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Lucid Dreaming – An Overview

A lucid dream, also known as conscious dream, is a dream in which the sleeper is aware that he/she is dreaming. When the dreamer is lucid, they can actively participate in and often manipulate the imaginary experiences in the dream environment. Lucid dreams can be extremely real and vivid depending on a person’s level of self-awareness during the lucid dream.

Scientific History

The first book on lucid dreams to recognize their scientific potential was Celia Green’s 1968 study Lucid Dreams. Reviewing the past literature, as well as new data from subjects of her own, Green analyzed the main characteristics of such dreams and concluded that they were a category of experience quite distinct from ordinary dreams. She predicted that they would turn out to be associated with rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep). Green was also the first to link lucid dreams to the phenomenon of false awakenings.

Philosopher Norman Malcolm’s 1959 text Dreaming had argued against the possibility of checking the accuracy of dream reports. However, the realization that eye movements performed in dreams affected the dreamer’s physical eyes provided a way to prove that actions agreed upon during waking life could be recalled and performed once lucid in a dream. The first evidence of this type was produced in the late 1970s by British parapsychologist Keith Hearne. A volunteer named Alan Worsley used eye movement to signal the onset of lucidity, which were recorded by a polysomnograph machine.

Hearne’s results were not widely distributed. The first peer-reviewed article was published some years later by Stephen LaBerge at Stanford University, who had independently developed a similar technique as part of his doctoral dissertation. During the 1980s, further scientific evidence to confirm the existence of lucid dreaming was produced as lucid dreamers were able to demonstrate to researchers that they were consciously aware of being in a dream state (again, primarily using eye movement signals). Additionally, techniques were developed which have been experimentally proven to enhance the likelihood of achieving this state. Research on techniques and effects of lucid dreaming continues at a number of universities and other centers, including LaBerge’s Lucidity Institute.

Cultural History

Even though it has only come to the attention of the general public in the last few decades, lucid dreaming is not a modern discovery. A letter written by St. Augustine of Hippo in 415 AD refers to lucid dreaming. In the eighth century, Tibetan Buddhists and Bonpo were practicing a form of Dream Yoga held to maintain full waking consciousness while in the dream state. This system is extensively discussed and explained in the book Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light. One of the important messages of the book is the distinction between the Dzogchen meditation of Awareness and Dream Yoga. The Dzogchen Awareness meditation has also been referred to by the terms Rigpa Awareness, Contemplation, and Presence. Awareness during the sleep and dream states is associated with the Dzogchen practice of natural light. This practice only achieves lucid dreams as a secondary effect—in contrast to Dream yoga which is aimed primarily at lucid dreaming. According to Buddhist teachers, the experience of lucidity helps us to understand the unreality of phenomena, which would otherwise be overwhelming during dream or the death experience.

An early recorded lucid dreamer was the philosopher and physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682). Browne was fascinated by the world of dreams and stated of his own ability to lucid dream in his Religio Medici: “… yet in one dream I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests and laugh my self awake at the conceits thereof;”. Similarly, Samuel Pepys in his diary entry for 15 August 1665 records a dream “that I had my Lady Castlemayne in my arms and was admitted to use all the dalliance I desired with her, and then dreamt that this could not be awake, but that it was only a dream”. Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys was probably the first person to argue that it is possible for anyone to learn to dream consciously. In 1867, he published his book Les Reves et les Moyens de Les Diriger; Observations Pratiques (Dreams and How to Guide them; Practical Observations), in which he documented more than twenty years of his own research into dreams.

The term lucid dreaming was coined by Dutch author and psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in his 1913 article “A Study of Dreams”. This paper was highly anecdotal and not embraced by the scientific community. Some consider this a misnomer because it means much more than just “clear or vivid” dreaming. The alternative term conscious dreaming avoids this confusion. However, the term lucid was used by van Eeden in its sense of “having insight”, as in the phrase a lucid interval applied to someone in temporary remission from a psychosis, rather than as a reference to the perceptual quality of the experience which may or may not be clear and vivid.

