Lucid Dreaming Reality Checks Not Working? A List of Checks, How to Remember, and Fail Backups to Get Lucid More Often
If you’re trying to start lucid dreaming or you want to increase your lucid episodes, being aware of reality checks and performing them regularly can definitely help.
Reality checks can make you immediately aware that you’re dreaming, as in a Dream Induced Lucid Dream (DILD), or they can confirm the suspicion if your mind goes there on its own, either spontaneously or because of a dream sign (see below).
Reality checks are performed as you go about your daily routine. The idea is that this habit will continue into your dreams and, while dreaming, one of these routine checks will give you the very pleasant surprise that you’re now lucid.
Can Reality Checks Fail?
Yes. Sometimes they will. My check of choice (looking at my hands) works about 9 times out of 10, but when it doesn't work, it really throws me off.
I recommend that you always do more than one check. Occasionally one of them won’t work, so it’s good to have a backup.
It’s also a good idea to not do one check excessively. It’s easy for it to become automatic which makes it less likely to work in a dream. Care should be taken to perform reality checks with purpose and with the expectation that you’re dreaming even when you know you’re awake.
There will be more on reality checks not working at the end.
Here are 12 common and reliable reality checks. Their effectiveness varies from person to person, so experiment with as many as you can to find the most reliable ones for you.
Pushing Through a Solid Object
The most common version of this test is to try to push the fingers of one hand through the palm of the other. Alternatively, you can push your hand through any solid object like a table, wall, vehicle, or anything else.
This test also works with other parts of your body. For example, you can try stepping into a solid object.
Whenever you try pushing through a solid object, it should be done with the expectation that it will work.
Looking at Text
Reading is often difficult when we’re dreaming. Sometimes the words will be nonsense, or they will change. Look at text in a book, on a screen, or on a sign. Ask yourself if it makes sense. Then, look away for a few seconds and look at the same text again. If it isn’t the same, it’s a good indication that you’re dreaming.
A variation on this test is to write something yourself. In a dream, what you’ve written might change if you look away for a few seconds, it might be hard to understand, or it might be gibberish.
Looking at Your Hands
This is a popular check and one that I find very reliable. In a dream our hands usually don’t look normal. They might look wavy or hazy, or there might be too many or too few fingers.
Look at your hands and be sure that they’re normal. If anything is different, you’re probably dreaming.
If your hands are different, you're probably dreaming
Reading a Clock or Watch
This test is similar to looking at text. In a dream, the time on a clock will often change or it won’t look like a standard clock. Look at the clock or watch and look away to see if the time changes. Make sure it looks like a normal timepiece.
If you frequently wear a watch, this is a good reality check to use regularly.
In a dream we usually won’t hit the ground as hard after jumping as we normally do. If you float gently to the ground, then you’re dreaming.
The jump should be done with the expectation that the landing will be really soft.
You can push off the ground from a standstill or while walking. Push off and extend your arms in front of you. If you lift off the ground and fly for a few seconds you’re definitely dreaming.
I like using this reality check as confirmation when I’m already reasonably sure that I’m dreaming. That way I can commit to the movement. If you know (or only think) that you’re awake, it’s very hard to fully commit to finding out whether you’re going to fly. Obviously, you’re not going to risk crashing into the floor to perform this check.
Looking in a Mirror
Dream mirrors usually don’t reflect like they do in waking life. For that reason, paying special attention to your reflection can be a good reality check. Look in a mirror and take an extra moment to think about what you’re seeing. Note that the reflection is clear and accurate. Then, when you’re dreaming you’ll be aware of any distortion or haziness.
Machines frequently don’t work or they malfunction in dreams. When you’re using any kind of machinery, including vehicles, be mindful of how it’s working. Acknowledge to yourself when things are functioning properly, so when you’re dreaming you’ll notice when they’re really hard to use or are behaving strangely.
This is a popular and reliable check. You cover your mouth and pinch your nose shut and then try to breathe. If you’re awake it will be an abject failure. If you’re dreaming you will be able to breathe.
Even if you know you’re awake, make sure that you do it with the expectation that you’ll be able to breathe.
Looking at Your Nose
For this check you close one eye and then look at your nose. When you’re awake you’ll be able to see it, but when you’re dreaming you won’t.
