From flying to inexplicably nabbing lunch with your favorite celebrity and first-grade teacher, dreams are an endless source of surrealism. But they can also be quite challenging, especially if you have frequent nightmares or stress dreams (or even bizarre pregnancy dreams) that wreck a good night’s sleep. For this reason, the possibility of commanding your unconscious thoughts can be appealing. Whether you simply want more control over your dream state or are looking for relief from nightmares, learning how to lucid dream could potentially benefit you.
Lucid dreaming is having a bit of a moment right now, thanks in part to the twisty Netflix thriller Behind Her Eyes. But don’t worry; the practice isn’t nearly as dramatic as that particular TV series made it out to be. Basically, a lucid dream occurs when you are aware that you are dreaming. This happens when you’re in REM sleep, and according to a study in Science Direct, at least 55 percent of people have had at least one lucid dream in their lifetime.
Triggering a lucid dream takes practice, so it’s unlikely you’ll have one the first time you try — although it’s not outside the realm of possibility. You’ll want to begin by trying a few techniques that are known to trigger a lucid dream, including keeping a dream journal, reality testing, or the “wake back to bed” (WBTB) method. Ultimately, the goal of these exercises is to improve your metacognition by becoming more aware of your consciousness.
If you’re not used to focusing on your waking and dreaming states, the whole process of working toward having a lucid dream may feel odd at first. But if you approach the practice as a way to understand your own thought process better and gain some control over your unconscious state, then you’ll be off to a good start. Ready to learn how to lucid dream for beginners? Read on for everything you need to know about this fascinating sleep phenomenon.
How do I trigger a lucid dream?
Psychophysiologist Dr. Stephen LaBerge has been leading the charge when it comes to pioneering lucid dreaming techniques for more than 20 years, as reported by Healthline. Through his research, he’s found evidence that lucid dreaming can be beneficial for people with anxiety and recurring nightmares. This is due in part to the fact the practice gives people some control over their dream state.
If you’re thinking about trying to initiate a lucid dream, here are a few techniques to get you started:
- Keep a dream journal: Try to make writing down your dreams a habit. The practice is especially useful if you write down your dreams right after you wake up in the morning, while they’re still fresh in your memory. What this does is help you recognize common dream signs (the ability to fly, time changing rapidly, etc.), and become more aware of the way your mind works when you are dreaming.
- Practice reality testing: Reality testing is one of the most reliable ways to teach yourself how to lucid dream. Essentially, this technique involves teaching your mind to notice its awareness while you’re awake. You can do this in several ways, but some of the most popular are asking yourself if you’re dreaming, checking your reflection in the mirror to ensure it looks normal, or checking clocks to see if time is moving as it should be (if you’re dreaming, it will be erratic). Try choosing one of these and repeating the practice several times throughout the day.
- Try the WBTB method: The WBTB method involves setting an alarm for four or five hours after your bedtime, waking up and doing something engaging for 30 minutes (like reading), and then falling back to sleep. If you’re still feeling alert when you fall back to sleep, it can prompt you to enter REM sleep while you’re still conscious — which in turn, could initiate a lucid dream.
Is lucid dreaming dangerous?
In and of itself, lucid dreaming isn’t dangerous. However, if you have a sleep disorder, PTSD, or mental health issues, you may want to consult with your doctor or therapist before attempting the practice. In some cases, lucid dreaming may worsen or trigger symptoms — reality testing can sometimes lead to derealization (a feeling that people or places aren’t real) and the WBTB method causing a disturbance to your natural sleep patterns.
When in doubt, always consult a healthcare professional if you’re worried that attempting lucid dreaming could negatively impact your overall mental health. Otherwise, start visualizing a calm beach in the Bahamas before bedtime, and you might just find yourself there in your dreams.
Lucid Dreaming Benefits
Lucid dreaming is a skill and may take a while to get the hang of, but the benefits are worth it. It can help you tap into a more creative side and improve your reasoning and problem-solving skills. Lucid dreaming is also an anxiety killer because the power and charge you use in your dreams can make you feel capable in real life.
When you’re sleeping, sometimes it’s hard to grasp that you’re dreaming. So, to help your brain differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t, use reality testing. Here are a few reality checks you can try to help make you aware.
- Pay attention to how you interact with your surroundings while you’re awake. It will help you better understand what your consciousness feels like when you’re awake versus when you’re sleeping.
- Check your hands to see if they look normal.
- Look at the clocks in your dream. If you’re awake, time will go at a normal pace. If you’re dreaming, time will constantly change each time you check it.
- Push your hands on objects in your dream. If it goes through, you’re sleeping.
- Try reading words on a piece of paper or whenever you see them. Then look away and back at it. If the words change or are extremely hard to read, you’re probably dreaming.
- Do simple math problems in your head. If adding two plus two seems impossible, you’re most likely asleep.
- Ask the people around you if you’re dreaming. It’s not always a great identifier to see if you’re awake, but it could help your mind become more aware of the differences between reality and the dream world.