What follows is my own Guide to Lucid Dreaming
, see that node for another pretty good description.
Section 1: General Information
This section is to provide an understanding of the basic concepts of lucid dreaming, so you can determine whether it is for you.
Definition of the term "lucid dream"
A lucid dream is a dream wherein you are aware of the fact that you are dreaming. This may happen two or three times in an average person's lifetime, but they can be induced intentionally.
"Why would anyone want to?"
Well, being in a dream, you can create your perceptions and do whatever you want, unhindered by reality or the laws of physics. You can make passionate love to anyone you want, kill your boss, anything - just by will. If you become lucid within a nightmare, you lose all rational need to be afraid: you now know that the monster attacking you is not real, for example. If you practice enough, you can even do things that are physically impossible, like flying, passing through solid walls, creating objects out of thin air, and so on.
It's also pretty neat because it allows direct access to your subconscious - for example, analyzing dream symbolism becomes rather easy, as you can just ask the characters in your dream what they represent and they may tell you (honestly or not is yours to determine).
It's also good for creativity, since (if you pardon the pseudoscience) parts of your mind responsible for creativity are in a state of intense activity while in a dream (after all, it has to create all the imagery you see around you), so in theory you can instantly get inspiration for art or music with almost no effort.
Many eastern religions, and philosophy in general, tends to emphasize that what we see as the world is just a construct of our minds, and that we have no way of knowing what is the "real" world. Lucid dreams allow an empirical understanding of this fact, by being in a situation that ordinarily seems completely real at the time and aware that it isn't real. The "history" section later on covers some ways which lucid dreams have been used for spirituality throughout history.
You can also confront your anxieties in a lucid dream. For example, you can speak in public in a lucid dream without any risk of messing up and embarrassing yourself.
In summary, the benefits fall under the use of it as an unrivaled method of custom virtual reality, and the more introspective aspect of being able to interact with the internals of your mind directly.
"Is this difficult? How much of my time will it take?"
While it comes easier for some than others, virtually everyone who tries eventually succeeds in some capacity. Most people are very likely to attain some degree of success within a month or two. It varies pretty dramatically from person to person, though. I, for example, had my first one 3 days after I first heard about the idea from the movie Waking Life. Depending on what techniques you're using, you usually need to invest at most 10 or 20 minutes a day, total. It's time well-spent, too, since it helps you not to waste the 8 or so hours you spend sleeping.
It's a cumulative thing. Over time and with experience, you get better at doing it, and many end up having one or two a week.
"Is it safe?"
Perfectly. There are some sensations and imagery and things like that you may experience using some of the techniques that could be scary (I'll talk about those later), but none of them are actually harmful, of course. Nothing that much exceeds the vagaries of regular dreaming, which obviously are very mild. It's a less restful state than normal dreaming, so if you have 3 or 4 lucid dreams a night (an extraordinarily rare number), you may wake up a little tired in the morning. Some people wonder whether, if dreams are an expression of the subconscious and a form of information processing, lucid dreaming is tinkering dubiously with your mind; this point is way beyond our current neurological and psychological capacity to know for a fact, but the case against it is that we as protagonists have say over how we behave in our dreams anyway, and lucidity just makes us more informed. People have also noticed that if your mind seems to really have a point to make in a given dream, it's much harder to stay lucid anyway.
"This is another stupid New Age thing."
Like a lot of stuff (meditation, hypnosis, herbal medicine, etc.) it's possible to create a "spiritual" practice of it, but that shouldn't discredit the idea itself. Lucid dreaming is especially prone to this treatment, because after all if you decide to, say, explore your past lives, you'll be able to, or at least it seems that way: dreams follow your expectations. As to whether it's just your mind playing along, or you can really use dreams as a window into other realms or the like, I definitely vote for the former. Carlos Casteneda, a major New Age leader from the 60's, was a big advocate of lucid dreaming - and I, being of the skeptic camp, of course consider him to be a fraud, but I won't get into that ;)
Section 2: Techniques
This section describes how to attain a lucid dream, and to increase their duration and vividity.
Techniques to induce a lucid dream
The very easiest technique is to simply think or say to yourself "I will have a lucid dream tonight" as you go to bed. That way, the memory of that thought may occur within your dreams, and you'll become lucid. It seems obvious, but a lot of people don't realize how important this is. If you slept without even thinking about the idea on a given day, your chances are hugely reduced.
