You (Yes, You) Can Learn To Lucid Dream With These Techniques and Tricks From Dream Analysts

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Because of the basic fact that we’re unconscious when we’re dreaming, it can often feel like our dreams take hold of us through no power of our own. The phenomenon of lucid dreaming, however, presents just the opposite scenario: you taking hold of your dreams and directing their outcome. The idea alone is super compelling... Just think of all the things you could do in your dreams if you could control them! Making that your (dream) reality, however, may rest on learning a few lucid dream techniques for toeing the line between consciousness and subconsciousness.

If you've ever experienced a lucid dream, you'll know it's certainly possible to find yourself in that gray area between total sleep and wakefulness without even trying. But for others, it takes learning more about lucid dreaming and actively practicing lucid dream techniques to eventually wield power over your own dream world.

Experts In This Article

Below, expert dream analysts delve into the nature of lucid dreams, break down common lucid dream techniques, and share advice for achieving more lucidity in your dreams on a regular basis.

Can anyone learn to lucid dream, or is it a natural ability?

While lucid dreaming is notoriously elusive, there’s actually nothing supernatural about achieving lucidity in dreams (nor is lucid dreaming dangerous). “Despite all the mystique, lucid dreaming is something completely natural [and safe] that we’re all capable of doing,” says dream decoder Theresa Cheung, author of Empower Your Inner Psychic.

“Despite all the mystique, lucid dreaming is something completely natural [and safe] that we’re all capable of doing.” —Theresa Cheung, dream decoder

This is because we all have a subconscious mind, and we all go through the same four sleep stages while we snooze. It’s during the final stage of sleep, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, that the brain gets an extra dose of blood flow to the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, leading to the spike in brain activity that can trigger a lucid dream1.

That being said, some people are more likely than others to experience frequent lucid dreams, namely creative folks like artists, musicians, and writers, according to dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg, author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life. This is due to their emotional, sensitive nature, and the fact that artistic expression tends to call for the same kind of deep introspection that can unlock lucid dreaming, says Loewenberg.

For similar reasons, research shows that those who engage in regular meditation report experiencing more lucid dreams2 than those who don’t, reinforcing the idea that mindfulness is key for achieving lucidity in dreams.

What are the most effective techniques for inducing lucid dreams?

While research on lucid dreaming techniques is limited, the 2020 International Lucid Dream Induction Study3 sought to measure the efficacy of the below four lucid dreaming techniques in 355 people over a two-week period:

  • Reality Testing: examining your environment and performing a simple test at various points throughout the day to determine whether you're awake or dreaming (with the idea being, that you'll eventually perform this test in a dream and achieve lucidity)
  • Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD): waking up briefly after approximately five hours of sleep (which is itself called the Wake Back to Bed (WBTB) technique) and repeating an intention to yourself as you fall back asleep that the next time you dream, you’ll be aware that you’re dreaming
  • Senses Initiated Lucid Dream (SSILD): waking up briefly after approximately five hours of sleep and shifting your focus between different senses (like sound, sight, and touch) as you fall back asleep

Two of these lucid dreaming techniques were shown to be statistically effective, both at a rate of about 17 percent: the MILD technique and the SSILD technique, both of which were practiced in conjunction with WBTB (with participants waking up after five hours of sleep to engage in either MILD or SSILD).

That said, it's worth nothing that there's no single correct or best lucid dreaming technique nor is there one lucid dreaming technique that will work for everyone; any practice that helps you better connect to your own sense of consciousness can also increase your chances of achieving lucidity in your dreams (more on this below).

How does the Wake Back to Bed (WBTB) technique work for lucid dreaming?

The Wake Back to Bed (WBTB) technique for lucid dreaming involves waking yourself up after four to six hours of sleep, staying awake for a short period of time, and then going back to sleep.

“The idea here is that you may be more likely to have a lucid dream after you return to bed because your brain pushes you directly into REM sleep, the stage most associated with dreaming,” explains Cheung, “and because your sleep is typically lighter toward the morning, you might be more aware of that dream state.” (When you're sleep-deprived, your body will also push you more quickly into REM sleep in an attempt to make up for lost time—a phenomenon known as REM rebound—which is also why your dreams may be more vivid in that state.)

While WBTB can certainly be effective at inducing lucid dreams, Cheung cautions against trying this approach frequently, given it involves interrupting your sleep. And not getting enough sleep can, over time, lead to poor mental health, spikes in blood pressure, and an increased risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

7 ways to boost your chances of lucid dreaming

In Cheung’s eyes, there’s no need to force a lucid dream to occur by waking yourself up in the middle of the night when you could also bring on lucidity in your dreams by shifting into the right mindset.

“I think of dreams like birds,” says Cheung. “Yes, you can put them in a cage, and they look beautiful, but it's much more beautiful to see them flying in the sky.” In other words, instead of hacking your sleep to fast-track lucidity at night, Cheung recommends a slower approach—one that involves greater mindfulness and intention. Below, she shares seven tips for becoming increasingly aware of your own consciousness... and upping your chances of experiencing lucid dreams as a result.

1. Look for symbols in your dreams

“I always say, the best dream decoder is you,” says Cheung. “Your dreaming mind uses other people, places, and things to teach you something about yourself.” For example, when you dream about your mother or your friend, she says, you might consider how you’re mothering yourself or whether you’re being a good friend to yourself.

