Whether you want to fly like Superman or finally tell off that one jerk in the office who never shuts up, the idea of controlling your dreams is pretty tantalizing.
In theory, you could get rid of nightmares, live out ultimate fantasies, and get Gary to admit that his stories are both annoying and boring.
So many people are fascinated by the idea of lucid dreaming. But is it really possible to initiate these dreams on your own?
Though there are no proven techniques to trigger silent lucidity, here are some ways you may be able to have better control over your dreams.
Before we get to the fantastic world of lucid dreaming (i.e., the Lizzo of sleep), we have to start with basic dreams (i.e., the Lauren Conrad of sleep).
Though we clearly need sleep to restore our bodies, the purpose of dreams is less clear. Honestly, scientists don’t really know why we dream, but they have some good guesses.
Some experts think that dreams are a way for our brains to sort through all of the information of the day and process greater meaning. Others believe that dreams play a part in memory retention.
As your brain tries to recall the many things that happened in the day, it creates a little story out of those pieces, and you get a weird dream about cutting hair at a fish market.
Dreaming may also be a way to understand and more deeply process your emotions. Or maybe you just can’t stop thinking about whatever happened to Jonathan Taylor Thomas and now he haunts your dreams.
Scientists have definitely not studied the JTT phenomena, but there are growing studies that show dreams are an important part of our high-level cognition and emotional lives.
Lucid dreaming happens when you realize you’re in a dream… while you’re still dreaming. Some lucid dreamers can then control their actions.
So, instead of being embarrassed that you’re taking your SATs naked in front of your senior crush, you simply acknowledge the dream state and toss on some imaginary pants.
As you sleep, your brain keeps operating. Though scientists still aren’t sure exactly what your brain is up to as you snooze, tests show active patterns of brain waves throughout the night.
Sleep happens in four stages.
Stage 1 is only a few minutes long and takes you from wakefulness to sleepfulness. In Stage 2, you sleep lightly as your heart rate slows and muscles relax. Stage 3 is deep sleep that leaves you feeling rested come morning.
But the fourth stage is the fun one: REM.
During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, your heart rate goes up, your eyes move around, and your brain becomes almost as active as during the day.
This cycle of brain activity is where most dreams and lucid dreams occur. Even wet dreams occur during the REM cycle, though they’re a rare treat if you’ve passed puberty.
Lucid dreams aren’t necessarily more vivid than regular dreams, the difference is in the control. Lucid dreaming can feel exhilarating because you’re suddenly in control of a fantasy world.
Or, it can simply decrease anxiety, stress, and fear from recurring nightmares. Just like regular dreams, lucid dreaming is a little different for every person, every night.
Extremely vivid dreams or sleepwalking are not considered lucid dreams. Primarily because you aren’t aware of the dream as it’s happening. They’re also different from hypnagogic hallucinations (when you have audio or visual hallucinations as you’re falling asleep).
Around 55 percent of the population has had at least one lucid dream in their life and 23 percent say they have lucid dreams at least once a month.
Lucid dreams can be a therapeutic way to overcome recurring nightmares. Also, there’s some evidence that performing motor skills in a lucid dream could help strengthen those motor skills in real life.
Studies on lucid dreaming have been sparse and small. Stephen LaBarge has been at the forefront of lucid dreaming research and in multiple studies, found some proof that lucid dreaming is real.
In one test, subjects slept while being monitored in the lab and gave signals when they hit certain moments of lucidity. Many were able to give those signals, showing they had some consciousness in sleep.
A 2009 study found that brainwaves during the state of lucidity were a kind of hybrid between waking and dreaming brainwaves. These tests were done with very few subjects, but most experts agree that lucid dreaming is real.
Unfortunately, there are even fewer studies to give any advice on how to lucid dream. Still, there are a few tricks that might make your dream of controlling your dreams a reality.
Getting more sleep
Your best bet for lucid dreaming is to get more REM sleep. Unfortunately, listening to “Automatic for the People” won’t do it. You have to get more overall sleep to up your REM.
