Lucid Dreaming 101 – Unlocking Magical Worlds18 min read
Have you ever been in the middle of a dream and suddenly realized you are dreaming? Well, that’s lucid dreaming! What if you could cultivate a mindset, a practice, to repeatably become aware while you are dreaming? Then, you could even start to take control. Flying into outer space, speaking to your subconscious, eliminating nightmares, or even studying for your exam tomorrow, all while dreaming.
I tried lucid dreaming for 30 days, and it changed my life. Now, every time I go to bed, I am excited! What will I plan to do in my next lucid dream? Explore the pyramids of Egypt by personal flight? Have a lightsaber battle with Darth Vader? Or eat 700 hamburgers just because I really like hamburgers…
In this post, I’ll tell you all about lucid dreaming and how, with enough focus, you could even have a lucid dream tonight.
What is Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming is the awareness that you are dreaming. Here is one of my lucid dreams:
I was standing on a dark street corner in London. It was very late because there weren’t many people around at all. I remember I thought it was weird that I was in London because I had to be in the hospital in America the next day. I saw a tree near me, so I went to look very closely at the leaves and noticed they were blurry. I looked at my hands and noticed they were also blurry. Finally, I did a reality check by pinching my nose shut and trying to breathe through my nose. I could still breathe through my nose! I was having a dream! Immediately I began to float towards the sky and looked down over the beautiful and amazingly detailed cityscape of London.Dream Journal – Nov 7th, 2021
Lucid dreaming may have first been mentioned in the fourth century BCE when Aristotle stated, “often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.” Eastern cultures refer to people engaging in practices to cultivate awareness of dream and sleep states back millennia designed to “apprehend the dream state.” Since then, many have referenced it, but many scientists and scholars were skeptics.
How can you prove this? It must be nonsense.
In 1981 Dr. Stephen LaBerge verified objectively someone having a lucid dream. What he and his team did was instruct a lucid dream to perform a set of eye movements, like looking to the left, then right, then left, then right, to signal they were dreaming (because the rest of the body is paralyzed in REM sleep where dreams happen). At this point, the scientific community had to accept that lucid dreaming is real and is possible.
Stephen LaBerge, I think, is the “father” of modern lucid dreaming. He released 1990 outlining techniques, real-life examples, and golden rules about lucid dreaming. This is the best book on lucid dreaming 30 years later.
Why should you care, though? What’s the benefit or point of lucid dreaming? Well, here are just a few things you can accomplish with lucid dreaming (* indicates ones I have done):
- Overcome recurrent nightmares*
- Fly across the world and into space*
- Talk to long lost relatives
- Meet (and maybe do other things…) with celebrities*
- Face your fears*
- Prepare for a job interview
- Eat dream food*
- Survive a zombie invasion
- Become a dolphin and swim through the sea
- Have a lightsaber battle
- Go into the Harry Potter World
- Ask the dream to show you abstract concepts, like good or infinity.
Ok, so you want to start lucid dreaming? Want to become an oneironaut? I think it’s more than worth it; how should you get started?
You need a bed to sleep in! Importantly, it would help if you were using this bed. If you look at this graph below, you can see most of our REM sleep (where dreams happen) comes toward the end of 7-9 hours of sleep. So, make sure you get sufficient sleep (the red lines are sleep)!
2. Dream Journal
This is where you will be writing down your dreams; some people write them on their phones. Either is fine. I prefer a physical journal, so I am not looking at my phone while in bed.
- The Journal and Pen I use are the British A5 Beechmore journal and Pilot V5 RT pen.
- The app I would use is Notion.
3. (Book) Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming
Stephen LaBerge outlines everything you need to know about and how to lucid dream. More importantly, reading a book about lucid dreaming signals to yourself that lucid dreaming is important. While you are going through the steps to improving your lucid dreaming abilities, reading this book will help solidify in your brain that lucid dreaming is important, all while learning from the big papa himself.
Ok, this is the bread and butter of lucid dreaming. Everything you will need to know about accomplishing lucid dreaming is here. As a beginner, or my first couple of months trying to lucid dream, I wouldn’t try anything other than these techniques. When I first started lucid dreaming, I would use these strategies successfully.
