Lucid Dreams: Everything You Need To Know

Lucid Dreams

Lucid dreaming has been known about for thousands of years, and yet it is still relatively unknown. Read on to discover easy-to-follow tips on how to start lucid dreaming yourself, and the answers to common questions and concerns regarding entering this legendary dream state.

There’s nothing quite like lucid dreaming. When mastered, it far outstrips the power of some of the most profound psychedelics. Ranging from pure fun to a deeply insightful, therapeutic experience, lucid dreaming has something for everyone. Best of all, it’s free and totally healthy!

What Is Lucid Dreaming?

What Is Lucid Dreaming

Over recent years, lucid dreaming has become an increasingly popular topic. Numerous books have appeared on the subject, and indeed many people have discovered the fantastic playground that dreams can be.

We might vividly remember those occasional and exceptional flying dreams from our childhood, but, at some point during adolescence, most of us unfortunately lost the ability to enjoy dreamland. But, what exactly is a lucid dream?

Essentially, a dream becomes lucid when you become aware that you are dreaming.

However, becoming lucid in a dream does not necessarily imply that we have control over what is going on—that is a more advanced achievement. In the early stages of dream awareness, it is common to realise that you are in a dream but to still be swept along with it—remaining a spectator instead of an active participant. Dream control is absolutely possible, but it requires some effort.

As a consequence, there are different levels of lucidity. In higher levels, you might completely realise your freedom to roam around and materialise what you want. In a lower level of awareness, you might be more of a spectator, watching the movie of your dream.

Lucid dreams can be both fun and profoundly revealing. Dreams are a way to explore our unconscious mind and learn about the nature of reality. It’s a healthy process, and there’s absolutely no danger in lucid dreaming. Best of all—it’s completely legal.

Who Discovered Lucid Dreaming?

Who Discovered Lucid Dreaming

The term lucid dreaming was coined by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in 1913. However, knowledge and practice of lucid dreaming far predates this.

Lucid dreaming is nothing new; in fact, it’s most likely as old as our brains. While it might be something new for many people nowadays, dream awareness has long been a very important part of the spiritual life of many cultures. From Buddhism through to South American and African shamanism, lucid dreaming (often with the assistance of certain herbal concoctions) has been a mainstay of cultural practice dating much further back than recorded history.

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Both Hindus and Buddhists practise advanced forms of dream yoga, or yoga nidra. This heightened tantric state requires years of practise and dedication to achieve. There is little available information on it, however, as the knowledge is passed from student to teacher, rather than being disseminated widely to be easily grasped or explained.

What Does Lucid Dreaming Feel Like and Why Should You Try It?

What Lucid Dreaming Feels Like

It’s hard to describe lucid dreaming to those who haven’t experienced it. But, suffice it to say, it feels incredibly strange. At first, you are likely to experience shock. This is because the first time you recognise that you are in a dream world, you will suddenly become aware how bizarre, and how real, it feels. You will likely wake up the first couple of times you begin lucid dreaming. But persevere, as after this you will begin to do anything you can dream of (pardon the pun).

There are several potential benefits to lucid dreaming:

  • Insight: By freely exploring your subconscious, lucid dreaming can give you greater insight into the workings of your own mind.

  • Overcome fears: As you realise that the lucid dream state is a safe space in which you have total control, you can use it as an environment in which to tackle pervasive fears. In time, you will be better equipped to deal with these in real life.

  • Improve creativity: We all know that dreams are crazy. By fully realising and controlling them, the limits of your creativity become boundless. As such, the incredible things you experience in these states will fuel your waking creativity.

  • Engage in your deepest fantasies: Your dreams are your own private world. As such, you can do whatever you like in them with life-like realism.

  • Have fun: Whether you’re flying, exploring space, or seeing your favourite band, anything you want can come true in a lucid dream.

How Lucid Dreaming Works

How Lucid Dreaming Works

In 1975, Keith Hearne was the first scientist to discover evidence of lucid dreaming. This was then replicated and formalised by Dr Stephen LaBerge. The studies consisted of having volunteers move their eyes during lucid dreams in a way that was predetermined prior to them falling asleep. After this was repeated many times, it was concluded that the participants were indeed conscious while dreaming.

Lucid Dreaming for Beginners

Below are all the steps you’ll need to begin your lucid dreaming adventures.

Keep a Dream Journal

Lucid Dreaming: Dream Journal

One of the simplest and most effective ways to develop a better sense for dreams is to keep a dream journal. It’s easy; just keep a notepad and pencil next to the bed. Any time you wake up, immediately write down as much as you remember from your dream. Make this the very first thing you do after waking. As you probably know, our dream memory fades very rapidly.

The dream journal allows us to recognise dream patterns and generally attune our sensitivity toward dreams. As we remember our dreams and write about them, we become more acquainted with our personal dreamlands. Since dreams often repeat themselves, with more or fewer variations, there is a good chance that the next time you’re in a similar dreamworld, you’ll recognise it and turn lucid.

