Ever seen “Inception”? I’m not entirely sure if that counts as lucid dreaming (I’m also not entirely sure how that movie ends, but that’s a discussion for a different time and place); regardless, it’s fun to think that you can just put yourself to sleep and still accomplish so many things, like creating visually-appealing zero-gravity hotel fight scenes. And such.
Now, actual lucid dreaming is a bit more mental and scientific than Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt make it look in Christopher Nolan’s film, and teaching yourself to do it isn’t as easy as spinning a freakin’ top. Or is it?
To put it simply, a lucid dream is one where the sleeper knows they’re dreaming, rather than the dream being a fictional conjuring of your subconscious that you don’t become aware of until after you wake up. And it’s a spectrum: You only need to know that you’re dreaming while in your dream to consider it lucid. Some of those who have lucid dreams record going so far as being able to control their actions, results and environment, as opposed to being at the will of your subconscious; others can simply wake themselves up from nightmares when they become too distressing.
It’s a fairly rare occurrence, nevertheless. A lot of people say they’ve had a lucid dream about once in their lives, but only 20 percent experience them regularly. Even though research is tough to conduct on people who are, you know, sleeping, the most common way we examine lucid dreaming is through eye movement.
Smooth pursuit tracking is a type of eye flickering that can only occur when we’re looking at something that actually exists (or that our brain perceives as actually existing) and not when observing something imagined. As a result, sleep subjects have been able to signal the exact moment they begin to experience a lucid dream while scientists watch. Freaky, huh?
Obviously, teaching yourself how to have lucid dreams is something of intrigue to a lot of us. You can control what you spend your sleeping hours doing and seeing: maybe fly to the moon, give yourself a raise, have the closet of a Kardashian -- the world would be your oyster.
And luckily, being able to experience one isn’t so much a given ability as it is a practiced skill. You can, in fact, teach yourself to dream lucidly in a few different ways.
Pay attention to everything while you’re awake.
Lucid dream researcher Beverly D'Urso, who reports having lucid dreams in which she eats fire and flies to the sun (just go with it), recommends becoming more aware in your waking hours, since realizing you’re dreaming is all about noticing out-of-place details.
“So you examine your environment during the day, you examine your awareness, and then you may notice that something is different once you start dreaming,” she told Psychology Today. “Someone who has become lucid has much higher levels of awareness -- and obviously, I think that’s one of the biggest benefits of lucid dreaming.”
You can also confirm throughout the day that you’re in the waking world by checking on little details: is your ring on, can you count your fingers, are you dreaming? You may start to notice the absence of these particulars while asleep.
Give yourself a pep talk.
Another technique is to literally tell yourself that you want to have a lucid dream. Harvard University professor of psychology Deirdre Barrett said that instructing yourself out loud right before bed to try to have a lucid dream, it can increase your chances.
“[Remind] yourself you want to just as you're falling asleep, either as a verbal statement or idea: ‘Tonight when I dream, I want to realize I'm dreaming,’” she said.
You can even download an app to do it for you. Dreamz will track your sleep cycles based on your movement and play an audio cue when it believes you’re in REM sleep to tell you that you’re dreaming. I can’t see how this would work if it ends up waking you up, but worth a try.
Keep a dream journal and identify your dream signs.
Let’s bring it back to Leo’s spinning top in “Inception.” The top was his totem, a device used to distinguish between his dream world and reality. The top would spin indefinitely while he was dreaming but would inevitably fall over in the real world. Researchers agree with a function of this tactic, i.e. finding discrepancies between your dreams and reality.
Are you unable to flick a light switch on and off in your dreams? Does text go blurry while you’re trying to read? Do you have a half dragon-half dog as a pet? Recognizing things that don’t belong in reality is obviously the first sign that points to a dream.
It’s so hard to remember dreams as it is, but even harder to remember when you’re in a dream. Experts suggest keeping dream journals to start getting better at remembering details and sequences that your subconscious is already prone to conjure up. Write down the things you could or couldn’t accomplish during a dream, and look for patterns.
If lucid dreaming is something you’d like to accomplish, it can definitely be done. Just don’t ask me to socialize in my dream; I’ll be directing my dream to bring me puppies to pet.