Have you ever had a dream in which you realized you were dreaming? If so, then you’ve experienced what is called a lucid dream.
You’re in good company. It’s estimated that about half of the population has or will experience at least one naturally-occurring lucid dream in their lifetime. Even Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, seems to have written about awareness in dreams.
If you’ve never had a lucid dream, or are eager to have another, you can try to induce one. There are even some potential advantages to doing so.
What is a Lucid Dream?
A lucid dream is one in which your dream-self is conscious of the fact that you are dreaming. Like most regular dreams, they tend to take place during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stages of the sleep cycle when your brain is extremely active. The added awareness of a lucid dream can enhance your recognition of thoughts and emotions, as well as make the dream feel more vivid and realistic.
While they can occur on their own, lucid dreams are a rare event for most people. If you’re already good at remembering normal dreams or are naturally self-reflective and ruminate over thoughts during your wakeful hours, you may be more likely to experience a lucid dream or to have them more often. Whether or not that’s the case for you, there are also ways you can prompt yourself to have a lucid dream.
Lucid Dreaming Techniques
There are a number of methods you can try to increase your chances of having a lucid dream. Some are quick and easy to implement, while others will take more practice or a long-term commitment.
Throughout the day, while you’re awake, perform an action to test whether or not what you’re experiencing is real. By doing so, you’re training your brain to begin questioning reality not just while you’re awake, but also when you’re dreaming. Here are a few different actions you can try:
- Ask yourself, “Am I dreaming?”
- Look at your hands or at your face in a mirror to see if they look normal—often they are distorted in dreams.
- Try to push through a solid object such as a wall.
- Momentarily pinch your nose closed while closing your mouth at the same time. If you can still breathe, you’re dreaming.
- Try to read a clock or text. If the time or words drastically change on the second attempt, you’re not awake.
- Use the tried-and-true pinch test and see if you feel it or not.
It is recommended that you pick one action and do it at regular intervals throughout the day.
Write down your dreams as soon as you wake up. Be sure to include as many details as you can remember. Periodically review your entries and look for signs that occur often (such as certain people, things, or events) and any other repeated patterns. It’s thought that familiarizing yourself with your dreams while awake will help you to recognize specific signs and patterns as being dream-associated while you’re asleep.
You can also use a voice recorder or an app instead of pen and paper. Some apps will even let you search across all of your entries to make finding recurring dream signs easier.
Wake Back to Bed (WBTB)
Deliberately wake yourself up during a REM cycle by setting an alarm to go off five hours after falling asleep. Stay awake and alert for at least 30 minutes by reading or performing another mentally-engaging activity. Just be sure to choose an activity that’s not physically demanding, so your body will remain tired. After your activity, go back to sleep, hopefully taking your wakeful awareness directly back into REM.
Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD)
Simply tell yourself that you are going to have a lucid dream. It may sound too simple, but the MILD technique was developed based on scientific research conducted by Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. The act of reminding yourself to do something uses prospective memory, encouraging your mind to remember to do it in the future.
You can also add specificity, such as telling yourself that you’re going to lucidly dream of flying, a behavior not associated with normal day-to-day life. To increase your chances even further, try combining this with WBTB by reminding yourself to lucid dream before you go back to sleep after your activity.
Wake-Initiated Lucid Dreaming (WILD)
This is a more difficult method that will take a lot of practice. Lie down and relax your body while keeping your mind alert. The idea is to trigger a hypnagogic hallucination—a half-asleep, dreamlike experience—right before you’re about to fall asleep and drop directly into a REM stage.
Play More Video Games
Video games immerse the player into a fictional world in a way that is similar to the fantasy of a dream. They also mimic the state of control you’re aiming for in a lucid dream where you can explore the dream world and spend time looking at the details.
Role-playing video games take it a step further, mimicking control of the storyline. It’s another way of training your brain while awake, but should be avoided during the last hour before bed to prevent insomnia.
Use a Device or App
There are devices, often in the form of a headband or eye mask, and apps available that will use external stimuli to interrupt deep sleep. By causing lights or sound to penetrate your dreams, they can trigger awareness in the dream state.
Get More REM Sleep
This is an easy option that is also beneficial to your general health. Every night, you cycle through multiple REM stages, each one increasing in duration the longer you sleep. Since vivid dreams are most likely to occur in the REM stage, making sure that you get in as many cycles as possible will increase your chances of having a lucid dream in one or more of them. You could also have more time to spend in a lucid dream during a longer REM stage just before you wake up.
To increase your chances of getting more REM sleep, try the following sleep hygiene tips:
- Following a regular sleep schedule. This will help train your mind and body to know when it’s time to sleep and wake up, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
- Allowing enough time to get adequate sleep. Be sure to head to bed 7-8 hours (for most adults) before you need to wake up in the morning.
