Metacognitive reflections on one's current state of mind are largely absent during dreaming. Lucid dreaming as the exception to this rule is a rare phenomenon; however, its occurrence can be facilitated through cognitive training. A central idea of respective training strategies is to regularly question one's phenomenal experience: is the currently experienced world real, or just a dream? Here, we tested if such lucid dreaming training can be enhanced with dream-like virtual reality (VR): over the course of four weeks, volunteers underwent lucid dreaming training in VR scenarios comprising dream-like elements, classical lucid dreaming training or no training. We found that VR-assisted training led to significantly stronger increases in lucid dreaming compared to the no-training condition. Eye signal-verified lucid dreams during polysomnography supported behavioural results. We discuss the potential mechanisms underlying these findings, in particular the role of synthetic dream-like experiences, incorporation of VR content in dream imagery serving as memory cues, and extended dissociative effects of VR session on subsequent experiences that might amplify lucid dreaming training during wakefulness. This article is part of the theme issue 'Offline perception: voluntary and spontaneous perceptual experiences without matching external stimulation'.
Keywords: REM sleep; consciousness; dissociation; lucid dreaming; metacognition; virtual reality.