Have you ever felt like you could control the narrative of your dreams, come up with fantastic scenarios, and consciously create wondrous spaces, all while still dreaming? If you have, then you’ve probably experienced lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is not uncommon. Around half of the population (55%) have experienced at least one or more lucid dreams in their life, while 23% of people have them at least once per month or more.
Lucid dreams typically occur during the REM sleep phase, a.k.a. the phase where most of our dreams in general occur.
What Are Lucid Dreams?
Lucid dreams are special kinds of dreams in which the sleeper is aware that they’re dreaming, sometimes even being able to control their dream, and is often manifested as vivid dreams.
Studies connect states of lucid dreaming to elevated brain activity in the prefrontal cortex (cortical activity), which is responsible for planning, cognition, emotions, and other complex cognitive behaviors.
How Do Lucid Dreams Happen?
Like with anything that has to do with the brain and dreaming, when it comes to lucid dreaming, we still require additional research in order to find out the underlying mechanisms behind this phenomenon.
Researchers generally think that activity in the brain’s prefrontal context is responsible for the emergence of lucid dreams. The main difference between lucid dreams and regular dreams is that people, to a certain extent, are aware of what happens in the dream state, of the objects within it, but they are not aware that they’re dreaming. Basically, they can’t tell whether they’re asleep or awake. This has also partly been connected to lower levels of cortical activity.
Sleepers who have been observed as part of lucid dream studies exhibit activity levels in the prefrontal cortex similar to levels when they’re in a wakeful state. That’s why lucid dreaming is also sometimes called a “hybrid sleep-wake state.”
As mentioned earlier, lucid dreaming happens during the REM sleep stage. REM is short for rapid eye movement and marks the fourth and also last stage of the sleep cycle. The three other stages are simply called NREM or non-rapid eye movement stages. While it is true that we can dream during the other stages of the sleep cycle, most of our dreams still occur during the REM phase.
What Are Steps to Induce Lucid Dreaming?
If you ever want to try and induce lucid dreaming yourself instead of waiting for it to spontaneously happen, the good news is that it’s doable. There are some methods you can use to try and train your brain to engage in lucid dreaming. Let’s see what they are!
Reality Checking or Reality Testing
These two are considered forms of mental training for increasing metacognition. What does this mean?
Metacognition describes our understanding of our own thought processes. The deeper this understanding is, the more aware we are of these processes and the more capable we are of noticing our own awareness. Yeah, it’s a bit mind-boggling, to say the least.
Neuroscience says that our levels of metacognition are similar in both our waking states and our dreaming states. This means that if you have higher metacognition in your waking state, it’s more likely to have it also in your dream state.
Again, this is probably linked to the prefrontal cortex, which is a really important factor in reality testing and lucid dreaming.
So, if you want to increase your chances of having lucid dreams, then you need to practice your metacognition and do reality tests when you’re awake.
How to do reality tests:
Ask yourself the question, “Am I dreaming right now?” and then look at your environment. Notice the sounds, the atmosphere, whether something’s off or not, check if there are some inconsistencies or distortions of the reality – for example, if it’s a dream, the room’s furniture might be set up differently, or some elements might be missing. Then take notice of your own consciousness and the way you engage with your immediate surroundings.
Make sure to do these steps a couple of times a day.
You can use the following objects to do your reality checks:
- Mirrors – they help you see whether there’s something off with your reflection.
- Sturdy objects – walls or furniture are good tools to test your reality with. Try to push (gently!) your hand through a wall or a table and see whether it can go through. Or push your fingers into your other palm.
- Hands – try looking at your hands and think about how they look. Are they normal? Are they somehow distorted?
- Time – check the time. Usually, when we’re dreaming, the time on a clock we see changes every time we look at it. But when we’re awake, the time won’t change as often, and it’ll flow its regular way.
- Breathing – you can try to pinch your nose and check if you can breathe as a means to confirm your lucid dream state. It’s simple: if you’re still able to breathe, it means you’re dreaming.
You don’t have to do all of these reality checks simultaneously. You can choose one and do it several times per day. It will help you train your mind to also do reality checks while you’re dreaming, ultimately leading you towards the state of lucid dreaming.
Wake Back to Bed (WBTB)
WBTB is a technique that helps you enter REM sleep while still being conscious.
WBTW refers to many techniques, not only one, but you can try to do the following, for starters:
- Set your alarm clock at five hours after you go to bed. Then go to sleep.
- When you hear the alarm, stay awake for a couple of minutes (up to 30 minutes). Then go back to sleep.
