When attempting some of the techniques in this book, you may have some frightening experiences, such as falling sensations or sleep paralysis. Although the authors attest these are not dangerous, you should avoid techniques that create these sensations if you would prefer not to experience them.
Your own expectations will have a significant effect on your dreams. If you believe that dream characters act dull and lifelessly, they are far more likely to do so. If you believe they can be creative, original, and surprising, they are far more likely to be. Remember that the easier you think it is to dream lucidly, the easier it will be.
Many of the techniques and “facts” presented on these pages are not backed up by scientific research. This is not to say that these techniques do not work, only that they may be placebos or be ineffective much of the time.
Each night, we spend about one and a half to two hours dreaming. We dream about once every 90 minutes of sleep. The time you spend in dreams becomes longer throughout the night, from about 10 minutes to around 45 minutes or slightly longer. But what happens when we sleep?
There are five stages of sleep: four stages of NREM (Non-REM) sleep, also called SWS (Slow-Wave Sleep), and one stage of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. The most vivid and remembered dreams occur during REM sleep. Research has shown that a person being woken from REM sleep will account having just been in a dream roughly 80% of the time, while this percentage is 15% during non-REM sleep. One sleep cycle is roughly 90 minutes long.
- (NREM 1) The first stage is a transition state between wakefulness and sleep. This is the stage in which hypnagogic imagery occurs. It usually passes into stage 2 within a few minutes.
- (NREM 2) During stage 2, the body gradually shuts down, and brain waves become longer in wavelength.
- (NREM 3) Stage 3 usually occurs 30 to 45 minutes after falling asleep the first time. Large, slow delta brain waves are generated.
- (NREM 4) Stage 4 is often called “deep sleep” or “delta sleep”. The heart beats the slowest and there is the least brain activity. It is during this stage that sleepwalking usually occurs.
- After stage 4, the NREM stages reverse and move back to stage 2, and then into REM sleep.
- (REM) During REM sleep, some parts of the brain are nearly as active as while awake. In this stage, your eyes flicker rapidly (hence the acronym Rapid Eye Movement). Your body is paralyzed, preventing the body from acting out dreams.
After the REM state, you sometimes wake briefly. This is usually forgotten by the time you wake up in the morning. If you don't wake up, you go to stage 2.
I never dream anyway.
Actually, everyone has dreams — but some people simply don’t remember them. In the next chapter, you will find out how to improve your dream recall.
Why do we dream? What do dreams mean?
These questions are outside the scope of this book, but you can find several hypotheses in the Wikipedia article on dream interpretation.
About lucid dreaming
Lucid dreaming is simply being aware that you are dreaming. With enough experience, you can increase control over your dreams — anything from flying to creating people and places, and even changing into animals. Having a lucid dream is like being the director of your own movie! A passage from the fantasy novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (chapter at King's Cross) that may explain what this looks like:
For the first time, he wished he were clothed. Barely had the wish formed in his head than robes appeared a short distance away.
Lucid dreams have been scientifically proven to exist. Stephen LaBerge of The Lucidity Institute used a special machine to track eye movements during a dream (these are linked to your eye movements within the dream). He asked lucid dreamers to point their eyes left and right in quick succession once they became "conscious" in their dreams, and this movement was recorded on the machine. For more information on this and other experiments, read Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (ISBN in Further Reading).
There are plenty of reasons you might want to dream lucidly:
- For fun! Just flying in a lucid dream is an exhilarating feeling. Lucid dreams are generally far more intense and vivid than most non-lucid dreams. You can use a lucid dream to wind down after a long day.
- Transforming into animals or getting superpowers is a unique experience that is hard to get any other way.
- If you are particularly interested in dreams — either spiritually or psychologically — trying lucid dreaming could help you in your research.
- If you're writing fiction or even creating a world for a computer game, lucid dreaming can help you visualize it. You could ask your characters how they feel about something or what they think will happen.
- Some people compose music in their lucid dreams.
- Lucid dreams can be realistic enough to rehearse a speech or musical performance.
- You can relive previous dreams or experiences.
- They can help in dream interpretation and communicating with your subconscious.
I can’t control my dreams.
This is very rarely actually the case (though sometimes it is in nightmares). Usually it is just your memory which treats you as though it were beyond your control. If you become lucid in a dream where you have a body, you will almost always be able to control your body. However, you might not manage to do anything else. Don't worry, though — most people have no problem with jumping very high or flying in a lucid dream!
