Lucid dreams are those where you know you are dreaming. That’s it. Lucid dreams tend to have this fantastic association where they are extremely vivid, the laws of physics do not apply, and sensory input is very different. For example, you may taste colors, feel sounds, and know things outside of the regular ways of knowing (seeing, feelings, tasting, touching, and hearing). This may or may not be true. How a dream presents does not determine whether or not it is lucid. Lucidity also doesn’t make a dream more meaningful than other dreams. They are just dreams where you know you are dreaming.
A nightmare is an unpleasant dream that leaves you feeling undesirable emotions like sorrow, terror, or anxiety. It can have an identifiable antagonist or simply be a feeling. It can recur or happen only once. In order for nightmares to be nightmares, they just have to be dreams that leave you feeling not great in some way.
So, can you have lucid nightmares? Not likely. Why? Because if you know you are dreaming, you can also change your response to the action and emotion in the dream. Once you have choices, you can choose to do something about the thing that is disturbing you. As long as you make that choice, there is no longer a reason to feel terrified, anxious, or uneasy. You probably will feel empowered.
For example, I am a lucid dreamer. I had a dream that I had been tiger hunting and had a tiger in the back seat of my car. The tiger was calm so when my friend asked me if she could see him, I said, “Sure.” She got into the car and the tiger began to maul her. This was pretty bloody and awful and could have been a nightmare, but being lucid I chose to handle it by sternly telling it to stop and it did. Voila! The blood cleaned up, she was fine and there was no nightmare.
This is actually great life practice. (In fact all dreams are great for this purpose). When confronted with something unpleasant, we always have many options. When we understand that we have some control and choose to act in ways that empower us, we become more resourceful (in dreams and reality). When we are resourceful, the fear, anxiety, and sorrow dissipate.
The takeaway? You have power right now. When life appears as if it’s a nightmare, make a different choice. When confronted with nightmares, we often run, fall, scream, freeze in place – maybe like in life. You can do something different. So do something different. You can’t control what people and things around you do, but you can control what you do. This often neutralizes threat and increases skill.