When you do fall asleep again, your chances of lucid dreaming increase. Why is that so? Well, according to a study, whether you experience lucid dreaming or not depends largely on how alert you are in that period of wakefulness. Just make sure to be fully awake when you do wake up in that 30-minute (or less) interval.
Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD)
The MILD technique was developed in the 1980s as a means to induce lucid dreams. MILD’s effectiveness is based on the so-called prospective memory, which is a type of memory that includes intentions, something that you intend to do in the near or far future.
So, MILD works by activating this prospective memory. In order to experience lucid dreams, you need to have the intention to be aware as you’re dreaming in order to remember that you’re dreaming.
How can you implement the MILD technique as a means to induce lucid dreaming?
Well, you can start with a recent dream you’ve had. Visualise the dream, register a particular irregularity of the atmosphere or your abilities in the dream, like, for example, flying or jumping with huge steps. This is also sometimes called a “dreamsign.”
Then think about how you return to this dream, and also make sure you’re always aware how the dreamsign happens only in your dream and when you dream. Moreover, try saying to yourself stuff like: “When I dream next time I want to remember I’m dreaming.”
Repeat this phrase in your mind.
A good idea is to practice MILD when you wake up from a dream because that’s the time when you’re most likely to vividly remember the dream you’ve just had.
A combination of the WBTB and MILD technique, along with reality testing, is a good way to enhance your chances of lucid dreaming even more, as one study says. When you’re awake because of WBTB, make sure to practice MILD.
The brief awakening time is supposed to increase cortical activity and activation in the most important brain areas responsible for lucid dreaming.
Also, if you are a regular snoozer, that also increases your chances of having lucid dreams.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene and Create a Good Sleep Environment
Basically, make your bedroom an environment that’s easy to fall asleep in. Good sleep hygiene is crucial for more REM sleep and better sleep quality. As you saw in this article, REM sleep is the time when most dreams occur and when lucid dreaming happens.
So, good sleep hygiene equals better sleep, equals more REM time, and that, my friends, means more chances for lucid dreaming.
What does good sleep hygiene entail? You can begin by implementing the following rules in your bedroom:
- Keep it cool and dark – lower temperatures are better for sleeping. Also, make sure you have no artificial lights turned on or just use an eye mask.
- Keep it quiet – unless you’re one of the rare few lucky ones who can sleep through a whole concert, make sure your sleeping environment doesn’t let in any loud noises from the outside. If you live in a noisy area, get yourself some earplugs. Alternatively, use a white noise machine.
- Develop a bedtime routine that calms you down. Ditch the screens, read a book, keep a journal, take a bath, do some bedtime yoga or stretches, meditate, etc.
- Get enough hours of sleep – studies continuously show 7-9 hours of sleep every day is enough and healthy for an adult individual.
- Come up with a sleep schedule – this basically means that you should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This makes it easier for your body to follow your natural sleep rhythm. A well-tuned sleep schedule makes for better sleep quality and mitigates the effects of underlying sleep disorders.
Keep a Dream Journal
Keeping a dream journal is another popular way to practice racing states of lucid dreaming. That’s because when you write down your dreams, it’s easier to remember them. Also, the dream diary helps you recognize the dreamsigns more easily and be more aware of your dreams in general.
Play Video Games
A few studies have shown some connection between playing video games and the frequency of lucid dreaming and the range of control you have when you dream. This is particularly relevant when it comes to interactive video games.
So there you go, you have another reason why you should play more video games!
Exposing Yourself to External Stimuli
Flashing lights and other stimuli when you’re in REM sleep can enter your sleep and increase the chances of experiencing lucid dreams.
Should You Take Stimulants or Certain Medicine to Induce Lucid Dreaming?
The short answer is that it’s not recommended.
A drug called galantamine, which is used for treatments of Alzheimer’s disease, has shown some potential in increasing states of lucid dreaming, especially when used with the MILD and WBTB techniques. However, galantamine is an enzyme inhibitor and is used to treat specific diseases. It has not been produced as a means to help you lucid dream. Drugs like these can have side effects and shouldn’t be really used by generally healthy people.
The same goes if you want to use other supplements, herbs, or natural remedies in order to experience lucid dreams. None of this has solid scientific evidence as a backup. Drugs and natural remedies can cause different side effects and allergies, as well as toxicity, so you always have to be careful when you consider taking them on your own.
Just don’t take any of this without prior medical consultation, that’s the bottom line.
Lucid dreams are an interesting sleep phenomenon that a lot of people experience at least once in their life.
As you can see, there are various methods that you can practice to experience lucid dreaming.
However, whatever you do, make sure to make your mental health and sleep quality a top priority in the process.