1. Sleep properly
REM is the stage of sleep in which you dream. Humans sleep, on average, in 90-minute cycles varying through four stages. The final Pokemon, I mean stage, is REM sleep. When you first go to sleep, the REM portion of the sleep cycle is much shorter, maybe 10 minutes. However, as the night goes on, the REM proportion dramatically increases; as you go past 6 hours of sleep, your REM cycles can last for as long as 60 minutes of a 90-minute cycle. That means more chances for lucid dreams!
2. Actually want to lucid dream
Importantly, to lucid dream, you need to want to lucid dream. You need to signal to your subconscious that lucid dreaming is important to you.
Lucid dreaming is one of those things that the more you put in, the more you get out.
If you don’t want to do this, don’t do it. But, if you want to do it, build yourself up even more:
- What do you want to accomplish in lucid dreams? Facing off nightmares? Flying? Epic lightsaber battles?
- Consume lucid dreaming media; my favorite form is LaBerge’s book; watch videos about lucid dreaming, check out the Reddit forum on it, or find a friend and become oneironaut together.
3. Record your dreams in a dream journal
This usually is phase one of most beginner lucid dreamers, and for a good reason. Remember how we said we want to signal to our subconscious that dreaming and our dreams are important? This is a fantastic way to do this. In your dreams, you are essentially taking notes on your dreams.
At first, this is tough. You may only remember one thing or a color. That is fine. Write whatever you can down, but make sure you write it down. Don’t fall back asleep before you write it down.
Over time, you will notice, that the amount you write down increases. Soon you will be remembering two or three dreams a night and filling at least a page in your journal.
Importantly, you will begin to notice themes. I always seem to be controlling myself or someone else, like a video game. Thinking about the controls while I am moving myself or someone. That is a huge indicator to me that I am dreaming.
4. Use reality checks
The next step is testing your reality when you are awake. As a bonus, I like to pretend that I would start doing my “goal” after I do a reality check in real life, “if this was a dream, what would I do right now?”
Some great reality checks are:
- Pinch your nose and try and breathe through your nose (my favorite one). In the dream, you will be able to breathe.
- Look at your fingers, and scrutinize them to see how many there are.
- Look at some text, look away, then look back. Usually, the text will change.
- Jump up in the air. If it’s a dream, you will float in the air longer than usual.
Next, plan to do reality checks at specific points of the day. A couple of apps ding your phone at frequent times during the day, but after a certain point, I found, that just gets annoying.
I prefer to use specific “signals” to do a reality check. I try and do a check whenever I notice a change of the hour, so when it turns to 9 am, 10 am, 11 am, and so on. I also like to do a reality check every time I drink water. Finally, you will get better at this as you practice; every time something feels “weird,” I do a reality check. For example, when I am walking late at night, things feel “weird,” or when I experience deja vu, things feel “weird.”
We are doing these reality checks because, hopefully, at some point in the dream, we will do a reality check. Then, because the reality check will be different in the dream than in real life, we will realize we are dreaming! Bam! You are lucid.
Finally, when you are doing the reality checks, pretend that you are dreaming and doing the reality checks in the dream. So, for example, in real life, I would do my “pinch nose” reality check, then I would think, “wow, I am dreaming! Ok, now I want to go fly away.” Then I would jump in the air in real life and think I would float away. Of course, use common sense when you jump into real life.
- Pick a goal for when you become lucid; flying or meeting a celebrity are good ones
- Pick one reality check; I like the pinching nose check
- Schedule when you will do these reality checks; I like to do them every hour, and when I drink water
- Do these consistently during the day
- When you do the reality checks, pretend you are dreaming when you do them in real life
Here are a few great techniques to increase the frequency of your lucid dreams:
1. Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dreaming (MILD)
(Taken from LaBerge’s Book)
- Setup dream recall: Before going to bed, tell yourself that you will wake up and remember your dreams tonight. Think repeatably, “tonight, I will remember my dreams and write them down.”
- Recall your dream: when you wake up from a dream, try and remember as many details as you can and write them down no matter what time it is.
- Focus your intent: while returning to sleep, ONLY FOCUS on the intention to realize that you are dreaming while you are dreaming. Tell yourself, “next time I’m dreaming, I will remember I’m dreaming; next time I’m dreaming, I will remember I’m dreaming.”
