Lucid dreaming is consciously realizing that you are dreaming while in the dreamworld. Once lucid, a dreamer can do anything: fly, visit a person or place, meditate, or practice a high-performance skill.
Lucid dreaming is a scientifically-proven phenomenon. More than 50% of people report having a lucid dream sometime in their lives, and many people report experiencing lucid dreams on a regular basis.
Lucid dreaming has been used to study sleep, develop high-performance skills, overcome nightmares, and work with the mind to go deeper into meditation.
Lucid dreaming was popularized by Stephen LaBerge during his studies at Stanford in the 1970’s and 80’s followed by his book, “Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming.” LaBerge demonstrated that lucid dreaming is a real phenomenon and began chronicling techniques for inducing lucid dreams and experiences of lucid dreamers. LaBerge’s laboratory famously used the rapid-eye movements of people in the dreamstate to communicate to researchers which dream actions dreamers were performing.
The most extensive tradition of lucid dreaming comes from Tibetan Buddhists, who engage the dreamworld to explore the edges of consciousness and cut through delusion. Tibetan Buddhist meditators have developed a framework of lucid dreaming called Dream Yoga that comprehensively explores the intersection of the mind, dreams, and reality and dates back more than 1,000 years ago. Dream Yoga includes techniques for attaining lucidity, lucid dream actions for accessing deeper parts of the mind, and a map of reality based upon discoveries made while in the dreamworld. It is an esoteric field of lucid dreaming that is difficult to understand without familiarity with Tibetan Buddhist teaching, yet it is rich with insights and strategies for inducing lucid dreams and developing an advanced lucid dream practice.
Jungian dream psychology is a once-mainstream field of dream study adjacent to lucid dreaming that has helped popularize lucid dreaming. Jung’s most valuable contribution is the idea that dreams are a means to understand the mind.
The foundational techniques of lucid dreaming are improving dream recall by writing down dreams in a dream journal and developing the habit of questioning reality by performing state tests (also referred to as “reality testing”). For some lucid dream practitioners, these two techniques alone will result in lucid dreams.
Familiarity with the dreamworld is critical for inducing lucid dreams. As dreamers become more familiar with dream mechanics (how events flow into each other, the textures and colors of the dreamworld, common dream characters and personal dreamsigns), it becomes easier for the lucid dreamer to notice that they are in a dream. To develop dream awareness, lucid dreamers are instructed to write down every dream they remember and keep a list of common dreamsigns.
Performing state tests is an art of its own. The best state test is sincere, triggered by some oddity in the environment. Upon noticing anything even just a little bit out of the ordinary, the lucid dream practitioner performs a test that ideally proves whether they are dreaming or in the waking state. Common state tests include looking at a symbol twice and seeing if it changes, attempting to fly or levitate, or willfully changing some element in the environment.
Sincerity is important – if a lucid dream practitioner makes a habit of performing state tests and reality checks in the waking state, they’ll be more likely perform a state test while they are dreaming. If they are sincere, state tests result in lucid dreams. It is difficult to perform sincere state tests consistently – early on, lucid dreamers feel uncomfortable and have an innate bias to tell themselves “of course I’m not dreaming” before giving up.
Advanced state tests include dream actions that take the dreamer deeper into the dreamworld or promptly strengthen lucid awareness. It is common to lose lucidity shortly after attaining it, and activities like flying and solidifying the environment can strengthen the quality of lucidity and keep the dreamer lucid for longer periods of time. Examples of advanced state tests include levitation and manifesting pre-defined events or objects.
Practicing state tests has a surprising real-life benefit: they reduce anxiety and help lucid dream practitioners more openly and flexibly interact with other people and their environment. For advanced lucid dreamers, state tests are often accompanied by a feeling of relaxation, openness, relief, and a belief that anything is possible.
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.
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.
Maintaining consciousness while falling asleep is referred to as the Wake-Induced Lucid Dream technique (also known as WILD). In WILD the lucid dreamer enters the dream state from wakefulness, with a firm understanding that they are entering the dream world.
WILD generally places lucid dreamers into a hypnagogic state, a transitory state of mind with partially formed dreams. Since the hypnagogic dream world is rapidly changeable and inconsistent, it can be difficult to maintain lucidity as sleep progresses, making it hard to perform high-value dream actions. Often, lucidity lasts for just a few seconds before the dreamworld sweeps awareness into its changing substance.