Lucid dreams occur much more frequently when you take afternoon naps, so especially apply the active induction techniques I describe later on when you nap. If you're really hardcore you could sleep an hour or so less than the amount you're comfortable with, and take an hourlong afternoon nap. Not everyone would want to alter their schedule for their dream life (and I'm not especially clear as to how this effects your overall rested-ness), but this is a very reliable technique.
This could be considered a sub-technique of napping. Set your alarm to go off during the night, get up for 10-30 minutes (the longer the better), then fall back asleep. 5-6 hours into your sleep is considered the best window, since it's around where the longest REM periods set in. It makes your subsequent dreams more vivid and coherent, since whatever brain chemistry is involved from having recently been awake apparently lingers. This has been shown to increase your chances of having a lucid dream by a factor of as much as 30. Napping probably has similar or better statistics, but I don't recall specifically.
I've also heard some very favorable things, particularly regarding the WILD technique which I'll explain later, about waking up naturally (no alarm clock) but going back to sleep anyway. That tends to result in fairly intense lucidity (and vivid dreamas in general), the reasons for which are probably along the same lines as napping.
Most people have about 10 dreams a night but remember only two or three a week, and only vaguely at that. Improving the vividity and number of dreams you remember, plus the general attentiveness to your dream life, means the thought might occur to you when you're in a dream that the feeling is similar to when you've been dreaming before.
It's relatively simple to remember your dreams, just have the clear intention to remember before bed and write down any fragmented memories you have as soon as you wake up each morning. Dream memories tend to fade quickly, and then throughout the day, so best to get them on paper as soon as possible. Some find it best to remember all they can when they wake up, before they even move. Dream recall has its own benefits, too, since if you take an interest in your dreams it's good not to forget every one you've ever had.
Mnemonic lucid dream induction
Repeat to yourself (mentally of course) "this is a dream" or another mnemonic as you fall asleep, so when you start to dream that thought is still in your head. This works especially well when you're falling back asleep using the wake-back-to-bed technique mentioned earlier, or taking a nap. The goal is to have those words still in your mind as you start dreaming, and at the time when you go to bed at first it will usually be some time before your first dreams start, so this is less useful when you're first going to bed.
In a dream, details aren't as exact. Clocks generally don't behave appropriately since your fine vision and your sense of time are off, and fine print tends to shift around a little bit. It's useful to test to see whether you're in real life or in a dream. The simplest way is to look at the nearest clock three or four times, and if time is progressing normally, then you're not in a dream. Do this often in your waking day (let's say every 20 minutes) and eventually you'll do a reality check out of habit while in a dream, and become lucid.
A few of the more common reality checks:
- Lightswitches. Probably because the parts of your brain responsible for vision are not very quick on the draw, in most dreams, dramatic changes in light levels usually can't occur, so flipping a lightswitch won't cause anything to happen.
- Observing your hands. If you really look hard at your hands in a dream, you might notice the details of your fingers being subtly off - a little swimmy, perhaps. This applies to any finely detailed object, but your hands are familiar to you, and they'll certainly be available to look at no matter what the setting.
- Jumping. In a dream, you tend not to fall too hard, you sort of float to the ground. So jump in the air every so often, and see if you fall normally. This technique is generally only advisable when not in the company of others, unless you're comfortable with the funny looks you'll get when you jump at regular intervals.
- Breathing. Can you hold your nose and still breathe? I've never tried this one, but it's pretty common.
- Memory. Do you remember how you got here? How you woke up today? If you're engaging in a swordfight on a sinking Victorian gunship, think, What did I eat for breakfast today? Was I here an hour ago?
- And above all, reading. Text is usually very unstable in dreams.
If you look at some text, look away and look back to see if it's changed. This tends to apply to digital clocks too.
Wake-Induced Lucid Dreaming
This technique is rather different from the others, because the goal is to stay conscious continuously from when you're awake all the way into the dream, rather than merely increasing the chances of becoming aware of the fact that you're dreaming from within the dream. For many people, it works better than any of the other techniques. It's also handy if you want instant gratification - if this technique succeeds, you're immediately there. Here's how to do it:
Use the wake-back-to-bed technique (or a nap), but instead of doing a mnemonic or no technique at all as you fall back asleep, instead focus on your breath or some other locus of attention. As much as possible, don't let your mind wander as it ordinarily does as you fall asleep. What you're doing is staying focused as you fall asleep, so that you stay relatively clear even as you fall straight into a dream. This is pretty similar to for example some kinds of meditation, but differs in that you're supposed to fall asleep in the process, and the result is of course quite different.
