Sleep and lucid dream researcher Stephen LaBerge has proposed that the sensations of astral projection, or an out of body experience, may be a specific type of lucid dream. These so-called out of body dreams may be related to wake-induced lucid dreams, which occur at the onset of sleep without any apparent loss of consciousness. Unlike a lucid dream– where someone by definition knows that they’re dreaming– people who experience an OBE may feel totally awake and not realize they’ve slipped into a different state of consciousness. Many experients assert that out of body experiences feel much more real than a dream: their onset is marked by unique sensations such as vibration in the body, unexplained noises, and often a feeling of paralysis. A 1991 study by LaBerge and Lynn Levitan asked whether OBEs could be a kind of conscious dream by looking for correlations between out of body experiences and wake-initiated lucid dreams in 107 lucid dreams collected in lab from 14 different subjects.
The researchers monitored the REM sleep of the participants, and had them use eye signals to indicate when they became lucid. In surveys afterward, the participants reported whether they’d had become lucid after the dream began (a dream-induced lucid dream, or DILD) or slipped directly into a dream while retaining lucidity (a wake-induced lucid dream, or WILD). LaBerge and Levitan also asked the participants if they had experienced any of the sensory phenomena associated with an out of body experience: vibrations, feelings of bodily distortion, or a feeling of floating or being outside of their physical bodies. They found that dreamers had experienced one or more of the classic symptoms of an OBE in 28% of the WILDS, but only 6% of the DILDs. This suggests you are much more likely to have an out of body lucid dream if you enter it from a waking state.
An additional round of surveys showed that 85% of OBE experients surveyed had their experiences while they were resting, dreaming, or about to fall asleep. They also showed that people are more likely to have an out of body experience if they have had lucid dreams; are frequently able to control their dreams; or if they have had flying, falling or floating dreams. However, out of body experiences might still differ markedly from lucid dreams because they usually occur when a person is either entering or waking from sleep. OBEs may be a very intense hypnagogic phenomenon that can kick in when the brain is disconnecting itself the body’s sensory input at the onset of sleep. In OBEs that occur when a person is waking up, the brain may have woken up before it could reestablish sensory connections with the rest of the body.
If you’ve never had an out of body experience, you may still have had out of body dreams. Many dream workers make the distinction between first-person and third-person dreams: in first-person dreams, you are directly involved in the dream. You may be someone completely different from your waking self, but your physical sensations and actions will be connected to a specific dream body. In third-person dreams, you become a viewpoint which is detached from the action or plot of the dream. Think of it like watching a movie in your head. You may connect emotionally with the plot and characters, but you won’t have a body in the dream to which these sensations attach. You may seem to be floating above the scene or watching a series of different scenes spliced together like edits in a movie. Many people describe alternating between first and third-person perspectives, starting out with dream bodies from which they later separate and then return to in the same dream. Researchers like LaBerge have suggested that third-person out of body dreams are a very gentle kind of out of body experience— one which doesn’t feel different from the rest of the dream or stop the dream narrative from unfolding.
At this point in time, we must consider out of body experiences as categorically different (if related) to lucid dreams. Though OBEs can share many of the same features as a lucid dream— such as the ability to fly, manipulate the physics of the environment, and teleport instantly to a desired location— these experiences also incorporate distinct bodily sensations not found in most lucid dreams. Overall, OBEs are much rarer than lucid dreams, though they can also be experienced by someone who has never dreamed lucidly. People who have experienced both OBEs and lucid dreams are usually quick to put OBEs in a category of their own. Experients of OBEs have asserted that they feel fundamentally more vivid, immediate and physiologically intense than a lucid dream. Until there are more in-depth scientific studies on the connection between lucid dreams and out of body experiences, it makes sense to recognize OBEs as similar yet separate from lucid dreams.