hat if you could go to bed each night, fall asleep and have total control of your dreams? That is what happens when you lucid dream, and when it happens it’s as if you’re the architect of your own world, the director and star of your own movie.
You can change scenery, add characters and orchestrate events. People say it feels like being inside a computer game. It’s an alternate universe; like Second Life, where, if you know how to control it, you can choose any identity you wish.
Though lucid dreaming has been an acknowledged practice in Buddhist culture for thousands of years, it has only been recognised in western culture and science over the past few decades. Studies by the neuropsychologists Ursula Voss and Martin Dresler have shown that brain activity while lucid dreaming is similar to REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, yet distinct from a non-lucid dreaming state or being awake – suggesting something different is going on.
Although lucid dreams might happen to you spontaneously, with a bit of practice it is something that you’re able to control. I enrolled in a short course with Charlie Morley, a lucid dreaming expert, who offered these simple techniques to help you master the skill:
Keep a dream diary
When you wake up, write down everything you can remember. This will help you identify dream signs – aspects that will alert you to the fact that you’re dreaming. I sometimes dream about my father, who I don’t see that often, and Charlie advised that I should practise thinking: “The next time I see my father, I’ll be dreaming”, a number of times during the day. It worked – the next time I saw my dad, I knew I must be dreaming.
Lucid dreamers often use reminders as a means of reality checking. Charlie recommended using my hand, so a number of times throughout the day I looked at my hand and asked myself: “Am I dreaming?” During a dream, my hand wouldn’t look the same twice, and it would jolt me into lucidity. Another good reality check is reading – it’s almost impossible to read in your dreams, as it’s a left brain skill and dreaming uses our right brain. My lucid dreams are always detailed and often there’s a written script present in the scenery, but I can never read it.
The Mild method
The scientist and sleep researcher Stephen LaBerge developed the Mnemonic Initiated Lucid Dream (Mild) technique, whereby you try to fall back to sleep and into a lucid dream straight after having had a vivid dream you can remember. It’s our “prospective memory” that makes this work – if you’ve ever gone to bed determined to wake up at a certain time, then you’ve already used this skill. You can find a more detailed account of this in his book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming.
The “wake up, back to bed” method
The lucid dreaming author G Scott Sparrow describes a technique that’s become known as the “wake up, back to bed” method, and it’s the method which works best for me. Research suggests that sleeping, then waking up, then going back to sleep again increases the likelihood of lucidity. Set your alarm a couple of hours earlier than usual, and engage in wakeful activity for about an hour (I recommend reading about lucid dreaming), then go back to bed with a strong intention to dream.
Finally, a subtle change in your surroundings can also help prompt lucidity. Charlie suggests moving your pillow to the opposite end of the bed for a night, as anything small that disrupts your routine can, he says, cause you to “wake up” in your dream.
With practice, Charlie tells me, I will be able to stay in the lucid dream state for longer, but already I’ve managed to choreograph some great lucid dreams. I spent the other night hanging out with Tina Fey on the set of 30 Rock in New York. I managed to stay lucid enough to tell her a joke that she found hilarious. Hopefully one day I’ll stay lucid long enough for us to write Mean Girls 2 together. In my dreams.
There are plenty of apps and lucid dreaming aids that can start you off. Shadow, to choose a particularly interesting one, allows you to upload your dream diary, thus creating a huge, international database of dreams.
Confessions of a lucid dreamer by Becky Barnicoat
I have always been fascinated by my dreams, which are often epic. I’ll swim with giant sea creatures, flee tornadoes, or explore cities of crumbling marble.
At some point in my life I experienced something thrilling: I became aware I was dreaming while in a dream. It wasn’t something I planned to do; it was more of a realisation that of course this bizarre, topsy-turvy world must be a dream.
Once I realised this, the first thing I wanted to do, of course, was fly. But whereas in a normal, non-lucid dream I fly unquestioningly, with grace and ease, in this new “rational” state, I knew humans can’t fly. The resulting effort, which involved much desperate hand-flapping, was a weedy hover across the ground – a bit like a flying fish.
But still, I was flying! And in a way the limitations made it feel more real. If I was going to fly in my waking life, this is what it would be like: awkward, hard work, but still a bit of magic.