Ordinarily when you fall asleep your mind starts filling with idle thoughts and you don't notice the details of the transition into sleep, and eventually those thoughts coalesce into a dream. When you attempt a wake-induced lucid dream, however, you interrupt that process by not letting yourself drift off in the conventional way so that you're aware of the process of falling asleep.
You're usually not aware of it, but your body goes almost completely numb and paralyzed as you fall asleep, so that stimuli from your real body doesn't effect your dreams very much and so that you can't move around as you dream - sleepwalking is this natural paralysis somehow failing.
When trying this you might be suddenly aware as your body goes numb and you are unable to move. This can be a little scary, but it's harmless. If you ever want to wake up, all you have to do is try to move, and that'll generally wake you up eventually (at worst you'll end up sleeping).
Many people will just suddenly be in a dream, or have no memory of the transition. However, what follows are some transitional effects you may experience.
For one, you likely will no longer feel sleepy at some point. People tend to feel wide awake, and that's usually a sign that you're beginning to enter the dream (you don't feel tired in dreams, do you?) Other effects you may experience include hearing rushing or roaring noises, seeing blobs of color (like when you press on your eyes), and a sense of your whole body vibrating, like painless electricity running through your body. These are also natural side effects of being more conscious of the neurological vagaries of process of falling asleep. Almost everyone experiences the vibration/electricity sensation. Once you do get to it, wait for it to end. Stay calm, any strong emotion may wake you up.
Once the electricity/vibrations are over, you're either fully asleep or you've woken back up again. A dream may begin to form before your eyes. If it does, clearly you're asleep. Otherwise, open your eyes. If you're not still where you fell asleep, obviously you're in
a dream already. If you're still where you fell asleep then you should do a reality check anyway - you may be dreaming about your room. If the vibration/electricity phase seems to be going on for a long time (more than 3 or 4 minutes, say) try rolling over (not off the bed, if possible!) or sitting up; that usually will force you into a dream (or awake, if you're unlucky).
A particular variant of the wake-back-to-bed technique tends to be very effective for those who find it difficult to fall asleep while focusing. Stay perfectly still when you wake up (any significant movement will wake you fully up) and then immediately fall back asleep. This is an alternative to the method of staying up for 10 or 20 minutes, so it obviously can be more convenient, and some even find it better. However, if you're using an alarm it does require an alarm that stops fairly quickly on its own so you don't have to move to turn it off.
The trick in choosing how long to stay awake is to find the right balance between waking up in full (so you don't drift off and lose focus) and being sleepy enough to fall back asleep again while doing this.
Techniques to stay in and enhance a lucid dream
At the very beginning of a lucid dream, it may be difficult to not slip out of lucidity. It helps to repeat "This is a dream, this is a dream," so you don't forget. If your dream seems vague or your thoughts muddled, you can try shouting "More detail!" or such to help keep yourself attentive.
Focus on details
If your dream's detail level seems low, focus on the details. This will usually help. Dreams are rendered as needed, so if you're not looking for a detail in particular, it often won't be there.
That's why some people think they dream in black and white. It's not that it actually was in black and white, but because colors weren't included. People say, "the lady was wearing a hat... but... what color was it?" and assume that it must have all been black and white, since one normally would remember color as one of the main things - but it's really that it had no color, your mind just didn't think to make that part up. It's hard to imagine seeing something without any color, not even grayscale, but that's really what happens. But I digress.
Often details in a lucid dream will begin to fade, or the dream may dim, because you're waking up. This can from all the excitement you experience when you become lucid. The first thing you do in this case is to relax so you don't wake up.
When you start to wake up, spin around like a little kid trying to get dizzy. This blurs your vision so your brain has time to re-render your surroundings, but you don't have close your eyes, which can result in a loss of lucidity. It also utilizes the part of your brain responsible for motor skills to help you to stablize the dream, which is good, since the motor functions of the brain are some of the last parts to go when you are waking up from a dream (of course: the last thing that happens is you regain control of your real body). When you stop spinning, you may find yourself in a separate scene entirely, or one with significantly changed details.