Flicking a Light Switch
Light switches often don’t work in dreams. In this reality check you simply flick a light switch on or off and observe the result. If the illumination in the room doesn’t change you might be in for some lucid dreaming fun. Or you might just need a new light bulb, but there’s nothing fun about that.
Incidentally, you might get lucid in a dream where it’s too dark and turning on a light doesn’t work. When this happens to me, I ask somebody else to turn on a light. That usually works.
If it doesn't do anything you're probably dreaming
Ask Yourself "Am I Dreaming?"
This is the most basic reality check possible. Ask yourself “Am I dreaming right now?” When you’re awake you’ll have no doubt that you’re awake. However, when you’re dreaming you might think you’re awake but there could be some doubt. If there’s any doubt, then you know that you’re dreaming. You’ll probably be a bit confused at that point, so this should be followed up with a second reality check for confirmation.
How Do You Remember to Reality Check?
Probably the easiest way is to wear a watch that beeps every hour. Do a check every time it beeps.
Another way is to pick something that you do fairly frequently and do a check with it each time. You might choose walking through a doorway, using the phone, seeing a certain color, experiencing a change of scenery or any other thing that’s a regular part of your day, or more importantly, a regular part of your dreams.
Regardless of what reminder you choose, consistency is important. It might take a few days to remember to reality check regularly. If you think about your reality check at another time, do it then as well. The more it’s a part of your waking life the more likely it is to spill into your dreams.
A concept closely related to reality checks is dream signs. A dream sign is something that you recognize that indicates to you that you’re likely dreaming.
For example, if you frequently see a particular person in your dreams, that person is a dream sign for you. You should reality check every time you see or think of that person so that you’ll do the same when you’re dreaming.
All of the reality checks can serve as dream signs if they occur spontaneously. The trick is to be aware of them so they will register with you when you see them. Otherwise, dream signs are personal. You’ll need to think about your dreaming patterns to identify things that can help you achieve lucidity. Focus on anything that recurs in your dreams. This includes: places, people, items, situations, or feelings.
As an example, I sometimes dream that I’m going somewhere the next day and I have a whole room full of stuff that I was supposed to pack and take with me, so I’m worried about how I’m going to finish on time. When I can recognize this situation it makes for a stable lucid dream and I avoid some annoyance.
If you have any recurring bad dreams they’re an especially good target for your efforts. Getting lucid during those types of dreams turns a stressful time into a good one.
Troubleshooting Reality Checks
- Things look the same whether I'm dreaming or awake: This usually means one of two things. Either you're doing one check excessively, or you're not mindful enough during the check. I think these reasons are related. If I do the same check every time, it becomes automatic and I'm not seriously considering the possibility that I'm dreaming.
- I do them while awake, but never in a dream: The reality checks might require too much thought. This is fine when you're awake, but in a dream you'll be caught up in whatever is happening. In my experience, thinking about reality checks all day and doing them constantly is useless. To carry over into a dream, the thought of reality checking must come to you effortlessly, i.e., it must be triggered seemingly out of nowhere. The solution is to choose a stimulus that will occur in a dream, so it will automatically come to your mind. This will largely depend on what recurs in your dreams, and the stimuli should cover different settings. It's fine to reality check every time you use the phone, but I'm guessing you have lots of dreams where you don't use the phone. Multiple, simple triggers should give you the best chance at becoming lucid.
Still Not Working?
Dream scenes tend to materialize suddenly. We find ourselves in situations without any short-term memory of how we got there.
For this reason, I find it really effective to follow up a reality check by asking myself if I remember how I got where I am. I will think back to a few things I did that day. When I'm awake this is easy. When I'm dreaming I find I can't remember before the beginning of the dream.
I've started using this as my main checking method during the day. For example, when I'm at work I'll try to remember what I did before that. If I can remember driving there, having breakfast, getting up, and even the previous day, then I know I'm awake. In a dream I won't remember anything before being at work. Or I'll remember an unrelated incident that doesn't make sense.
If practiced consistently, this type of reality check can become a sort of general mindfulness that will help you catch more dreams.
Anything that gets our thoughts attuned to the differences between waking and dreaming experiences will increase lucid episodes.