In the 1950s, the Senoi hunter-gatherers of Malaysia were reported to make extensive use of lucid dreaming to ensure mental health, although later studies refuted these claims.

The anthropologic studies in 1968 by Carlos Castaneda, for what later became the new age novel, The Teachings of Don Juan, reveals that ancient Mexican natives knew about and encouraged lucid dreaming.

Induction Techniques

Many people report having experienced a lucid dream during their lives, often in childhood. Children seem to have lucid dreams more easily than adults. Over time, several techniques have been developed to achieve a lucid dreaming state intentionally. The following are common factors that influence lucid dreaming and techniques that people use to help achieve a lucid dream:

Dream recall

Dream recall is simply the ability to remember dreams. Good dream recall is often described as the first step towards lucid dreaming. Better recall increases awareness of dreams in general; with limited dream recall, any lucid dreams one has can be forgotten entirely. To improve dream recall, some people keep a dream journal, writing down any dreams remembered the moment one awakes. An audio recorder can also be very helpful. It is important to record the dreams as quickly as possible as there is a strong tendency to forget what one has dreamt. Dream recall can also be improved by staying still after waking up. Stephen LaBerge recommends that you remember at least one dream per night before attempting any induction methods.

Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD)

The MILD technique is a common technique developed by Stephen LaBerge used to induce a lucid dream at will by setting an intention, while falling asleep, to remember to recognize that one is dreaming or to remember to look for dream signs when one is in a dream.

One easy-to-apply method is to count yours or other people’s fingers during the day, making sure it is done diligently and reaches the expected number. If this is done frequently when awake, similar behavior continues into the dream, where by some discrepancy from reality, the dreamer will realize he or she is dreaming and the dream will become lucid.

Another method is to look at text (such as a digital clock, or a road sign), turn away, and then look back. If the person is dreaming, the text will change to something else. The dreamer will realize he or she is dreaming and the dream will become lucid.

A key element in MILD is reviewing in memory the dream from which one has just awoken. When a point is reached in the dream at which an obvious dream sign occurred (e.g., a man with two heads walks past) individuals performing this technique depart from actual memory and instead imagine they became aware they were dreaming. Upon returning to sleep, these individuals will often find themselves back in the same or similar dreams, sometimes even encountering similar dream signs—a situation that can improve the odds they will remember their intention to question whether or not they are dreaming, and thereby achieve lucidity.

Wake-back-to-bed (WBTB)

The wake-back-to-bed technique is often the easiest way to encourage a lucid dream. The method involves going to sleep tired and waking up five to six hours later. Then, focusing all thoughts on lucid dreaming, staying awake for an hour and going back to sleep while practicing the MILD method. A 60% success rate has been shown in research using this technique. This is because the REM cycles get longer as the night goes on, and this technique takes advantage of the best REM cycle of the night. Because this REM cycle is longer and deeper, gaining lucidity during this time may result in a lengthier lucid dream.

Wake-initiation of lucid dreams (WILD)

The wake-initiated lucid dream “occurs when the sleeper enters REM sleep with unbroken self-awareness directly from the waking state”. There are many techniques aimed at entering a WILD. The key to these techniques is recognizing the hypnagogic stage, which is within the border of being awake and being asleep. If a person is successful in staying aware while this stage occurs, they will eventually enter the dream state while being fully aware that it is a dream.

There are key times at which this state is best entered; while success at normal bedtime after having been awake all day is very difficult, it is relatively easy after sleeping for 3–7 hours or in the afternoon during a nap. Techniques for inducing WILDs abound. Dreamers may count, envision themselves climbing or descending stairs, chant to themselves, control their breathing, count their breaths to keep their thoughts from drifting, concentrate on relaxing their body from their toes to their head, or allow images to flow through their “mind’s eye” and envision themselves jumping into the image to maintain concentration and keep their mind awake, while still being calm enough to let their body sleep.

