How To Lucid Dream & What You Need To Know
We’re not exaggerating, here - lucid dreaming is being conscious during your dream and being able to do anything that your mind can imagine. It’s the ability to control your dreams. And usually, with it comes a deep, overwhelming sense of euphoria. Lucid dreaming is very intriguing and has been talked about (and utilized) by people like James Cameron, Christopher Nolan (director of Inception), Stephen King, and more.
From a biohacking perspective, lucid dreaming is especially intriguing because an individual has multiple dreams every night, and thus multiple opportunities to have a lucid dream. Lucid dreaming basically allows an individual to do anything the mind can imagine such as flying, acting as an action hero or rock star, or exploring outer space (the sky is not the limit).
You’ve probably never had a lucid dream before unless it was a once-off occurrence or you’ve already researched it, or maybe you've already had a lucid dream and just didn't know that it was called a lucid dream. Many people have had an “I’m dreaming” experience that is usually caused by a really horrible or strange dream and then they typically wake up; I know I’ve had a few of these myself. Generally, lucid dreaming takes a conscious effort. Below, I’m going to tell you exactly how to train your mind to be able to fall into a lucid state, and once you get it down, you can have an adventure every night...
...and wake up completely rested the next day.
All it takes: realizing you’re dreaming
In order to break into a lucid mindset, you have to be dreaming, and then realize that you’re dreaming within the dream. But before we get into techniques that can help you realize that you are dreaming, you must be able to remember your dreams. In lucid dreaming lingo, the ability to remember dreams is referred to as "dream recall", and everyone’s will differ. Dream recall is an important aspect of embarking on a lucid dreaming journey; if you can’t remember your dreams, then becoming aware in them does not really matter. Once you are able to remember your dreams, then realization is really the next step. Once you become lucid (realize you are dreaming), you’ll be able to function in your dream as if you were conscious in real life. And because your dream is only what you can imagine, you can move anywhere and create any environment you desire.
Even if you don’t remember your dreams every night, most people do have recurring dreams. This means that different people, places, and elements of dreams might be present over and over again. Creating and keeping up with a dream journal is important for learning any dream symbols/signals that may be recurrent in your dreams. A dream journal is also a great way to improve dream recall; keeping a dream journal allowed me to get to a point where I could remember up to 5 dreams a night. If you cannot remember your dreams when first embarking on the journey to lucid dream, it is suggested that you keep a dream journal and write down your feelings, thoughts, and emotions when you first wake up (consider this a stream of consciousness dump); eventually your dream recall should start to improve. If you still notice that you are having trouble with dream recall it may be due to other factors such as your diet, or any issues you may be taking.
Realizing that you’re dreaming can be quite a shock though. Many people that begin on the journey of lucid dreaming will get so excited when they realize they are dreaming that the shock is something extreme enough to wake them up, and thus they don’t have the benefits of going lucid. So to lucid dream, really, you need to realize that you’re dreaming and then stay asleep.
Here’s how to do it.
Step 1 - Ways to make yourself realize that you’re asleep
The first step has to do with getting to the realization that you are dreaming. Many of the most effective ways to realize that you are dreaming is by implementing “reality checks”. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like - you need to develop the habit of checking whether you are dreaming or not. If you do reality checks enough in your conscious daily life it will translate into your dream, and if you know what to look for, you’ll easily realize you are dreaming. Reality checks allow a person to realize they are dreaming and have a dream induced lucid dream (also know as a DILD, this method has been the most effective for me personally).
Reality ChecksDifferent people will suggest different things as to the best reality checks. Similar to how nootropics vary with each individual, dreaming techniques will too. Not all of the recommended reality checks will work the same for everyone. Most require that you do the reality check while asking yourself “Am I dreaming?” Here are a couple of my favorite reality checks:
Squeeze/Plug your nose (like you’re about to go underwater) and breath. Obviously while you are awake, you will be unable to breath. For some reason when you are dreaming and do this, you’ll be able to breath (anecdotally, this seems to work for about 90% of people). I personally use this technique and consider it as the one I've found most effective. My favorite part is that it's pretty easy to do although people might think you're trying to pop your ears if they happen to see you doing a reality check.
- Look at your hands. For most, the hands just don’t look right in a dream, it’s as if they are not rendered correctly; they may appear distorted and wavy. Looking at your hands and questioning reality is another really easy reality check to perform and turn into a habit.
Look at a clock, note the time, look away, then check the time again. In a dream, time does not happen in a linear manner, thus when you look at a digital clock the first time and it reads “1:30” and then you look away and look back, it would not be unusual to see the time read “5:42”.
- Look in a mirror. For many their reflection of themselves may look distorted, this is a perfect opportunity to do a reality check.
Remember, becoming aware is merely the first step, it’s important to remain dreaming to make the most out of becoming lucid, we’ll talk about that a little later.
Black Xs on hands
Draw two black Xs on your hands. Gradually, as you continue to have black Xs on your hands day in and day out, you’ll get used to the sight. I personally don't use this method, as I work in a professional setting and cannot have two large black Xs on my hands. However the idea is that when you dream, you’ll still be expecting to see the black Xs on your hands. But your subconscious won’t carry that trait over to the portrayal of what’s in your dreams.
