Lucid dreaming is when you’re conscious during a dream. This typically happens during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the dream-stage of sleep.
An estimated 55 percent of people have had one or more lucid dreams in their lifetime.
During a lucid dream, you’re aware of your consciousness. It’s a form of metacognition, or awareness of your awareness. Often, lucid dreaming also lets you control what happens in your dream.
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“A lucid dream is defined as a dream during which dreamers, while dreaming, are aware they are dreaming,” specialists explain.
The very first record of lucid dreaming appears to feature in the treatise On Dreams by the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. In it, he describes an instance of self-awareness during a dream state.
“[If] the sleeper perceives that he is asleep, and is conscious of the sleeping state during which the perception comes before his mind, it presents itself still, but something within him speaks to this effect: ‘The image of Koriskos presents itself, but the real Koriskos is not present,’” he wrote.
It is unclear how many people actually experience lucid dreaming, though certain studies have tried to gather information regarding its prevalence; and it seems that this phenomenon may be quite common.
For instance, a study conducted in Brazil surveyed 3,427 participants with the median age of 25. The results of the survey indicated that 77 percent of the respondents had experienced lucid dreaming at least once.
When does it happen, and what is it like?
Like most dreams, lucid dreaming will typically occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. For some people, it occurs spontaneously. However, others train themselves to start dreaming lucidly, or to become better at it.
As one experienced lucid dreamer told Medical News Today:
“[M]y lucid dreaming [...] occurs when I’m waking up, or sometimes if I’ve woken up briefly and I’m going back to sleep. Nowadays I can pretty much do it on a whim, as long as I’m in that half-asleep half-awake process.”
The degree to which a person can influence their dream if they are lucid while dreaming also varies to a great extent. Some people may simply wake up immediately upon realizing that they had been dreaming.
Other people may be able to influence their own actions within the dream, or parts of the dream itself. The lucid dreamer who spoke to MNT told us that she was able to manipulate the dream narrative in order to create a pleasant experience for herself.
“Usually I can control the narrative in the dream, so for example if I’m unhappy with the way things are going in the dream, I can change it,” she explained.
What are its applications?
Lucid dreaming is certainly an attractive and fascinating prospect — being able to explore our own inner worlds with full awareness that we are in a dream state is intriguing and has an almost magical flavor about it.
Lucid dreaming can help people get rid of their nightmares and resolve their fears.
However, can lucid dreaming have any practical applications?
Dr. Denholm Aspy, at the University of Adelaide in Australia, is a researcher who specializes in lucid dreaming.
He explained for MNT that this experience can actually be therapeutic.
Its main application, Dr. Aspy said, is to address nightmares — especially recurring nightmares, which may affect a person’s quality of life.
The practice of learning to lucid dream in order to stop nightmares from occurring or reoccurring, he explained, is called “lucid dreaming therapy.”
“If you can help someone who’s having nightmares to become lucid during that nightmare,” he explained to us, “then that gives them the ability to exert control over themselves or over the nightmare itself.”
“[L]et’s say you’re being attacked by someone in a nightmare. You could try to talk to the attacker. You could ask them ‘why are you appearing in my dreams?’ or ‘what do you need to resolve this conflict with me?’”
Dr. Denholm Aspy
“Some people,” he added, “take on superpowers or special abilities, [so] they can fight back against the attacker. And then you can also try to escape, so things like flying away, or even doing techniques to deliberately wake up from the nightmare.”
Lucid dreaming also has the potential to help people with phobias, such as fear of flying or animal phobias including arachnophobia (the fear of spiders).
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How To Lucid Dream, 5 Easy Steps.
Lucid dreaming techniques train your mind to notice your own consciousness. They’re also designed to help you regain or maintain consciousness as you enter REM sleep.
1. Reality testing
Reality testing, or reality checking, is a form of mental training. It increases metacognition by training your mind to notice your own awareness.
According to Cognitive NeuropsychiatryTrusted Source, your level of metacognition is similar in your waking and dreaming states. So, higher metacognition when you’re awake could lead to higher metacognition when you’re dreaming.
This may be related to the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in both reality testing and lucid dreaming. To enhance your metacognition, you can do reality tests while you’re awake.
For reality testing, follow these steps several times of day:
- Ask yourself, “Am I dreaming?”
- Check your environment to confirm whether or not you are dreaming.
- Notice your own consciousness and how you’re engaging with your surroundings.
You can set an alarm every two or three hours to remind yourself to do a reality check.
Here are common reality checks that people use to lucid dream:
- Mirrors. Check your reflection to see if it looks normal.
- Solid objects. Push your hand against a wall or table and see if it goes through. Some people push their fingers into their opposite palm.
- Hands. Look at your hands. Do they look normal?
- Time. If you’re dreaming, the time on a clock will constantly change. But if you’re awake, the time will barely change.
- Breathing. This popular reality check involves pinching your nose and seeing if you can breathe. If you can still breathe, you’re dreaming.
It’s recommended to pick one reality check and do it multiple times a day. This will train your mind to repeat the reality checks while dreaming, which can induce lucid dreaming.
2. Wake back to bed (WBTB)
Wake back to bed (WBTB) involves entering REM sleep while you’re still conscious.
There are many versions of WBTB, but consider this technique:
- Set an alarm for five hours after your bedtime.
- Go to sleep as usual.
- When the alarm goes off, stay up for 30 minutes. Enjoy a quiet activity like reading.
- Fall back asleep.
When you go back to sleep, you’ll be more likely to lucid dream. While you’re awake, choose any activity that requires full alertness.
According to a study in PLoS OneTrusted Source, the chances of lucid dreaming depends on the level of alertness and not the specific activity.
3. Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD)
In 1980, LaBerge created a technique called Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD). It was one of the first methods that used scientific research to induce lucid dreams.
MILD is based on a behavior called prospective memory, which involves setting an intention to do something later.
In MILD, you make the intention to remember that you’re dreaming.
This method is outlined by LaBerge and his colleagues in PLoS OneTrusted Source.
To use the MILD technique:
- As you fall asleep, think of a recent dream.
- Identify a “dreamsign,” or something that’s irregular or strange in the dream. An example is the ability to fly.
- Think about returning to the dream. Acknowledge that the dreamsign only happens when you dream.
- Tell yourself, “The next time I dream, I want to remember that I am dreaming.” Recite the phrase in your head.
You can also practice MILD after waking up in the middle of dream. This is usually recommended, as the dream will be fresher in your mind.
A 2017 study the journal Dreaming determined that a combination of reality testing, WBTB, and MILD works best.
You can combine WBTB with MILD by setting alarm to wake up in five hours. While you’re awake, practice MILD.
4. Keeping a dream journal
Keeping a dream journal, or dream diary, is a popular method for initiating lucid dreaming. When you write down your dreams, you’re forced to remember what happens during each dream. It’s said to help you recognize dreamsigns and enhance awareness of your dreams.
For best results, log your dreams as soon as you wake up. It’s also recommended to read your dream journal often.
5. Wake-initiated lucid dreaming (WILD)
A Wake-Initiated Lucid Dream (WILD) happens when you directly enter a dream from waking life. It’s said WILD helps your mind stays conscious while your body goes to sleep.
You’ll need to lay down and relax until you experience a hypnagogic hallucination, or a hallucination that occurs when you’re just about to fall asleep. WILD is simple, but it’s difficult to learn. Practicing the other lucid dreaming induction techniques will increase your chances of WILD.
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