While lucid dreaming wasn’t formally recognized by the scientific community until the late 1970s, the idea has been around for centuries.
The first recorded description of lucid dreaming dates back to earlier than 1,000 BCE, where ancient Hindu writings describe consciousness within dreams.
There are also writings from ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and in the teachings of Islam.
But what exactly is lucid dreaming? And more importantly, how do you achieve it?
Here, we go over the basics of lucid dreaming so that you can take the first steps towards gaining control over your dreams.
What is Lucid Dreaming?
For the most part, when we’re in a dream, we don’t realize we’re outside the realms of reality. Strange physics, logic-defying creatures, and nonsensical storylines all seem perfectly natural when we’re asleep. It’s only when you wake up you realize anything was amiss.
Occasionally, though, something deep within our consciousness is able to alert us to the fact that our current reality is distorted.
Many of us can recall instances where we realized that we were dreaming while still asleep. According to one study by researchers at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, over three-quarters of adults experience a lucid dream at least once in their lives.
Lucid dreaming is when we come to a conscious realization that we’re in a dream. Once a lucid dreamer has realized that they’re asleep, they can manipulate certain elements of their reality. Every person is different when it comes to the extent of their abilities.
How Does Lucid Dreaming Work?
Lucid dreamers are able to either enter a dream fully aware of the fact that they’re asleep, or they can gain consciousness and control at some point during the course of their dream narrative. It may even happen spontaneously.
Different dreamers have different levels of control, depending primarily on experience and practice. Some, for example, can only gain control over what their unconscious self does, while others can manipulate the very fabric of the dreamscape around themselves, including their surroundings.
As with any other dream, lucid dreaming happens during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of our sleep cycle. While your muscles are relaxed or even immobile in this state, your brain is highly active, resulting in vivid dreams.
Lucid dreaming is considered to be a mixed state of REM dreaming and waking cognition. It occurs not just during sleeping delta and theta brain wavelengths, but also more active gamma wavelengths. This places lucid dreams in a unique realm that spans both conscious and unconscious thought.
The Benefits of Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming is more than just an impressive skill set to hone. It also has more practical applications that offer benefits that extend into waking life.
When lucid dreaming, you’re not confined by the laws of this world. Your unconscious offers a safe space to learn, experiment, and create.
Many artistic minds find inspiration through lucid dreaming. They can interact with the world in a way that isn’t possible during the day. If you’re suffering from a creative block, learning to lucid dream can help to get the ideas flowing again.
It isn’t just artistic minds that can be driven by their dreams. Taking control of your unconscious narrative can help you learn to take control of the real world.
In a dream, you can visualize milestones from asking for a promotion to standing up to a bully, giving you the confidence and the courage to change your waking life for the better.
Lucid dreaming is an excellent way to learn more about yourself as a person on a deep, subconscious level. Our thoughts and desires often manifest themselves in our dreams, even those of which we’re consciously unaware.
Entering into a state of lucidity while dreaming allows for personal reflection and meditation. You can get in touch with your true self, which for some may go as far as speaking to a dream version of their psyche.
You can also use lucid dreaming to help make major life decisions. You can try different scenarios in your dream to see how they might pan out in real life, and practice how you might react to various situations. Your subconscious will continue to mull the problem over until it comes to a viable solution.
It’s vital that adults get between at least seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night to function properly the next day. A lack of good sleep can take its toll on your mental and physical health and have a negative effect on work performance, relationships, and overall quality of life.
Nightmares are a common reason that people lose sleep. Not only can they cause us to wake up intermittently throughout the night, but they also detract from the quality of sleep that we do manage to get.
If you suffer from regular nightmares, learning to lucid dream can help you to take control of your dreamscape and turn the narrative around in your favor. You can consciously fight back and possibly even reduce the frequency of disrupting nightmares over time.
Lucid dreaming can also be used to conquer fears and phobias in the waking world, too. Your dreams give you a safe place to face your fears in an anxiety-free form of exposure therapy. The more often that you expose yourself to frightening scenarios in your dreams, the less these ideas will scare you in the daytime.
The Dangers of Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming offers many benefits, but the practice isn’t without its risks. Though it’s generally safe, there are some potential dangers to consider when perfecting your lucid dreaming skills.
Sleep paralysis is a common phenomenon during REM sleep, with around four in every ten people reporting not being able to move their muscles at points in the night. Several factors can contribute to sleep paralysis, including:
- Sleep deprivation
- An irregular sleep schedule
- Mental health conditions
- Substance abuse
- Taking certain medications
- Other sleep disorders
During episodes of sleep paralysis, you’re caught in a state between sleeping and waking. Often, people have visions and hallucinations during this time, and they can be frightening or alarming. What’s more, the inability to move can make a dreamer feel vulnerable and helpless.