- See yourself becoming lucid: While thinking the above thought, imagine that you are back in the dream you just had, but see yourself becoming lucid. Imagine you are back in that dream you just had, you notice a sign or something odd, and picture yourself saying, “I’m dreaming! This is a dream!.” Then, visualize yourself performing your goal or what you want to accomplish during your next lucid dream, so maybe you would picture yourself flying off into space.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 as you go through the night.
2. Wake-Back-To-Bed (WBTB)
- Go to bed and set the alarm for 5 hours after bed.
- Wake up 5 hours later: Get up, and get out of bed. The goal is to wake up our prefrontal cortex, the thinking brain, usually very asleep during the night. I have found about 15 minutes of reading is perfect for me. Experiment: You will need to find the ideal amount of time that wakes you up enough to be lucid when you fall asleep but tired enough to go back to sleep.
- Go back to bed and imagine yourself becoming lucid: while you fall back asleep, picture yourself becoming lucid, and guess what you will be doing. I like to combine WBTB with the MILD technique above. Some people want to combine WBTB with a WILD approach below.
3. Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming (WILD)
WILD takes commitment but produces impressive results; in my exclusive companion video I put on Nebula, I detail a magical method involving WBTB and WILD that nearly always gets me to lucid dream. I’ll tell you more about that at the end of this video.
To WILD, you fall asleep consciously. This is quite difficult, and I have only accomplished it a couple of times. You need to be awake enough to be aware that you are drifting into dreamland but not too awake, so you never fall asleep. Do not do this when you first fall asleep; the best time to do this is if you wake up in the middle of the night 5 or 6 hours after falling asleep. When you enter the dream, do a reality check to confirm you are in the dream.
- One Body technique: when you wake up in the middle of the night, intend to fall back asleep consciously. As you fall asleep, focus on feeling your entire body. Notice vibrations, noises, or different sensations as you fall asleep. Sleep paralysis will occur, don’t be afraid! It can’t hurt you. Visualize your room exactly as it would be if you woke up in real life. Focus precisely on the position you fell asleep in. Eventually, you will regain the ability to move, but it won’t be in the awake world, but it will be in the sleep world. Get out of bed and do whatever you want to do in your dream.
- Counting Technique: Start counting as you fall asleep, “One – I am dreaming, two – I am dreaming, three…”
- Finger-induced lucid dreaming (FILD): as you fall back asleep, focus on your middle and pointer finger in one hand. Now move them very slowly and minimally, almost like you aren’t even moving them. You are moving your middle finger and pointer finger like you are alternating pressing down adjacent keys on a piano.
- Climb staircase technique (the only one I have gotten to work): As you fall asleep, imagine yourself walking upstairs and going through a door to enter the dream world. This method has worked twice for me and feels super cool when it works.
Cool Things to Do While Lucid Dreaming
Here are some tips and tricks to get the most out of the Lucid Dream while you are actually in it.
1. Increase awareness and clarity
When you first realize you are dreaming, rub your hands together and say firmly, “Clarity Now!” You should see everything come into more focus and the colors more clearly.
If you find the dream fading try spinning in a circle, that helps me stay in the dream.
2. Say things, don’t just think them
Often I would realize I was dreaming but not say anything. I would just think, in the dream, “I am dreaming,” and expect magical things to happen. Sometimes my powers wouldn’t work, or I couldn’t do the things I wanted.
What fixed this was saying what I wanted to happen.
When I first realize I am dreaming, instead of thinking, “I am dreaming,” I say, “I am dreaming!”
For example, if I wanted to fly, instead of just thinking I could fly, I would say, “I can fly!” And bam, I can fly around.
If I want to see someone in the next room, I say, “through this door, I will see Leonardo Da Vinci!”
3. Overcoming nightmares
Overcoming nightmares is one of the most valuable benefits you can achieve from lucid dreaming. I had a recurring nightmare that would always occur at the end of my dreams for the longest time. I don’t know why this would happen, but suddenly, everyone would disappear, and I would be all alone in the dream. I would feel this intense fear and know someone or something was coming to get me. I felt more anxiety than I knew it was possible to feel. Then, something would move in a dark closet or in another room. Then, my body would lose all ability to move. Then, the thing, whatever it was, I could rarely ever see it, would rush out of the closet or dark space and attack me, at which point I would wake up frightened beyond wits.
