What is lucid dreaming?
Before diving into how to lucid dream, you should understand what exactly lucid dreaming is. Simply put, lucid dreaming is conscious awareness of the fact that one is dreaming during a dream.
While we’re sleeping, particularly in Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM sleep), our minds generate simulated experiences we call dreams. Usually, we have no idea we’re dreaming during the dream and the simulation plays out subconsciously, or below the threshold of conscious awareness.
But by becoming lucid, we restore awareness, and we realize we’re dreaming in the moment. There are many ways to induce lucidity and be aware during the dream state.
- One way to get lucid is by Dream Initiated Lucid Dreaming (DILD). This is realizing you’re dreaming after you’ve already begun dreaming.
- Another way is by falling asleep consciously, maintaining awareness as you transition from wake to sleep, and entering the lucid state directly. This is called the Wake Initiated Lucid Dreaming method, (WILD)… we’ll cover both techniques in this article.
Lucidity means mental clarity of the fact that you’re dreaming. Though lucid dreaming is often mistaken for dream control, it should be thought of as present-moment dream-awareness– hence our mindful approach to the discipline.
However, dream control does come into play when you want to stay in the dream without waking up and without losing lucidity. After you develop those skills, you can do what you want in the dream state.
So, now that you know what lucid dreaming is (and you can learn more about it here), let’s look into how to have lucid dreams.
6 Pro tips for how to lucid dream
1. Keep a dream journal
While it may seem tedious to start dream journaling, it is absolutely worth the effort. Here are a few reasons why dream journaling is a must if you want to learn lucid dreaming:
- Dreams you would have forgotten are recorded and preserved. When you come back to them later– even years later — you’ll be amazed at how much detail comes back to you.
- You’ll start to see trends, themes, and patterns in your dream content. These trends can reveal recurring issues that you are concerned about at the subconscious level. This also helps with inducing lucidity because they make great dreamsigns which we dive into below.
- Planning on writing dreams down in a journal kick-starts your prospective memory (remembering to remember in the future). Intend to remember and write your dreams down, and you’ll be much more likely to actually remember them.
- You’ll gain a sense of familiarity, clarity, and connection with your dreams rather than feeling so estranged and perplexed by them. And this is what the practice is all about; familiarity, connection, and engagement with these amazing parts of your mind.
2. Learn the MILD Technique
We all have an incredible power called memory. If we want to have lucid dreams, we need to use this power.
The Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD) technique coined by Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold involves creating and engaging with mnemonic devices throughout the day in order to induce lucidity while in the dream state.
/nəˈmänik/ noun – A device such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something.
E.g. ‘ROY G. BIV’ is a mnemonic device for the color spectrum (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.)
There are many ways to practice this method. One sequence of MILD exercises goes like this:
- Remember throughout the day to question whether you’re dreaming and then do a reality test.
- The ‘reality test’ is an attempt to prove you’re dreaming by checking the functionality and/or stability of your surroundings (or a specific symbol or object of your choosing). Skip to number 3 for more on reality testing.
- Remember to do this while dreaming, the test will reveal to you that you’re dreaming, and then you’ll become lucid.
This is a mnemonic practice because it engages the prospective memory (remembering to do something in the future). Try this technique many times throughout the day to build muscle memory for lucid dreaming.
Develop a skeptical mindset – question whether you’re dreaming throughout the day, and then test if you actually are dreaming, and eventually, you’ll remember to do this during a dream, thus triggering lucidity. And if you attain lucidity in the middle of a dream you’re already having, you’ve achieved a Dream Initiated Lucid Dream (DILD).
Quick tip for lucid dreaming:
I recommend that if you wake up at any point in the night, try the following technique and go right back to sleep: Plan on realizing you’re dreaming when you start dreaming again. And whether that works or not, be sure to write about these attempts in your dream journal. You’ll want to remember how you did it, learn from your failures, and build upon your successes.
We cover this method in depth throughout the course in Mind Awake.
3. Put your reality to the test
One critical part of the MILD technique is testing your reality or your state of consciousness. After all, the dream state is quite different from the waking state. See, in dreams, you’re not perceiving the outside world; you are perceiving and experiencing a mental simulation. And because the mind is creating the world you’re perceiving, dream reality appears much less stable than waking reality.
Luckily, you can use this fact to your advantage.
You can count on the dream simulation to fail at reproducing stable, complex, specific details over and over. Sure, the first time you look at something in a dream, say, a clock for example… it might appear clearly with vibrant detail, but if you look away from it, and then look back again, your mind won’t be able to reproduce it EXACTLY as it was the first time.
Again, if you’re dreaming, you aren’t perceiving input from the outside world. In a dream, your mind is creating everything you see. And when you look at something, look away, and then look back again, the mind has to instantly regenerate the image as best it can – luckily for us, it can’t quite get it right the second or third time, thus tipping us off to the fact that we’re dreaming!
Techniques for testing reality
In dream-reality, symbols like numbers or letters tend to change and morph form from moment to moment. So, re-reading is a great way to test and confirm which state of consciousness you’re in.
If you look at your watch, look away, and look back again and the numbers still look as they should, you’re probably awake. However, if you run this same test and your watch has changed colors, or the numbers look different, or you can’t read the numbers, most likely – you’re dreaming!
Check your reflection:
This is a really interesting thing to do in lucid dreams. If you look in a mirror or window and look at your reflection, take a moment to consider whether you’re dreaming. Look away, and look back again to verify.
There are many simple, safe ways to do this – jump up and down to test gravity, pinch your nose and see if you can still breathe, bounce a ball, push against a hard surface, etc. The laws of physics apply in waking reality whether you like it or not. But in your dreams, the laws of physics are purely constructs of your mind – you can break the rules if you try.
