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In a lucid dream, anything you can imagine is possible. Even knowing this, many people still ask, what is the point of lucid dreaming? What makes it worth doing? Sometimes this question is connected to the idea that dreams are not as realistic as waking life. The quality of dreams can vary, but generally lucid dreams are much more vivid than normal dreams. A dream can seem as real as any waking experience. This is what separates a lucid dream from a mere daydream: a lucid dream is more closely described as a virtual reality, where everything seems very real, but at the end of the day (or night), you are in a completely safe and private environment.
Sleep may seem like one long state of unconsciousness, but sleep is actually made up of several distinct stages. These stages are split up into to general categories: REM or Rapid Eye Movement, and NREM, or Non Rapid Eye Movement. One sleep cycle including all stages is about 90 minutes. It usually happens in the order of NREM1, NREM2, NREM3, NREM2, and REM.
N1 is the first stage of sleep, normally lasting only a few minutes. You experience N1 as you are just drifting off to sleep. During this stage, you may experience strange noises, lights, or sensations, which are known as hypnogagic hallucinations. You may also experience random twitches in your skeletal muscles. These are called hypnic jerks. They can wake you as you fall asleep. Both hypogagic hallucination and hypnic jerks are completely harmless, although they can be startling sometimes.
N2 is the second stage of sleep, and is characterized by a total loss of consciousness. You cease to be aware of any of your surroundings as you fall into a deep, restorative sleep.
N3, also known as slow-wave sleep, was previously broken up into N3 and N4. Recently, it was discovered that there was no discernible difference between stages N3 and N4, so they were combined into N3. It is the deepest sleep out of all of the stages, so it is very difficult to wake someone in the N3 stage. Parasomnias like sleepwalking and night terrors typically occur in this stage. Typically you will experience another period of N2 before moving on to the REM sleep.
REM is probably the most important sleep stage for those who are interested in dreams, because this is when we experience dreams. While there have been recordings of dreams during the other sleep stages, generally REM is considered the stage in which we experience our dreams.
In the first few sleep cycles of the night, REM is extremely short--only a few minutes. But as the night goes on, you spend longer periods of time in REM, up to 30 minutes or more. Babies and children spend most of their sleep time in this stage, but as we grow older we spend less time in REM. If you are an adult, REM comprises about 20-25% of your total sleep time.
During REM sleep, your body causes the atonia, or paralysis, of the skeletal muscles. This is a very good thing, because you would not want to be acting out your dreams in real life! It is still unknown exactly how the body triggers this and has been the subject of much study. Sometimes, you may become conscious while your muscles are still paralyzed. This is known as an episode of sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is an episode in which a person is usually transitioning from wake to sleep or sleep to wake and they find that they cannot move. Sleep paralysis is commonly characterized by hallucinations, vibrations, loud ringing or roaring noises in the ears, pressure on the chest or choking sensations, and often fear of impending doom or terror if the person is has no prior knowledge or experience of sleep paralysis.
Physiologically speaking sleep paralysis is caused by atonia of the voluntary muscles due to the REM cycle. An episode of sleep paralysis occurs because you are either entering or exiting REM sleep and you have become conscious during this transition.
Lucid dreamers are most interested in REM sleep because it is known as the stage in which most dreams occur. Some lucid dreamers take advantage of sleep paralysis, or even induce it, in order to enter directly into a lucid dream. This is known as a WILD (Wake Initiated Lucid Dream).
Other lucid dreamers use their knowledge of sleep stages to set alarms for themselves in the later half of the night, so that they can induce a lucid dream more easily and at a time when REM is longest.
Even though not everyone remembers their dreams, we all dream at night. On the other hand, many of us always remember our dreams, even though we may or may not write them down or give them much attention. The biggest culprit of bad recall is often too much stress. Even if you are actively trying to remember your dreams, being under a lot of stress and not getting restful sleep can impact your ability to recall anything.
Developing dream recall is the first step towards having lucid dreams. After all, what is the use of having a great lucid dream if you don't remember it after you wake up? It's very likely that you've already had lucid dreams in the past but didn't remember them. Other than that, learning to lucid dream often requires you to know your dreams well enough to find any differences between your dreams and your waking life. For example, if you dream about a certain person, place or thing that you never see in your waking life, you can use that as a cue to aid you in becoming lucid. This is called a dream-sign or dream-cue, which is covered in more detail in the next section.
Getting enough sleep at night is essential to improving your ability to recall your dreams. As long as you’re well rested you’ll find it easier to focus your intent on recalling your dreams and your ambition won’t be clouded by fatigue. It's beneficial to sleep when feeling mildly tired at night and not when on the verge of crashing out of exhaustion. Also, if you’re able to get plenty of sleep during the night it'll be easier to wake up repeatedly to record your dreams, which is exactly what you’ll have to do. Finally, as discussed in the section on stages of sleep, the REM periods get longer during the latter hours of sleep; thus sleeping for longer periods will give you more of an opportunity to waken from your dreams and remember them, and will also give you more information to record.
A dependable dream recall will help in many ways, so it’s important that you don’t develop it in a half-hearted manner. Simply waking up in the morning and trying to recall the dreams you had throughout the course of the night is not enough. During the night you will have many different dreams—at least one per REM period of sleep. The brain tends to erase memories of the previous dream during the intermediate stages between REM sleep. Thus, to salvage the memories of your dreams you’ll need to wake during or immediately after the REM periods, while the dreams are still fresh in your mind. To become proficient with dream recall you’ll need to be able to recall a few dreams per night. Losing a night here and there to stress or anxiety is understandable, but be careful not to fall into a rut. Waking during or shortly after REM periods is tricky, but there are a couple methods to aid in this. The first method simply involves attempting to time your awakening via an alarm clock so that you’ll wake up during a REM period. As discussed in the section on stages of sleep, the REM periods occur roughly every 90 minutes. Aiming for the latter REM periods (about 4.5, 6, or 7.5 hours into sleep) is best because those are the longest dream periods. The second method is similar but not as easy to regulate: drink a lot of water before going to bed.
