Sleep Cycles, Sleep Stages, and Lucid Dreaming

Understanding how we sleep is foundational for developing a lucid dreaming practice. Throughout the night there are several opportunities to plant seeds of lucidity. This article serves as your guide for identifying sleep stages, understanding your unique sleep pattern, and performing key exercises that result in lucid dreams.

Sleep Cycles

Every night we have about four or five sleep cycles, each lasting 90-120 minutes (1.5 to 2 hours). It is normal to wake up between each cycle, then fall back asleep and repeat the process.

Within a sleep cycle there are four distinct phases observable by unique brainwave patterns: REM, deep sleep, core sleep, and awake.

Dreamtime/REM Sleep

Rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM) is the phase most interesting for lucid dreamers. This is when we dream, with the movement of our eyes corresponding to what we experience in the dreamworld. As a night progresses, the REM phase gets longer and longer. It is not uncommon for the final sleep cycle to be mostly comprised of dreaming.

To increase the chances of becoming lucid, turn off your morning alarm and allow yourself to get as much sleep as possible. Adding an extra sleep cycle – a sleep cycle likely to be dominantly REM sleep – increases exposure to the dreamworld, improving familiarity with the dream state and multiplying opportunities to have a lucid dream.

Beyond being the entry point for lucid dreaming, REM sleep is important for health, reduces stress, and facilitates creativity.

Deep Sleep

Deep sleep is critical restorative sleep, supporting many key functions of the brain and body. During deep sleep the body is highly active: repairing muscle and bone, replenishing energy, regulating metabolism, and strengthening immune function. Deep sleep supports cognitive function, memory formation, language learning, and the development of motor skills.

We spend more time in deep sleep earlier in the night, and less as the night progresses. Since deep sleep is generally inaccessible to the practicing lucid dreamer, it's advised to wait until later in the night (around 4 hours after falling asleep) to engage in lucid dreaming techniques. This approach allows for abundant time in the deep sleep phase while also ensuring that we get some uninterrupted sleep every night.

Core Sleep

Core sleep is also known as light sleep and makes up most of a night's sleep. It is just as important as other sleep stages, facilitating learning and exhibiting brainwaves related to cognition.

We move in and out of core sleep repeatedly as the night progresses, transitioning from core sleep to deep sleep, REM sleep, and wakefulness.


We wake up briefly between each sleep cycle, however we often don’t remember these moments when we get up in the morning.

The awake phase is important for lucid dreamers: we can prime the mind for lucidity by writing down dreams in a dream journal, meditating, and performing resolve-strengthening exercises.

One of our favorite lucid dreaming techniques is Wake-Back-to-Bed. This technique begins by becoming fully awake between sleep cycles, staying awake for 20 or 30 minutes, then going back to sleep. It reliably leads to lucidity.

Sleep Cycles and Lucid Dreams

We are best equipped to practice lucid dreaming and explore the dreamworld when we understand how we sleep. Ultimately, lucid dreaming comes down to working with the mind, harmonizing with our sleep pattern, and clearly seeing the fabric of reality.

Here are our key tips for harmonizing lucid dreaming efforts with a natural sleep cycle:

  • Sleep in often to increase REM sleep
  • Upon waking up in the middle of the night write in a dream journal, meditate, or listen to one of Shape's audio guides
  • Allow yourself several hours of uninterrupted sleep every night, preferably shortly after going to bed
  • Consider setting a Wake-Back-to-Bed alarm between sleep cycles
  • Practice healthy sleep hygiene

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