By the time you are 75 years old, you will have spent an average of 22 years of your life asleep. The current life-span of an average American is 78 years, but when you subtract the amount of time you spend asleep, that number drops to about 55 years. Just imagine what you could accomplish if you could get only half of those years back! Luckily, research into the science of sleep can now help you find a way.
Have you ever had a dream in which you realized you were dreaming? It sounds like the basis of a Hollywood plot-line (in fact, it’s the basis of many), but magical as it may sound, the phenomenon of lucid dreaming is totally real. Research has revealed fascinating insights into the way people are able to become conscious while asleep, not just becoming aware of the dream world, but actually learning to control and alter the dream reality any way they wish.
The experience of dream lucidity feels as vivid as waking life. But unlike waking life, this reality is completely malleable. Those who can induce lucid dreaming at will can consciously choose what their dreams look like. You can conquer your greatest fears, anything from public speaking to heights; you can practice that speech you are supposed to give at your cousin’s wedding until you have perfected it. Lucid dreaming has also been shown to help those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress disorder. Unconstrained by the laws of physics you can fly to the stars, confront difficult emotions or have an epic make-out session with your celebrity crush. Turns out, you can be very productive while asleep.
Though people have been lucid dreaming for as long as they’ve been sleeping, it was only in 1975 that lucid dreaming was proven scientifically. Psychologist Dr. Keith Hearne was the first to record lucid dreaming in real-time in a remarkable experiement. Hearne and one of his lucid dreaming patient agreed to a set of specific eye movement patterns. Once asleep and lucidly dreaming Dr. Hearne’s patient would then use this eye movement pattern to communicate to the waking world that he was lucid. This incredible experiment was the very first to show that consciousness while dreaming was possible.
So what do you think, have you ever had a lucid dream? No? Actually, chances are you’ve been lucid dreaming this whole time without realizing it. Studies show that lucid dreaming isn’t as uncommon as it seems simply because most of us are so bad at remembering our dreams to begin with. In case the significance went over your head, this is kind of like having the best sex of your life but being too drunk to remember. Or like winning the lottery but forgetting that you bought a ticket. You get the point. This is also true if you are one of those people that claim to not dream at all. You’re wrong. Not only are you dreaming, you’re probably lucid dreaming! By not teaching yourself how to remember your dreams, you are cheating yourself out of one of the most magical experiences our otherwise boring reality has to offer, simply because your body has forgotten how to remember dreams. Lucky for you, our brain is malleable and our memory can be re-trained.
How To Induce Lucid Dreaming
So how do you induce a lucid dream? The first, and most important step is to get into the habit of writing down your dreams. Keep a dream journal and re-read it as often as you can to become familiar with the particular flavor of your dreams. Or, if writing them down is out of the question, try to actively practice remembering your dreams each morning as soon as you wake up. Studies show that by waiting just 5 minutes, you will forget 50% of what you dreamed. If you wait as long as 10 minutes, 90% of it will be erased from your memory. If you want to become a lucid dreamer, training your self to mentally go over every detail of your dream the second you are awake should become second nature. Doing this will also help you see any recurring patterns, themes and motifs in your dreams so that you recognize them while asleep. Where one person may dream in black and white, another person may notice that all her dreams take place on a body of water, or inside a house. Just as you have predictable habits in waking life, your brain will tend to have predictable patterns in sleep, and these make great triggers that help induce lucidity.
Another helpful tip to induce lucid dreaming while you sleep is practicing reality checks throughout your waking day. Because the dream world is a literally a figment of your sleeping mind it is in constant flux, nothing will stay as it appears for long; colors will shift, the appearance of a watch or a painting hanging on a wall will change every time you look at it. Practice asking yourself, “Am I sleeping?” every time you look down at your watch, flip a light switch on, or look at a body of text. Because when we’re asleep, the dream world feels as real as waking life, doing these “reality checks” builds an awareness that things are not always what they seem. Eventually the question, “Am I dreaming right now” will become so natural and ingrained that you will remember it in your sleep as you preform that particular action in your dream. And the second you remember, you will become conscious of your dreaming state.