On the other hand, parts of your brain are less active while dreaming, which can lead to dream/trance logic and sometimes choices you will later regret. For example, you might choose to continue your lucid dream, although you know that once you wake you will only remember half of it. Once you wake up, you may wish that you had stopped your dream. Another example is of somebody who dreamt they were sitting next to Mother Theresa. They wondered if they might be dreaming, thinking isn’t Mother Theresa dead? They then concluded that she was obviously right next to them and therefore alive, and that it wasn’t a dream!
Are lucid dreams related to psi phenomena?
There are differing views on this. Some people claim to have organized shared dreams or precognitive dreams through lucid dreaming. Others say these are simply created in the brain like any other dream, something like self-hypnosis.
How long does it take to learn how to dream lucidly?
This completely depends on the person and circumstances. Some people have a lucid dream after just a few nights of learning about it, while for others, it may take months! If you don't get enough sleep or feel too stressed after work to regularly practice induction techniques, then it may take a long time, especially if you expect it to. It will also depend on how much effort you put in. However, everybody has the ability to dream lucidly.
I think I do this naturally. Does this happen?
It is quite rare to have regular lucid dreams naturally, although most people have had a lucid dream at some point in their lives. If you want to increase the frequency of your lucid dreams, carry on reading through the book; otherwise, skip to the Using section to get some ideas for your dreams.
I had [a dream], was I lucid?
In general, a lucid dream is defined as a dream in which you know you are dreaming at some point, regardless of anything else. Even if you were lucid one second but lost your lucidity, it is still technically a lucid dream.
However, this can be a little misleading. Sometimes you dream that you fall asleep and have a lucid dream! This is often thought of as a sign that you will have a proper lucid dream soon, as your mind is thinking a lot about lucid dreams.
Try using this table:
|Signs you were lucid||Signs you weren't lucid|
* However, some people may have lucid dreams and deliberately choose to treat dream characters as if they were real. In fact, it can be intriguing to have real conversations with dream characters, such as physics or philosophy discussions - you may discover they know more than you do!
Possible dangers of lucid dreaming
There is no current evidence of lucid dreaming being abnormal or unhealthy in any way. However, there may be some more or less minor side effects associated with having lucid dreams. Please don’t let this scare you away from trying this; rather, remember that with dreams you are dealing with your own subconscious mind and recklessness is not recommended.
Most people have never even heard of lucid dreaming, much fewer ever experienced it. Some people are also less than open-minded and receptive to new ideas. Don’t be surprised if someone considers this whole phenomenon “weird” or “crazy” (which it is not). Don’t preach, either; you don't have to convince anybody.
Often people who spontaneously lucid dream, especially children, may find it surprising that not everyone does. They may even start thinking that they are the only people in the world who have lucid dreams. If they’re worried, the best support is to let them know that they’re not alone.
Lucid dreaming may weaken the borders between waking and dreaming, the conscious and subconscious mind, reality and fantasy. This might lead to problems of a dissociative nature. Probably the most common form of dissociation involves having problems distinguishing your waking memories from dream memories. Everyone who recalls at least one dream will have to sort out their dreams from reality in the morning. This can really be a problem for those who have previously had zero recall and, due to lucid dreaming, have had a major uptick in recall. Now, suddenly, they have all these excess, illogical memories to sort out. This is unlikely to be a major problem, but may be a big annoyance. An example is when you have actually misplaced an item, and "find it" in a dream. If you cannot distinguish dream from reality you will now think you know where that item is, perhaps even placed it where you felt sure to find it later, but when you awake it will not be there.
However, there are signs that you should watch for which indicate a larger problem may be developing. Lucid dreaming in itself should not cause these to appear in a waking state:
- Ability to ignore extreme pain or what would normally cause extreme pain
- Absorption in a computer game, television program or movie
- Remembering the past so vividly one seems to be reliving it
- Finding evidence of having done things one can’t remember doing
- Not remembering important events in one’s life
- Being in a familiar place but finding it unfamiliar
- Seeing oneself as if looking at another person
- Other people and objects do not seem real
- Looking at the world through a fog or haze
- Not recognizing friends or family members
- Finding unfamiliar things among one’s belongings
- Finding oneself in a place but unaware of how one got there
- Finding oneself dressed in clothes one doesn’t remember putting on
If this has happened, and there is no other cause (e.g. drugs), take a break from lucid dreaming for a while. In fact, take a break from anything fictional for a while, at least until symptoms stop. In addition, you may consider avoiding experimentation with lucid dreaming if you have a mental condition that will alter your perception of reality, eg. Schizophrenia, Hallucinations, Dementia.
