You’re at school or perhaps work. You’re giving an important presentation in front of a crowd of people….and you suddenly realize that you’re naked. Though the details may be different, many people around the world have had this common dream. Researchers largely believe that this dream is about vulnerability, anxiety or worry.
What if in the middle of a naked-in-public-dream, you could be conscious that you’re in a dream and even change the outcome of the dream? Instead of feeling humiliated and maybe even waking up still cringing with embarrassment, you can change the course of the dream. Maybe you could snap your fingers and suddenly be wearing a tuxedo. Or maybe you turn into an animal or even fly away?
What is lucid dreaming?
Lucid dreaming is when you are aware that you are in a dream. Lucid dreaming ranges from a faint recognition that you are in a dream to fully controlling your actions, people, or objects in the dream or the dream itself.
At some point in their lives, most people will have a lucid dream. Children tend to have them more easily and with greater frequency than adults. Researchers think this is because children have more active imaginations than adults. Sometimes taking certain medications triggers people to experience intense, lucid dreams.
You can train yourself to have lucid dreams. At first, you may simply just become aware that you’re in a dream, but over time you can learn to control your actions within your dreams. Advanced lucid dreamers may direct not only their actions, but the narrative of the dream itself.
Although not much is known about lucid dreaming or even dreaming in general, researchers believe that lucid dreaming may be therapeutic. While dreaming, your subconscious mind is processing the events of the past day. While lucid dreaming, you may experience emotions, make decisions or practice conclusions that provide insight and may even help you to resolve situations in real life.
How to sleep and have lucid dreams
Let’s discuss how we sleep and explore some ways to begin lucid dreaming. While after trying these techniques you may begin to have lucid dreams immediately, for some people it can take weeks, if not months before they begin to have lucid dreams. A common problem is that the moment in the dream you become aware that you are in a dream, you wake up.
It can take time to learn to continue to dream and broaden the internal awareness of when you are in a dream. Also it will take time to learn to guide your actions or the direction of the dream, so don’t be discouraged if your dream life doesn’t change right away.
A dream can be defined as a series of thoughts, images, ideas, emotions and sensations that occur in your mind during various phases of sleep. For millennia, poets, philosophers, scientists and religious leaders have tried to make sense of dreams.
Stages of lucid dreams
When you lay down and fall asleep at night your body goes through four stages of sleep: stages 1, 2, 3 and REM.
Stage 1 is the lightest stage of sleep. You’re drowsy, transitioning between sleep and waking. Your muscles relax. Your brain waves and eye movements slow. This stage is brief, often lasting less than 10 minutes. You can easily be roused. Sometimes people experience muscle spasms and hypnic jerks. A ‘catnap’ generally takes place in this stage of sleep.
Stage 2 is still considered light sleep, although it’s a deeper state than stage 1. For most people, this comprises roughly 40-60% of total sleep time. In this stage, the brain experiences sudden increases in brain wave frequency known as sleep spindles before slowing down. A power nap generally falls into stage 2.
Stage 3 is considered restorative sleep. This is when the body gathers energy for the next day, makes repairs to the flesh, stimulates growth, development and boosts immune function. It makes up 5-15% of a night’s sleep. Children and teens spend much longer in restorative sleep than adults do. During stage 3, muscles are completely relaxed and there’s no eye movement. Your body is less reactive to external stimuli and you’re harder to wake.
Stage 4 and the final stage of sleep is REM which stands for rapid eye movement. REM can occur at any time during the sleep cycle, although the onset of the first REM period for most people begins about 90 minutes after going to sleep. During REM your brain becomes more active and the majority of dreams occur. Your brain processes and synthesizes information from the past day so that it can be stored in your long-term memory. For most, lucid dreaming happens during REM, although some advanced lucid dreamers claim to experience lucid dreams at any stage of sleep.
The first REM phase tends to be short, only a few minutes. After REM, the body starts the sleep cycle again, with intervals of wakefulness mixed with sleep stages 1, 2 & 3 before returning to REM for longer periods of time as sleep continues.
Most people go through four to five sleep cycles a night with the first one lasting about 90 minutes and subsequently cycles lasting on average between 100 to 120 minutes. Dreams can be any length from a few seconds to upwards of 20 minutes. The average person has three to five dreams per night.
Steps to creating a perfect environment to have a lucid dream
The first step towards lucid dreaming is to make sure that you’re creating an environment that’s conducive to good sleep. That means keeping your bedroom at a temperature comfortable to you, and making sure that it is peaceful, dark and quiet.
You may consider using blackout curtains or an eye mask to block ambient light. Some people find ear plugs, white noise machines or soft instrumental background music handy.
Also you may want to consider listening to music or soundscapes with binaural beats. Binaural beats use two lower tone slightly different sound frequencies–generally one in each ear, to create the perception of a single new frequency tone.
Your brain “tunes” to this new combined frequency and it affects the brain’s degree of arousal. Research indicates that binaural beats slow brainwave activity—and that may alter your moods, helping you to relax, lower your anxiety, and make it easier for you to sleep soundly. Some binaural beats may actually induce lucid dreaming.
