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How to Have Lucid Dreams

A recently published study compares techniques for inducing lucid dreams.

A lucid dream is when you are aware that you are asleep and dreaming during the dream. It can be an eye-opening experience, as you explore the inner world of your mind, at once marveling at its creations and even controlling to some extent the unfolding narrative of your dream. The hard part, is how to become lucid. Many of us spend our whole lives falling asleep and waking up eight hours later, with hardly a memory of where our mind went in between. So how can we change our mind, in a state where we appear to be unconscious?

Well, the first thing to know is that dreaming is a ‘conscious’ experience, and it’s one that we can intentionally modify through practice in waking life. Our patterns of being mindful or self-reflective are habits—habits that shape the way we experience the world—and if we make an effort to change these habits, then our dreaming mind will follow suit.

That being said, there are certain practices that seem to be more effective than others at inducing lucid dreams. In general, these practices capitalize on two factors. The first, as I describe above, is simply a method of mental training and creating habits in waking life that will then seep into dreams and trigger lucidity. The second factor capitalizes on the physiology and structure of natural sleep. Techniques in this category involve waking up and sleeping at certain times in order to maximize the probability that you will quickly enter REM sleep, which is the stage when lucid dreams most often occur (and the easiest stage to induce lucidity in).

In a recent study at the University of Adelaide, researchers asked participants to practice one, two, or three techniques in tandem, in order to assess the efficacy of each technique at inducing lucid dreams. There were 169 participants who took part in the study, and kept a dream diary over the course of two weeks. The average age was ~38 and ranged from 18 to 75. Participants were split into three groups depending on the techniques they were instructed to follow.

The first group simply did a waking technique called ‘reality testing.' Reality testing involves checking your environment a few times during the day to see if you are awake or dreaming. You can try to re-read text or jump in the air. Odds are, these tests will fail in the dream-world, the words on a page might scramble up, and when you jump up you might lightly float back down to the ground. If this happens, then you know you are dreaming. Performing these tests multiple times throughout the day makes it more likely that you will do the same test in your dreams.

The second group completed both reality testing and a technique known as Wake Back to Bed (WBTB), which involves waking up two hours earlier than normal, staying up for about 30 minutes, and then returning to sleep. This method increases alertness, and because of the natural sleep pattern, you will enter into a REM sleep period more quickly than you normally do at night. REM sleep is the phase when lucid dreams most often occur, so entering quickly and alertly into REM sleep increases chances of lucid dreaming.

The third group conducted reality testing, WBTB and a third technique, the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD). The MILD technique is done while lying in bed just prior to falling asleep. You set the intention in your mind “the next time I am dreaming, I will remember that I am dreaming,” and repeat this mantra to yourself multiple times, then drift off to sleep with the intention still in mind. If successful, this intention will carry into REM sleep and trigger lucidity.

All three of these groups kept two weeks of at-home dream diaries. The first week was prior to practicing any lucid dream techniques, and in the second week they practiced the techniques assigned to them. The dream diary asked participants to report whether they recalled a dream, and whether they had a lucid dream that night. They also kept track of whether or not they practiced their techniques, including how many reality tests they performed that day, whether they performed the WBTB and MILD techniques, and how long it took them to fall back to sleep after doing either of the two techniques.

The researchers found that lucid dreaming rates were higher in the second week of the dream diary, but this was only significant for the third group, which performed all three lucid dreaming techniques. Reality testing on its own was least effective for inducing lucid dreams.

Interestingly, of those participants in the third group who practiced the MILD technique, it seems that certain factors predicted whether the technique was effective. For instance, there was a negative correlation between the time it took participants to fall asleep and lucid dreaming. In other words, those participants who took a long time to fall asleep were less likely to have lucid dreams. The best rates of lucidity were achieved when participants completed their Mnemonic repetitions, and then fell asleep within five minutes. In fact, completing the technique and then falling asleep within five minutes was associated with an increase in lucid dreaming frequency of 86.2% in these participants.

In general, combining reality testing with both Wake-Back-to-Bed and MILD is effective at inducing lucid dreams in a one-week period. Participants in this group had an 84.5% increase in lucid dreaming frequency in Week 2 compared to Week 1. Further, more than half (53.2%) of these participants experienced lucid dreaming at least once during Week 2, which suggests that this combination of techniques is a fairly efficient and reliable method of inducing lucid dreams.

References

Aspy, D. J., Delfabbro, P., Proeve, M., & Mohr, P. (2017). Reality testing and the Mnemonic Induction of LDs: Findings from the National Australian LD Induction Study. Dreaming, 27(3), 206-231.

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