Another method is drawing a meaningful letter or symbol on the palm of your hand, for example you could draw a circle to represent the daylight, a symbol for your waking state. As you look down at your hand throughout the day ask yourself wether you truly are dreaming. After a few days of this, you will become so used to having this symbol on your hand and asking yourself whether you are awake, that the question will follow you into your dream. You may suddenly notice that the symbol you drew is gone, which will jolt you into the realization that you are actually dreaming.
And if all else fails, you can always employ hard science to help you out. A recent study by psychologist Ursula Voss may be the vital first step in bringing a viable lucid dreaming device to market one day. Dr. Voss was the first to observe that lucidity can be induced if you apply a finely tuned electric current to your sleeping brain. But for now, this option is only available with the help of a professional. If interested to exploring this option, we recommend checking your local sleep clinics and dream institutes.
How to Control a Lucid Dream
But what do you do once you actually become lucid? After all the hard work it took to actually become awake while dreaming, most people immediately notice that it’s one thing to lucid dream, and another to stay conscious and in control of that lucid dream. This is especially true if the realization that you are dreaming becomes frightening. The most common complaint among rookie lucid dreamers is that they lose lucidity very quickly after realizing that they are dreaming. And it’s no surprise! Studies show that of all the emotions one could feel in the dream world, the most common is anxiety. When you look out at night and see all those houses with their lights off, you can be pretty sure that the majority of them are having bad dreams.
When you are scared or anxious, lucid dreaming is very hard to hold onto. There’s something inherently scary about the dream reality. In most case just be realizing you are dreaming you can’t help going into fight or flight mode and simply slipping back into your unconscious dreaming state. For this reason, it is very important that stay calm and not let yourself be frightened by what you see in your dream. The moment you become aware of your dreaming state things within the dream start to change dramatically. People you were casually interacting with prior to becoming lucid in your dream, will suddenly zombie-stare at you blankly when you try to have a conversation with them. As your mind begins to feel unsettled by this, the lucid dream environment changes mirroring those unsettled feelings. Scary things may happen as you lose trust in yourself and the dream world around you.
But because you are the ultimate creator of your dreaming state, you will need to learn how to control it. It’s really the only way to get the most out of it. As a rookie lucid dreamer, you don’t yet know how to manipulate the world around you because all your life you’ve been doing it subconsciously. And when your sleeping self suddenly goes from auto-pilot dreaming, to conscious dreaming, the subconscious commands you were sending to the dream environment stop. Sometimes this may mean that everything in your lucid dream literally stops, as if someone had hit the pause button on reality.
Your Dreams Reflect Who You Are
The lucid dream state is the perfect expression of how your unconscious expectations about the world affect your daily life. In a dream, if you think you can do something you really can do it, regardless whether it’s defying gravity or breaking the rules of space and time. In a lucid dream you are not limited by anything except your own mind. So if you happen to be one of those people who doesn’t believe amazing things are possible, and who can’t even imagine the possibility that magic is real, lucid dreaming is going to be difficult. In order to make the most of your lucid dream state you have to challenge your rational self, that part of you that steps in and says, “this is impossible.” In order to learn how to take control of your dreaming state, you will need to foster an attitude of anything being possible, tapping into that part of your self you probably left behind with your childhood imagination so many years ago. Somehow people assume that the moment they find themselves in a lucid dream, reality will basically act like a giant trampoline, something you can just jump on and enjoy. But the truth is that, it is just as hard to believe that you can fly in your dream as it is in waking life. Perhaps this is the most shocking part of becoming a lucid dreamer, that the dream world is strangely similar to waking reality. And yet when you’re dreaming flying is as natural as walking. Try it, and put those sleeping hours to good use!
For anyone interested in reading more about lucid dreaming, here are some of our favorite books written on the subject: “Exploring the Wolf of Lucid Dreaming” by Stephen LaBerge, “Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self” by Robert Waggoner, and “The Experiment of Dreams” by Brandon Zenner. Best of luck to all you crazy dreamers out there!