As you grow more conscious of what your dreams are trying to tell you (because all dreams have messages, even the ones with bizarre outcomes, like your teeth falling out), you’ll become increasingly more capable of interacting with them in real time, says Cheung.

2. Be more mindful during the day

More awareness while you’re awake can summon more awareness while you’re asleep, says Cheung. “We know that dreams are a continuation of your waking life in symbolic, psychological language,” she says. If you’re repeatedly noting and noticing your surroundings while you’re awake, that can lead you to be more mindful within a dream whenever one happens, she says, which can increase your chances of achieving lucidity.

3. Engage in fantastical media

Like dreams, fantasy worlds portrayed in movies, TV shows, and video games reflect alternate realities, where restrictive rules of the universe, like logic and physics, don’t apply. Engaging with these types of media is more likely to spark your imagination and creativity in a way that can be just as transporting as a lucid dream, says Cheung. “When you immerse yourself in the alternate reality of, say, a video game, you’re essentially practicing the dream state.”

4. Set an intention to lucid dream

You can borrow the core element of the MILD approach noted above without having to pair it with a timed middle-of-the-night wake-up, says Cheung. To do so, simply set an intention to have a lucid dream (at any point in the day), framed as a note to your future self.

Just as you might say, “I must remember at 3 p.m. to go back to my house and walk my dog,” you could also say, “I will have a dream when I fall asleep tonight, and I’m going to know that I’m dreaming.” The idea is simply telling your brain what you want it to do, says Cheung.

5. Tap into your senses before going to sleep

You can also practice elements of the senses-based SSILD approach outlined above without having to do so in the middle of the night. When you get into bed and close your eyes, Cheung suggests focusing on whatever images or colors you can see behind your eyelids, and then moving down your body, cycling through the sensations of each body part until you fall asleep.

Drawing this level of attention to your physical self can help you better retain awareness even when you move into the unconsciousness of sleep, says Cheung.

6. Anticipate lucidity, so you don’t wake yourself up from it when it happens

One of the biggest roadblocks to achieving the full extent of a lucid dream is waking up just before it really gets going. “When we see something fantastical like a dinosaur, we’re often like, 'That can’t be real,' so we catapult ourselves awake, but if we can just trust it and embrace it, we’ll have a better experience,” says Cheung. She recommends accepting from the jump that lucidity may happen and planning to remain calm if it does, in order to more effectively ride the wave.

7. Stay still for a few seconds upon waking up

The brain is in a receptive place right after you wake up—which is typically why we can recall dreams in vivid detail upon awakening only to forget them minutes later. As such, one of the best ways to embrace that receptivity is to keep your eyes closed when you first wake up from any dream, and stay in the same position.

“Any physical movement puts you back into the conscious world, but if you stay still for 90 seconds with your eyes closed, that’s as close as you can get to the dream state as possible,” says Cheung. (Then, just relax and see what images come.) Once you make a habit of this stay-still approach, you’ll become increasingly more likely to return to that semi-conscious state in your sleep, and to achieve a lucid dream as a result.

What are reality checks, and how do they help in lucid dreaming?

Reality checks are moments of mindfulness wherein you either ask yourself if you are dreaming or try to “check” whether the laws of space and time are applicable to you at the present moment.

A common reality check includes trying to press through the palm of your hand with two fingers of the opposite hand: If your fingers pass through your opposite palm with ease, you’re dreaming. Another common reality check involves simply jumping and seeing if you can fly (which would certainly mean you're dreaming).

It can be difficult to remember your chosen reality check method while dreaming, which is why Cheung suggests making it a habit to question your reality while you’re awake. Every time you take a drink of water, for example, ask yourself: Am I really drinking? Or am I dreaming I'm drinking?

Regularly doing reality checks can set yourself up for success in the dream world, says Cheung, because “what you do during the day tends to filter into your dreams.” In other words, the more you keep questioning your reality when you're awake, the more likely you are going to do that in a dream state and then successfully gain awareness of a dream while it's happening.

How can keeping a dream journal improve lucid dreaming?

Lucid dreams are hard to come by, and like all dreams, can be difficult to remember once you’re awake. Recording what happened in a lucid dream immediately upon waking will ensure you remember all the details about the moment you achieved lucidity, thus helping fast-track future lucid dreaming pursuits.

Besides, keeping a dream journal can also just help you get more mentally in touch with your subconscious mind and your dreams, which is key for lucid dreaming. “Trying to experience lucid dreaming before you can recall your dreams is like learning to run before you can walk,” says Cheung, which is why she recommends anyone who wishes to lucid dream (or to do so more often) develop a regular practice of dream journaling.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Baird, Benjamin et al. “The cognitive neuroscience of lucid dreaming.” Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews vol. 100 (2019): 305-323. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.03.008
  2. Baird, Benjamin et al. “Increased lucid dream frequency in long-term meditators but not following MBSR training.” Psychology of consciousness (Washington, D.C.) vol. 6,1 (2019): 40-54. doi:10.1037/cns0000176
  3. Adventure-Heart, Denholm J. “Findings From the International Lucid Dream Induction Study.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 11 1746. 17 Jul. 2020, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01746

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