Sometimes I would run away or fight it, but always I would lose. Without fail, at the end of specific dreams, I would know this thing would be after me.
At one point, after the 100th plus time this happened, I looked into how to get rid of nightmares, and lucid dreaming saved me. The method I found was the “confront and conquer” strategy. Importantly, I would not fight this dream character as that usually doesn’t work. One reason why this might not work is one theory behind nightmares is every nightmare character is a shadow aspect. Or a part of ourselves that we are pushing down into the deep dark parts of our brain but are still a part of us.
You are meant to express love and curiosity towards this figure because, in this hypothesis, it is a part of ourselves. You can do this by facing this figure and saying, “Who are you?” or, “why are you here?” or “Can I help you?”
I remember I learned about this and was anxious to try it. I knew the nightmare was coming on the first three times, but I just decided to wake myself up instead.
Finally, on the fourth night, I decided I would confront this figure. I was super, super afraid, like terror I’ve never felt in my life, but I kept saying out loud in the dream, “this is a dream, you can’t hurt me, this is a dream.”
I somehow knew the monster was down a dark narrow set of stairs towards a basement and walked my way down, my heart was pounding, and I was still terrified. I walked into a dark basement and saw a tall, frightening purple figure; the face was deformed, and whatever, it began making its way toward me. I projected the feeling of love towards it and asked, “why are you doing this?” Immediately, the monster shrunk down to an average person with dark brown hair and a regular face, and he said, “I am not sure why.” The next thing I knew, I was not afraid, and we were walking down a lovely street in the suburbs.Dream Journal 06-12-2018
Maybe one or two more times, I had the dream each time I confronted the figure. Once, he was my dad in a laundry room. Another time the monster just disappeared into a sewer. After that third encounter, I never had the nightmare again.
4. Problem Solving
After I became pretty good at lucid dreaming, I heard of someone who had developed their dream “office.” Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein were in the office, and he would go to them and discuss problems he had.
I developed my own “office” above a lake in the center of a forest with stairs leading up to it. One night, I even had interviews for people to be my assistant.
I built a portal that would allow me to interact with anyone I wanted for questions I had. The office was very cool. However, I find myself not coming back to it very much. There are too many cool things to do in a world where you can do anything.
5. Explore the universe and yourself
Finally, my favorite thing to do is explore the universe. Whether this is seeing fantastic creatures at the bottom of the ocean, seeing what the gravity is like on the moon, or discovering a new species in another galaxy, exploring was terrific.
I had a very intense dream when I looked at the sky and asked, “what is the meaning of life?” The sky boomed back at me, and I don’t remember what the sky said. However, I do remember the intense feeling of power emanating from the sky. Other cool questions to ask into the void:
- Who am I?
- Where did I come from, why am I here, and where am I going?
- What is the most important thing for me to know now?
Putting it all together
Okay, that was a lot of information, but where should you start if you are a complete beginner?
Well, I would buy a dream journal and LaBerge’s book.
- Have a goal: Always have a goal in mind, so, in case a lucid dream happens, you have something to do
- Record Dreams: For one week, I would record my dreams in the dream journal
- Reality Checks: In the second week, I would do reality checks and record your dreams
- Integrate an Advanced Technique: In the third week, I would do both of the above and MILD…
- Integrate another Advanced Technique: In the fourth week, I would do all of the above with a twice-a-week attempt at WBTB and a twice-a-week attempt at WILD.
Thanks for reading! I hope this was helpful, and are you sure you aren’t dreaming right now?
- Aristotle, 1941. On Dreams, in: McKeon R (Ed.), The basic works of Aristotle. Random House, New York, NY, pp. 618–625.
- Padmasambhava, 1998. Natural liberation: Padmasambhava’s teachings on the six bardos. Wisdom, Boston, MA.
- LaBerge S, 2003. Lucid dreaming and the yoga of the dream state: A psychophysiological perspective, in: Wallace BA (Ed.), Buddhism & science: Breaking new ground. Columbia University Press, New York, NY, pp. 233–258.