- Controlling the temperature of your room. 60°F to 67°F is considered by many experts to be the optimal ambient temperature range for sleep.
- Keeping the room dark. Our circadian rhythms are hard-wired to associate light with wakeful hours, so limiting the amount of light entering your room signals it’s sleep time. You can block out intruding light by using blackout curtains or an eye mask.
- Having a comfortable bed. When it comes to falling asleep and staying asleep your mattress matters. You should purchase the right mattress for your body type and sleep position. You can also use a high-quality mattress topper to increase your comfort level and get better sleep.
- Avoiding caffeine or looking at electronics (blue light) before bed. Both can make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Exercising during the day. You won’t want to do it right before bed, since this can disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle. However, regular exercise earlier in the day is beneficial for sleep.
Potential Benefits to Lucid Dreaming
Aside from being fun or interesting, lucid dreaming could also provide more tangible benefits.
Stop Recurring Nightmares
Jolting awake from a frightening or acutely stressful dream is never fun. Recurring nightmares are often caused by stress or anxiety, and lucid dreaming may be able to help you realize what you’re experiencing isn’t real. This could let you end the dream outright, waking yourself up before it reaches peak intensity, or allow you to change the nightmare into something more pleasant.
The dream environment can be a safe place for you to interact with something you fear, thereby reducing your fear of it. Since dreams are not real, nothing in your dream can cause you actual, physical harm. If, for example, you’re afraid of speaking in front of people, you can safely practice public speaking in your dreams, manipulating crowd size and reactions. Or, if you’re afraid of heights, you can gradually increase how high up you go, knowing that you can never hurt yourself if you fall in your dream.
Improve Motor Skills
By acting out movements in your dreams, you may be able to increase your ability or effectiveness at doing them in real life. When you move in your dream, it activates the sensorimotor cortex of your brain, just as if you were actually moving while awake. This could be used to aid in rehabilitation after an injury or to enhance athletic abilities.
Some lucid dreamers claim they’ve experienced greater creativity. Though these claims have not been scientifically backed, there’s no harm in trying lucid dreaming to see if it will work for you, too. It may aid you in actual creation, such as writing a story or solving problems that require creative thinking, by testing out different scenarios and their outcomes.
Before trying to induce lucid dreaming, be sure to consider the following:
- Use of the induction techniques (WBTB, MILD and WILD) could cause problems such as preventing you from getting enough rest by disrupting your sleep cycle, or causing sleep paralysis (a temporary, but often terrifying experience where your brain is alert, but you cannot move your body).
- Lucid dreaming is not recommended for those with a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, as it can further blur the line between reality and fantasy. Be sure to consult your doctor prior to trying any of the above methods.
- While lucid dreaming could help you to process difficult real-life experiences or combat recurring nightmares and have positive effects for those suffering from PTSD, the results have been mixed. If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, you may want to consult your physician before trying to induce lucid dreams.
- None of the methods above are guaranteed to induce lucid dreaming, but they will increase your chances of it, especially if done on a regular basis.
- Even when you achieve awareness in your dreams, you may or may not be able to control any or all aspects of them. This could improve with practice, however.
Which method is the best for inducing a lucid dream?
This will vary from person to person. Your best bet is to use trial and error. Begin with a method that will be easiest for you to put into practice, then move on to another if it doesn’t work for you after a few tries.
Can I try more than one method at a time?
Yes! Many of these methods can be combined. For instance, you can practice reality testing and keep a dream journal all while making sure to give yourself plenty of time to sleep each night so that you can maximize your time in REM.
How many chances will I have to lucid dream each night?
The number of times you enter a REM cycle—the dream stage—is dependent on how long you’re asleep for, so be sure to allow yourself a suitable amount of time for rest. The average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep. If you’re getting less than that, try going to sleep earlier.
Is lucid dreaming dangerous?
Since dreams are not real, they pose no danger in that respect; however, lucid dreaming could cause you to lose sleep or to get poorer sleep. If you start to notice that you’re more tired during the day after lucid dreaming, you should stop trying to induce them. You may also want to consult a doctor if you continue to feel fatigued or have symptoms of depression, which can be worsened by poor or lack of sleep.
Can I get stuck in a lucid dream?
The good news is that you can only remain in the dream state for so long and will eventually wake up. You can also try prompting yourself to wake up in the dream by calling for help, blinking, falling asleep in the dream, or trying to read.
Lucid dreams can help you to solve a problem or be used as a form of entertainment while you sleep. With practice, you can experience them more frequently and enhance your level of control. While safe for most people, be sure to consider both the positives and negatives for yourself before trying to initiate lucid dreaming on purpose.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.