To be able to eventually control your dreams you’re going to have to focus your intent on doing so. Therefore a better method of recalling your dreams is to focus your intent on remembering them before falling asleep, since this will prepare you for eventually attempting to control your dreams. You must be determined in your resolve and you should attempt to prevent extraneous thoughts from attenuating your intent. Verbally stating your desire to remember your dreams while falling asleep is the best way to accomplish this. It may sound silly but all you really need to do is talk yourself into remembering your dreams. Our minds are powerful instruments and even though it may seem that we lose control of them when we enter sleep, that's not entirely the case. Focus your intent to wake from your dreams and remember them just before you lie down, and continue to repeat your intent to yourself as you approach sleep. Repeat to yourself over and over, “I will wake from my dreams and completely remember them.” If you find your thoughts wandering as you slip into sleep, reaffirm your intent. You want your last thought before drifting off to sleep to be of your intent to awaken from your dreams and remember them.
Keeping a Dream Journal
When you wake up, try to make it a habit to think back on your dreams. If you wake up and immediately start thinking about the day ahead, the memories of your dreams will often be gone forever by the time you think to try remembering them. For most lucid dreamers, keeping a dream journal is the best and easiest way to help recall.
No matter how clear your dreams may seem upon waking during the night, you’ll have almost completely forgotten the previous ones when you again wake in the morning. A dream journal is the most common way of recording one's dreams. A dream journal is simply a writing pad that should be kept within reach of your bed (although other methods exist, such as using a tape recorder or personal computer). Upon waking, don’t allow your mind to drift—immediately attempt to focus on what you had just been dreaming, and write it down in the journal. Contemplate what you just experienced and attempt to put events in order. Often reliving the dream backwards will help: after remembering an event, ask yourself, “What was I doing before that?” Although it’s best to record as much as you can, realistically you may not want to reiterate the epic novel that is your dream at 4:00 a.m.; instead write down key points, such as what you were doing, where you were, and who was around you. Also, note anything strange—anything that wouldn’t normally happen in the waking world. If you find these strange events recur in your dreams, then they are your personal dream signs—you may be able to use these to help you induce lucid dreaming eventually. From here you should read the section on dream signs.
If you’re interested in sharing your dream journal with others, or reading the dream journals of others, then visit the Dream Journal forum on our message board. You may find the Dream Signs and Recall forums helpful as well.
At first it will be difficult to continue a dream immediately after becoming lucid. The reason for this is that upon realizing you are dreaming for the first time you will likely become really excited. If you still aren’t convinced about how amazing it is to have a lucid dream, you won’t understand until you have experienced it. The realization that you are dreaming is usually accompanied by a profound appreciation for just how real everything seems in the dream— it feels like part of the real world. This appreciation is followed by the excitement of the prospect of actually being able to control something that seems so real. It is extremely common among first time lucid dreamers to wake up due to the sheer excitement alone, so don't be discourage if your first experienced isn't as lengthy as you'd expected.
To both prevent yourself from waking up and remain lucid, you’ll need to stay calm and focus on the dream itself. As soon as you become lucid, remind yourself to stay calm. Pause for a moment to collect yourself and take some time to explore the dream world around you. Upon becoming lucid you’ll of course immediately want to try exerting control in your dream, but for your first few lucid dreams you should focus more on training yourself to remain lucid. You can certainly try experimenting with a few things—such as seeing how high you can jump, and perhaps seeking out a particular person—but again in the beginning you should simply try to become comfortable with this new found skill.
As mentioned, at first you’ll likely find it difficult to remain in your dream upon becoming lucid. If the world around you suddenly starts to fade, or you inexplicably sense that your dream is ending, or you even feel that your dream consciousness is thinning, there is a technique you can try to salvage your dream: dream spinning. Dream spinning is extremely simple and consists of you spinning on the spot like you would have as a child. That may sound very silly, but the technique is extremely reliable. When you stop spinning you’ll likely find that the dream clarity has returned, and perhaps your surroundings will have changed as well. In fact, if you focus on changing the setting into something else while spinning, it is very likely you will find yourself in your desired environment after you stop spinning. Note that since it is likely your dream will completely change upon completion of dream spinning, you may lose lucidity. Thus, it may be wise to also remind yourself that you are dreaming while spinning. Also, verbal commands can be beneficial when trying to prevent your dream from ending. Of course dream spinning and verbal commands are tools for controlling your dreams, which we’ll get into next.
Rubbing Your Hands
Another common way to stabilize a dream is simply rubbing your hands together or something physical in the dream. The idea here is to keep your senses focused on the dream instead of thinking of waking. If you are dreaming that you are indoors, you can put your hands on the walls or furniture. If you are dreaming that you're outside, you can try putting your hands on the ground. Any of these things will help you keep the dream going.
While lucid, be wary of false awakenings—waking up within a dream. This is quite common and we’ve likely all experienced it before. This can occur at any time during your dream: you’ll just suddenly dream yourself waking up in your bed. It is very easy to accept this as waking up in the real world since it will seem that you have left the dream world. It is always a good idea to perform another reality check upon waking up to be sure you aren’t still dreaming. From here, let’s finally move on to dream control!