During the actual transition into the dream state, one is likely to experience sleep paralysis, including rapid vibrations, a sequence of loud sounds and a feeling of twirling into another state of body awareness, “to drift off into another dimension”, or the feeling like passing the interface between water into air face-front body first, or images or sceneries they are thinking of and trying to visualize gradually sharpen and become “real”, which they can actually “see”, instead of the fuzzy indefinable sensations one feels when trying to imagine something when wide awake.

Cycle adjustment technique (CAT)

The cycle adjustment technique, developed by Daniel Love, is an effective way to induce lucid dreaming. It involves adjusting one’s sleep cycle to encourage awareness during the latter part of the sleep. First, the person spends one week waking up 90 minutes before normal wake time until their sleep cycle begins to adjust. After this cycle adjustment phase, the normal wake times and early wake times alternate daily. On the days with the normal wake times, the body is ready to wake up, and this increases alertness, making lucidity more likely.

A variation on this method is WILD-CAT. Identical in virtually all respects to the original Cycle Adjustment Technique, differing only in such that on the days in which one is allowed to sleep-in (normal wake times), the subject wakes briefly at the earlier wake time then returns immediately to sleep until the normal wake time. This allows the subject to return to sleep in the hope of inducing a Wake Initiated Lucid Dream. One advantage to WILD-CAT is that it can be combined with other WILD induction methods. The WILD-CAT variation was also developed by Daniel Love.

Lucid Dream Supplements (LDS)

The Lucid Dream Supplement (LDS) technique was developed primarily by LaBerge with others following his lead. LaBerge filed for a patent application in December 2004 that outlined the basic technique of boosting Acetylcholine levels to promote lucid dreaming. LaBerge did not name the method nor has he publicly discussed his research. The term LDS was coined by researcher/practitioner Scot Stride who worked with a small group of pioneers, including Thomas Yuschak, to optimize the LDS approach. The LDS method uses primarily non-prescription supplements that are ingested to produce favorable conditions for the brain’s neurotransmitters and receptor sites during REM sleep. By increasing or balancing the levels of Acetylcholine, Serotonin, Dopamine and Norepinephrine the person can significantly influence dream vividness, memory, clarity, awareness and mood. Enhancing these mental states during REM sleep significantly increases the odds of becoming lucid. The LDS technique can be combined with other techniques (like WBTB or WILD) to complement or amplify them to produce even better results. Thomas Yuschak describes the details of the technique in his book and is widely credited with popularizing the method. Based on anecdotal accounts from various website forums, many people who have experienced difficulties with the other techniques, for whatever reason, are using LDS as an aid in overcoming their obstacles. Some people use LDS to jump start their LD practice and then move on to one of the other traditional methods. Other people use it recreationally to experience more memorable and vivid dreams than they normally would. As well as the Lucid Dream Supplement some have reported increase in dream vividness using other vitamin supplements such as B6/B12.

Lucid dream induction devices (LDID)

Lucid dream induction is possible by the use of a physical device. A well-known and the original widely-distributed dream-induction device is the NovaDreamer, designed in 1993 by experienced lucid dreamer Craig Webb, Executive Director of The DREAMS Foundation. The general principle works by taking advantage of the natural phenomenon of incorporating external stimuli into one’s dreams. Usually a device is worn while sleeping that can detect when the sleeper enters a REM phase and triggers a tone and/or flashing lights with the goal of these stimuli being incorporated into the dreamer’s dream. For example, flashing lights might be translated to a car’s headlights in a dream. The NovaDreamer concept and design has been imitated years later by such devices as The Dream Mask by Bruce Gelerter and The Dream Director (Video Below).

Lucid dream mask models

The Lucidity Institute produced the original Dreamlight and NovaDreamer models which where originally on sale for $120 and only produced in semi-limited quantities. Funds raised from these devices where used to help fund further research by the Lucidity Institute. A similar device called the NovaDreamer II has been “coming soon” since at least 2004, and should be made available to the general public in late 2009. A similar device known as the Dream Mask has also been produced. Some individuals have created their own devices using foam and simple electronics.The Dream Director (Video Below) is also available.

