I’ve never had a lucid dream, but I’d love to start. Every night my eyes grow weary and my passive consciousness arrives in that ethereal realm without a lick of agency. I saw Inception in a theater forever ago and remain fascinated by the concept of dream control, despite its personal elusivity.
What, exactly, is lucid dreaming? The experience is a metacognitive state in which you become aware of your existence inside of a dream and sometimes grab the reins from Morpheus to control aspects of what transpires.
Rafael Pelayoa doctor and sleep medicine professor at Stanford University, says that as a teenager an unforgettable lucid dream ignited his initial fascination with sleep. “It’s the kind of experience where, if you’ve ever had it happened to you, you know that it’s true,” says Pelayo. “If you’ve never had it happen to you, you are very skeptical it could actually occur.” Multiple experts we interviewed described this state of lucidity as something many people can achieve with continued practice.
Whether you’re trying to have your first lucid dream or attempting to increase their frequency, remember these tips the next time you show up nude to your high school reunion and desperately need something to cover up. (Hypothetically. It’s not as if this ever happened to me!)
Build Your Base of Dream Recall
Prior to controlling your dreams, you need to remember them. “You can think of it like building up a repertoire of skills that reinforce each other,” says Benjamin Bairda research professor at the University of Texas at Austin who focuses on human cognition. “At the base of that is training up your dream recall.” The first step toward dream recall is quite simple: Have a desire for it to happen.
When you’re all snuggled up under the covers, right before you doze off, focus your intentions on remembering any dreams that come your way overnight. When you wake up in the morning, instead of reaching for your smartphone to check for notifications, grab a pen and a pad of paper to capture the residual vapors of information still swirling around in your head from la-la land. “Have a routine of waking up and writing down whatever comes to mind,” says Rebecca Robbinsan instructor at Harvard Medical School and a sleep scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. You don’t need to buy a fancy dream journal or write down anything in particular, you just need to stick to it. With repetition, you may begin to remember more of your dreams.
Discover Trends to Heighten Awareness
After you start a free-form dream journal, the next step is to look for peculiar patterns or overarching themes across your dreams. Are you battling giant squids in Times Square multiple times a month? Sprinting across the Pacific Ocean while a rabid Tom Brady chases you? Or maybe you spot a bunch of blue balloons, or blue iguanas, or indoor waterfalls. “When you recognize those common themes, it then gives you a specific target for your memory,” says Baird. Once you’re aware that an outlandish number of blue balloons appear in your dreams, the next time you see a blue balloon take a second to consider whether you’re in a dream. Can you pop it?
Acknowledge the Signs of Dream Logic
Stairs that go nowhere. A sinkhole in the living room floor. Lava pouring from the mouth of your lover. Even though it can be difficult to notice in the heat of the moment, dreams rarely follow the logic of reality. “We don’t question the reality of these things, because the logical part of our brain is less active at that point,” says Pelayo. In addition to spotting dream patterns, use the reality-bending nature of the experience to your advantage. Try to openly acknowledge the experience as unreal whenever a dream starts to transgress against reality.
Wake Up Early and Go Back to Bed
Still struggling to achieve lucidity inside your dreams? Baird recommends waking up an hour early in the morning, staying awake for 30 minutes, then falling right back to sleep. In the brief window you’re awake, spend that time writing in the dream journal and focusing on what you want to achieve. “After you go back to sleep, you’re much more likely to have a lucid dream,” he says. “The reasons for that we don’t totally understand, but we know that it’s effective.” Although it’s not ideal to mess with your sleep schedule in this manner often, the wake-up-and-back-to-bed trick may help you have a breakthrough moment if the other strategies are not fruitful.
Read a Landmark Book on the Topic
For a more in-depth look at the techniques to induce lucid dreams, check out Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold. While the seminal work published decades ago may feel a little outdated, LaBerge was one of the first academics to fully explore lucid dreaming as a trainable skill, and he laid the groundwork for much of the contemporary research on the topic.