4 Ways To Enter A 'Lucid Dream' State
Waking up within your dreams provides a unique playground to actively shape the narrative of your subconscious mind.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | November 11, 2023
For decades, psychologists have attempted to study the meanings behind our dreams. The vast body of research holds various perspectives: that they’re a reflection of our deepest desires, that they can help us practice confronting our fears, that they consolidate our memories and so on. However, newer research reveals that dreams can be an even more instrumental tool—if induced intentionally with awareness.
“Lucid dreaming” refers to the phenomenon of self-awareness during dream states. In essence, being fully conscious of the fact that you are dreaming and that their events aren’t actually happening in reality, yet the dreams still feel real and vivid. If this awareness is achieved, you may be able to control your own dreams, as if writing their storylines in real time.
Even though 55% of the population is likely to experience at least one lucid dream within their lifetime, researchers report that lucid dreaming is a relatively rare phenomenon. However, studies reveal that, if practiced, lucid dreams can be induced intentionally, and their benefits can be reaped more frequently.
What Is Lucid Dreaming? And How Is It Beneficial?
Given their rare and intriguing nature, lucid dreams are increasingly being studied by psychologists in an attempt to understand their causes, mechanics and effects. While the natural causes for lucid dreaming aren’t yet fully known, neuropsychologists have determined that, when lucid dreaming, the cuneus and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex become aroused during REM sleep.
The cuneus is the part of the brain that processes visual information; this helps you see and understand the images and scenes in your brain while dreaming. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is responsible for our higher-order thinking processes, such as decision-making and problem-solving. This is what allows us to think critically and control our actions within dreams once becoming aware of our dream state.
While most lucid dreamers use their abilities to engage in fun activities during their dreams, researchers are now reporting on the practical applications and benefits of lucid dreaming:
- Mental and physical health. A study in the International Journal of Dream Research revealed that most lucid dreamers experience positive effects on their mental health, and half report benefits to their physical well-being. Lucid dreaming offers a way to confront fears and stressors, providing stress relief. It also allows individuals to practice problem-solving and emotional regulation, which can be applied in real life. Additionally, practicing physical skills in lucid dreams may lead to improved physical abilities or increased confidence in real-world activities.
- Preventing nightmares. A study from Sleep Advances revealed that lucid dreaming can be a useful tool in the prevention of nightmares. Participants reported that lucidity during nightmares allowed them to either intentionally wake themselves up or to confront the antagonists within their bad dreams. Some even reported a lasting impact, realizing the power they held from lucidity to resolve their nightmares led to having few to no nightmares at all.
- Combating mental health issues. Additional research in the International Journal of Dream Research highlights the therapeutic potential of lucid dreaming, especially for addressing mental health issues like clinical depression. Lucid dreaming aids self-exploration, enabling individuals to gain insights into their emotions through inner dialogues with their conscious and subconscious selves. Recognizing recurring dream themes helps identify sources of depression or trauma, which can then be addressed and worked through within the dream. This process allows individuals to boost their confidence and skills, leaving them feeling empowered and inspired upon waking.
While positive benefits of lucid dreaming are varied and plentiful, it is also important to note that some individuals may have negative lucid dreaming experiences. Researchers report that failed induction of lucid dreaming can result in lucid dysphoria, poor sleep, sleep paralysis and confusion. However, these can be avoided through practicing research-backed techniques in inducing lucid dreaming.
How To Induce Lucid Dreaming
If you’re interested in tinkering with lucid dreaming, a study from Acta Neuropsychologica reveals the most effective technique in inducing lucid dreaming yourself. There are various known methods for inducing lucid dreaming, but the researchers found a combination of these methods to yield the best results. Here’s how to try it out yourself.
- Reality-check testing. Practice checking your surroundings and states of wakefulness during the day. These checks should serve to distinguish between being awake and being asleep. The idea is that if you make this a habit while awake, you might start doing it in your dreams too. When you notice something unusual during a dream reality check, it can trigger the realization that you’re actually in a dream.
- Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD). This technique simply involves expressing a desire to be lucid while sleeping. Before falling asleep, repeatedly tell yourself that you’ll remember you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. This sets an intention in your mind for the future.
- Wake back to bed (WBTB). You can also use the MILD method after briefly waking up about 5 hours into your sleep to increase the chances of having a lucid dream during the rest of your night’s sleep.
- Senses-initiated lucid dreaming. This technique uses external stimuli–like flashing lights or sounds during REM sleep. These cues from the outside world can prompt you to realize you’re dreaming and become self-aware in your dream. Similar to the wake back to bed technique, you can also set an alarm after about five hours of senses initiated lucid dreaming to reinforce your lucid dream intention before going back to sleep.
Lucid dreaming is a delightful rabbit hole into the world of dreams, like having a backstage pass to your mind’s theater, where you’re both the performer and the audience. Psychologists have been intrigued by this curious state, which lets you control your dream narratives and unlock mental and emotional insights. It’s a playground for stress relief, problem-solving and skill-building, and there are various techniques available that offer the keys to this enchanting kingdom of imagination. So, why not step through the dreamy-looking glass and see where your lucid adventures take you?