Understanding Lucid Dreams

Waving blades of sun-kissed grass dance as your bare feet imprint themselves in the ground. You suddenly take off into the sky, like Ironman, and soar through the clouds. You land safely at sunset on the shore of your favorite lake, where a lost loved one has a picnic waiting for you. 

It sounds like the perfect dream—and that's because it is. Our dreams can be subconscious Edens we escape to during REM sleep. Those with the power to control their dreams, to lucid dream, are like superheroes themselves.  

Everybody dreams at night, whether they remember it or not

There are plenty of interesting facts about dreams in general, but we want to know how to take the subconscious to the next level. What is lucid dreaming? Can everyone do it? What are the secrets, and is there a key to unlock lucid dreaming? 

What is Lucid a Lucid Dream?

Everybody dreams at night, whether they remember it or not. Lucid dreaming occurs when you realize you're dreaming but don't wake up. Instead, you become the architect of your imagination and can interact with people and objects in your dream as you would while conscious. 

People experience lucid dreams differently. Some can control the dream; they can change the environment, people, and setting of the dream without waking up. 

Others feel "awake" in their dreams but are unable to control them. They make conscious decisions and effectively adapt to the world of the dream, unconsciously accepting it as reality. 

Lucid dreaming happens when you enter REM sleep

Your senses come alive when you lucid dream. You can taste, touch, smell, hear, and sometimes even feel like you would in real life. 

They say you can't dream a face you've never seen. The same concept likely applies to your other senses. You can't dream of a smell you've never smelt, but your brain can use its vast knowledge of smells to make up a "new" smell.

What Causes Lucid Dreaming? 

Lucid dreaming happens when you enter REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement, a period of high brain activity and increased heart rate. It's during REM sleep that you begin to dream, and the lucid dreaming window opens. 

REM sleep is the last of four sleep stages. The previous three stages are:  

  • Stage 1– You're preparing to fall asleep. Your breathing slows, your heart rate relaxes, and you transition from wakefulness to light sleep. 
  • Stage 2– You're lightly sleeping. Your muscles, heart rate, and breathing continue to relax. Your body temperature drops slightly, and your brain has tiny 'sparks' of activity. 
  • Stage 3– You're in a state of deep and restorative sleep. Your heart rate, breathing, and muscles are as relaxed as they'll be all night. 

In stage 4, or REM sleep, your brain sees an activity spike, and your eyes begin to move behind your eyelids. Your heart rate increases along with your breathing. Your extremities are rendered immobile to keep you from acting out your dreams. Here is where you can begin to lucid dream. 

Keep in mind, experiencing lucid dreams can be as scary as it can be exciting

The average person will cycle in and out of these dream stages multiple times throughout the night. This is why, in some cases, it feels like you are jumping from dream to dream. 

How to Train Yourself to Lucid Dream 

There are a few ways to learn how to lucid dream. Keep in mind, experiencing lucid dreams can be as scary as it can be exciting. It can be overwhelming for some but an eye-opening experience for others. 

Reality Testing

If you've seen Inception with Leonardo DeCaprio, you'll know all about dream totems. In short, his character in the film is practicing reality testing. 

Reality testing is training yourself to ask questions or prefer actions in your conscious state to train yourself to do the same while dreaming. It helps if you attempt to do something impossible (and safe). 

For example, think about sprouting wings like an angel or claws like a werewolf. Think about what contracting those muscles might feel like and try it. If you're awake, you won't sprout angel wings and claws (obviously). If you're dreaming, you just might.  

Other reality testing tricks include:

  • Pinch your nose. If you're dreaming, you may be able to breathe. 
  • When reading, look away and then look back again. If you're dreaming, the text may change. 
  • Typically, mirrors don't work like they usually do in a dream. 

Inducing Techniques 

There are also a few tricks you can implement to induce a lucid dream before bed:

  • WBTB (Wake Back to Bed)– This practice involves waking up 5 hours after bedtime and then going back to sleep. You're likely to fall right into REM sleep from a state of wakeful consciousness.
  • Tell Yourself You'll Lucid Dream– This technique is also called mnemonic induction. You're effectively willing a lucid dream into reality by telling yourself to do so as you're falling asleep. 

Command your Subconscious 

Lucid dreams are one of the most extraordinary things we, as humans, can experience. We become the conductors of our reality, the architects of our subconscious existence. 

Combine the above techniques with healthy sleep practices to increase the rate at which you lucid dream. However, there are no tips and tricks on "how" to control your dream—that parts up to you.