Practise good sleep hygiene
Practice good sleep hygiene by not only going to bed each night at the same time, but making sure that you get at least 7 hours of sleep. Having a consistent and calming routine that winds down your day before bed is important too.
Limit vigorous exercise, alcohol and sugary snacks to at least 60 minutes before bed. There’s some conflict within the scientific community as to whether we should also unplug from electronics at least 60 minutes before sleep. Recently, a large study has shown that using electronics before bedtime doesn’t affect the level of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep in your body.
However, others believe that electronics still stimulate the brain too much at a time when you’re supposed to be settling down. So use your best judgment and probably stay away from websites that discuss politics before going to bed. Also, you may wish to practice aromatherapy, light stretching, breathing exercises, meditate or pray before going to sleep.
Keep a dream journal
A good way to encourage lucid dreaming is to write in a dream journal. Keep your journal and a pen near your bed so it’s easily accessible in the middle of the night. In the morning or any time you are awake, take a minute or two to concentrate on the memory and then immediately write down your dream.
It’s fine if you don’t remember the full dream. Write what you remember; include visual details, locations, characters, emotions, smells, colors and sounds. Add how you felt upon waking and also how you feel remembering the dream.
If you aren’t much for writing, you can narrate and record your dreams. However, some researchers think that there’s a meditative quality in putting pen to paper and aspects of the brain’s recall functions are best served through writing.
The more you write down or record your dream memories, the more you will be able to recall your dreams.
What’s the use of having a lucid dreams if you forget it upon waking up?
Helpful to dreaming, lucid dreaming and writing in a dream journal is to go to bed with deliberate intentions. Some people refer to this as MILD or Mnemonic Induction to Lucid Dreaming. Every night, as you close your eyes and drift off to sleep, repeat the same phrase to yourself.
The phrase should state your desired aim such as ‘I will know when I am dreaming and I will remember my dreams.’ You may even want to visualize a place where you’d like to go in your dream. By maintaining a dream journal, your capacity to remember your dreams will grow.
Regularly read through or listen to your dream journal looking for themes, symbols or patterns. Do certain people or animals show up in your dreams over and over? Being aware of the recurring details of your dreams will help you to recognize when you are dreaming. Frequently occurring dream details may also offer insight into what issues your inner psyche is concerned with or focused on.
Importance of conducting reality checks
Another important technique to encourage lucid dreaming is doing reality checks. A reality check is a simple test where the result is different in waking life versus when you’re dreaming.
An example of a reality check would be to take the index finger of one hand and try to push it through the palm of your other hand while asking yourself if you’re dreaming. In waking life, of course, your finger is met with resistance and cannot go through your palm. However, in a dream, your finger will easily pass through your other hand.
Another common reality check is to inspect your hand and count the digits on it, while moving them and asking yourself if this is a dream? In dreams, you’ll find that your hands and feet are distorted, sometimes with extra fingers or toes.
Choose a few reality checks and perform them a couple of times during the day. After a while, the reality checks will become habits and you’ll carry the habits over into your dreams. The impossible outcome of the reality checks happening can clue you to realize that you’re in a dream.
It becomes easier to induce a state of consciousness in dreams when you are self-aware in general. Often, we spend most of our days on autopilot. We previously mentioned meditation in regards to creating a peaceful bedtime routine, however, you may want to consider a regular meditation practice where you pause a few times a day and meditate.
There are several websites and podcasts that offer guided meditations and music designed to help you on your journey.
Disrupt your sleep
You can also try to induce a lucid dream by deliberately disrupting your sleep. The Wake Back to Bed method is another technique to trigger lucid dreaming. Before you go to sleep, set your alarm clock for 6 hours. If you’re a person who only gets 6 hours of sleep, set your alarm clock for 4 hours. The goal after trial and error is to determine the most accurate time when you personally are in a long REM cycle of sleep.
When your alarm goes off and you wake up, make yourself fully alert. If you remember a dream upon waking, quickly jot it down. Get out of bed. You may wish to read, wash your face or drink water to ensure that you are fully awake. Occupy yourself for 30 to 60 minutes before going back to bed.
If your brain is still very alert, practice meditation, listen to binaural music or perform MILD [Mnemonic Induction to Lucid Dreaming]. If you were previously dreaming before you woke up, think about the dream as you drift back off. If you weren’t dreaming, visualize where you’d like to go in a dream.
The Wake Back to Bed method promotes lucid dreaming because you’re purposefully stimulating your conscious brain at a time you would normally be experiencing a REM phase of sleep. This spills over to consciousness in dreams.
When you do return to sleep, often you will go straight into REM sleep from a conscious state, which also induces lucid dreaming. Generally, the Wake Back to Bed approach works best if practiced a few times a week.
So if you would like to experience your own personal version of Inception we suggest trying the aforementioned techniques. We would like to emphasize that everyone is different and some methods will work for some and not for others. Consistency is the key to regularly having lucid dreams. Also, this is just an introduction, there are many more advanced tactics to lucid dreaming.