I’m giving a lot away in this article, and there are many more techniques to learn in the guided course in the app. Plus you get to learn mindful meditation as you go along. Check it out!
4. Cultivate self-awareness while awake
Anyone who has studied lucid dreaming extensively will tell you; self-awareness is an essential part of the practice – especially mindful self-awareness. But mindfulness is quite an in-depth practice involving many practices and conceptual frameworks.
One of which is the concept of meta-awareness. Meta-awareness or meta-cognition is more than just being aware; it’s knowing you are aware.
“I am aware”
Meta means ‘beyond’, so meta-awareness is going beyond normal levels of awareness. So, not only does this element of mindfulness help you stay present throughout the day, and help you take a breather, pause, and check-in with yourself… but it also augments your MILD practice.
We tend to dream about what we learn and practice throughout the day. So if we practice awareness of the fact that we’re aware during the day, well, sooner or later we’ll become aware we’re dreaming during a dream.
5. Hunt for dreamsigns
Dreamsigns, as we explore in the guided course in the app, are occurrences, images, scenarios, etc. that can be used to help you recognize when you’re dreaming. I like to break dreamsigns down into the three following categories in which you’d essentially compare how likely they are to happen in dreams vs waking life:
These are signs that often happen in dreams, but are impossible in waking life. Impossible dreamsigns include being in multiple locations at once, flying, breathing underwater, breaking laws of physics, or nature, or time, speaking to dead relatives, etc.
These are signs that often happen in dreams and could happen, but are unlikely to happen in waking life. De Ja Vu, running into an old friend in an unexpected time or place, a funny coincidence, a surprise, something super unusual or anomalous; something that might lead you to say “Woah, that’s weird”.
These are signs that you can predict you’re likely to dream about, or you know you already tend to dream about (common theme or trends from your dreams). Think of things you really want to do, or really don’t want to do… they could include a recurring annoyance that’d leave you saying “Ugh! This always happens to me!”. These desires or frustrations or struggles are things you’re likely to dream about.
Now, there are many other ways to categorize dreamsigns. But I chose this way because it has helped me remember when to do reality tests throughout the day as I practice MILD. I know I won’t have any Impossible Dreamsigns while I’m awake, but I have Likely Dreamsigns all the time, so I can plan to do reality tests whenever I have one of those.
For example, Frustration is a trend in some of my dreams; wanting to do something (like building the best lucid dreaming app on the planet) and trying, but not quite getting there…
I know I already have a lot of dreams involving frustration, and I should expect some future dreams to involve frustration. So, it’d be smart for me to remind myself “Whenever you feel frustration today, do a reality test” and thus make it more likely that I’ll do a reality test the next time I feel frustration during a dream.
Now, again, there are many kinds of dreamsigns because you can dream about pretty much anything. But more importantly than how to categorize them, be sure to look for them!
Think of them as clues and get on the hunt! Your dream journal is full of dreamsigns, so that’s a great resource for them. Check out lesson 10 in Mind Awake for more on the topic of dream signs and how to find them.
6. The WILD technique
This one is a personal favorite. The Wake Initiated Lucid Dreaming (WILD) technique is a bridge from one state of consciousness to another. With this method, you can enter the lucid state directly, by maintaining awareness as you fall asleep.
Falling asleep usually requires a sense of letting go of consciousness, but with this technique, you hold on in a specific way and as the body falls asleep, the mind stays awake (hence the name Mind Awake).
Here’s how to do the WILD technique:
- As you’re lying in bed getting ready to fall asleep, take a few deep relaxing breaths. This will help you feel a little more grounded and present as you begin the technique.
- Choose an attention anchor. This is something stable on which you will maintain focus as you drift into sleep.
- The breath – focus on the breath as you would during meditation and maintain focus as you start to fall asleep.
- A mantra – Repeat a word or phrase like “Mind Awake, body asleep” over and over. Hold onto awareness as you enter the dreamstate.
- Hypnagogic imagery – Pay close attention to the ambient colors and shapes you start to see during this transitional phase from wake to sleep. Let the imagery grow brighter and clearer as time passes and you transition into a dream.
- Visualizations – Intentionally create imagery in your mind and play around with it as you fall asleep. I like to picture a chalkboard with the number ’10’ on the board. Then I visualize picking up an eraser, erasing the number, and then picking up a piece of chalk and writing the number ‘9’. I repeat the process until I get down to ‘0’… except I usually start dreaming before I get that far!
- So, the trick is using tools like the above anchors to help you maintain conscious attention as you transition to sleep. The WILD technique can sometimes lead to very brief moments of sleep paralysis, so proceed with caution!
Summarizing how to lucid dream
Of course, as a practice, lucid dreaming is far more nuanced and substantive than the above five points. But those are some pro tips for at least inducing a lucid dream and having that “Ah-ha!” moment of realization that you’re dreaming during a dream.
There are many other techniques for both inducing and prolonging lucidity. And there are plenty of ways to fit those techniques into a mindfulness practice or just into your daily routine. Either way, this skillset can really be used to help you become a better, more integrated version of yourself.
So, in summary, lucid dreaming is about increasing awareness of your mind. Writing is a great way to do that, and since you’re focusing on your dreaming mind, keeping a dream journal is a great idea. Practice the mnemonics in conjunction with writing your dreams down. Plan on getting lucid, and plan accordingly. Map out what your dreams tend to be like and when you should test whether you’re dreaming – that’s why dreamsigns are useful.
Try the WILD technique whenever you remember to do so, And most importantly, just keep practicing – there’s no huge rush to get lucid right away.
There’s so much more to know about how to lucid dream, and so that’s why I created Mind Awake. Lucid dreaming can be quite a rabbit hole, but it’s a wonderful, healthy, exciting, and liberating one. You dream for around two hours every single night of your life. Why not explore them?