Lucid Dreaming for Creativity, Better Sleep, and Wellness
Dr. Clare Johnson’s new book is the most complete guide to lucid dreaming.
Posted Mar 31, 2018
I’ve been an avid lucid dreamer for ten years now, and I still find myself picking up every book on lucid dreaming that comes within reach. That’s because as much experience as I have, there is always more to learn, new techniques to practice and realizations waiting to be found.
Dr. Clare Johnson, who has been researching lucid dreaming for over two decades and practicing for even longer, recently published the most comprehensive guide to lucid dreaming that I’ve come across. The guide is broken into several sections: How to Lucid Dream, Promoting Creativity, Improving Sleep, Nightmares and Sleep Disorders, Healing and Wellbeing, and Extraordinary Experiences.
With my wealth of experience, I find I often skim through the ‘how-to’ chapters waiting for a novel tidbit to pop up, but I was delighted to discover Dr. Johnson's take on the tried and true methods, which gave me a new perspective on several techniques I thought I was familiar with.
I’ve decided to focus here on one section of Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Lucid Dreaming which details the stages of hypnagogia (sleep-onset dreams) and describes practices for inducing sleep-onset lucidity.
As you fall asleep, you may notice images that start to appear before your closed eyelids. If you observe closely, these images seem to follow a progression that can be broken into six stages:
- Formless hypnagogia: when you first close your eyes, you might notice formless white clouds or swirls of color that appear.
- Initial light forms: in seconds these swirls of color might take on some shape; some people report glittering stars, sparks or dots, which move in simple ways, forwards, backwards or sideways.
- Static 2-d imagery: at this point flashes of images appear that might include geometric shapes, morphing faces, or machines; the images begin to take on a conceptual form but are still quite brief and transient.
- Morphing 2-d imagery: as you become more drowsy, the images might stay in your vision a bit longer, a couple seconds. The images might become 3-d temporarily, and flow into short bizarre scenes (Clare says, ‘I once saw a Fresian cow leap off a grassy cliff and soar through the sky’).
- 3-d moving scenes emerge: closer to sleep, scenes emerge with actions, people, or landscapes that become more dream-like and narrative, though the imagery may seem senseless upon consideration. People report multisensory experiences at this stage, hearing music or loud buzzing and feeling floating or falling sensations. Although this stage is more elaborate and dream-like, it still feels more like watching a film as opposed to being in the dream; those who are practiced can maintain lucidity in this state and direct the imagery with thoughts (thinking ‘turn the sky pink’ might effortlessly color the sky).
- The final stage is when the 3-d scenes become fully immersive and dream-like. With awareness, you could enter into a true lucid dream.
Interestingly, neurophysiological sleep research has similarly defined step-like changes that occur in the brain’s electrophysiology as one transitions from the waking state to the sleep state. For instance, while awake, the brain is characterized by high frequency alpha activity, which becomes more synchronous as you relax with your eyes closed. The hypnagogic state begins as the brainwaves begin to change, within seconds the alpha waves might begin to disperse, followed by the emergence of slower theta waves and rolling eye movements. Finally, the intrusion of sharp ripple waves suggests a coming transition into more stable stage 2 sleep. Thus, the hypnagogic period is an unstable transition period, which occurs between the consistent alpha waves of someone in a relaxed wakeful state, and the deeper, more stable, stage 2 sleep.
Because of this, hypnagogia is called a ‘hybrid state of consciousness’. During the hypnagogic period, one could easily return to a state of wakefulness, or just as easily descend into deeper sleep. While most of the time we simply ignore these hypnagogic images and allow ourselves to fall asleep, with practice, says Dr. Clare Johnson, “observing hypnagogic imagery becomes as natural as summoning the relaxed concentration we need for activities such as driving a car, knitting a jumper, or skiing.”
And this practice can be a springboard into other types of lucidity, as Dr. Johnson goes on to describe how flexible the hypnagogic state can be for directing states of consciousness, what she delightfully terms the “Elevator Hypothesis for Hypnagogic States.” The hypnagogic observer has the ability to ride to almost any state of consciousness, similar to an elevator that can let you out on any floor. The whole spectrum of consciousness is available from this relaxed and dreamlike state, precisely because it is just one step away from so many other states: from the waking state, non-lucid dreaming, lucid dreaming, sleep paralysis, meditation, day-dreaming, and more. Because hypnagogia is ‘one step’ away from any of these experiences, there is no need to go through other intermediary states of consciousness; in effect, hypnagogia is the intermediary state from which many others can be accessed.
Even better, we can access the hypnagogic state quite easily (as opposed to, for example, trying to become lucid within a REM state, which requires that we have had adequate deep sleep and then enter into REM sleep during the night). And hypnagogia is available at any time we are about to fall asleep, in bed, at work, on a train, or after lunch.
Certain techniques can then be practiced to take hypnagogia in different directions. For example, you can easily return to an awake state by connecting to your physical body, wriggling your fingers and toes, and taking deep breaths. You can also quite naturally slip into nonlucid dreaming, simply by relaxing and allowing sleep to envelop you, as most of us do each night. In the book, Dr. Johnson goes on to describe several other techniques on how-to ride the hypnagogic elevator to your desired floor and step into a select state of consciousness, be it lucid dreaming, meditation, active daydreaming (useful for creative inspiration), and more.
Johnson, Clare R. “Your Lucid Dreams” Psychology Today article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dreamscape/201803/your-lucid-dreams