Many people wonder what state of conscious exits in a person who falls into a coma. There are stories of people who woke from their comas to vivid dreams and feeling like they are living another life while they dream in a coma. Are these vivid dreams the same as lucid dreams? Can you lucid dream in a coma?
There are documented cases of vivid dreams occurring to people in comas. Coma dreams can be just as life-like as lucid dreams but lack the same level of control. A lucid dream can be controlled and happens during a normal sleep cycle when a person can be easily woken. A coma dream happens when the body is unresponsive and cannot be woken. A coma dreamer may not even be aware they are experiencing a dream.
What is a coma dream?
There are some cases of people who have fallen into comas having very vivid and life-like dreams. They have found themselves experiencing their dreams as though the events were happening in real life. But, is this the same as lucid dreaming?
Well, there are similarities between a coma dream and a lucid dream but there are also some key and striking differences between the two.
Before we look at the main differences between a coma dream and a lucid dream, let’s take a look at their similarities.
Coma dream and lucid dream similarities
Both a lucid dream and a coma dream are exceptionally vivid and very life-like experiences.
A lucid dream feels like real life. Everything within the dream looks, feels, smells, tastes and sounds just like it does in real life. The same applies to everything in a coma dream. Both lucid dreams and coma dreams are extremely vivid and very life-like.
A person in a lucid dream will experience everything around them as though it were 100% real. All 5 senses are engaged within a lucid dream to make the dreamworld appear and feel like the real world.
A person in a coma dream will experience everything around them as though it were 100% real as well! They will also have all their 5 senses engaged in the dream experience which makes the entire dream feel like real life.
However, although having vivid, life-like dreams while in a coma engages the same senses and feels the same as a lucid dreaming this is where the similarities stop. The feeling of reality, that accompanies both coma dreams and lucid dreams, may be the same but these two states of consciousness actually differ quite significantly in some other key areas.
I should note here that not everyone in a coma will have coma dreams. The term “coma dream” is used to describe the vivid lucid-like feel of the dream, and the conscious awareness that accompanies it, in order to differentiate it from a standard unconscious dream occurring in a coma state. So, when we use the term “coma dream” we are referring to a rare dream experience that happens to only some people who fall into a coma.
Now. let’s look at the differences between a coma dream and a lucid dream.
The difference between coma dreams and lucid dreams
There are two main differences between lucid dreaming and coma dreaming. They are:
- Lucid dreaming occurs in the normal sleep cycle where a person can be woken. Coma dreams occur when a person is in a state where they cannot be woken.
- Lucid dreaming is controlled dreaming. Coma dreaming is as vivid as lucid dreaming but the dreamer often lacks the same high level of conscious control over the dream and may not be aware that they are even dreaming.
Obviously the state of consciousness between a person in a normal sleep cycle and someone who has fallen into a coma is different but there are other key differences involved.
A lucid dreamer is someone who either intentionally, through training and following specific exercises or spontaneously and naturally, finds themselves conscious during a normal dream. This conscious awareness that hey are in a dream will lead to a conscious awakening within the dream itself, (see our article what causes lucid dreams).
Lucid dreams are vivid and life-like.
While dreaming a lucid dreamer is in exactly the same bodily state as anyone else when they dream, including non-lucid dreamers. Although they are consciously aware during the dream, and parts of their brain are more active, lucid dreamers are still just experiencing a normal physical state of sleep.
As the dreamer becomes conscious that they are dreaming, i.e. they become lucid, they can then exert their conscious control over the entire dream experience, changing locations, scenarios, items and even characters in the dream. The entire dream experience can be molded as the lucid dreamer wishes.
As lucid dreamers will have these experiences regularly, some even lucid dream every night, they gain a great deal of experience over this state and thus they gain experience at better controlling the dream world.
So, lucid dreamers have dreams that are not just vivid and life-like, they also have dreams that they can totally control. The level of control a lucid dreamer will exert over a lucid dream will depend on their level of experience and training. However, being able to control most of the dream is a common part of lucid dreaming even without advanced training.
A lucid dreamer has controlled dreams.
A lucid dreamer may be exhibiting different brain functions than an unconscious dreamer while in a lucid dream but they are still in a normal state of sleep. A lucid dreamer does not have more frequent or less frequent dreams than a non-lucid dreamer and their sleep cycles will be similar, with the obvious personal variations for each person being the only difference.
The only difference between an unconscious dreamer and a lucid dreamer is that the lucid dreamer is fully conscious. It is this conscious awareness that a dream is taking place that gives the lucid dreamer control to shape the dream as they see fit.
As a lucid dreamer and a non-lucid dreamer are in the same basic states this means a lucid dreamer can be woken up at any time while they are sleeping and dreaming just like a non-lucid dreamer can be. What’s more, a lucid dreamer can also actually waken themselves from the dream if they so wish.