These brief experiences with WILD often make up lucid dreamers' early successes and first few lucid dreams, paving the way for lucidity in more fully formed dreams. They are a valuable stepping stone and confidence-builder as lucid dreamers take their practice deeper.
Lucid dreaming offers an array of benefits, each valued according to the individual needs and experience.
Lucid dreaming is often used to overcome nightmares, fear, and anxiety. When aware of the nature of the dream, fear naturally shifts into curiosity and a willingness to confront the dreamworld. Lucid dreamers report the source of their fears dissolving and fading into something more benign – such as a monster becoming a friend, or a dangerous height turning into something safe and manageable, or a stressful event going well. Advanced lucid dreamers can practice fear-inducing events (such as public speaking) with a feeling of calm and confidence.
In real life, lucid dreaming changes the way fear is perceived. Lucid dreamers are used to things changing and fears dissolving – this lack of expectation makes threats in waking life more manageable.
Since the dreamworld is a safe space, dreamers have ample opportunity to experiment and overcome challenges.
In the dreamworld, anything is possible. Rock climbers can train for difficult climbs and discover new movements, surfers can rehearse turns on waves, and gymnasts can practice a routine completely safely. Even software engineers have encountered architectural solutions to real life computing problems.
Dream events have a real life physiological effect. Performing an event in the dreamworld not only builds confidence and allows for a safe space to explore difficult methods, it also rewires the nervous system for enhanced performance in the waking state.
Some of the first actions many lucid dreamers perform with their new skill is wish fulfillment. Flying, surfing, going somewhere, meeting someone – these experiences are easy to manifest for the skilled lucid dreamer. All that's required is becoming lucid, staying lucid, and then willfully expecting the wish to be fulfilled.
Expectation kicks off a chain reaction in the mind, resulting in whatever is expected to manifest. This happens whether or not dreamers control their imagination. What makes lucid dreaming special is how it allows dreamers to take control of this natural fulfillment-of-expectation process.
Having fun in the dreamworld can be more than just pure indulgence. Performing any targeted dream action has the benefit of opening the mind and cutting through self-imposed limitations.
Everything that takes place within a dream is an expression of the mind. Even before gaining skills as a lucid dreamer, simply being aware of dreams enhances self-understanding and provides clarity in how different thoughts and feelings interact within the space of the mind. For this reason, starting on the path of lucidity by recording dreams in a dream journal is already an incredible step for leveling up and upgrading the mind.
As lucid dreamers gain experience in the dreamworld they gain insights into reality. Lucid dreamers see both the dreamworld and the waking reality with flexibility and openness, aware that anything is possible. The consistent practice of state tests and reality checks instills an understanding that reality is rarely as it first appears, an insight that pulls lucid dream practitioners deeper into their lives.
The practice of lucid dreaming ultimately becomes a practice of curiosity. Lucid dreamers consistently ask themselves: What is the fabric of reality? What is the fabric of the mind? Why do these thoughts and feelings arise? How can I better work with these experiences/places/beliefs?
As lucid dreamers gain skills and experience, they shake off self-imposed limitations that previously defined them. In the dreamworld people try new things. In waking life lucid dreamers see through the compulsive, reactive way they often engage their everyday experiences, allowing for a new way to live.
It is said in the yoga tradition that meditation and kindness are one-hundred times more effective when performed while dreaming.
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.
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.
Since it is normal for many months to pass before having a first lucid dream, it is ideal to have fun and be patient through the early stages of learning while continuously coming back to the basics. The first lucid dream often catches dreamers by surprise and is rapidly followed by many more lucid dreams.
The first steps for learning to lucid dream are to record dreams in a dream journal and cultivate the habit of questioning reality. These are valuable practices for novices and advanced practitioners alike, serving as the optimal starting point for everybody.
For most people lucid dreaming is safe. As it deals with the mind, lucid dreaming is little different from meditation or psychotherapy. The same _precautions_ apply as if diving into a meditation retreat or therapeutic experience for the first time.
The potential benefits of lucid dreaming generally far out-weigh its risks. Lucid dreaming helps people overcome fears and anxiety, better understand thoughts and emotions, have novel experiences, practice high-performance skills, and overcome personal limitations.
One danger in learning to lucid dream is seeing reality as overly flexible. It is common for lucid dreaming practitioners to often not take reality at face value. For some people this can be a frightening experience akin to psychosis.
The most common drawback from learning to lucid dream is disrupted sleep. Frequently jotting down notes in a dream journal means more time awake in bed and fewer prolonged periods of core sleep and REM sleep.