One of the advantages of having lucid dreams is being able to change a dream or wake up if things are not turning out as planned. A false awakening is when you seem to have woken up but are actually still dreaming. For example, you may find yourself waking up in your room. But once there, new things will start happening—for example, someone might visit, or you might wander outside because of an odd noise, or there might be objects all over the place. There are no such things as loops of awakenings. You can simply shock your body awake by applying a stimulus in your dream. It's a good idea to get in the habit of doing a reality check just after waking up so that you'll realize when this happens and become lucid.
When this happens repeatedly in the same night, it can be very tiring and often frightening. Not only can the belief of being fully awake in your room while being exposed to unusual situations be scary, but you also may start fearing you won't be able to actually wake up. And, depending on the content of the dream, since all your dreams tend to start in your room, you may fear what could happen once you actually do wake up.
But this is not a very common situation. Once you are lucid, it is usually easier to wake up or lose the dream than it is to keep dreaming.
PLEASE NOTE: The following possibilities are controversial and have not been proven.
Controversial: Accidentally encountering “spiritual” entities
This depends on your worldview. If you believe that dreams are a creation of your brain and nothing more, you don’t need to worry about spirits or anything similar. If you want to be on the safe side, treating objects in your dream decently and politely won’t do you any harm.
The book "The Art of Dreaming" by Carlos Castaneda has a lot to say on this subject. (See Further Reading)
Controversial: Creating bad habits or becoming a control freak
When lucid dreaming, you have the option to control the dream world in ways that are impossible in the waking world. You can, for example, make objects appear or disappear, or make people act according to your will. Some people believe this may lead your subconscious to desire this kind of control in the waking world, where it’s highly inappropriate. Also, you might be tempted to apply dream-world solutions to waking-life problems instead of actually facing them; for example, just willing bad things to go away or escaping or destroying them by superpowers. Again, this is probably more of a problem if you are not mentally stable at the outset of your dreaming process.
Some people believe that experiencing many artificially induced lucid dreams often enough can be very exhausting. The main reason for this phenomenon is the result of the lucid dreams expanding the length of time between REM states. With fewer REMs per night, this state in which you experience actual sleep and your body recovers becomes infrequent enough to become a problem. This is just as exhausting as if you were to wake up every twenty or thirty minutes and watch TV. The effect is dependent on how often your brain attempts to lucidly dream per night. If you enter into a routine of attempting to lucidly dream, you may cause recursive lucid dreams that occur at each state change.
Controversial: Inability to stop
If you have trained your mind to the point where it can step over the boundary without conscious effort, you might find it difficult to stop. Do not become alarmed if you have trouble stopping the process of lucid dreaming, it is possible to get out of the habit. As long as you truly expect to stop having lucid dreams regularly, you will. You just need to stop any further attempts to lucid dream, and within a few months the lucid dreaming will go away by itself. Remember; do not be alarmed if, even with your attempts to stop, you experience further lucid dreams. It might take a while to break the habit. If you have real concerns, it may be advisable to talk with your doctor or therapist regarding appropriate treatment, including medication.
I can do astral projection, should I learn how to dream lucidly?
Possibly not. If you often enter a “dream world” after having the experience of leaving your body, that is basically the same as the method called Wake-Initiation of Lucid Dreams. Keep in mind that many people believe that “astral projection” or “out-of-body experiences” are actually lucid dreams. Whether these are real psi phenomena or the creative product of your dreaming mind, learning to dream lucidly will expand the variety of your experiences.
If this is so similar, why learn lucid dreaming and not astral projection?
Here are some reasons:
- Lucid dreaming is something that everybody can understand. In fact, most people have already had a lucid dream. No single theory about astral projection is accepted even in the astral projection community.
- If you are prepared to spend money, there are some gadgets that can help induce lucid dreams. They usually emit light or sound signals shortly after the REM state is detected. Hypnosis tapes usually focus more on self-improvement and you cannot decide what to do with your hypnotic trance.
- If you don’t believe in psi phenomena, you will likely be much more comfortable reading books about lucid dreaming than those on astral projection. If you have to keep stopping and thinking "but that's not possible", there's always the danger that your feelings of skepticism will affect the way you think about lucid dreaming and make it much harder for you to do.
- You would be sleeping anyway, so it doesn't take up waking time.
- You'll be able to use this Wikibook to your advantage!