8 Ways to Trigger Lucid Dreaming

Research suggests how to take your dreams to the next level.

Posted Nov 16, 2016

ljupco © 123RF.com
Source: ljupco © 123RF.com

While awake, we retain conscious control over our thoughts and actions. When we sleep, our vigilance relents, and we’re embraced by our dreams.

But these seemingly disparate existences overlap in the form of lucid dreaming—a term first coined by Frederik van Eeden in 1913.

Lucid dreaming is a dream in which the sleeper knows that she’s dreaming. About 50 percent of all people experience lucid dreaming at least once in their lifetimes, and 20 percent of all people regularly experience lucid dreams (once a month).

Of note, metacognition, including internal commentary, self-reflection, and choice, can occur in both lucid and regular dreams.

Here are eight different empirically supported ways that lucid dreams can be induced.

  1. Mneumonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD) is done once a dreamer awakes from a dream. Once awake, the dreamer rehearses the dream and visualizes becoming lucid to it. The dreamer also tells himself the following: “Next time that I’m dreaming, I want to remember that I’m dreaming.”
  2. Reflection entails a person regularly asking himself whether he’s dreaming while awake and scanning the environment for incongruences that indicate dreaming. The mechanism of this technique is based on the hypotheses that awake experiences are reflected in dreams. Reality checks performed throughout the day can make their way into dreams and serve as a trigger for lucid dreaming.
  3. Intention involves the dreamer imagining before falling asleep that she’s in a dream situation and recognizing the dream. This technique may be particularly helpful for people who suffer from recurrent nightmares. By triggering a lucid dream, the nightmare sufferer can switch to a less distressing dream.
  4. Auto-suggestion involves the dreamer suggesting to herself that she will have a lucid dream right before falling asleep while lying in bed and relaxed.
  5. Wake-up-back-to-bed (WBTB) involves the dreamer awakening from sleep during the early morning hours, remaining awake for between 30 and 120 minutes and then returning to sleep.
  6. External stimulation applied during REM sleep has been used to trigger lucid dreaming. During REM sleep, an external cue could be presented to the dreamer and this could trigger a lucid dream. The most popular form of external stimulation is a sleep mask that produces light stimuli. Various iterations of these sleep masks are commercially available.   
  7. The application of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) at the level of the prefrontal cortex or precuneus during REM sleep has recently been studied as a way to induce lucid dreaming.
  8. Certain drugs have been reported to increase lucid dreams, such as donepezil (cholinesterase inhibitor).

There’s limited research on many of these lucid dreaming techniques. We don’t know for sure which of these techniques work best. Nevertheless, the first four cognitive techniques listed above have been best studied, with MILD, a prospective memory technique, having the most empiric support.