If you want to try lucid dreaming, some strategies, including performing reality checks, can help train your mind to recognize its own consciousness.
Lucid dreaming is when you’re conscious during a dream. This typically happens during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the dream-stage of sleep.
An estimated 55 percent of people have had one or more lucid dreams in their lifetime.
During a lucid dream, you’re aware of your consciousness. It’s a form of metacognition, or awareness of your awareness. Often, lucid dreaming also lets you control what happens in your dream.
Some people report that lucid dreams feel very vivid and real, while others say they feel a bit hazier. Others say their lucid dreams feel different every time.
In the last 20 years, psychophysiologist Dr. Stephen LaBerge has become the pioneer of lucid dreaming research. Not only did he invent one of the most popular lucid dreaming techniques, but he has also led many scientific studies on the subject.
LaBerge’s work has helped researchers discover therapeutic benefits of lucid dreaming. It may be useful in treating conditions, like PTSD, recurring nightmares, and anxiety.
Lucid dreaming usually happens spontaneously. However, it’s possible to learn how to lucid dream through various methods.
Lucid dreaming techniques train your mind to notice your own consciousness. They’re also designed to help you regain or maintain consciousness as you enter REM sleep.
1. Wake-initiated lucid dreaming (WILD)
A wake-initiated lucid dream (WILD) happens when you directly enter a dream from waking life. It’s said WILD helps your mind stays conscious while your body goes to sleep.
You’ll need to lay down and relax until you experience a hypnagogic hallucination, or a hallucination that occurs when you’re just about to fall asleep. WILD is simple, but it’s difficult to learn.
Practicing the other lucid dreaming induction techniques will increase your chances of WILD.
2. Reality testing
Reality testing, or reality checking, is a form of mental training. It increases metacognition by training your mind to notice your own awareness.
Your level of metacognition is similar in your waking and dreaming states. So, higher metacognition when you’re awake could lead to higher metacognition when you’re dreaming.
This may be related to the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in both reality testing and lucid dreaming. To enhance your metacognition, you can do reality tests while you’re awake.
To try reality testing, follow these steps several times a day:
- Ask yourself, “Am I dreaming?”
- Check your environment to confirm whether you’re dreaming.
- Notice your own consciousness and how you’re engaging with your surroundings.
You can set an alarm every 2 to 3 hours to remind yourself to do a reality check.
Here are common reality checks that people use to lucid dream:
- Mirrors. Check your reflection to see if it looks normal.
- Solid objects. Push your hand against a wall or table and see if it goes through. Some people push their fingers into their opposite palm.
- Hands. Look at your hands. Do they look normal?
- Time. If you’re dreaming, the time on a clock will constantly change. But if you’re awake, the time will barely change.
- Breathing. This popular reality check involves pinching your nose and seeing if you can breathe. If you can still breathe, you’re dreaming.
It’s recommended to pick one reality check and do it multiple times a day. This will train your mind to repeat the reality checks while dreaming, which can induce lucid dreaming.
3. Wake back to bed (WBTB)
Wake back to bed (WBTB) involves entering REM sleep while you’re still conscious.
There are many versions of WBTB, but consider this technique:
- Set an alarm for 5 hours after your bedtime.
- Go to sleep as usual.
- When the alarm goes off, stay up for 30 minutes. Enjoy a quiet activity like reading.
- Fall back asleep.
When you go back to sleep, you’ll be more likely to lucid dream. While you’re awake, choose any activity that requires full alertness.
4. Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD)
In 1980, LaBerge created a technique called Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD). It was one of the first methods that used scientific research to induce lucid dreams.
MILD is based on a behavior called prospective memory, which involves setting an intention to do something later.
In MILD, you make the intention to remember that you’re dreaming.
Here’s how to use the MILD technique:
- As you fall asleep, think of a recent dream.
- Identify a “dreamsign,” or something that’s irregular or strange in the dream. An example is the ability to fly.
- Think about returning to the dream. Acknowledge that the dreamsign only happens when you dream.
- Tell yourself, “The next time I dream, I want to remember that I am dreaming.” Recite the phrase in your head.
