How to Lucid Dream

Lucid dreaming is the experience of waking up within a dream, realizing that you are in a dream while staying asleep. Once lucid, the dreamworld becomes even more vivid and detailed. As a lucid dreamer, you can control your dreams by shifting the scenery, manifesting characters, and performing dream actions like flying and wish-fulfillment.

Anyone can learn to lucid dream. Lucid dreaming requires commitment, curiosity, and access to the ideal techniques for the current stage in the learning process. As you gain mastery, you'll progressively unlock the benefits of lucid dreaming.

These are our tips for going from a novice dreamer to advanced lucid dreaming expert. Keep in mind that learning to lucid dream is easiest when approached with genuine curiosity, a playful mindset, and patience. Studies show that playfulness is key for learning new skills, while genuine interest and patience allow for a consistent, committed effort.

Step 1: Keep a Dream Journal

The foundational technique of lucid dreaming is to improve dream recall by writing down dreams in a dream journal. Typically we forget our dreams shortly after waking up, so writing down dreams allows us to hold the memory and build a familiarity with the dreamworld.

Keeping a dream journal is critically important. It is almost impossible to learn to lucid dream without developing intimate familiarity with the dreamworld. For many people, this step is all it takes to have a lucid dream. Once we know what our dreams look like, it becomes radically easier to recognize the dream world when we see it.

Taking this step further, consider keeping a record of personal dreamsigns. These are recurring characters, events, or patterns serving as a signal to realize that you're dreaming.

Step 2: Perform State Tests and Reality Checks

The next foundational technique for learning to lucid dream is forming the habit of questioning reality. We do this by performing state tests.

A state test (also referred to as “reality check”) is a simple, convenient, and reliable way to find out if you're dreaming. Examples including attempting to fly or levitate, looking at a symbol twice and seeing if it changes, and trying to willfully change some element in the environment. If you do indeed start flying – or if the symbol changes or the environment shifts – then you are almost certainly dreaming.

State tests need to be sincere. Since this habit carries over to the dreamworld, it is critically important to follow through and truly validate whether or not you're in a dream. A common pitfall for beginning lucid dreamers is to feel uncomfortable performing the state test and give up early. If instead you form the habit of sincere state tests, you’re bound to perform a state test in the dreamworld and realize that you are dreaming.  

Oftentimes dreams look just like real life, and even when encountering strange experiences that could not possibly happen in real life, we have the habitual tendency to trust that it's real. Breaking the habit of saying “of course this is real" early in your dream journey will yield fast results. As you get comfortable with the fluid, ever-changing nature of the mind rapidly go deep in the world of lucid dreaming.

State tests should be convenient so that you perform them often. They should be reliable so that once you perform it you clearly know whether or not you're in a dream. Design your own state tests, or try one of our recommendations from the Shape app.

Step 3: Form Powerful Resolutions with Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD)

Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (often referred to as MILD) is a prospective memory technique for forming an intention to remember that you are dreaming and then to follow through with this intention in the dreamstate. Just as someone reminds themself to do a chore or be somewhere at a certain time, MILD can help lucid dreamers realize that they're dreaming and perform targeted dream actions.

The first step in performing the MILD technique is to craft an intention. Intentions should be concise and simple (one sentence), clearly stating an outcome. For example, “I will realize that I am dreaming," is a classic MILD intention.

To build upon the intention, lucid dream practitioners use their imagination to rehearse successfully performing the intended action. Rehearsing the steps leading up to, during, and after the key action is critical for making the rehearsal meaningful and effective. Increasing the detail of the imagined scene and events further strengthens the mnemonic effect.

The MILD technique should be practiced before going to bed and upon awakening between sleep cycles. It is compatible with other lucid dreaming techniques, including Wake-Back-to-Bed.

Step 4: Practice Wake-Back-to-Bed (WBTB)

Perhaps the most reliable single technique to trigger a lucid dream is called Wake-Back-to-Bed, or WBTB. Wake-Back-to-Bed is practiced by setting an alarm to go off between sleep cycles, staying awake for 20-30 minutes to become fully conscious, and then going back to sleep with the strong intention of having a lucid dream.

The ideal time for the WBTB alarm is personal. Try setting it for 2 hours before you normally wake up, or use a sleep tracker or dream analysis tool to detect peak dreamtime.

Once awake, stay awake for at least 20 minutes. Do household chores, read from your dream journal, examine your dreamsigns, and meditate. As you fall asleep, commit to realizing that you are dreaming.

Overview: How to Lucid Dream

- Step 1: Keep a Dream Journal
- Step 2: Perform State Tests and Reality Checks
- Step 3: Form Powerful Resolutions with Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD)
- Step 4: Practice Wake-Back-to-Bed (WBTB)

These four techniques for learning to lucid dream can be done in any order. We recommend starting with keeping a dream journal, then practicing state tests, and then trying MILD and WBTB as your enthusiasm grows. By starting with the dream journal, you'll greatly expand your chances of becoming lucid simply by increasing exposure to the dreamworld. It's like getting more swings at bat, or adding extra fishing lines in the water at once.

As with learning anything, let your enthusiasm guide you. Lucid dreaming is difficult to learn – so be patient with yourself and have fun, even when weeks and months go by without a lucid dream.

If you're sincere in your efforts and follow the right guidance, you are certain to succeed in your lucid dreaming journey.

Learn how to lucid dream by downloading the Shape app. Readers qualify for 10% off the annual plan.
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