Imagine falling into a peaceful slumber only to find yourself in the world’s greatest virtual reality game room. You can do anything you want to do. If you’ve always wondered what it felt like to fly, you suddenly sprout wings and take flight. If you’ve been struggling with a decision, you can call in specialists to help you work out the answer. If you want to go to Paris, you’re there in a blink of the eye.
Is this possible? Some people say it is. It’s called lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is the practice of altering your dreams. In a lucid dream, you know you are dreaming and can change the course of a dream in the blink of an eye. Although lucid dreaming has only been a part of our everyday vocabulary for the past few decades, it has been a part of many cultures since the beginning of humankind. Native Americans use it as a portal to the spirit world, while Tibetan Buddhists have been using a variety of it for centuries.
Frederik van Eeden, a Dutch psychiatrist, coined the term “lucid dreaming” in 1913 during his study of dreams. He started by documenting his dreams in a journal, eventually coming up with nine different types of dreams. He felt that dreams weren’t strictly arbitrary and that there was a derivative meaning behind them. His studies were groundbreaking, leading others to pick up where he left off, advancing the study of dreams to new levels.
Lucid dreaming has a scientific basis to support it. It’s not just theory. Typically when we sleep, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex part of our brains is disabled. This is the part of the brain where working memory occurs. People who experience lucid dreaming actually activate this part of the brain, in a sense, turning on their awareness.
While lucid dreaming has entertainment purposes, it also has beneficial side effects. People have used lucid dreaming to help them solve problems by replaying the issue repeatedly in the dream, looking at the various outcomes. It’s also helpful for emotional healing and for stopping nightmares in their tracks. Imagine turning the tables on a monster by controlling its behavior.
How to have a lucid dream
1. Keep a Dream Journal beside your bed.
Document your dreams the second you wake up. This allows you to see the pattern of your dreams and become familiar with your dreaming world. It will help you remember your dreams. Most people have 3-5 dreams a night, but only remember one or two, at most.
2. Train yourself to know when you are dreaming.
Some people attain this goal by performing habitual reality checks, such as looking at their watches or glancing at a calendar frequently during the day, hoping the routine will carry over into their sleeping worlds. When you see this behavior in a dream, it will tip you off that you are in a dream.
3. Know your dream signs.
Read your dream journal frequently to see if there are any repeating clues. Always look for these when you are dreaming and use them as triggers to let you know you’re dreaming. Some people frequently dream about being chased or losing important items, which is helpful in alerting them to their dream state.
4. Try to dive back into a dream when you wake up from one.
Record the dream in your dream journal before you attempt to reenter it. Some people will deliberately wake themselves up with an alarm to do this. Alter the course of the dream as you reenter it.
5. Meditate before going to sleep or listen to a 6-8 hour meditation video that contains binaural beats.
Guided meditations can be found online and are easy to follow.
Don’t be surprised if it takes you a while to learn how to lucid dream. Even practiced lucid dreamers sometimes only achieve cognitive dreaming several times a month. If you find yourself waking, one tip researchers have found to be helpful is to make yourself spin or fall backwards. This seems to reactivate the lucid dream, keeping you in a dream state for longer.
Lucid dreaming isn’t for everyone, but those who have taught themselves the practice enjoy it immensely. Give it a try and see for yourself. You might learn to fly.