Believe it or not, if you see your hands in your dream, this slight shock will be enough for your conscious to awaken and make you realize that something’s not right. If you play it cool (explained in step 2), you’ll be able to break into a state of lucidity.
Look for Dream Symbols/Signals
Once you have a good working memory of your dreams you'll start to recognize dream signals. Dream symbols/signals are recurring themes in dreams, for example you might tend to fly on lots of airplanes in your dreams, or tend to constantly be driving. In order to make the connection that you are dreaming, you need to be aware of what’s recurring over and over. Going by memory alone isn’t enough as we tend to forget most of our dreams shortly after we wake up. You have to write them down right when you wake up to preserve as much from memory as you can; this is yet another reason why it is a good idea to keep a dream journal.
Do this every day, and before you go to bed at night, look at those notes. They’ll be fresh in your mind, and if someone or something comes back, that appearance can be enough to stir your conscious and become lucid. People that lucid dream a lot report that they notice recurring patterns in their dreams, but this will be specific to the individual.
Consciously drifting off at night
Have you ever been nodding off at night and noticed “patterns” or “floaters” appearing in your vision? That’s the first stage of one of the first stages of sleep. You’re not actually asleep in the literal sense, but you’re getting there.
With a bit of discipline, you can continue to remind yourself that you’re conscious until the moment that you fall asleep. You could say “I’m awake” - but you really want to say “I’m not asleep yet”. When you do fall asleep, when you dream, you’ll be aware that you’re not saying that phrase. This is the hardest way to lucid dream, but also the easiest to repeat on a consistent basis.
Realizing that you’re dreaming, for many, is by far the hardest part of the process. Becoming more aware of your reality is a brand new skill that you’re practicing, and you should try to incorporate reality checks and some of these tips into your daily life. Another aspect of becoming aware that you are dreaming is that you have to have the right mindset; you have to want to become lucid. The more you care about your dream experiences the more you will improve in aspects of dream recall, dream awareness, and dream control. Dreaming itself and things like reality checks have to become an important part of your routine; if you stick with it and you’ll eventually break into lucidity.
Step 2 - staying asleep
Lucidity may be short-lived on your first attempt. Consciousness while you sleep is delicate.
So when you realize that you are dreaming, try to stay calm and continue with the flow of the dream. It’s going to be very appealing to do literally whatever you think of, but if you start doing this right away, like trying to fly, completely changing the environment, etc., you may wake right up. Some people suggest spinning as a technique to remain sleeping once they become lucid, and others suggest rubbing their hands. In studies spinning was the more effective technique to remain asleep.
Dream control refers to one's ability to control their dream. For some this comes natural and the bounds of their dream control really has no limitations. Others however will have to practice to do particular tasks, like teleporting somewhere. To increase your dream control gradually increase the craziness of what you imagine and what you want to do. Flying is a favorite among lucid dreamers, if you can't fly right away, work up to that.
Realistically, for the first couples tries, you’ll probably wake up right after you realize that you’re lucid dreaming. Even the pros do. But eventually, as realizing that you’re dreaming becomes more commonplace, you’ll be able to stay within the dream.
Wake up then fall asleep
Ever notice how intense your dreams are when you wake up and then fall asleep? For example, if you get up at 3 AM to go to the bathroom, you might wake up at 6 AM and be blown away by how vivid and long just those three hours felt. This is because your body enters rapid eye movement (REM) stages later in the evening, and this is when we dream. The chart below gives a breakdown of the typical cycles of sleep, you'll notice that the REM stages tend to get longer throughout the night.
Often times, you’ll start dreaming right after you fall asleep as your body was probably in the REM state before your bathroom break. Noticing this shift is easier than noticing the longer shift that occurs when you first fall asleep. Trying to stay conscious during this period is called a wake induced lucid dream (WILD). The idea is that you can try to remain conscious while your body falls asleep and automatically enter back into the REM state. People that like the WILD method suggest laying in a comfortable position and ignoring the urges to rollover or scratch itches (these urges are commonly thought to be signals from your brain to check if you are asleep or not); many say it helps to concentrate on something minimal like your breathing (similar to techniques used in meditation).
Okay, I'm lucid and I'm dreaming! Now what?
Now that you're lucid it's time to have some fun. Some fun things to do are fly (especially if you've never done it; my first flying experience was a lucid one, as I hadn't flown before that), explore space or the deep ocean, go along with the current dream (go with the flow and see what happens), have a conversation with a deceased loved one (or anyone for that matter), and of course have romantic encounters with anyone you want.
Remember, practice makes perfect and trying to lucid dream without any preparation is asking for failure. Take steps during your daily life to ensure that when you fall asleep, you'll get the most out of your dreams, and you'll be able to have amazing experiences as much and as frequently as you dream. Once you get really good, you’ll be able to lucid dream in your sleep (but that's obvious, forgive the pun)! For more information we suggest the following resources: Exploring the world of lucid dreaming by Stephen LaBerge (many of the methods mentioned here are covered in depth in Dr. LaBerge's book), the Dreamviews forum (an active community with many experienced lucid dreamers), and of course on the lucid dreaming sub-Reddit.
Good luck and happy dreaming!