Have you ever had the experience of wondering if what was happening to you was a dream or real? If so, you’ve likely experienced a lucid dream.
A lucid dream is a dream in which you know you are dreaming. During lucid dreaming, you can control the characters, the environment, the narrative, and the outcome of the dream.
Is it really a thing? It is. I have experienced a lucid dream, though, I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I didn’t realize I could lucid dream until I did some research as to what lucid dreaming was all about.
In my dream, I was snow skiing down a mountain, which was weird because I don’t know how to snow ski. I was great at it too! I was skiing side to side, jumping over obstacles and landing perfectly. As I skied down this hill I noticed that the trail suddenly disappeared ahead. I was headed off the edge of a cliff! I tried to stop but I didn’t know how.
At this point, I felt like I was awake, and I knew I needed to do something. I made myself fall into the snow thinking that would stop me, but it didn’t. I continued sliding towards the edge of the cliff and I could feel my heart racing as it came closer. I ended up going off the edge and it was a long way down. Below me was a parking lot filled with cars and I was heading straight down onto the roof of a light blue Volvo. I would have died if I had hit it. Instead, I pushed at the air like I was swimming to propel myself past the car and onto the hill on the other side of it. Perfect landing.
I skied to the bottom and as the hill gradually flattened out, I slowly came to a stop. I didn’t dream that happened, I made that happen while I was in the dream because I didn’t like where it was headed.
I had also read somewhere that if you die when you are in a dream then you really die. I have no idea if that is true, but I didn’t want to find out.
What is Lucid Dreaming?
Lucid dreaming is the ability to become self-aware during your dream and then manipulate it.
Most people are not aware of their dreams at all until they awaken and remember them. While in the dreaming state you cannot actively think about things or make your own decisions. You are not in control.
When you have a lucid dream, you become aware that you are dreaming. This realization pushes your mind into a conscious state within the dream. This then enables you to thoroughly explore your dream world. You can experience everything in this world as though it were reality.
Is it Really a ‘Thing’?
Thousands of years ago, Tibetan monks practiced lucid dreaming and it has slowly grown to be something that is both studied and practiced by people around the world.
In a 2009 study published in the journal SLEEP, researchers discovered that some features of REM sleep and some features of waking consciousness are seen in the frontal and frontolateral regions of the brain during a lucid dream. This is similar to the waking state except that in waking there is also a strong response in the occipital part of the brain. This part of the brain is responsible for making sense of visual information, so we are able to understand it.
Their data enabled them to report an increased awareness during lucid dreaming compared to REM sleep. Hobson reported, “In order to move from non-lucid REM sleep dreaming to lucid REM sleep dreaming, there must be a shift in brain activity in the direction of waking.” The person must come to an active state while dreaming to exert control over their dream.
Another study looked at people’s ability to make conscious decisions in waking life as well as during non-lucid and lucid dreams. It found an overlap between a person’s ability to exert their will when they are awake and when they are having
a lucid dream. Interestingly, the ability to plan was considerably worse in lucid dreams compared to wakefulness.
What Can You Get Out of It?
If it’s true that when you die in a dream you really die, then what I got out of it is another chance at life. That is probably a bit dramatic, however, I was impressed at my ability to change the outcome of my dream.
People report amazing experiences through lucid dreaming as well as benefits such as practicing for a speech or facing fears, phobias, and anxieties. For example, if you are afraid of heights like I am, you could visit the top of the empire state building and dance tiptoeing around the edge. Feeling the freedom without the fear of falling. You can revisit past traumas and set them right or tune into your creative self and compose music or paint a masterpiece.
It is a virtual world that is open to your imagination and allows you to discover things you would never know. You could meet your hero, time travel, bungee jump, have amazing dream sex, fly across the ocean, or all the above.
How do you do it?
Many people who have lucid dreams say it isn’t hard to lucid dream, but it does take a little practice.
There are dozens and dozens of tips, tricks, tools, and suggestions as to how you should learn to lucid dream. It is a very individual process and what works for one person may work for another.
Here are some of the most common methods and techniques for lucid dreaming. Try them out and find one or two that work for you. It could take a week, or it could be up to a month before you have your first lucid dream. Don’t give up. Keep practicing and it will happen.
- Keep a dream journal – Keeping a notebook next to your bed at night so you can write down your dreams as soon as you wake will train you to remember more of your dreams. You could also use a recording device if you don’t want to turn on the light to write.
- Focus on lucid dreaming – Take some time and gather information on lucid dreaming. Read about it, talk about it, think about it. Imagine where you will go and what you will do. Will you see anyone? What will the weather be? How will it smell? Perhaps flowery or maybe woodsy like a forest.
- Perform reality checks often on a daily basis – The purpose of a reality check is to determine whether you are asleep or awake. Often when you are lucid dreaming, the experience is so real you aren’t sure if you are actually dreaming.
- Holding your hand out in front of you, palm facing you, try pushing your other finger through your palm. In a dream, it will go through your palm. When it doesn’t, say to yourself, “I am awake.”
- In a dreaming state, this will be an action you perform and when the finger does go through your palm you will know you are dreaming. This realization means your dream is lucid.
- Check the time. In a dream, every time you look at the clock the time will be very different whereas in reality, it will be the same or hardly move.
- Read some text. In a dream making out words is very difficult. If the writing is clear and easy to read, you are awake. If it shifts around the page or is blurry you are in a dream state.
- Set an alarm – Set your alarm to wake up about 2 hours before your normal wake time. Keep it close enough that you don’t have to get up to turn it off.
- Wake up but keep your eyes closed – When the alarm goes off, reach over and turn it off but keep your eyes closed. You want to wake up briefly and then go right back to sleep. This allows you do activate your brain as you go back to sleep. When you fall back into a dream state your active mind will make you lucid. Perform a reality check to see if what is happening is real or a dream.
- Relax and drift as you focus – As you lie there, eyes closed, mind awake, relax and look around you. See the colors, people, scenery and listen to the sounds. It may seem at first like you are creating these things, but as you relax you will soon be in a sleep state. Look around. What do you see? Where do you want to go? Explore your surroundings. You are lucid dreaming.
Sleep to Wake
Lucid dreaming is fun and exciting, but it is a skill you must practice. It doesn’t happen instantly, so be patient and know it will come.
Don’t try too hard. The harder you try the less you relax and the more awake your mind and body become. You cannot lucid dream in this awake, agitated state. Relax and let it happen. If it doesn’t happen the first or fifth or fifteenth night, just keep going. You will only get better at relaxing and closer to letting it happen every time.