Nightmares and lucid dreams

Victor Spoormaker, 2005

Victor Spoormaker

Hi, I am Victor Spoormaker and I am currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at the department of Clinical Psychology at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. My research focuses on lucid dreaming as a treatment for recurrent nightmares and the relationship of nightmares with other sleep and psychological disturbances. Moreover, I study in which way dreams can be creative (e.g incubated, lucid, and daydreams).

My dissertation focused on nightmares and lucid dreams; this topic was predominantly chosen as I had many recurrent nightmares as a child (always being chased by ghosts, aliens, or criminals etc.). At age eight, I asked my mother what to do about these nightmares. She had just been reading in Patricia Garfield’s classic Creative Dreaming where a description of how the Senoi cope with their attackers in dreams inspired her to some good advice; she told me to no longer run away, but instead to turn around and confront the attackers. As an eight-year-old boy with much faith in my mother, I intended to do so as well.

In my next nightmare four criminals chased me on the highway. As I was running into a dead-end, I could remember that I was not supposed to run away, but had better turn around. So I did. The criminals – with old-fashioned hats – looked somewhat surprised. As I did not really know what to do next, I started running towards these criminals. Just before I reached them they jumped in the car and drove away. At that time, I realized that I was very probably in the middle of a dream and decided to have some fun.

Victor Spoormaker

After this, the frequency of my nightmares decreased and I could become lucid in more nightmares. These spontaneous lucid dreams occurred until I was eighteen or so; then I read LaBerge’s book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming where I discovered that there was a name for such dreams, that more people have this experience, that it was actually scientifically studied, and that it was a learned skill. Since then, it has been one of my most favourite hobbies. For my master’s thesis, I wanted to find out if other people could also learn to overcome their nightmares via lucid dreaming. Naturally, the answer was not that simple as some could and others could not, whereas lucidity did not seem to be a necessary prerequisite for having fewer nightmares.

In 2001, I went to Stephen LaBerge to reshape the nightmare treatment, and I received a PhD-grant back in Holland to conduct research on this topic. In an experiment, lucid dreaming indeed decreased nightmares, although other elements (e.g. professional attention) seemed to have an effect as well. Moreover, changing the nightmare-storyline – and not lucidity – seemed crucial, so these studies leave a lot to discover. Luckily enough, I received a grant to carry on with this line of research as a postdoctoral fellow.

If you would like to learn more about lucid dreaming as a treatment for nightmares or creative dreams, just let me know via the e-mail: v.i.spoormaker@fss.uu.nl Anyway, good luck – and have fun – with your own dreams,

Victor, the Netherlands