Lucid Dreaming



Imagine that as you read these words you hear a voice from nowhere telling you "You're dreaming..."

You may even tell yourself that you just imagined it, but what if you listened to the voice?

What if you then looked around and saw clues that all was not as it seemed?

What if you then realised that you were actually dreaming? You'd realise that you were essentially a character in a story that your sleeping brain was dreaming up.


As the author of this dream you'd them be able to control aspects of it. You'd be able to communicate with your sleeping-self and in essence become a god in a universe that you created.

Crazy? Maybe. Impossible? No.

This happens to people, and it happens to me...

I was dreaming. I couldn't remember how I got there but I was trapped in a room with no doors and no windows. There was, however, a large mirror on the wall. 

Something changed: I stopped worrying about getting out and instead tried to work out how I'd managed to get there in a room without an entrance in the first place.

"It's got to be a dream", I told myself.

"Well, if it's a dream then I should be able to walk through the mirror and escape."

So I tried - face first...

... and after a bit of pushing I found myself in a stairwell on the other side of the mirror. "Yep, definitely a dream" I thought as I became aware of the other me - the "real me" asleep in my bed.

"Wow! I'm dreaming". I did the obvious thing and tried to fly my way to safety; slowly I was hauled upwards by the shoulders and flew for about 300 yards. As I get more involved in the story I somehow started to forget that it was a dream and after a few more episodes of realising and forgetting that I was dreaming it settled back down into a normal dream.

Sounds familiar? "The Matrix"? Pretty much, although it's an older idea in the world of philosophy. It's essentially a scaled down version of Gnosticism. In Gnosticism our world is the dream-world and there is a "real world" in which our awareness exists watching us play our parts in the "here and now". Like a set of Russian Dolls, we are also able to create a fake world in which we can lose ourselves in the experiences that it offers.

For some people these dreams happen spontaneously, meaning that they don't have to prepare or practice in order to get to hame them. Others can only dream of having a dream like this (poor choice of words really). The idea of a normal dream is mind-blowing enough when you think about it: every night we go to sleep and lose our sense of identity. We lose sense of the passage of time and we forget that we are The Dreamer Dreaming, we actually feel as if we are the character in the dream...

...but with a lucid dream we adopt a dual consciousness: our real-life identity returns and we can watch the dream from the vantage point of that identity from the comfort of our bed knowing that whatever happens we are safe, we can take more risks in the dream, we can have fun with the story rather than fear it, we can even shape the dream-world, yet we can also simultaneously adopt the vantage point of the dream characters and get involved in the story. You are both the Dreamer Dreaming and the Dreamed.

My first lucid dream was a spontaneous one and it happened on the night that I had three episodes of sleep paralysis. The sleep paralysis was the trigger that told me that I was dreaming. From that moment on I was in the dream, but still able to reason with the dreamer part of me.

Lucid dreaming isn't just an interesting sleeping-habit, it has actually been used to help people control re-occurring nightmares.

How can you make lucid dreams occur?

If you aren't one of the lucky ones that have had lucid dreams spontaneously (or you want to able to increase the frequency with which they occur) then there are a few things that you can do to help turn a normal dream into a lucid one:

Dream worlds seem to be comprised of disjointed scenes with the brain doing its best to link them together in a narrative, as such the rules that govern the dream world can differ from scene to scene, hence if you check, you may have 10 fingers one moment, then the next moment 11 when you check again. This sort of clue should be enough to alert you to the fact that something isn't right and that you are in fact dreaming.

Most people talk of performing "reality checks" where throughout your waking day you constantly check whether you are awake. You can simply ask yourself if this is a dream, or you can perform some checks to see if you are really awake.

These sort of "Reality Checks" don't really work for me, instead I question my surroundings. Do this during the day and it should carry over (sometimes) into your dream.

The big pointer to me is a lack of continuity, such as the night when I entered REM sleep as soon as I closed my eyes (confirmed by Zeo)...

 (Click for larger image)

...I was suddenly in the back of a car that was being driven along a mountain road, I had the sense that we were late for something and possibly being chased but my first thought was, "...but I was in bed a moment ago, how did I get here?". That questioning was enough to shatter the illusion and I became aware that I was still in bed (even what position I was sleeping in), and yet I was still in the dream. So Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang style I was able to make the car fly to the meeting that I was late for.

When you wake from a normal dream, you may well kick yourself because something in the dream was so odd that you should have realised that it was just a dream. These are the sort of things that you can look out for to act as a prompt for you to question your surroundings.

Question everything:

  • How did you get where you are?
  • Who are you with? 
  • Why are you there?
  • Is time flowing as it should - were you older a short while ago?
  • Can you fly?
  • Do doors take you where they are supposed to? Actually walk through a doorway rather than assume you have just walked through it. (For me, doors usually take me onto the roof of a building).

Other things to look out for are sounds that don't belong there. I've had several lucid dreams that have been triggered by noises that make their way into the dream. Examples of that are:

  • During the summer I slept with the window open one night. I dreamed that I was standing beside a really busy airport runway with planes rushing by every few seconds or so. As I listened to the noise I realised that they weren't planes but they were actually cars going by my house. This triggered a lucid dream.
  • I was dreaming that I got out of my car, then I heard myself growling... "Oh great, now I'm a werewolf", I thought to myself. I then listened more to the growling that I was making and realised that it was actually snoring, from there it was an easy jump to realise that I was actually dreaming and could hear myself snoring. The dream became lucid from that point.

