreaming techniques to help with PTSD. “I’ve just completed a training with 20 psychotherapists who can teach this to their clients,” he says. “There’s a strong argument to bring it into mainstream healthcare, with NHS doctors prescribing it in the same way they would do mindfulness. It’s non-medical, it’s non-invasive, it’s free and you can do it in your sleep. It sounds too good to be true but it is true. I think it will take a few years though. The science was so overwhelming with mindfulness that they couldn’t ignore it anymore and I hope that’s what will happen with lucid dreaming.”
Charlie says he can’t say scientifically that its long term and permanent but that anecdotally with at least a dozen people (out of the original 55 in the 2021 study) – their nightmares have not returned over a long period. And interestingly even those people in the study who were not able to lucid dream had a big drop in their PTSD score as well just from using the lucid dreaming techniques that they were taught by Charlie. “Just learning how to have a lucid dream can already precipitate a big drop in trauma,” he observes.
Great news for anyone suffering from PTSD - hopefully help will soon be available.
On 23 November, Lucinda will be talking to lucid dreaming and sleep expert Charlie Morley, about his new book Wake Up to Sleep. Charlie is a best-selling author who, for the past 6 years, has been developing a trauma-sensitive, breath- & body-based approach to stress or trauma-affected sleep. Originally developed for British military veterans, his system has now been adapted for the general public. It combines breathwork, lucid dreaming and Yoga Nidra, to help regulate the nervous system and integrate trauma – and, it works! Click here to find out more.