Now, there are times when a lucid dreamer may feel stuck in a dream feeling like they are unable to get out of the dream and wake up out of sleep. This is a rare occurrence that some lucid dreamers have reported. Although it may seem like the dreamer is stuck in the dream and unable to wake up, it is actually very to wake up from this type of dream, as I demonstrated in the article can you get stuck in a lucid dream.
So basically, a lucid dreamer can be woken up at any time by someone else and they can also wake themselves up at any time.
Coma dreams are very similar to lucid dreams in their construction and life-like feel, but they also differ quite a lot in other regards.
Coma dreams are vivid and life-like just like lucid dreams.
Coma dreams can be just as life-like and vivid as a lucid dream and they can feel just as real. However, the dreamer has much less control over the dreamworld than a lucid dreamer does.
Where a lucid dreamer can take immediate and full control of the dream, a coma dreamer will be more of participant in the dream having only a certain amount of control over it, usually without really knowing they are even doing it.
Coma dreams are less controlled than lucid dreams.
A person experiencing a coma dream may will experience it as vividly as they would real-life events but they often fail to recognize that they are actually in a dream. This means they never experience the full control that they have over the dreamworld simply because they think what is happening is real – no matter how bizarre it is. They are only semi-conscious.
This is not the only difference between a coma dream and a lucid dream.
Another key difference between someone experiencing coma dreams and a lucid dreamer obviously involves waking.
While a lucid dreamer does experience sleep paralysis during REM sleep, so they do cannot act out their dreams in the real world, a coma patient is stuck in a permanent comatose state. While the paralysis in a lucid dreamer is only temporary the comatose patient is stuck in that physical state.
Lucid dreamers can wake up at any time. Someone in a coma dreamer cannot.
An example of a coma dream
There is one documented case of a woman, called Stephanie Savage who contracted Legions Disease and went into a coma, that perfectly illustrates the similarities and differences between coma dreams and lucid dreams.
Luckily Stephen came out of her coma. When she woke she remembered her coma dream experiences.
During her time in coma Stephanie experienced some very vivid dreams that were extremely life-like. Her dreams had the same solidity, vibrancy and real-world feel to them as any lucid dream would have. However, they did differ in some very significant ways.
Stephanie experienced some very vivid dreams in a semi-conscious mental state. Her dream recollections of the dreamworld and her interactions with it are very similar to those experienced by lucid dreamers. Everything felt real to her.
However, although the dreamworld felt just as real to Stephanie as it would to a lucid dreamer she did not have the same type of experience in those dreams that a lucid dreamer would have had.
Where a lucid dreamer has complete control over the dream state Stephanie did not have that level of control. This was in part due to the fact that she was not entirely aware that she was dreaming and that she did not have the same experience with vivid conscious dreams that a lucid dreamer has.
Her coma dreams were very similar to lucid dreaming in construction and feel and she was able to experience them as if they were reality but she did not have full conscious control over the dream. Sometimes a passing thought would change something in the dream state. Other times a realization would change the dream, like when she was a polar bear and realized that she couldn’t possibly be a bear because she was human. This caused her to instantly transform back into a human within the dream.
However as she had no training in lucid dreaming, nor any experience of using the type of advanced lucid dreaming techniques that would have given her complete control over the dream she could not make these type of changes consciously and deliberately. This lack of full awareness could also have something to do with her illness or coma state.
Stephanie also found that outside influences, such as the temperature in her hospital room (which was kept deliberately low), greatly affected what type of dreams she had. This also happens to lucid dreamers but they are able to restructure the dream world and increase the temperature if they wish whereas Stephanie could not.
When a person has a vivid life-like dream while in a coma it is called a coma dream. Although a coma dream is very similar to a lucid dream, because they are both vivid and life-like, they do differ significantly in a few other ways.
Before I highlight the differences between a lucid dream and a coma dream I should point out that although it is possible to have a sort of lucid dream while in a coma, a lucid dream cannot put you into a coma!
Some key differences between a lucid dream and a coma dream:
- A lucid dreamer may be conscious during the dream state but their body is still experiencing a normal sleep cycle and dream cycle. Therefore a lucid dreamer can be woken up at any time.
- A person who is having a vivid coma dream is in a state of suspended physical functions. They will not respond to attempts to waken them.
- A lucid dream is vivid and life-like and the lucid dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. A lucid dreamer will also have control over the dream sequences, the characters in the dream and the locations in the dream etc. The level of control they have will depend on their experience at controlled dreaming and their level of training but they will always have a some degree of control over the dream.
- A coma dream is just as vivid and life-like as a lucid dream. A person experiencing a coma dream is usually only semi-conscious and not entirely aware that they are dreaming. They will often believe that what is happening is real. A coma dreamer will have only limited control over the dream. The dream will usually change as a result of a passing thought or realization and not due to conscious effort on the part of the dreamer.