Lucid Dreaming: What Is It?
I used to think being able to control your dreams was as natural as to be able to fit your entire wrist in your mouth. In reality, I am very blessed to possess both abilities - one more interesting than the other.
As far as I can remember, I have always been able to have lucid dreams. 90% of the time I spend sleeping, I get to control what happens, where it happens and who does what, like a screenplay I am the writer of. The other tenth, I sometimes get to control myself in a world that I have not created, sometimes I get to watch a movie that I cannot influence at all. Most of the time, I remember my dreams very clearly, in details. There are not many mornings I cannot at least remember one dream, but often I know I have dreamed more than one dream in one night. Whether or not I can remember it longer than the first fifteen minutes of my waking state, depends on how intense the dream was, how energetic I personally am and how fast I get the chance to write down a couple of keywords.
I decided that I needed to understand and know more about this ability. Checking the internet taught me that many people are actively trying to dream lucidly. Not knowing how I do it, but just realising that I can do it, I could not give any tips or help people enter the world of lucid dreaming. And thus I started experimenting by paying attention and taking notes. This is the result...
What is lucid dreaming?
In a lucid dream, the dreamer is aware of the fact he is dreaming, and thus gains the ability to manipulate the content of the dream. There are two ways in which a lucid dream can be established, which is either dream-initiated or wake-initiated.
In a dream-initiated lucid dream (DILD), the dream starts as a normal, regular dream. Suddenly, the dreamer realises they are dreaming, which either wakes them up immediately, or grants them the ability to manipulate the dream's content.
A wake-initiated lucid dream (WILD) is entering the dream state directly from the waking state, while staying conscious throughout the entire process. This method is most effective, yet difficult, because the transition between awake and sleep is not something the dreamer and his consciousness are used to experience, and thus could find it quite frightening.
Both aspects will be profoundly explained later in this article - but first, let us take a look at some other terminology that needs to be explained.
The technique of autosuggestion is a form of hypnosis that relies on the power of imagination. There is a lot to say and study about the subject and its developer Émile Coué. In essence, autosuggestion is when you repeatedly tell yourself something, thus start to genuinely believe that it is going to happen, in order for it to happen.
Aspiring lucid dreamers can use this technique to incite having a lucid dream (this can literally mean repeating to yourself, aloud or in your head, "I will have a lucid dream") or to improve their dream recall ("I will remember what I dreamt").
As the name suggest, a dream journal is a journal in which you write down your dreams. This can be either in keywords, in a couple of sentences or in a longwinded story.
It is not for everyone, keeping a journal, but those who do enjoy writing down their thoughts and dreams are advised to keep a dream journal. That way, they can keep track of what they dreamt and when, and thus learning more about their dreaming behaviour from hindsight.
A personal suggestion to those with dream journals is: don't stop writing. Remember that the mind who dreams these dreams is the same mind that can write creative stories. If you have an unfinished dream and you have inspiration to finish it while awake, please proceed to so as stimulating your creative brain cells now could very well grant you more vivid dreams later on. For those who want to keep a clear distinction between what they dreamt and what they wrote, coloured pens or text editors are your friend.
Dream Recall is the name given to the ability to remember dreams.
As I mentioned earlier, I recall most of my dreams, most of the time - mostly in details. Being able to recall dreams clearly and detailed, is the first step to raise awareness of reality and dreams.
But the information of dreams, to our mind, is momentary. It is only a matter of (usually a short) time before the mind erases all memories of the dream just dreamed. Some may say it is a matter of luck whether or not you will be able to recall details for longer than the first thirty seconds after waking up, but I say it is a matter of practice.
Checking if a situation takes place in real life or in a dream is a very important part of becoming aware and in control of your dreams. It is crucial that you expect reality checks you perform in dreams to produce surreal results, which you compare with the outcome of the reality checks throughout the day.
There are many forms of possible reality checks and, like methods of lucid dreaming, you may very well have a favourite reality check or one that works best for you. The most common reality checks are reading the time, checking a mirror, looking at your hands, jumping and possessing superpowers. The concept of reality checking is to check these things during the day, make them an automatism so that you will also check them while dreaming, noticing that the result is surreal and concluding that, because of that, you must be in a dream world.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM)
The Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is so called because of the random movement of the eyes during this stage of sleep. It is in this phase that dreams occur. This is thus the important part of sleep for (aspiring) lucid dreamers to reach and stay conscious upon entering.
About 20% to 25% of an adult's total sleep is occupied by REM, which is about 90 to 120 minutes, divided over four of five periods of REM sleep, the so called REM cycles. Those cycles are shorter in the beginning of the night and become longer towards the end.
In Wake-Initiated Lucid Dream (WILD), it is the dreamer's objective to enter a REM cycle directly from the waking state.
Sleep deprivation (not having enough sleep) makes for faster REM sleep entering. It may or may not be a good idea for aspiring lucid dreamers to limit their sleep to what is generally subscribed for their age category, which is 9 to 10 hours for adolescents and 7 to 8 hours for adults.
Dream-Initiated Lucid Dream (DILD)
In a Dream-Initiated Lucid Dream (DILD), the dreamer starts dreaming a regular dream. At one point in the dream, the dreamer realises they are dreaming. This could trigger the dreamer to wake up, but when he focuses and practises, this is the exact moment where a regular dream becomes a lucid dream - thus the moment the dreamer takes over control.
