Learning to lucid dream is a science and an art. It takes practice—few are able to do experience all that lucid dreaming as to offer without a period of frustrating practice and dedicated effort.
Like any other great skill, the rewards are worth it.
Simply put, a lucid dream is a dream that you’re aware of having. But that simple explanation hardly does justice to the full possibilities lucid dreaming presents. To those who've spent years cultivating the skill, a truly lucid dream is something akin to a spiritual experience.
Let's dive in.
Some lucid dreamers enjoy the ability to control the location, characters, and events of their dream. Although this is a well-known phenomenon, not all dreams are lucid dreams. Typically, we dream without understanding that the experience isn't real.
A lucid dream, however, is any in which you remember that what you're experiencing is simply a hallucination. It’s an alluring goal, and many people around the world aspire to lucid dreams. At the same time, some researchers estimate that only up to 13% of efforts to lucid dream are successful. It’s a difficult thing to accomplish. So if you’re ready for a challenge, let’s look at some tips for lucid dreaming.
The practice of dream journaling is nothing new. For hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, people have recorded their dreams in an effort to better understand them. One of the earliest known medical researchers, Aelius Galenus, used the idea to practice a form of rudimentary therapy nearly 2,000 years ago. So, yes, it’s very much an established concept.
For the purposes of lucid dreaming, keeping a dream journal “primes” your brain. To have lucid dreams, a person needs to be aware of their own dream-state, and dream journaling helps us recognize the patterns of our dreams, as well as what it feels like to experience dreaming.
It’s not uncommon to have trouble sleeping. In recent years, studies show that as many as 27% of adult Americans struggle to fall asleep. Of course, if the aim is to lucid dream, sleeping well is a crucial part of the project. The first step then, for many people, is to focus on sleep hygiene—physical and mental factors that contribute to our quality of sleep, often without us realizing.
One of the most important factors is the mental connections we develop with the space we sleep in. Many people use their beds as a space for relaxing and working. However, sleep specialists do not recommend this. The sleeping area should be for sleep, and sleep alone. By adhering to that principle, a person sets an expectation in their brain that helps them to sleep. In other words, you start thinking, when I go to bed, I go to sleep.
We often overlook other aspects of sleep hygiene as well. Darkness is a critical factor, and we can assure this through the use of blackout curtains, or a sleeping mask. Headphones or earplugs can achieve the same result with regards to noise. Meanwhile, a person should also take time to develop a calming and focused bedtime ritual. Some examples are taking a bath or meditating. Giving oneself ample time to “cool down” from a busy day can be the difference between fitful sleep and satisfying rest.
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In the 2010 sci-fi classic Inception, characters are able to enter another person’s dreams and manipulate the environment to such an extent that they occasionally lose track of whether they are dreaming. To combat this, many of the characters carry a totem. This is an object they know intimately, and which they can use to determine if they are asleep or awake.
The events of the movie are oh-so Hollywood, but the idea of conducting frequent reality checks is a proven lucid dreaming technique. Similar to the notion of dream journaling, the goal here is to increase one’s understanding of what the experience of dreaming (versus wakefulness) is like.
To use the technique, take a few moments every day to process the sensation of being awake. You might focus on your breathing, your heartbeat, or your other senses. There are no hard and fast rules, so long as you’re heightening your awareness of the moment. Later, when making an effort to lucid dream, you should be able to more clearly identify the state of dreaming in contrast.
One crucial piece of the lucid dreaming puzzle is what’s known as intention setting. In practice, this means focusing on the kinds of dreams you want to have. You might ask yourself the question, just before falling asleep, “what will I dream about tonight?” The key is to focus: pick a single thing and push all your mental energy onto it.
At the same time, it can be useful to use the MILD technique, which stands for Mnemonic Induction to Lucid Dreaming. There are a few different parts to the MILD method, but the big one is as follows. As you’re falling asleep and focusing on the dream you intend to have, repeat a phrase or word to yourself that is connected to the act of dreaming. The simplest phrase might be, “I will have a lucid dream.” Doing so should increase the odds you have a lucid dream.
A final aspect of having a lucid dream is timing. Most dreaming happens during the REM sleep stage, when the body becomes slightly paralysed and activity in certain brain regions drastically increases. The REM stage happens roughly 90 minutes after you go to sleep, and reoccurs throughout the night.
Knowing this, some aspiring lucid dreamers make an effort to wake up during a REM stage, then quickly fall asleep again to continue their dreams—only now with an awareness that they are dreaming. It’s no easy task. Without the aid of a full-blown sleep study lab, most people will be unable to time this perfectly. That being said, with the use of a simple phone timer and a little bit of practice, it’s a method that many have reported to be successful.
For most people, lucid dreaming takes practice. Although lucid dreams have been reported for millennia, scientists have only recently begun to seriously study the psychological, biological, and other factors at play. As such, there is still a significant amount of information we don’t yet know about how lucid dreams are formed, or what happens in a person’s brain as they lucid dream.
Like the science of dreaming in general, lucid dreams remain largely a mystery. That being said, the tips discussed in this article are borne out by the experience of thousands. With the right amount of effort and patience, they can be used to begin exploring the marvelous world of lucid dreams.
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