Have you ever wished that you could control your dreams? Dream control can be beneficial to your psychological and physical health. Some lucid dreaming tips can help you step into the world of conscious dreaming. While controlling the action or simply being aware of your dreams as they unfold can be seen as creative exercises, they also can help provide calming and beneficial sleep.
If you saw the 2010 Christopher Nolan film “Inception,” you witnessed a highly-stylized depiction of lucid dreaming. In reality, lucid dreaming can be much more subtle. You do not have to be engaged in a movie caper to gain insights from your dream world. Let’s explore lucid dreaming and its role in helping people achieve better sleep. We’ll discuss the science behind dreaming and offer a few lucid dreaming tips.
What Is Lucid Dreaming?
Lucid refers to a state of awareness. Lucid dreaming is when you are aware of the fact that you are in a dream. The scientific term is oneironautics, although technically this refers to someone who can travel throughout their dream state. Sometimes these dreams are called waking dreams.
In a lucid dream, the dreamer knows that the events and sensory elements of the dream are imaginary. There are different levels of lucidity. Some people wake up the moment they realize they are dreaming, while others immediately recognize their state and can interact with their dream. In a dream, everything is possible since your setting and interactions are imaginary. That opens up possibilities for more rewarding sleep since you can control bad dreams that might otherwise keep you awake or stressed.
Lucid dreaming normally doesn’t happen with a light nap but is more common during deeper sleep stages. In order to understand how these dreams occur and develop some lucid dreaming practices, it’s helpful to understand how we sleep and dream.
The stages of sleep
There are five sleep stages, each of which has certain characteristics and can either set the stage for lucid dreaming or host the dream itself. The first four stages are simply named stages one through four and are the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Understanding these stages and how they relate to dreams are crucial lucid dreaming tips.
Stage one: Drifting off
Stage one is when we start to drift off. During this stage, we can experience feelings of dreaminess, which are similar to daydreaming. We might hear things, feel a sensation of falling, experience some nervous twitches or muscle contractions. These are called hypnagogic hallucinations. Stage one can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.
Stage two: Sleep spindles
This stage lasts about 20 minutes. During stage two, your brain starts producing “sleep spindles,” which are bursts of brainwave activity. These bursts are the brain’s way of preparing your body for sleep as they regulate sleeping patterns.
Stage three: Deep wave sleep
Stage three begins the deep sleep stages. During this stage, your brain starts emitting delta waves, which are deep and slow waves that help in the transition from light sleep, such as a power nap, to deep sleep.
Stage four: Even deeper sleep and body regeneration
Stage four is the next step in deep sleep and is more intense than stage three. During these deep sleep stages, the body goes through repair and regeneration.
REM sleep: The dream stage
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the deep sleep phase where dreams thrive. During this stage, sleepers have increased brain activity, which fuels vivid dreams. REM sleep is cyclical, with sleepers phasing in and out of REM and deep NREM stages. More extended REM sleep periods tend to occur later in sleep, often in the early morning hours. Deep, restful sleep enables a smooth transition between REM sleep and deep wave NREM sleep, which sets the stage for lucid dreams.
Different Dreams Require Different Lucid Dreaming Tips
Without veering into a discussion about the meanings of dreams, there are a few different basic types of dreams. These include non-lucid dreams, lucid dreams, and nightmares. The lines can blur between these types, and there are subcategories recognized in psychology that relate to your mental state. Often, lucid dreams arise out of a non-lucid one. That makes sense, as one of the characteristics of a lucid dream is the light bulb moment when the dreamer becomes aware.
Lucid dreams have a few varieties that are worth noting. Each of these dream flavors differs based on the dreamers level of awareness and other factors. A mild level of a conscious dream may seem fuzzy, and the dreamer may not be a character, but the sleeper knows that what is playing out is a dream. The next level could involve the dreamer as an observer who can see and think about specific details while understanding that they are in a dream.
Further down the lucid dream levels, the dreamer is a character with power. An example of this could involve getting chased and having the ability to choose where to turn. An even more profound and more lucid dream involves full power, such as being able to stop events from happening or being able to change environments and exhibit superpowers. Clearly, harnessing the power of lucid dreams can lead to some spectacular, fun or frightening interludes.
Benefits of Lucid Dreaming
Just as healthy REM and deep wave NREM sleep are beneficial for your overall sleep, lucid dreams can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health. First, lucid dreaming lets a dreamer tap into normally dormant mental abilities. Often these abilities are buried in unused parts of the mind. The ability to control dreams can help alleviate anxiety and sharpen the analytical and creative elements of the brain.
Reducing nightmares for better sleep
Some people are plagued by frightening dreams that cause stress and anxiety. During lucid dreaming, a dreamer can control their environment. Following up on the dream example of being chased, a lucid dreamer can confront the pursuer and engage in a conversation. This confrontation can bring the reason for the nightmare into focus and treat post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
Insights into your mind and creativity
Benefits can come from pleasant lucid dreams as well. Some psychologists believe that lucid dreams are crucial to the study of consciousness and different types of psychoses. The ability to control dreams can also help people tap into their creative side. Once mastered, lucid dreamers can use their dreams as vivid three-dimensional idea boards. Since lucid dreaming is a skill that must be developed, frequent lucidity can trigger another form of lucid dreaming, referred to as active daydreaming. So, how does one tap into the creative and mental benefits of lucid dreaming?