Various people have found various methods to take over control inside their dreams, which works best for them individually. However, there are three methods that seems to be reoccuring amongst many dream-initiated lucid dreamers.
Text Change Recognition
Some people are unable to read inside their dreams. When they focus on text in a dream, it triggers waking up. Most people have never paid attention to text at all. When you do, you will find that text inside a dream changes. Think about a billboard, a text message, or just your watch. When you check these things in a dream, most of the time, you will only check them once. Checking them twice will change the message, as text is inconsistent in a dream. Realising this will make the dreamer conscious about the fact they are dreaming, and thus triggering their lucidity.
Those of you who have seen the movie Inception, you will probably remember how DiCaprio used a spintop to check whether or not he was inside a dream world. Lucid dreamers can use the same technique to indicate they are dreaming and thus triggering the lucid dream. Like Leo, you could use an object that you actively must operate, but a more effective and easier to recognise option is checking your hands. When you focus on your hands and try to move them at will, you will realise that you are dreaming, and that you can control your actions.
The opposite of accustomed reality checks are in-dream unreality checks. The point in this is that, when you dream about an object or abstract form that you subconsciously know is not real, you will realise that it cannot possibly be real and thus conclude it must be a dream. For example, if you dream that you suddenly have seven toes on each foot, are riding a bike without wheels or that penguins can fly. Again, realising this can trigger the lucidity of your dreaming.
Dr Stephen LaBerge developed a technique similar to DILD. This method, Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD) combines autosuggestion and reality checks. The idea is that you, throughout the day, perform reality checks and, before falling asleep, tell yourself that you will dream lucidly, that you will remember you are dreaming and that you will recognise dream signs and failing reality checks.
Wake-Initiated Lucid Dream (WILD)
A Wake-Initiated Lucid Dream (WILD) is a dream actively lead to from the waking state of the dreamer.
When sleeping, you do not go immediately from waking state into a REM cycle (in which you can have dreams). The part we usually call "falling asleep" is, easily put, a phase in time in which your body paralyses by shutting off muscle activity and your brain goes to rest by shutting down its consciousness. The WILD technique induces lucid dreaming in that phase, by letting the body go into the sleep state while the brain remains consciousness while going to rest. This is a more effective and reliable technique, because there is no need to recognise dream objects or events in order to provoke lucidity - yet, difficult to master, as the transitioning experiences may be frightening and instigate hallucinations.
There are several techniques that can help provoke Wake-Initiated Lucid Dreaming, such as the Wake Back To Bed technique - but the easiest and most straight-forward method is simply letting your body fall asleep while your mind keeps focus.
The best circumstances to initiate WILD are a peaceful and quiet environment, a comfortable sleeping place (typically your bed) and enough time to invest. Getting comfortable is the first step. Every muscle and fiber in your body should be relaxed and motionless. Once comfortable, stop moving your body and start focussing on getting your mind ready.
Part two is clearing your head. This may be tricky, as the daily stress keeps popping into one's head the last waking moments before falling asleep. Try not to think about anything at all. What helps here, is thinking about something irrelevant, something that repeats itself, like yourself walking down a long road, climbing infinite stairs, etcetera. Keep your head clear of thoughts, or rather focus on the flares that may show up in the darkness in front of you when you have your eyes closed. It is important that you find your method - so try things out until you find what suits you best.
The third part is going with the flow. After some time, if you have managed to stay conscious, your body will enter the sleep state, your brain will start to rest and enter the dream state. If all went well, you will be able to move your dream body instead of the real one, now cut off from your brain for the time being. Once your dream has shaped its scenario, you will be able to interact and influence it.
It is very common for the dreamer to feel spasms or face hallucinations throughout the falling asleep phase. Although these can be very frightening, they are completely harmless. Remember that you are in control. If you scare easily, getting through this phase without waking up may take some practice. You may want to try out autosuggestion to keep your focus on the job instead of the side effects.
Wake Back To Bed Method
This is a method I personally disapprove of, but since it is commonly used and works for many people, I wanted to address it anyway.
The idea is that you set an alarm so that you wake up at the end of a REM cycle, by means of setting an alarm. Typically, you choose the last cycle, as that is usually the longest, which means waking up after five or six hours of sleep. You then stay awake for up to an hour, staying comfortable and at ease, preferably performing dream and sleep related actions such as keeping a journal or reading about lucid dreaming.
The reason I disapprove is because it involves interrupting precious sleep. The method could work for you as far as lucid dreaming is concerned, but it will not do your sleeping pattern or mood much good. I know that I, personally, do not like my night's rest to be interrupted by an early alarm clock, and neither do I ever succeed in staying up for only an hour and then going back to sleep again. But it is what it is: a technique that might as well be the one for you.
Which technique to choose?
It sounds almost like a book quote, but the technique is bound to choose the dreamer.
Aspiring lucid dreamers should try the different techniques commonly used and reportedly well-working, keep an overview of their findings and discover the one method that works best for them personally - and then practice. Practice makes perfect, even in your dreams.
...but whatever you do, however lucidly you will be able to dream, also remember not to thrive on your dreams and to live life to the fullest.
In this article, I have explained more about lucid dreaming and all the terminology attached to it. As far as tips on how to dream lucidly concerns, the world wide web is there with so many valuable resources. I may keep a journal and publish an assortment of my tips and tricks, but that is a plan for later. For now, this was Lydocia writing her first published article/Hub. I thank you most sincerely for reading - please leave your comments below!
© 2011 lydocia