You can also practice MILD after waking up in the middle of a dream. This is usually recommended, as the dream will be fresher in your mind.
Research suggests that a combination of reality testing, WBTB, and MILD works best. You can combine WBTB with MILD by setting alarm to wake up in five hours. While you’re awake, practice MILD.
5. Keeping a dream journal
Keeping a dream journal, or dream diary, is a popular method for initiating lucid dreaming. When you write down your dreams, you’re forced to remember what happens during each dream. It’s said to help you recognize dreamsigns and enhance awareness of your dreams.
For best results, log your dreams as soon as you wake up. It’s also recommended to read your dream journal often.
Sometimes, you might want to wake up from a lucid dream. Lucid dreamers use a few different techniques.
Try the following methods to wake from a lucid dream
- Call out for help. It’s said that yelling in your dream tells your brain it’s time to wake up. Or, if you manage to speak out loud, you might wake yourself up.
- Blink. Repeatedly blinking may help your mind get ready to wake up.
- Fall asleep in your dream. If you’re aware that you’re dreaming, go to sleep in your dream, so you can wake up in real life.
- Read. Try to read a sign or book in your dream. This could activate parts of your brain that aren’t used in REM.
There’s some evidence that lucid dreaming has therapeutic effects. Lucid dreaming might help people do the following.
It’s common to have a nightmare now and then. Recurring nightmares, however, can cause stress and anxiety.
They’re often associated with:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- sleep disturbances, like insomnia
- substance use
Lucid dreaming might help by letting the dreamer control the dream. Additionally, when a dreamer knows they’re dreaming, they can recognize that the nightmare isn’t real.
Lucid dreaming is often used in imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT). In IRT, a therapist helps you reimagine a recurring nightmare with a different, more pleasant storyline.
When used with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), IRT with lucid dreaming induction can help increase dream control.
A small 2017 study examined this effect by looking at 33 military veterans with PTSD and recurring nightmares. Some received CBT with IRT, while others received CBT alone. The group that received CBT with IRT experienced higher dream control, which reduced nightmare-induced stress.
Most scientific research has focused on PTSD and nightmare-induced anxiety. But according to anecdotal evidence, lucid dreaming can also ease anxiety caused by other reasons.
People claim that controlling their dreams lets them face situations that cause them anxiety.
Improve motor skills
Lucid dreaming could potentially benefit physical rehabilitation. Research from 2013 suggested that mentally performing motor skills may increase the physical ability to do them.
This means that people with physical disabilities could potentially practice motor skills while lucid dreaming. The authors of the article speculate that people without physical disabilities could possibly use lucid dreaming to improve motor skills as well.
Generally, any dangers of lucid dreaming are caused by induction techniques.
Negative aspects might include:
- Sleep problems. WBTB and MILD involve waking up in the middle of the night. These interruptions can make it difficult to get enough rest, especially if you have a sleep disorder or an irregular sleep schedule.
- Derealization. Sleep disturbances can lead to derealization, or the feeling that people, things, and your environment aren’t real.
- Depression. The sleep interruptions of induction techniques may increase depressive symptoms.
- Sleep paralysis. Lucid dreaming may occur with sleep paralysis, which can be brief yet unsettling. Plus, sleep problems can increase the risk of sleep paralysis.
See a healthcare professional if you experience:
- frequent nightmares
- nightmares that regularly disrupt sleep
- fear of sleeping
- traumatic flashbacks
- emotional changes
- memory problems
- trouble sleeping
These symptoms may indicate PTSD, a mental health issue, or a sleep disorder. Your clinician can determine if therapy with lucid dreaming is right for you.
Lucid dreaming happens when you’re aware that you’re dreaming. Often, you can control the dream’s storyline and environment. It occurs during REM sleep.
When used in therapy, lucid dreaming can help treat conditions like recurring nightmares and PTSD. Researchers think it might also aid physical rehabilitation.
If you’d like to lucid dream, try the techniques listed above. These methods can train your mind to be conscious of your consciousness during sleep.
It’s best to see your doctor if you think you have a sleep disorder, PTSD, or another mental health condition.