How to Experience a Lucid Dream
Some people just have lucid dreams without doing anything special, while others can set the stage for a lucid dream through some exercises and pre-sleep activities. There are several techniques and lucid dreaming tips. These lucid dreaming tips include the following: reality testing, waking back to bed, and a technique called “mnemonic induction.”
Reality testing is essentially a reality check in your dream. It can involve a memorized question to ask, such as “am I dreaming?” Another reality check involves reading text or looking in a mirror. During a dream, text and reflection can change from one moment to another.
Waking back to bed involves scheduling an alarm to wake you up right before prime REM sleep. After staying awake for a short period, the sleeper will quickly slip back into REM sleep, and lucidity will be more natural. Another related technique involves priming oneself for lucid dreaming through suggestion.
Mnemonic induction can involve telling yourself that you will remember your dreams, or that you will be aware of your dreams right before you go to sleep. Through these practices, people have effectively trained themselves to enter lucid dream states at will.
Lucid dreaming in entertainment
Some of these techniques were made famous in the movies “Waking Life” and the previously mentioned “Inception.” While each movie is fictional, they contain some real life lucid dreaming tips. In Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” — the more philosophical of the two — the main character learns to use a light switch as his reality test. In his lucid dreams, light switches were inoperable.
“Inception” featured a famous spinning top “totem” as the dreamer’s connection to reality. “Inception” also provided an accurate depiction of how lucid dreams emerge out of non-lucid ones. During one scene, one character asks another how they arrived at the cafe where they were sitting. When the person could not answer, they realized that they were in a dream, not reality. Also, “Inception” showed the potential results of confronting characters in a dream — often the dream will devolve into chaos.
Encourage lucid dream through journaling
While there are bits of actual brain science in these films, in reality triggering a lucid dream is tricky and difficult. One of the best lucid dreaming tips is to record all of your dreams, to the best of your ability. Dream journaling helps people become more conscious of their dreams. Recalling dreams is a skill, and a journal allows people to jot down dreams right after they happen. Remembering dreams helps to identify recurring dreams, and builds awareness. Dreams become more vivid when dreamers recall elements from prior dreams and fill in the blanks with rich details. Journaling also helps spur creativity. There are several examples in history of musicians, artists, writers and scientists finding the inspiration for works of art and thought through dreams. These include Beatles songs, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” and written works from Albert Einstein.
Potential Problems and Side Effects of Lucid Dreaming
One of the most important lucid dreaming tips is to exercise caution. Lucid dreaming seems like an opportunity to explore one’s subconscious, take control over fear, and develop better sleeping habits, but are there any negatives? Like any activity, lucid dreaming can have adverse side effects, but there are simple steps to minimize risks.
Becoming obsessed or fixated on lucid dreaming
If lucid dreaming somehow overtakes your life to the detriment of other healthy activities, then you should consider pulling back. While we need to sleep every day, there is no physical or mental requirement to engage in lucid dreams or even recall your dream storylines. This side effect is common at the beginning of attempting to engage in conscious dreaming, especially since it is a developed skill. Once you experience a lucid dream in which you can control the action, it can be mind blowing and addicting. But again, if you find yourself obsessing over the practice in an unhealthy way, then you likely won’t benefit from lucid dreaming.
Interrupting good sleep
While the waking to sleep technique can help jumpstart a lucid dream, it also disrupts your sleep routine. Doctors and other health professionals have long advocated for around eight hours of restful, uninterrupted sleep each night. If you abruptly stop your sleep every night, you can be doing more harm than good. That is especially the case for those who have insomnia and other sleep disorders. Beneficial lucid dreaming tips focus on good sleep, not sleep disruption.
During a lucid dream, it is possible not to know the difference between reality and a dream. If a lucid dream becomes so realistic as to mirror your real life, you can develop false memories that can affect your waking life. For example, if you have a lucid dream where your spouse lies to you, falsely recalling the lie as a real-life event can harm your relationship.
How to minimize these risks
A balanced approach to conscious dreaming reduces these risks. Make it a point to practice lucid dreaming once or twice a week, not every night. Establish strong reality checks so you can tell the difference between reality and dreams, and journal your dream events. Rather than keeping a paper journal, consider using a Google document or other digital journaling tool. This way, you can search for the potential false memory details when they arise.
Can Lucid Dreaming Improve Your Sleep Quality and Health?
The ultimate question is whether or not lucid dreaming has a place in healthy living. Many mental health professionals and sleep scientists believe it can provide numerous benefits to mental clarity, mood, creativity, and sleep quality. The key is to find a balance so that you can enjoy both your dream state and your waking life. With these lucid dreaming tips, you can achieve this balance and improve your sleep quality.