Now that you know what lucid dreaming is, and you know the benefits and risks, it’s time to give it a solid try. Get ready, oneironauts — we’re about to take off the training wheels. Welcome to Week Three of Lifehacker’s Lucid Dream Workshop.
Image by Prairie Kittin.
How to Prepare for and Induce Lucid Dreams
To increase the likelihood of having a lucid dream, you need to prep your environment; watch what you eat, drink and otherwise ingest; and fall asleep the right way.
For starters, you need to make sure you’re getting enough sleep for lucid dreaming to be a possibility. You have more REM sleep in the second half of your night than you do in the first half, and more REM sleep means increased odds of having lucid dreams. In fact, the likelihood of you having a lucid dream increases more with each successive REM period. On an average night where you’re getting the recommended eight hours of sleep, you’ll experience about six REM periods. The last three of those REM periods happen in the last quarter (or two hours in this case) of the night. So, if you aren’t sleeping enough and only getting about six hours of sleep each night, you’re basically reducing your chances of going lucid by half. You need to get good sleep, and a lot of it, for this to work. If you can find a way to extend your sleep at least one night a week, such as on a weekend, do so.
What you put in your body affects your likelihood of having lucid dreams as well. Alcohol and drugs inhibit your REM sleep and disrupt your sleep cycles, so avoid nightcaps as much as possible. And while sleeping pills and melatonin can help induce sleep, keep in mind they may interfere with normal sleep cycles. Food and non-alcoholic drinks can play a major role in dreams too. Some people have more vivid dreams depending on what they eat, or report having nightmares if they eat certain types of food too late in the evening. I’ve personally had success with pickles, apple juice, peanut butter and spicy foods as helpful elements. Also, reducing screen time before bed is always a good idea.
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Lastly, you need to fall asleep with the intention of having a lucid dream. It isn’t quite as simple as merely thinking about being lucid before bedtime, but that is actually a huge part of it. Oneironauts, this is the “MILD Technique”, from Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge, PhD and Howard Rheingold:
- Set up dream recall: Before going to bed resolve to wake up and recall dreams during each dream period throughout the night (or the first dream period after dawn, or after 6AM or whenever you find convenient).
- Recall your dream: When you awaken from a dream period, no matter what time it is, try to recall as many details as possible from your dream. If you find yourself so drowsy that you are drifting back to sleep, do something to rouse yourself.
- Focus your intent: While returning to sleep, concentrate singlemindedly on your intention to remember to recognise that you’re dreaming. Tell yourself: “Next time I’m dreaming, I want to remember I’m dreaming.” Really try to feel that you mean it. Narrow your thoughts to this idea alone. If you find yourself thinking about anything else, just let go of these thoughts and bring your mind back to your intention to remember.
- Repeat: Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until your intention is set, then let yourself fall asleep. If, while falling asleep, you find yourself thinking of anything else, repeat the procedure so that the last thing in your mind before falling asleep is your intention to remember to recognise the next time you are dreaming.
Without the prep work and this intention exercise, lucid dreaming will only ever occur due to chance, which will be infrequent at best. If you want to further increase your odds of inducing a lucid dream, however, you can try what’s known as “lucid dream scheduling”, where you use an alarm clock to time out prime lucid dreaming periods. For example, if you know you’ll be able to get a full eight hours of sleep one night, set your alarm clock to go off after only six hours. Then, do the MILD exercise above, and go to back to sleep holding on to that intention to recognise you’re dreaming. Remember, those last two hours are prime lucid dreaming time, so why not boost your odds?
How to Tell You’re Having a Dream
OK, so you’re dreaming. But how do you realise you’re in a dream so you can “wake up” within it? There are two popular methods: Spotting “dream signs”, and “critical state testing”.
Dream signs, which have nothing to do with “dream interpretation”, are essentially a mental catalogue of the inconsistencies you normally experience while in a dream. They can be hard to spot, and you may not have many that appear regularly, but they are there. For example, one of my major dream signs is being with people I don’t recognise but still feel convinced I know. If I can establish the fact that this “friend” I’m with in my dream isn’t actually somebody I’ve met before, I can become aware of the dream and may be able to become lucid.
Other people I know have dream signs such as “people don’t have discernible faces, or any faces at all”, or “I never seem to be myself when I dream”. Yours could be much simpler, however, such as never wearing clothes you usually wear, or perhaps none at all. Or maybe you’ll notice the layout of a familiar place is nothing like it was before. Whatever they may be for you, start writing down your dream signs in your dream journal. The more regular inconsistencies you can note and become aware of, the more likely you are to notice them while you’re dreaming and become aware.
Critical state testing, on the other hand, is something you must practise in the waking world. These tests are designed to be routinely performed while you’re awake, so that when you are tumbling through dreamland, you can perform the same test and realise you’re asleep. It’s very effective if you do it right. That’s why establishing a personal critical state test is going to be your next assignment.
Assignment: Establish a Routine ‘Am I Dreaming?’ Check
Critical state tests can be something as simple as asking yourself, “Am I dreaming?” or as complicated as going over a dream state checklist. No matter what you choose to do, however, asking yourself if you’re dreaming should be a part of your test. After all, if you never ask if you’re dreaming in the waking world, what are the odds you’ll do it when you’re asleep?
My personal critical state test is very simple:
I look at my hands and flip them over, ask myself if I’m dreaming (aloud if possible), then look around to make sure I actually know all the people I’m with (dream signs!). If anything seems slightly amiss, I tell myself to hover or fly.
When you conduct your test is important, though. Create a rule set for yourself and follow it. For example, you can establish that you’ll execute your test every time you go to the bathroom, have a glass of water, see an attractive person, get up from your desk, talk to a certain person, and so on. If you can, try to incorporate the dreams you’ve been having within your rule set. For example, if you’ve been having dreams that poke at your social anxiety, make uncomfortable social situations one of your triggers for a test. Or if you’re afraid of heights and you have dreams about that, do a test every time you feel that fear.
But a critical state test, no matter how personalised, is useless if you don’t do it with some regularity. Since you’re just getting started, you’re best off doing it at least 10 times a day, every day. Once you get into the practice of it, about five times a day may be good enough. Eventually, you’ll go to perform your routine check, and lo and behold, you actually will be dreaming. Excitement and wonder will wash over you as you become intentionally lucid for the first time.
OK, oneironauts: Sleep tight and dream on.
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