Several devices make use of this principle.

I've already mentioned Dan's ZeoScope software elsewhere in this blog. This works in conjunction with the raw data from the Zeo Bedside unit. When you have been in REM sleep for a certain time, ZeoScope plays your choice of mp3 to you. This then "leaks" into your dream as a signal to you.

There are also several iPhone apps that do something similar, although they only guess at when you are likely to be in REM as they have no way of telling. DreamWaker and Dreams Controller are both good examples of this. Dreams Controller also goes to the lengths of prompting you to perform reality checks whilst you are awake. The first time I tried these apps I became lucid, and a certain school of thought says that is likely due to the "beginners luck" effect where your anticipation and expectation of a lucid dream causes it to happen.

To a degree, the principle of a stimulus leaking over from the real world to the dream world also applies to sights as well as sounds.

The NovaDreamer is a device that looks like a sleeping mask, but with red LEDs built into it. An infra-red LED detected when your eyes are moving (hence you are in REM sleep) and then flashes the red LEDs to alert you. In your dream these red lights can become anything from a police car to a volcano. Your job is to realise that anything flashing red in your dream is a signal that you are dreaming. 

I've had limited success with the NovaDreamer and a similar device called the REM Dreamer, although I found that they often woke me up.


Other tips:

  • No alcohol - If you do achieve lucidity then (for me) it is always short lived and usually becomes an episode of sleep paralysis.
  • As you drift off to sleep really be aware of your surroundings. Note your bedroom, your position in bed etc
  • REM deprivation helps. Maybe this is because when you next achieve REM it will be much nearer to the start of sleep meaning that you can carry the awareness mentioned above over to the dream.
  • If you become lucid, don't get too excited otherwise you'll wake up.
  • If you become lucid, keep reminding yourself that you are dreaming otherwise you'll forget.
  • Read about lucid dreaming before you go to sleep, surprisingly this can help as you may dream about lucid dreaming (which will then be a pointer to you in your dream)
  • Set an alarm for around 3am. Wake up and actually get out of bed, don't just doze, you need to be fully awake. You could read for a short while (maybe an article on lucid dreaming would help), then return to bed. This time of the morning is when REM sleep is increasing. This time awake should allow you to enter REM pretty quickly, almost with a vengeance.

Supplements to aid lucidity?

Pills and potions to aid dreaming are nothing new; many works of art such as this fantastic watercolour by John Anster Fitzgerald painted 1857-1858. I have a copy of this on my wall, and yet I am not certain of the name. I suspect that, like Fuseli's work, it is called "The Nightmare", but I've also seen it listed as "The stuff Dreams Are Made Of", although  I think that name may relate to later versions where the bottles (probably containing opium) have been omitted.

Opium aside for obvious reasons, there are a number of nutritional supplements that have an effect on sleep and consequently dreams.

I've tried a few supplements to try to reliably encourage lucidity, with some partial success. It's partial because nothing seems to do this on it's own but with a little preparation they seem to help, but proceed with caution (don't treat anything you see on the internet at automatically safe - my words included. Look both ways before crossing, chew your food etc etc), and research any supplements for yourself before you decide to use them. 

A short word on dosage

Melatonin: the dose given in the BNF is deemed to be the most effective dose. I am well aware that I am taking more th
an that, although singles doses as high as 10mg are on sale and studies of daily doses of up to 75mg have been conducted (MacFarlane et al.).

Vitamin B6: Although 200mg doses are on sale in the UK, it is not recommended to take them on a long term basis as they can cause side effects which appear to reverse when the dose is stopped

Yesterday (in the real world) I was driving for 350 miles and listening to audiobooks discussing consciousness, quantum physics and Gnosticism. I realised that this stuff would be floating around my head during sleep as my brain processed the events of the day, so I thought there would be a good chance of lucidity that night. 

This is the routine that I've found seems to help:

45 mins before bed: 5mg time release Melatonin
30 mins before bed: 200mg Vitamin B6
When in bed:  1mg Melatonin (not time release)

It is known that too much Melatonin will be counter-productive and cause you to wake up. I think my method actually makes use of this effect. The British National Formulary sets 3mg of time-release Melatonin as the correct dose for an adult over the age of 55 (Not usually prescribed for people below 55) Generally 0.25mg of instant release is enough to initiate tiredness and hence sleep - the sustained release version ensures a trickle dose throughout the night. 

I usually find that I wake up fully after a few hours. This is when I then take a further

1mg Melatonin (not time release)...

...which sends me back to sleep within about 20 minutes. That's it. I normally find that will give me lucidity or sleep paralysis (which can be converted to a lucid dream which may even take the form of an OOBE - Out Of Body Experience).

It's not a guaranteed method, but on the nights that I've tried it (a few times a month for several months), usually something has happened, even if the effect was short lived. I suspect that lucidity would last longer if I were calmer when I realised I that it was a dream. 

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Reader Comments (3)

I've heard that several techniques are effective to prevent waking up when first realizing you are dreaming. The first is spinning in circles. I can't remember if this required a specific direction or if it was just the spinning that made it happen. The second is looking at your hands. Supposedly that also makes it easier to stay in the dream without getting too excited and waking up.

As far as ways to induce lucidity, I've heard that looking at yourself in a mirror is an effective way to determine if you are dreaming or not

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Thanks very much. I'l' give the spinning and hands a go.

February 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterHypnagogia Blog

Thank you. Looking at my hands was definitely the clincher in this dream:

March 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterHypnagogia Blog

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