Lucid dreams: how to control your dreaming
Let’s take a trip into the land of lucid dreams. Ever woken up from a dream and carried an uneasy feeling around with you all day, as though your dream never left you? Ever wished that you could control your dreams to have better outcomes?
What if we told you that there was a way to manage what happens in your dreams and that it could potentially benefit your mental wellness?
Read on to discover how you can play the starring role in your dreams and reduce anxiety, enhance creativity, and even help heal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What are lucid dreams?
In most cases, when we dream (nightmares included), we cannot tell that we are dreaming, and the narrative is out of our control. In a lucid dream, you can perceive yourself in an alternate reality which allows you to control who you are (anyone) and what you can do (anything). The only limitation is your imagination. No wonder it’s such a highly sought-after practice.
Lucid dreams can increase your mental awareness, give you control over your psyche and improve your creativity. Not only can lucid dreaming allow you to explore an alternate reality as if you were awake, but it can also help manage anxiety or stress by giving you power over your nightmares.
How do you have lucid dreams?
Attempting lucid dreaming takes practise. To learn how to lucid dream, you have to understand your sleep cycle.
In regular sleep, your brain cycles through rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep.
During non-REM sleep, you cycle through three separate sleep stages, in which your brainwaves, heartbeat, and eye movements gradually slow down, preparing you for your REM sleep.
As you enter REM sleep, your brain starts to become extremely active, increasing your heart rate and eye movements, switching you into a dream state. This is where lucid dreaming comes into play.
Below we have outlined a few ways to help you switch your regular dreams into more vivid ones; here’s how you unlock your lucid dreaming ability:
Create a calm sleep environment
Practising good sleep hygiene is the key to achieving a lucid dream level of REM sleep. Ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. Keep all distractions like phones away and practise relaxation techniques to signal to your brain and body that it’s time to wind down.
Record a dream diary
Keeping a dream diary promotes lucid dreaming. By writing down your dreams, you’re training your brain to recall them. Keep your journal next to your bed and write down your dreams as soon as you wake up.
Keep track of dream patterns
After you’ve written down your dreams, make a habit of reviewing them often. Look for patterns that might occur: do the same characters keep appearing? Do you have recurring dreams with different endings?
These insights could help you understand the issues your subconscious is grappling with. And more importantly, the more aware you are of your dream signs, the quicker you’ll be able to identify when you’re in a dream state.
Take a few moments every day to do a reality check. The idea is to get your brain trained to identify what it feels like to be real in your dreams.
Some common reality checks include looking at your reflection in the mirror (often your reflection in your dream won’t be exact), touching objects to confirm they can be felt, and controlling your breath. If you block your nose and can still breathe you are dreaming.
It’s recommended to pick one reality check and do it multiple times a day to train your mind to repeat the reality checks in your dream.
Try the MILD technique
Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD) is a technique used to induce lucid dreams by repeating a mantra as you go to sleep, for example, “I will know that I am dreaming”.
By repeating this phrase, you’re encouraging your brain to recognise when you start to dream, increasing your chances of having a lucid dream.
Try to induce sleep paralysis
Sleep paralysis or Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming (WILD), is the sensation you feel when your mind is awake, but your body is asleep.
The WILD method involves keeping the dream narrative alive in your mind when you wake up mid-dream, so that you can then place yourself back into your dream when you fall asleep.
It should feel as if you’re having an out of body experience.
The Wake Back to Bed Technique (WBTB)
The Wake Back to Bed technique involves scheduling alarms to maximise your chances of waking up during REM sleep and enabling you to re-enter a dream as you fall back asleep.
As an example, set the alarm to go off 6 or 7 hours after you first fall asleep. The 6 or 7-hour mark is more likely to catch you during a REM stage of sleep. As your alarm goes off, stay awake for 30 to 60 minutes. Write your dream down, get out of bed and do something. The idea is to keep yourself awake but let your body stay sleepy. When you get back to sleep, focus on your dream to encourage yourself to re-enter that dream.
This technique should not be practised too often as disrupting your REM sleep results in sleep deprivation, which can have short-term and long-term impacts on your health.
Try to keep your lucid dreams going
If you’ve managed to get yourself into a lucid dream, keep it going! The most common reaction is to wake up. To keep yourself distracted from waking up, try falling back or spinning around in your dream, rub your hands together or continue your dream narrative to convince yourself you’re still in it.
Is it bad to lucid dream?
There is some popularity to self-induce lucid dreams, most commonly for overcoming fears, healing and enhancing creativity.
Some studies have shown that inducing lucid dreams reduces the anxiety and distress associated with nightmares. Lucid dream therapy has also shown to be effective in people with post-traumatic stress disorder by helping them change the narrative of a traumatic experience in their dreams.
However, there is much debate over whether inducing lucid dreams is beneficial or harmful to your health. It is argued that creating lucid dreams intentionally blurs the lines between dreaming and reality and that this can harm your long-term mental health.
Here are some pros and cons of lucid dreaming:
Benefits of lucid dreams:
- Reduces bad nightmares
- Reduces anxiety
- Enhances creativity
- Heals Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Helps with physical rehabilitation
Implications of lucid dreams:
- Causes sleep problems
- Increases anxiety and depression
- Creates dissociation with surroundings
- Creates derealisation
How to wake up from a lucid dream
We understand that not all dreams are great experiences, especially if they feel too real to continue. If you’ve found yourself in a dream narrative that you can’t escape from, trying these techniques can help lift you out of that dream and bring you back to reality:
- Call out for help to tell your brain to wake up.
- Try blinking to bring awareness back into your body.
- Fall asleep in your dream to help wake you up in reality.
- Read in your dream to activate parts of your brain not used in REM.
Lucid dreaming can open up a whole new world in understanding your psyche. These methods we’ve mentioned above can help train your mind to be aware of your state of consciousness during sleep.
But before you practise lucid dreaming, remember that you’re altering your mental awareness and if you’re suffering from any sleep disorders you might want to approach this with caution.