To do that, practice good sleep hygiene.
Try to go to sleep and wake up at about the same time every day. Make sure your bedroom is dark and a comfortable temperature. Try not to sleep next to a construction site or opera singing insomniacs. You know, the basic stuff.
Daydream about dreaming
LaBerge created a variety of techniques to try to trigger lucid dreaming. Many of them involve thinking about dreams a lot and becoming more aware of reality.
When you keep dreams on the brain all day, you’re more likely to be able to recognize a dream when you’re asleep.
The same logic goes for “reality testing.” In dreams, certain everyday objects or tasks get all weird. For example, look at a digital clock or a book in a dream. Most likely, the words or numbers will be odd symbols that change every time you look at them.
Unfortunately, we don’t usually think to look at digital clocks and books in dreams, so this potential lucidity trigger goes wasted. That’s why lucid dreaming enthusiasts suggest doing “reality checks” during waking hours.
Twenty times a day, remind yourself to look at a book or a clock and really read what it says. Don’t assume you’re awake, actually check your reality. The theory is that you’ll start naturally doing this in your sleep and you’ll immediately know that you’re dreaming.
Keeping a dream journal also helps this heightened awareness of dreams.
Just write down what you dreamed about in as much detail as you can remember. It’s handy to keep a pen and paper next to your bed because even the nuttiest of dreams can fade fast.
The Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams or MILD technique starts right before you go to sleep.
To do this, you think of a “dreamsign” or an unusual thing that often occurs in your dreams (like flying). As you go to sleep, keep thinking of this dreamsign and tell yourself that you’ll remember this upcoming dream.
This heightened awareness of dreaming is meant to prime your brain to be aware of the dream, while the dreamsign is a signal to help you remember that the dream isn’t real.
A small 2017 study found this to be the most effective of LaBerge’s techniques.
Wake up to dream
In the most annoying of the lucid dreaming techniques, you can try the Wake Back to Bed (WBTB).
Set an alarm to go off 5 hours after you go to sleep. Stay up for half an hour and then go back to sleep. This increases your chance of getting to REM sleep, which could make lucid dreaming happen.
Wear a light-up mask
A number of lucid dream triggering masks have hit crowdfunding platforms in the last few years.
They look kind of like night masks, but they contain little lights around the eyes. As you hit REM sleep, the mask flashes the lights to say “hey, you’re dreaming now. Why don’t you try flying?”
LaBerge created a mask called NovaDreamer, which apparently worked on 11 of 14 subjects he studied. Though the mask hit the market in the late 90s, it went out of production in 2004 and despite announcements of a comeback, NovaDreamer 2.0 is, alas, just a dream.
Similar masks are currently on sale, though there’s no proof of their efficacy.
A study from 2018 found that taking galantamine, a drug typically used for treating symptoms of Alzheimer’s, may help with lucid dreaming.
Now, in this study the participants also did all of the LaBerge lucid dreaming techniques (including waking up 5 hours after going to bed) and took a dose of the drug.
It’s unclear if just taking galantamine would do the trick on its own or if there are any harmful side effects from taking the drug just for the sake of dreams.
You shouldn’t try this without consulting a doctor, but it is an interesting recent study that could result in more answers about lucid dreaming in the future.
Overall, there’s no real trick to lucid dreaming. Likely, some people can do it and some can’t. But it doesn’t hurt to dream journal, be mindful, and get more sleep.
So, if you want to try these tricks to control your dreams — go ahead! Just be wary of anyone trying to sell you the secrets to lucid dreaming because there’s no proven way to do it.
Who doesn’t want to have cooler dreams? Lucid dreaming can be a pretty amazing experience and it can help you reduce recurring nightmares.
Not everyone can do it — and that’s okay! It’s not really possible to trigger a lucid dream at will, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t muster up a telling-off-Gary fantasy. Just appreciate the times you are aware of your dreams and be grateful you’re giving yourself a chance to get some extra sleep.