Reality testing

Reality testing (or reality checking) is a common method used by people to determine whether or not they are dreaming. It involves performing an action with results that will be different if the tester is dreaming. By practicing these tests during waking life, one may eventually decide to perform such a test while dreaming, which may fail and let the dreamer realize that they are dreaming. (The more foolproof the reality test, the better, as assuming one is dreaming can be dangerous)

  • The pinch reality check: Pinch any part of your body and if you feel no pain (or if it feels “different” or “obstructed” compared to waking life) then it is a dream.
  • The nose reality check: Pinch your nose and if you are able to breathe without using your mouth, it is a dream.
  • Try to stick your finger through the palm of your hand.
  • Looking at one’s digital watch (remembering the time), looking away, and looking back. As with text, the time will probably have changed randomly and radically at the second glance or contain strange letters and characters. (Analog watches do not usually change in dreams, while digital watches and clocks have great tendency to do so.)
  • Flipping a light switch. Light levels rarely change as a result of the switch flipping in dreams.
  • Looking into a mirror; in dreams, reflections from a mirror often appear to be blurred, distorted, incorrect, or frightening.
  • Looking at the ground beneath one’s feet or at one’s hands. If one does this within a dream the difference in appearance of the ground or one’s hands from the normal waking state is often enough to alert the conscious to the dream state.
  • Pick up a book and look inside. Often, the pages will be blank, or change after the second look.
  • Look at your surroundings. If the placement of the buildings is different from what it ought to be, you are in a dream.
  • Look at your clothing. If you are dreaming, there’s a good chance that your clothing is out of the ordinary, too small or too large, or not even there.

Dream signs

Another form of reality testing involves identifying one’s dream signs, or clues that one is dreaming. An individual may record their dreams in a dream journal and analyze the common themes to determine one’s own dream signs. There are many kinds of dream signs, but they usually reflect the waking life of the person who has the dream.

For example, someone who is a doctor will often dream about performing duties in their field of specialization. The most common, and telling dreaming sign is that something illogical occurs in a completely natural and self-accepted manner (although the dreamer may not immediately realize this).

Dream signs can also reflect wants, fears, things the subject hates, and even finds embarrassing. They can manifest themselves in many different ways, depending on the dreamer.

Recognizing one’s dream signs is an important technique for achieving lucid dreaming, and allowing one to become consciously aware of the dream state. The most common of the dream signs are as follows:

  • Action — The dreamer, another dream character, or a thing does something unusual or impossible in waking life, such as flying, jumping or running great distances, walking through walls, teleporting/changing the dream setting, or noticing photographs in a magazine or newspaper becoming three-dimensional with full movement.
  • Powerlessness — There is a sensational loss of bodily strength. This can mean being unable to move entirely, simply that you are unable to run away from something you otherwise would. This can also include a loss of senses, such as severely limited vision or hearing.
  • Context — The place or situation in the dream is strange and includes fictional characters or places.
    Form — The dreamer, another character, or an object changes shape, is oddly formed, or transforms. This may include the presence of unusual clothing or hair, or a third person view of the dreamer.
  • Awareness — There is a peculiar thought, a strong emotion, an unusual sensation, a loss of normal logic, or an altered perception. In some cases when moving one’s head from side to side, one may notice a strange stuttering or ‘strobing’ of the image.
  • Clocks — The dreamer looks at a clock or watch, looks away, then looks back, and the time could have changed, unintelligible symbols appear on the watch face or even the watch can be gone all together.
  • Fingers — The dreamer seems to have an abnormal number of fingers (e.g. more than 5 on a hand).

One can build up a habit of periodically asking oneself throughout the day if you are dreaming, and performing some of the tasks above. This habit will eventually cause checks to be performed during a dream, leading to lucidity when dream signs are remembered and recognized.

Videos

Lucid Dreaming Tutorial

Lucid Dream Inducing Plants

Lucid Dreaming and Entheogens

The Dream Director (Lucid Dreaming Device)

Special Topics

Lucid Dreaming: A Guide to Successful Lucid Dreams

5 Steps to Lucid Dreaming

Lucid Dream Inducing Plants

Astral Projection via Lucid Dreaming

Lucid Dreaming FAQ

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