Reality Checks

Lucid Dreaming: Reality Checks

Another cornerstone of lucid dreaming is to perform so-called reality checks. This technique is aimed at the early levels of awareness, when you are already a spectator to your dreams, but not yet realising that you’re actually dreaming. In these states, performing a series of simple checks will help you determine whether you are in a dream or not.

The key to performing reality checks in a dream is to make it a common habit in the waking state. Ask yourself at least five times during the day, “Am I awake?”, and try to answer this question by looking closely at your environment. Is there something that looks weird?

Some ways you can perform a reality check include:

  • Holding your nose, closing your mouth, and trying to breathe: Can you do it even though you are blocking your airways?

  • Reading: Can you read a sentence twice without it changing?

  • Jumping: If you jump, can you fly? Do you float at all?

  • Looking at your hands and asking, “Am I dreaming?”: Are the amount of fingers correct? This will normally be wrong in a dream.

  • Clocks: Look at a digital clock. Does it remain constant?

A good one is the mirror check—in a dream, there tends to be a different reflection, or none at all. You can make it a habit to perform a reality check every time you pass a mirror in your home. Doors are also a good anchor point, because we encounter them many times during the day. Every time you walk through a door at home, make a habit of asking yourself, “Am I awake?”, and perform the checks.

After practising this for a few days consistently, it should be ingrained enough that there is a high chance you will perform a reality check somewhere during a dream. If indeed you find that, “No, I’m not awake”, you will all of a sudden become aware of your dream consciousness. It’s common to become overly excited and wake up when you first succeed at this. But, no worries, that’s a great sign. If you keep going, that’ll eventually take care of itself.

The MILD Technique

Lucid Dreaming: MILD Technique

MILD stands for mnemonic induction of lucid dreams, and was described by psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge, an expert in lucid dreaming. This technique focuses on memorising your last dream in detail and then re-entering that same dreamworld in an aware state. To do this, set your alarm to wake you up 4½, 6, or 7½ hours after you have gone to sleep. Those are the best times to become lucid.

As soon as you wake up, start recalling what you were dreaming. Then, imagine a moment in time during your dream where you can now include yourself becoming lucid, re-writing the script as it were. Tell yourself that you'll remember you are dreaming when you do re-enter that state. Go back to sleep with the firm expectation and determination to be lucid.

Nap Lucidity Technique

This technique tends to be the most successful when used in conjunction with reality checks. Set your alarm to wake you up 90 minutes before you normally would. After the alarm goes off, stay awake for 90 minutes either reading or thinking about lucidity. Go back to sleep with the expectation of becoming lucid.

Waggoner's Modified Castaneda Technique: Finding Your Hands

Lucid Dreaming: Finding Your Hands

This method revolves around making an association with your hands and becoming aware. This technique is essentially based on the reality checks, but focuses particularly on the hands. In dreams, looking at your own hands tends to be a bizarre experience, because most likely they won’t look like what you'd expect.

Instead, they might look goofy, massive, rubbery, or of a strange hue. So, to get the hang of this method, perform reality checks by looking at your hands several times during the day. At some point in your dream, you will see your hands and make the association that you are indeed dreaming.

A good way to mentally prepare is to sit on your bed until you are sleepy and in a meditative state. Stare at your hands and internally repeat to yourself in a soothing manner, “Tonight, while I am dreaming, I will see my hands and realise that I am dreaming”.

After five minutes, or when you become too tired, lie down and go to sleep. When you wake in the middle of the night, remember the phrase and reinforce your intention to enter a lucid dream. If you continue to repeat this process, at some point you will see your hands and become lucid.

The Herbal Path

Lucid Dreaming: Herbal Path

Certain herbs have a long history of being used to induce lucid dreaming. In South America, shamans have discovered the powers of Calea zacatechichi to induce vivid dreams.

But, when it comes to herbs, African healers are the ultimate experts. Working with an arsenal of herbs, they discovered a whole range of plants that support their spiritual journeys. The Xhosa and Zulu tribes of Africa were particularly renowned for using dream herbs such as Silene capensis, Entada rheedii, and Synaptolepis kirkii.

Dream Recall: How To Remember Dreams

Learning how to remember your dreams is an important part of lucid dreaming—you will want to remember the awesome time you had the next day! Techniques to achieve this may have already been touched upon in our other lucid dreaming explanations, but this section should give you a proper understanding of some methods you can use to train your mind into efficiently recalling your dreams.

Maintain a Healthy, Regular Sleep Cycle

Remember Dreams: Maintain Healthy, Regular Sleep Cycle

One of the best ways to enhance dream recall is to make sure you get a regular, good night's sleep. Dreams take place during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of the sleep cycle, which is repeated more and more the longer you sleep.

The first REM phase is the shortest, and happens quite quickly after falling asleep. This first dream will only last a few minutes, making it hard to remember the dream. With each following REM phase, your dreams will become longer, more vivid, and memorable, with dreams after 8 hours of sleep being the best.

If you only get 6 hours of sleep, or have bad sleeping habits, then you are very unlikely to remember any dreams; this is why some people say they never dream. It is actually more likely that they do not sleep enough to get far enough into the REM sleep cycle for their dreams to become memorable. It is not until after 6 hours of sleep that dreams start lasting 45–60 minutes and become really vivid.

