You may have heard the stories of lucid dreaming. Perhaps you have a friend who raves about it. There’s certainly no shortage of articles and YouTube videos waxing poetic about this near-magic experience.
But… is it really possible to control your dreams?
In short, yes it is.
Far from fiction, lucid dreaming is real and possible to achieve. Like any artistic or athletic feat, it is an ability that must be cultivated over time. It requires practice and dedication to achieve success, though the rewards can be immense.
Learning to achieve this requires a bit of background on the science of dreaming, as well as a brief understanding of the sleep cycle. It also requires regular practice and adherence to a strict sleeping routine.
But, if you learn to master the art of lucid dreaming, you will gain access to one of the most interesting realms of human consciousness. Blending reality with fantasy, and control with imagination. Read on to learn about the basics of lucid dreaming, and how to go about experiencing it for yourself.
The Basics: What Is Lucid Dreaming?
While we will go into a short description of the science of lucid dreaming in this article, you can also check out our more in-depth piece on the subject here. If you are really interested in mastering the art we recommend checking out both.
Lucid dreaming, in a nutshell, refers to the sensation of being able to control your dreams. More precisely, the National Sleep Foundation defines it as, “extremely vivid reveries where the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming.” The key is that the person has an awareness that what they are experiencing is a dream, though they retain agency to control their actions and thoughts inside of that world.
The science of why this happens is still murky, to be sure. Our most vivid dreams take place during the REM stage of the sleep cycle, which is characterized by intense brain activity and body paralysis. Lucid dreaming occurs during this stage as well—though studies indicate that human brain activity during a lucid state looks much different than it does during a typical dream. This lucidity is created by, or perhaps leads to, brain activity that has qualities of both sleep and wakefulness.
What Can I Expect When Lucid Dreaming?
Lucid dreaming is a strange experience. Over half of all adults have experienced lucid dreaming, so you may already be familiar with the sensation. But if you are not, you can expect an interesting mix of the fantastical and the mundane.
As mentioned before, lucid dreaming is a kind of skill that can be cultivated over time. The more you do it, the more control you will likely feel over what occurs and what you are able to do in your dream. Many people think they are quite scary, especially at first. It can feel like an all-too-real nightmare that you can’t quite wake from.
But the more you practice having them, the more comfortable you will be within them. People who are experts in the state claim they are able to experience things like flying, meeting famous people or dead relatives. Even traveling to places they’ve never before seen. The main takeaway is that you will likely be able to control your body, and the environment around you too if you practice the craft enough.
Please note, however, that lucid dreaming looks different for everyone. It might terrify some while others find it joyous. It all depends on you, and what you are comfortable with.
With all these things in mind, here are a few tips that experts say will allow you to experience lucid dreaming, and even get better at it as time goes by. We’ve broken this section up into the steps you can take to prepare while you’re awake. And what things you can do while you are dreaming.
While you’re awake:
- Keep a dream journal: Write down anything you can recall, as soon as you wake up. This will help you to recognize the patterns and sensations that reoccur during your subconscious. The technique works because the more you can recognize these things, the better chance you will have of becoming aware you are dreaming which helps guide you to a state of lucidity.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule: The more you are able to stick to a set time for going to bed and waking up, the better chance you have of maintaining the healthy sleep cycles necessary for entering the REM state and thereby giving yourself a better chance to dream and be cognizant of the fact that you are dreaming.
- Meditate before bed: Relaxation is important for good sleep, as well as dreaming. Meditation before bed will help you to relax the mind enough for sleep and provides you with the added benefit of relieving some of the anxiety that might contribute to nightmares or sleep anxiety.
- Count, repeat and visualize: As you lie in bed ready to sleep, count down from 100 while repeating the phrase “I’m having a dream,” in your head. It sounds corny, but the more you remember to acknowledge that you are dreaming, the likelier you will. Visualizing the type of dream you want to have is helpful as well.
- Wake up and go back to bed: You can also set an alarm to go off during the middle of the night, about 4-6 hours after you’ve gone to bed. When you wake up, get back in bed and repeat the visualization step above. This will help stimulate your body by going into the REM state. This is where you have the best chance at a lucid dream.
When you think you might be dreaming:
- Learn to do “reality checks”: If you’ve seen the film Inception, you might be familiar with this exercise. This means coming up with a way to see if what you are experiencing is reality or… something else. It can be as simple as staring at your hand to make sure it looks the way it should. Or as complicated as throwing a ball up in the air to check that physics conforms to regular life on earth.
In Inception, Leo DiCaprio spins a top to check whether it falls over, as it would in real life. You might look weird doing this in your day-to-day life. However, as time goes on the habit will stick and you are likely to perform these checks in your dreams.