In 1975, an experiment proved that lucid dreaming was actually possible. You can become aware in a dream and control it. The phenomenon still remains elusive to most people but those who can do it describe it as nothing short of life-changing. Here’s what we know about this near superpower – how it works and most importantly, how to do it.


Are You Dreaming Now?

Before we get started, take a look at your hands. How many fingers do you have?  Can you count them all, left to right?

Take a deep breath.  Now try breathing through your nose.  Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and try to breathe in.

If your fingers look funny, if you have a different number than you usually have, or if you’re able to breathe with your face-holes closed, you might be dreaming.  And now you know, there’s a good chance you can continue this dream as a lucid dream.

What Is Lucid Dreaming?

What is a lucid dream?  Most of us think of dreams as random movies that play in our heads.  They don’t make sense, they don’t mean anything, and we can’t control what happens.

A lucid dream is the kind of the opposite.  In a lucid dream, you control the action.  You can move, speak, and act the way you want.

Some lucid dreamers are able to control the dream’s setting.  They can change the location around them, or teleport someplace else.  Dreamers are also able to give themselves superpowers, like flying or walking through walls.

It’s possible to visit specific people, sometimes by traveling, sometimes by making that person appear, in a lucid dream.  You might paint with Picasso or sit in on a Richard Feynman lecture.  Or you might go see a long-dead family member, or friend.

You can jump the Grand Canyon on a skateboard, fight a firebreathing dragon, or play out any other fantasy you like.  The limit is your imagination.  Basically, it’s The Matrix, and you’re The One.

Science and History

A 2016 meta-analysis of lucid dreaming research concluded 55% of adults have had a lucid dream.  About 23% have lucid dreams at least once a month.  The degree of control varies, and some people are more likely to stumble on lucid dreaming than others.

But even if you’re not one of the lucky ones, there’s good news.  Lucid dreaming can be taught.  In fact, it’s been taught for over 2000 years.

Religions from around the world have acknowledged dreams as special.  Lucid dreams are particularly important in Tibetan Buddhist religious practice.  Various indigenous peoples also include lucid dreaming in their culture, though this is an area where you should read first-hand accounts, rather than popular articles.

Lucid dreamers now celebrate April 12th as Lucid Dreaming Day.  If you’re just hearing about lucid dreaming now, there may not be time for you to join in as a card-carrying member.  Still, lucid dreaming has plenty of benefits, apart from the obvious, that make it worth looking into.

Why Do We Dream?

To get to the bottom of how lucid dreaming works, it might help to know why do we dream in the first place.  Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, wrote a book discussing the theories.  You can find his TED talk online.

According to Walker, sleep helps with problem-solving.  We piece together solutions to waking world problems in dreams.  We can also work through our emotions.

I should mention here that everybody dreams.  You do, even if most of your dreams are forgotten.  The most useful dreams, psychologically speaking, are the ones that help you deal with trauma.

Most of your muscles are kept inactive while dreaming by your brain’s regulation of neurochemicals.  But your brain is never truly idle.  In fact, parts of your brain are more active dreaming than awake.

Studies show it’s possible to learn while you sleep.  Imagine taking conscious control of this process.  You’d have about two hours of extra study time, thinking time, or party time each night!

Stages of Sleep

I’m won’t too deep into the stages of sleep in this video.  The short version is, we move between non-REM and REM stages as we sleep.  Non-REM, or slow-wave sleep, is when the body heals itself.

In REM sleep, the eyes move rapidly (REM means Rapid Eye Movement) and brain activity ramps up.  We get progressively longer REM sessions as sleep continues.  Since most dreaming happens during REM, the best time to lucid dream is close to the end of a seven-to-eight-hour sleep session.

Dream Journaling

So how do you set yourself up to lucid dream?  There are several books on the subject.  All seem to agree dream journaling is the first step.

Writing down your dreams may signal your brain that dreams are important.  Or maybe it just makes you more aware of your dreams.  Most people forget the details of dreams within 10 minutes of waking, so keeping a journal at bedside is critical.

You may find simply knowing lucid dreaming is possible is all you need to do it.  If not, try setting an intention.  Tell yourself you will control your next dream, and you might be right.

When you wake from a dream, imagine yourself slipping back into it, this time in control.  Do this after you’ve written the dream in your dream journal.  Try to go back to sleep within ten minutes of picking up your pen.

Reality Checks

If lucid dreaming doesn’t come easy, it’s time for a reality check.  Actually, you should check your reality often during the day.  Some common methods include:

1) Focusing on your hands

2) Pushing a solid object to see if your finger goes through

3) Trying to read

4) Checking the display on a digital watch

5) Flipping a light switch

6) Looking in a mirror

7) Pinching your nose and trying to breathe through it

8) Checking the behavior of an object, or totem, that you keep with you in waking life.  The idea here is, if you have the totem in your dream, you can try and make it do something odd.  If you flip a coin in the air and it hovers, for instance, you’re probably dreaming.

Basically, you’re looking for anything that works differently in dreams than in waking life.  Books, watches, light switches, mirrors, and hands are all known to be dream wonky.  Your totem is a personalized example of the same thing.

If you get in the habit of doing frequent reality checks, you’ll likely carry the habit over to dreams.  If you can become aware you’re dreaming, you can take control.  Unless you wake up, that is.

Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams

After Keith Hearn confirmed the reality of lucid dreaming scientifically, Doctor Stephen LaBerge of Stanford University ran a similar experiment.  He wrote a book about his findings that has become a classic in the field,  Lucid Dreaming: The power of being aware and awake in your dreams.

LaBerge devised a technique called MILD, or Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams.  Basically, MILD asks you to journal your dreams, do reality checks, and say affirmations to yourself like, “When I sleep, I will lucid dream.”  Repeat the checks and affirmations throughout the day.

When you’re ready to sleep, say your affirmation again as you visualize your desired dream.  Imagine being awake in the dream.  Continue affirming and visualizing while you fall asleep.


Another useful technique discovered by LaBerge is spinning.  You don’t do this before sleep, but after entering a lucid dream.  Spinning seems to help stabilize the dream, so you won’t wake up immediately.

Concentrating on an object in the dream can also help.  So can imagining that what you’re seeing is the real world.  A recent study found this last technique most effective, but you can use all three.

Wake Back To Bed

There are more involved techniques for inducing a lucid dream.  Wake Back To Bed, or WBTB, leverages the timing of REM to make lucid dreaming more likely.  To practice WBTB, set an alarm to wake you just as the REM portion of a sleep cycle is ending.

Typically, this means 5-6 hours after falling asleep.  Expect to be awake for about half-an-hour.  During this time you can read, write in your dream journal, or repeat the reality checks, affirmations, and dream visualization from MILD.

Wake Induced Lucid Dream

If you want to take a step into the unknown, you can try WILD, or Wake Induced Lucid Dream.  This one is tricky and and can involve some discomfort.  The idea is to put your body to sleep while your brain stays awake.

Do this right, and you might find yourself in a state of sleep paralysis.  Your brain paralyzes your body during dream sleep.  If it didn’t, you might hurt yourself, or others, by thrashing about.

Every dog owner has seen the family friend turn into a sleep woof.  If sleep paralysis wasn’t a thing, we couldn’t live comfortably with our toothy friends.  We certainly couldn’t let them sleep on the bed.

But being awake while you’re paralyzed can be unsettling.  Because of this, WILD is probably not the first technique you should try when learning to lucid dream.  They don’t call it WILD for nothing!

Added Benefits

Earlier, I mentioned the benefits of lucid dreaming.  If flying, visiting distant planets, and spending quality time with anybody you want isn’t enough for you, there are other benefits to consider.  Lucid dreams can help ease anxiety, overcome nightmares, and improve motor skills.

Just staying awake in a dream is empowering.  If something in your waking life is troubling you, you may able to take the sting out of the experience by exploring it in a dream.  Matthew Walker compares dream sleep to “emotional first aid” that offers “nocturnal soothing balm”.

Dreaming about a skill you’re learning can be like practicing while you sleep.  Athletes have shown improved performance in skills they practiced in lucid dreams.  And multiple studies have linked lucid dreaming with increased cognitive performance.

Potential Dangers

So, is there a downside?  Maybe.  Like I said, I’m down for anything that helps me get sleep.

But some lucid dreaming techniques like Wake Back To Bed, involve interrupting the sleep cycle.  There’s no guarantee you or I will be able to fall asleep again after our alarm goes off.  Even if we do, there’s evidence of “unusual patterns of brain activity” in lucid dreaming that may interfere with the normal processes of REM sleep.

There are also preliminary studies linking lucid dreaming to psychosis.  Mental health experts point out that self-awareness in dreams requires adopting a perspective that is not unlike a dissociative state.  That’s alarming, but again, the studies are preliminary.

Some researchers believe lucid dreaming could help people with psychosis become psychologically stronger.  Lucid dreaming has been used as therapy for trauma patients, including patients with PTSD.  Some have been able to change how they felt about past traumatic events by controlling their nightmares.

People who are prone to psychosis should speak with a mental health professional about potential dangers of lucid dreaming.  The practice has been known to increase derealization, the feeling your surroundings are unreal, and depersonalization, then feeling of being disconnected from your body.  People prone to psychosis probably want to avoid this.

For the rest of us, some degree of derealization and depersonalization can be a good thing.  Both derealization and depersonalization are related to concepts taught in mindfulness therapies.  Taking a derealized, depersonalized view can help you let go of troubling thoughts, memories, and feelings.

Doggie Dreaming

Subscribers to this channel won’t be surprised to hear that lucid dreaming, like most topics we cover, is complicated.  It can be a life-changing practice, or a danger to your sense of self.  More important to all these considerations, of course, is the final question we will consider today: Do dogs lucid dream?

Professor of Psychology Glenn Gehere asked other experts on Facebook and got various, well-reasoned answers.  In an article for Psychology Today, he highlighted a response from Dr Kristina Spaulding.  According to Dr Spaulding, the answer is no, because dogs lack self-awareness even when they’re awake.

Unlike humans and chimpanzees, dogs don’t wipe lipstick off their foreheads when they’re shown it in a mirror.  Psychologists take this as evidence against canine self-awareness.  Personally, I take it as evidence of a more fundamental truth.

Doggies love kisses!  Oh yes you do.  Oh yes you do….

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