Out-of-Body Experiences vs. Lucid Dreams

written by Bob Peterson
Posted Sun, 14-May-1995 22:03:59 GMTApril 17, 1995

Are OBEs and Lucid Dreams the same phenomena? Based on my experiences with both states, I believe they are different.

The following is table 6.5 from chapter 6 of "With the Eyes of the Mind An Empirical Analysis of Out-of-Body States" by Gabbard and Twemlow (1984).

The book is an in-depth study of the OBE from a psychological perspective.

Each chapter compares OBE to a psychological phenomena to see how they stack up. One of the things they compare OBEs to is Lucid Dreams.

The chapter is called "More Real Than a Dream."

Comparison of Lucid Dreams and OBE

50%-70% incidence in general population.
14%-25% incidence in general population.
Occurs only during sleep.
Occurs usually when awake.
Dreamer can consciously program the dream.
OBEer is a passive, objective observer.
Dreamer and physical body are still integrated.
OBEer perceives him/herself as separated from the physical body, which is inert and thoughtless.
Consciousness often vivid, with mystical qualities in experienced subjects.
Consciousness more ordinary, like being awake, even in experienced subjects.
Dream is seen as a totally personal (subjective) production of the dreamer's mind.
OBEer does not see it as a subjective personal production, but rather as objective reality.
EEG; REM dream type with occasional alpha.
No typical REM findings on EEG.
Physical body not visible.
Physical body usually visible.
Fewer have a lasting positive impact.
Usually a highly positive lasting impact.

I'd like to comment on some of the findings described in the chart. First, under D, I'd like to note that during Lucid Dreams, the dreamer is aware of him/herself as occupying the dream body, and is not aware of another (physical) body. A lucid dreamer may "realize" they have a body that's sleeping, but they have no awareness of that sleeping body. An OBEer also occupies his or her non-physical body, but often they are aware of their physical body in relation to where their consciousness is.

Under H, often the OBEer will see their physical body, but LDers do not. Under G, lucid dreams have been classified into two categories:

(1) ones that occur during REM sleep, and (2) ones that occur during non-REM (NREM) sleep. As far as I know, most of the research in LDs has been on the second kind. Although the data is lacking, studies on OBEs indicate they do not occur during REM sleep. If anyone knows of research which contradicts this, I'd like more information/references.

Other differences:

In a lucid dream, typically one does not dream about being in one's bedroom, as is common in the out-of-body state.

Also, after a lucid dream, the subject accepts the "unreality" of the lucid dream after awakening. After an OBE, the subject usually asserts emphatically that the experience was "real."

Many Lucid Dreams contain sexual content. In fact, author Patricia Garfield indicates that "fully two-thirds" of her LDs have sexual content.

During LDs, sexuality is convincingly real. In other words, it feels the same as real sex.

OBEs, however, rarely have sexual content. When OBEers report having "astral sex," the experience is not anything like physical sex. It's more like an ecstatic mind-trip, a transfer of energy, or a euphoria, but it doesn't feel like physical sex.

Lucid dreams are not easily remembered, unless one is conditioned. LaBerge indicates that memory is a key factor of having Lucid Dreams. OBEs, however, are usually remembered vividly for years.

Typical lucid dreams happen from REM sleep. People don't unexpectedly pass into a lucid dream from a waking state. But typical OBEs are initiated from a waking state. In fact, OBEs can unexpectedly occur from a waking state. For instance, several people (myself included) have reported OBEs during which they have unexpectedly "fallen out of their body" from total consciousness. Some of these (mine included) occur when the physical body is active, such as walking down the street.

Also, an out-of-body experience is a typical feature of a Near Death Experience (NDE). One can hardly think that Lucid Dreams occur during an NDE, especially because the physical body doesn't spontaneously go into REM sleep during an NDE.

LaBerge, in chapter 3 (page 61) of his (excellent) book "Lucid Dreaming" cites that "untested philosophical assumptions have until recently blocked the scientific study and acceptance of lucid dreaming." And yet his untested philosophical assumptions about the OBE have biased people's attitudes against regarding the OBE as a separate phenomena worthy of scientific study. As a result, many people have "written off" the OBE as a lucid dream of poor quality.

Regardless of what OBEs and Lucid Dreams are, I believe they are two separate phenomena, and I'm not alone in this belief (as supported by Gabbard and Twemlow). I do believe that occasionally people confuse one experience for the other. And granted: It's very difficult to tell the difference in some cases. One thing is for sure: more study is needed. It is premature to jump to the conclusion that "OBEs are actually variant interpretations of lucid dreams" as proposed by LaBerge in chapter 9 of his book.

Let the flaming begin.

Bob Peterson