Rub your hands
...Like you're trying to get warm. Again, this a simple, repetitive motor action to center your mind. This has a somewhat lower success rate than spinning, but it's easier.
If your thoughts seem muddled or confused, do some simple math, such as counting up by 7s, to help wake up parts of your brain responsible for logical thought.
Section 3: A brief history of lucid dreaming
The first documentation of a lucid dream is from over a thousand years ago, in the form of a letter penned by St. Augustine in 415 A.D., sent to a doctor in Carthage regarding the former's lucid dreams. Perhaps the best-known historical record of lucid dreaming in most circles is the Tibetan Buddhist Book of the Dead in the eighth century. To this day, I understand certain sects of Tibetan Buddhism practice a form of yoga centered around lucid dreaming.
A twelfth-century Spanish Sufi, Ibn El-Arabi, instructed his students to control their mental activity during dreams.
In 1867, a scientist named Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys published a book entitled Dreams and How to Guide Them, in which he proved that with relatively little discipline, an average person can grow conscious in their dreams, and able to control them. Saint-Denys documented more than twenty years of his own research, detailing how he first increased his dream recall and then becoming aware that he was dreaming.
Another major figure in the history of lucid dreaming is Frederick Van Eeden, a psychiatrist and dream researcher from the Netherlands. His first work on the topic wasThe Bride of Dreams, which he wrote as a novel so he could freely present his ideas without being outright rejected by the psychological establishment. In 1913, he presented a paper on lucid dreaming, A Study of Dreams, to the Society for Psychical Research, which described 352 of his lucid dreams collected between 1898 and 1912.
At least passing references to the possibility of lucid dreams have been made by many philosophers: Aristotle, Plato, Arthur Schopenhauer, and René Descartes. Friedrich Nietsche wrote that he had "... sometimes called out cheeringly and not without success amid the dangers and terrors of dream life: 'It is a dream! I will dream on!'"
In the second edition of The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud wrote, "... there are people who are quite clearly aware during the night that they are asleep and dreaming and who thus seem to possess the faculty of consciously directing their dreams." Later, Freud was so disturbed (naturally) with the sexual content of a dream that he had, that he was shocked into lucidity, concluding in the dream "I won't go on with this dream any further and exhaust myself with an emission." Freud was well aware of Saint-Denys' work: "It seems as though in this [the lucid dreamer's] case the wish to sleep has given way to another [...] wish, namely to observe his dreams and enjoy them."
Finally, I must mention Stephen LaBerge, by far the central figure in the modern-day lucid dreaming world. In late 1977, LaBerge applied to to study lucid dreaming as part of a Ph.D. program in psychophysiology at Stanford University. He was approved, and began his work, with access to the Stanford sleep lab. Eventually, he came up with the first scientific proof of the existence of lucid dreaming, with himself as guinea pig. He did so by having his research partner record signals he made with his eyes while dreaming lucidly.
He now heads the Lucidity Instute, an organization devoted to researching lucid dreams and evangelizing the benefits of them. The Institute maintains an FAQ and also sells the NovaDreamer, a lucid dream aid device (more on that later).
Section 4: Miscellaneous
About out-of-body experiences
An out-of-body experience (or OBE, or more New Ageily "Astral Projection") is just that, an experience where you have a sense of being outside of your physical body. The definition of an OBE is highly flexible: the case can be made that even standard dreams are out of body experiences, in the sense that the body you experience in a dream isn't your physical body. Scientifically speaking, we have no reason to believe it's possible for any element of the mind to literaly leave the body, but we can still refer to the experience. Many people consider lucid dreaming a "gateway" to out of body experiences, or even that they are the same thing, and many lucid dreams (especially those incited with the wake-induced technique) do sometimes manifest themselves as dreaming of being out of your physical body, but in my opinion it's still just a dream. In fact, the wake-induced lucid dreaming technique is similar to that which the Monroe Institute teaches for inducing OBEs, but with less high-minded goals.
Researchers at this point think most OBEs, disregarding special cases like the near death or trauma-induced kind, are hypnagogic (half-asleep) hallucinations, which I'll discuss in a minute. If you are more conscious than normal as you fall asleep (again, as in the wake-induced technique I mentioned in section two), you may notice the effects of ceasing to receive signals from your body, in preparation for sleep. Due to your subconscious trying to account for the sudden lack of any sense of body, you might dream or hallucinate of leaving it.
