We all dream at night, although many of us aren’t able to remember our dreams. If you have ever had a nightmare where you were petrified or a dream that was so pleasant you wish you never woke up, you may have thought to yourself that it would be useful to have been able to change the dream-either to make it less scary or to take the pleasantness further. According to proponents of lucid dreaming, you can do that and more once you become experienced in lucid dreaming.
What is lucid dreaming?
Lucid dreaming is, at its simplest, becoming aware that you are dreaming during your dream without waking up. Experienced lucid dreamers can choose their actions and events and control the direction the dream is going in. Considering that we spend approximately 8 hours per day sleeping and if we live to be 75 years old, then we will have spent 25 years sleeping. Dreaming accounts for 20 to 25% of an adult’s sleep time (REM sleep)…that is more than 6 years of uncontrolled dreaming that could perhaps be time better spent. Lucid dreaming is a learnable skill and has been used as a treatment for people with recurring nightmares, for solving creative problems, role playing and trying out new behaviors or social skills, and for creative or artistic inspiration. Sometimes called conscious dreaming, it is a dream in which you know you are dreaming. The actual level of lucidity during a dream can vary. With high lucidity, the dreamer is highly aware that he is dreaming and events are not real; he is aware that nothing can hurt him and can face his fears head on. During low level lucidity, the dreamer is only partially aware and has little or no control in his dream. Dream control and lucid dreaming are related but different; you can have one without the other.
Historically, lucid dreaming is not new and not a “new age” concept. It has been around since Tibetan Buddhists practiced “dream yoga” in the 8th century. During dream yoga, they must maintain full awareness or consciousness while in a dream state. “According to Buddhist teachers, the experience of lucidity helps us understand the unreality of phenomena, which would otherwise be overwhelming during dream or the death experience.” (Wikipedia, 2012). The term ‘lucid dreaming’ was first used by Frederik van Eeden, a Dutch psychiatrist, in an article written in 1913. Although it fell out of favor for many years, there has been a significant resurgence of interest in the past 2 decades. There is even an assortment of telephone ‘apps’ to help you experience it!
There are 2 main types of techniques in lucid dreaming, depending on how you begin it: DILD (Dream Induced Lucid Dream) and WILD (Wake Induced Lucid Dream). A DILD (dream induced or dream initiated) starts as a normal dream but during that dream, the dreamer realizes it is a dream. A WILD (wake induced or wake initiated) happens when the dreamer goes directly into a lucid dream as soon as he falls asleep. It has been frequently defined as ‘putting the body into a sleep state while keeping the mind awake’. DILD is best for beginners. WILD is allegedly more powerful as it enables you to have lucid dreams when you choose to, as well as providing more vivid dreams because there is no lapse between the conscious and dream state. As mentioned previously, WILD stems from Tibetan Buddhist practices used for thousands of years (dream yoga) and is considered an art form. This is usually considered more difficult than DILD, so we will focus the rest of this article on how to do dream induced lucid dreaming (DILD). With practice and experience, you may wish to move on to wake induced lucid dreaming; there are plenty of websites on the internet that will instruct you on the “WILD technique”.
What time can I lucid dream?
Lucid dreaming takes place mostly during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleep. Although night time sleep may seem like one long cycle, it is actually made up of several sleep cycles, each about 90 minutes long. Each 90 minute sleep cycle typically includes 4 NREM (non-rapid eye movement) stages as well as the final stage which is REM sleep. Interestingly, babies and children spend most of their time in REM sleep whereas adults spend only 20 to 25% of their sleep time in the REM stage. As each 90 minute (approximate) cycle passes, the REM stage gets longer in duration so that your longest REM stage is usually just before you wake up. The brain tends to erase the memory of the previous dream during the other stages of the sleep cycle (NREM). Keeping this in mind, you will need to wake during or immediately after the REM periods while the dreams are still fresh in your mind. You will be more successful with dream recall with the longer REM periods- which are roughly at 4.5, 6 and 7.5 hours into your sleep.
How do I do it?
Establishing and improving dream recall is the first step toward having lucid dreams. Secondly, you need to get to know your dreams well enough to find the differences between your dreams and your waking life. For example, if you dream about a certain person, place or thing that you would never see in your waking life, you can then use that as a cue to becoming lucid (if you see a flying dog in your dream, for example, you would tell yourself,” I am dreaming” and hence become aware that you are in the process of dreaming). Listed below are instructions to help you get started with developing the ability to dream lucidly:
- Develop the ability to recall your dreams by focusing on mental preparation just before falling asleep. You are going to talk yourself into remembering your dream. Use a mantra and keep repeating it over and over until you fall asleep (a simple phrase such as “I will remember my dreams”).
- Keep a dream journal of all the details, no matter how tiny or unusual, that you can remember the moment you wake up. Sometimes reliving the dream backwards helps jog memories.
- Notice items, images or themes in your dreams that can be used as cues to your brain that you are dreaming. They are often impossible things such as a flying dog or a green sky but can also be common items like a broken appliance or a theme such as the inability to talk. Train your brain to recognize these signs.
- Review your journal after a while and see if you can find recurring items or themes. If you do, use these as personal “dream signs” to cue your brain in to the awareness that you are dreaming.
- Perform “reality checks” on yourself throughout the day by asking yourself if something really happened (or ask yourself”am I dreaming?”). It seems a little silly at first to do it during the day, but it actually trains your brain to ask this question when you are asleep.
- Maintain your lucid dream state once you are aware that you are dreaming. This can be done with 2 simple tricks that sound weird but work to help you stay within your dream- “dream spinning” which is mentally spinning in a circle like a tornado, or try concentrating on your hands.
- Once you have mastered the art of maintaining your lucid dream, begin to exert control in your dreams. There is no limit as to what you can do in your dreams!
Above all, be patient. Everyone is different. The same technique may not work for everyone; there are many techniques available on the internet. It is recommended that you try out many techniques until you find what works the best for you. Remember to start by building up your dream recall and using a dream journal. As your dream recall improves, your awareness within your dreams will improve which leads to lucid dreaming.
Frederick vanEeden (1913). “A Study of Dreams”. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 26. (http:www.lucidity.com/vanEeden.html)