When lucid dreaming, you may experience sleep paralysis. Even though you’re aware that you’re dreaming, you still can’t move your muscles. This can be a terrifying experience for those prone to frightening hallucinations during periods of sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis can also make it difficult to leave a dream, especially a bad one. Lucid dreamers can end up feeling trapped in their own mind. There’s no need to worry, however. There’s never been a case of a lucid dreamer getting caught in their dreamscape.
In a lucid dream, you feel everything just as you would in real life. This is true of both pleasant sensations and unpleasant alike. Your unconscious self will still feel the repercussions of your actions. Even though you may not suffer any lasting harm in real life, you can still feel fear, anger, pain, and other negative emotions.
For those who are emotionally sensitive, lucid dreaming can be an overwhelming experience. The ability to do anything both inside and outside the realm of possibility can be too much for people who crave order and stability and even lead to anxiety.
Overstimulation during lucid dreaming can also affect sleep quality. If the brain is kept at high activity levels for too long during sleep, you won’t wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and restored.
The Top Techniques for Lucid Dreaming
While lucid dreaming may seem like something that would be limited to psychics and yogis, just about anyone can teach themselves to take control of their dreamscape.
Keeping a Dream Journal
The first step toward learning to lucid dream is by improving your recall capabilities. One of the strongest predictors of whether or not a person can lucid dream easily is their ability to remember what goes on when they’re unconscious.
Though we all dream between around four to six times per night, we tend to forget up to 99% of narratives. Recording your dreams in a journal can help you to develop your dream memory so that you’re able to recall more of what happens on your unconscious adventures.
As soon as you wake from a dream, no matter what time it is, make sure to jot it down in your journal. It’s best to keep your journal, a pen, and a small light next to your bed so that you can reach it at all hours of the night.
If you’re too groggy to write after waking up, you can also use a recorder to create a voice journal. Alternatively, there are apps available for your phone or other mobile devices that are specially designed to help you capture your dreams.
Armed with a record of what’s happened in your most recent dreams, you can begin to search for symbols and patterns. Objects, people, or places that show up frequently in your sleep may help you to start recognizing when you’re dreaming.
You don’t necessarily have to wait to notice a pattern in your journal before you can start your foray into lucid dreaming. Reality checks are another powerful tool that lucid dreamers use to tell whether they’re asleep or not.
There are countless different ways to perform reality checks, and everybody has their own preferred method. What works well for one lucid dreamer may not have as strong of an effect for you. Popular reality checking methods include:
- Re-reading text: In real life, text on a page remains static. In our dreams, however, words can shift and change each time that you look at a piece of writing. If you notice inconsistencies in books, billboards, posters, and more, you may come to the realization that you’re in a dream.
- Levitating or flying: If you concentrate all of your energy on levitating a few inches off the ground, there’s a good chance that you won’t rise from your seat. In a dream, however, you can break the laws of physics at will. If you’re able to lift off the ground by concentrating, you know that you’re in a dream.
- Pushing through solid surfaces: Another way to test the bounds of physical reality is by attempting to force a finger through something solid. This can be anything from a wall to your other palm. In dreams, you should be able to push through any surface like butter.
- Observing your body: Often, in our dreams, if we concentrate on our own body for long enough, we begin to notice irregularities. Many lucid dreamers realize they’re unconscious by closely examine their hands and feet. In dreams, extremities often appear distorted or elongated.
Regardless of which method you choose, the key to lucid dreaming is always the same: practice. Manipulating your dreamscape is a skill, and like any skill, you’ll improve with experience.
Periodically throughout the day, you should make a point to stop and perform a quick reality check, even if you’re sure that you’re conscious at the time. Much of any dream narrative is drawn through daily experience as a way to process, learn, and remember information.
By turning your reality checks into a habit, you’re more likely to try out the same tactics in your dream. It’s important to be diligent about your checks and to perform them in the same way each time.
Getting Started with Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming is a skill that for most of us requires practice and perfection. Being able to lucid dream means being able to take control of your subconscious, gaining a deeper understanding of yourself and your psyche.
Lucid dreaming is perfectly safe for the most part, and it carries with it a wide variety of both mental and physical health benefits. Though it may take time and effort to develop the skill, just about anyone can learn how to transform their dreams into a narrative of their own.