Not uncommonly, you'll "wake up" from a dream, lucid or otherwise, only to still be in a dream. In a lucid dream, people tend to get anxiety that they're going to wake up, and this sometimes causes false awakenings, since dreams tend to follow one's expectations. This is why it helps to do a reality check whenever you wake up.
Sleep paralysis is a sleep condition many people get occasionally, and it can be used for lucid dreaming. Sleep paralysis is when you wake up suddenly and find yourself unable to move. This is because you're awake, but your brain hasn't established control of your body yet. It's like the opposite of sleepwalking - instead of not being paralyzed while you're asleep, you're paralyzed while you're awake. This half-awake state sometimes still has residual dream imagery, which can be disturbing, especially since you're typically very afraid since you're paralyzed, and the dream imagery can be scary to match. You may also get a sense of suffocating, since you're panicked but your breath is still automatic, so you can't breathe quickly like you're trying to. Trying to move or to call out helps to break the paralysis, and at worst you'll fall back asleep. But sleep paralysis can be a good thing - it's another lucidity technique, just close your eyes and let yourself fall back asleep while doing a mnemonic. It seems the dodgy half-awake nature of the state can improve your chances of going straight into a lucid dream.
A note on sex in dreams
Pretty much everywhere in the world, sex is a very emotionally charged activity, with lots of guilt and other socially-instated anxieties associated with it. In part because of this, sex is one of the things that can very easily wake you up to try. So I'd suggest working for a some time on your ability to stay lucid before you even try.
On flying and other ordinarily impossible activities
Flying and such is a little tricky. Since dreams are constructed by your brain in large part based on your expectations, you have to really believe you can succeed. Thinking of a way which you can explain your ability to do these ordinarily impossible activities ("there is energy beneath my feet pushing me into the air" or "this wall is soft and porus, so it will permit me") works much better than trying to fly without justifying it to yourself in any way. Asking dream characters for help can be useful too. One technique for getting started flying is to try to step into the air as if stepping onto a stair, envisioning that there's a platform of solid air where you're stepping.
In some cases lucid dream practice can lead to a state which is not a dream at all, but something cooler, a hypnagogic hallucination - in a sense a sort of modified dream. Basically, it's what happens when you fall asleep but not entirely, or wake up but not entirely, and your dreaming mechanism is still active. Since your mind is very awake indeed, these are classified not as mere dreams, but a slight glitch in your half-asleep mind. These, of course, are much more vivid, since the cognitive parts of your mind are often entirely awake. The increased wakefulness of lucid dreaming can cause a dream to change into one of these, and these can be fantastic experiences. The line between a simple dream and this state is blurred, but if you have a lucid dream experience that you remember just as clearly as you would a real life event (some claim even more) it may well have been this kind. Note that the majority of these experiences are induced by the wake-induced technique. As I talked about above, most OBEs are probably just hypnagogic hallucinations.
Devices and software for lucid dreaming
There are a number of devices you can use to assist in lucid dreaming. Most of them work on the principle of giving you some kind of audio cue or visual flash intermittently, so that if you notice it in the dream you will realize you're dreaming. Far and away the most popular and known of these is the NovaDreamer, which is sold for $275 retail to help pay for the (supposed) operating costs of the Lucidity Institute. To quote the site:
"The NovaDreamer detects when you're in REM sleep, then gives you a cue (flashing lights or sounds) to remind you to recognize you're dreaming. Cues enter your dream, becoming incorporated just like an alarm or radio will sometimes work its way into a dream."
The NovaDreamer, from what I've heard, is very helpful, but not quite worth the money.
You might find some success with lucidity-inducing software, which can play a sound at a specific interval or time, to get into your sleep and tell you that you're dreaming. DreamWatcher (for Windows, which is available for download at http://www.xs4all.nl/~pasquale/TTM/4/3/dwatcher.zip, looks cool, but there's no shortage of lucid dreaming programs, including many free-of-charge ones, available.
Notables that lucid dream(t)
Many, many books have been written on the subject, but the one that started the modern movement and is still probably the best summary is Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge. ($6.99, Ballantine 1994 034537410X). Ignore the cheesy cover.
Movies about lucid dreaming, or with lucid dreaming as a central component of the plot, include Waking Life and Vanilla Sky.
- The Lucidity Institute - http://www.lucidity.com/
- Through the Mirror - http://www.ld4all.com/
props to mario_god, well, just because he wanted props