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Do Not Consume Food, Alcohol, or Other Drugs Right Before Bed

Any chemicals you ingest can affect your ability to remember dreams, in a positive or a negative way. Some particular herbs enhance sleep and dream activity, while others work against it.

Unless you are taking a particular dreaming supplement, it is best to refrain from ingesting anything for a few hours before sleeping. This way, your brain will be devoid of any interfering chemicals, allowing you the best chance of remembering your dream when you wake.

Keep a Notepad and Pen Next to Your Bed

Remember Dreams: Keep Notepad and Pen Next to Your Bed

Doing this will allow you to write down your dreams as soon as you wake, at any point during your sleep, before you forget them. Make sure to write down everything, not just the gist or the interesting bits.

It is handy to keep your notepad in the same location every night, open at a blank page so you do not have to clamber about. Writing down your dreams and reading them back the next day will help reinforce dream memory within you, and get you into good lucid dreaming habits.

Be Determined To Remember Your Dreams

This may sound odd, but it works. By having the intention of becoming fully lucid and remembering your dreams, you can actually do so. It works in the same way as when you know you have to get up at a certain time in the morning and you wake just before the alarm rings.

The first thing you need to think upon waking is, “What was I dreaming?”. Do not move, do not think about the day ahead, just go over the dream a few times and write it down.

Set Regular Alarms

Remember Dreams: Set Regular Alarms

Earlier, we mentioned how the deeper you get into your sleep cycle, the longer and more vivid your dreams can become. This method will allow you to remember your longest and most recent dream, but is likely to have you forgetting all of the others you had.

An alternative method, for those who want to write down all of their dreams, is to set your alarm at intervals throughout the night to wake you up 4½, 6, and 7½ hours after you fall asleep. Ideally, those intervals should wake you during each of your REM phases of sleeping, allowing you to write down more dreams, giving you a bit more of an intensive memory workout.

Are Lucid Dreams and Sleep Paralysis the Same?

Lucid Dreams Sleep Paralysis the Same

While lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis share similarities, mainly a connection to REM sleep, they are otherwise distinct. The major difference is that lucid dreaming tends to be linked to healthy sleep and imagination, while sleep paralysis is linked to mental agitation and prolonged poor sleep.

Essentially, those who can lucid dream tend to have a good relationship with sleep, while those who suffer from sleep paralysis tend to have a bad one.

Can Lucid Dreaming Go Wrong?

Can Lucid Dreaming Go Wrong

While lucid dreaming can sometimes become uncomfortable, there is no inherent danger in it, and more often than not the experience will be pleasant. Let’s debunk or confirm some of the common fears associated with lucid dreaming.

  • Fear of getting trapped: Rest assured that this will never happen, though sometimes dreamers can find themselves waking into other dreams rather than reality, which can of course be distressing.

  • Slipping into sleep paralysis: This is not a great risk. As already mentioned, the two phenomena are the result of different mindsets. However, as both happen on the edge of REM sleep, it may be possible to slip into sleep paralysis rather than a lucid dream.

  • Being unable to distinguish reality from dreams: This is a big fear for some people, though whether it has actually happened to anyone is unclear. Remember that you will recognise you are lucid dreaming precisely through recognising abnormalities within the dream world. Therefore, it stands to reason that you will be able to distinguish reality through its normality.

Will Lucid Dreaming Make You Tired?

The consensus among most lucid dreamers is that it actually makes you feel more refreshed. However, due to the exciting and shocking nature of the lucid dream state, you might find yourself waking up and being unable to get back to sleep. Given this, until you have figured out your own relationship with it, it may be worth limiting it to nights when you can afford to be tired the next day.

Top Tips for Lucid Dreaming

Tips Lucid Dreaming

To get you well on your way to lucid dreaming, here are some final top tips to streamline the process.

  • It is good to read through your dream journal each night before you go to bed. This will get you in the right mindset to remember your dream.

  • Practice makes perfect. You may find it quite hard going at first, but continuing to follow the same regime each night should see you gradually improving—hang in there.

  • Keep a notepad with you throughout the day. As you go about your business, keep trying to remember extra details about your dream. If you remember anything, write it down.

  • Look for patterns in the dreams you've recorded. This will be helpful for both lucid dreaming and dream recall, enforcing it within your brain.

  • Remember that your recordings are a personal experience; they do not need to make sense to other people.

  • Record whatever you remember, even if it does not make sense to you!

  • Dreams tend to be easier to remember if you record them in the present tense.

  • If you have a recurring dream, record it also—it is the habit of recording, as well as the dream content itself, that will help you remember your future dreams.

Lucid dreaming is a hugely exciting skill to master. Whether you want to live out your wildest fantasies or deal with personal issues, it’s got you covered. Though at first it can be a difficult thing to master, it is well worth it. Where else are you going to find something so incredible, free, and without side effects? Harness the full power of your mind, and you’ll thank yourself later.

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