What if you could walk the enormous Valles Marineris on Mars, one of the biggest canyon system in the Solar System? Or, if you are more of a “down to Earth” type of person, what if you could ascend Mt. Everest – within the comfortable setting of your own bed?
You can with a special technique called lucid dreaming!
A lucid dream is a type of dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming. In a lucid dream, the dreamer can in varying degrees gain control over their participation within the dream and even be able to manipulate their imaginary experiences in the dream environment.
The term lucid dreaming was coined by the Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in 1913. He explained that within this state “the re-integration of the psychic functions is so complete that the sleeper reaches a state of perfect awareness and is able to direct his attention, and to attempt different acts of free volition. Yet the sleep, as I am able confidently to state, is undisturbed, deep, and refreshing.”
But if one is conscious surely it means that one is not dreaming since those two concepts are polar opposites, right? True, many researchers, scientists and psychologists who have since engaged in studying this peculiar phenomenon hold the opinion that lucid “dreaming” in not really dreaming.
Putting aside the scientific debate let’s explore how any of us can, with time and practice, achieve this interesting state.
One of the best known and most reliable technique is called MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming). You should wake up early in the morning and do some simple activity like reading or drinking a cup of water and then you should go to sleep again. Then you must imagine yourself asleep and dreaming, rehearsing the dream from which you woke, and reminding yourself, “Next time I dream this I want to dream” or “I’m going to have a lucid dream” to the point where you start believing in the words. That technique is most reliable because you initiate it yourself. Once you realize you are dreaming it’s best to do a reality check to make sure. Reality checks can be done simply by counting the fingers of your hand or checking the time. If one sees 4 fingers on one hand and 6 fingers on the other – it is a sign of a dreaming state since, most of us at least, have 5 fingers on each hand. Another good reality check technique is called backtracking – figuring out how you got to where you are now. If, for instance, you realize you are in your familiar room but suddenly after 5 seconds you find yourself in the Australian outback being pursued by a giant kangaroo – that means you are dreaming!
A bit harder technique to master is called WILD (Wake initiated Lucid Dreaming). In this method you go from waking state to dreaming state without losing consciousness. You should lie in a comfortable place and focus on breathing deeply, relaxing muscle tension in your body. This kind of method is similar to the technique for increasing awareness by meditation and mindfulness. Advanced practitioners of meditation claim to maintain awareness through a large proportion of their sleep. Transcendental meditation is often claimed to lead to sleep awareness. So perhaps it is not surprising that some recent research finds associations between meditation and increased lucidity (Gackenbach and Bosveld 1989).
Your brain will try to test if you are awake by giving the body an impulse to roll over or it will give the body and itching sensation but you must resist the urge to act on them. One way to battle them is by visualizing objects and images of your choice and letting them come and go into your mind, not focusing on them.
Another simple yet highly recommended tool in achieving lucid dreaming is keeping your own “dream diary”. Upon waking up you should write anything you remember about the dream you just had. This is helpful in identifying dream signs – those crucial details that will help you identify whether or not you are in a dream or not in a particular moment.
One type of sleep called REM has been found to be particularly associated with dreaming.
Rapid eye movement sleep (or REM) is a unique phase of sleep characterized by random movement of the eyes, low muscle tone throughout the body, and the propensity of the sleeper to dream vividly. Therefore it has been found that lucid dreams occur far more often in REM type of sleep than any other. Hobson and McCarley proposed that the PGO waves characteristic of “phasic” REM might supply the visual cortex and forebrain with electrical excitement which amplifies the hallucinatory aspects of dreaming.
Scientific research has found that these eye movements that occur in REM sleep may correspond to the direction the dreamer “looks” at in the dreamscape. This has enabled trained lucid dreamers to communicate with researchers while dreaming by using eye movement signals.
In 2014 an experiment conducted by Ursula Voss and her team in Frankfurt University found that current stimulation (electrocution) during REM sleep influences ongoing brain activity and induces self-reflective awareness in dreams. When non-lucid dreamers were given 30-second jolts of electrical current to the frontal cortex while asleep, they reported spontaneously vivid dreams in which they fully recognized they were dreaming. Stimulation at 40 Hz was effective 77% of the time.
This and other scientific research only supports what we knew all along – the fact that everybody dreams, the real difference is only in the “how” part of our dreaming. Are you ready to make your dreams interactive and exciting?