Taking control in an alternate reality: Lucid dreaming

My son rolled into the garage on his longboard, entered the house, and announced that he needed to keep a sleep journal.

For just a moment, I thought maybe he had been reading this blog.  But before I could come to my senses, he quickly explained that one of his friends had described this as a tool for engaging lucid dreaming.

You may already be familiar with the idea, if not the terminology.  Lucid dreams occur when the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming.  According to one source, more than 50% of us have experienced lucid dreaming.

Some lucid dreamers attempt to initiate this ‘dream control’ while they are still awake. Not unexpectedly, these Wake Initiated Lucid Dreams are known by the acronym WILD.

Lucid dreaming, in addition to playing supporting roles in fictional films like Inception or Total Recall, has also captured the attention of scientists and psychologists since the late 1800s.

More recently, researchers found that people who play immersive video games seem to have more lucid dreams and more control over their dreams than the rest of us.

Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist, at Grant MacEwan University in Canada reported at the 2010 Games for Health Conference that:

  • People who played immersive video games were more likely to report lucid dreams.
  • Of people who reported lucid dreams, gamers “never had dream control over anything beyond their dream selves” but they also were able “to change perspectives from first person to observer (as if floating outside of their body)”.
  • Gamers didn’t code nightmares as “threatening.” Rather, they seemed to be having fun with dream situations that non-gamers coded as nightmares.

But what if you aren’t a gamer training your mind while awake to take control of an alternate dream world reality?

Some researchers have found that lucid dreaming techniques work as a treatment for those who suffer from frequent nightmares.

So maybe you’re just a run-of-the-mill dreamer who wants to explore the mind’s many states in more depth. Here are a few techniques that may be useful in facilitating lucid dreaming (from Dr. Stephen LaBerge of the Stanford University and The Lucidity Institute):

Step 1: Practice dream recall

Spending a few minutes after waking consciously focused on recalling your dreams may help focus the mind on the details of dreaming. Keeping a dream journal can be an effective technique for focusing the recall effort and training the mind, while awake, to expect to pay attention to details during dreaming.

Step 2: Identify a reality test

A reality test is something that will allow you to determine whether you are dreaming.  During wakeful states, you can practice your reality test and increase the chances of recalling it while dreaming.

Tests include looking in a mirror and making a mental note to do so while dreaming.  Flipping a light switch on or off  and mentally noting the change in lighting or looking at the ground beneath your hands or feet.  While dreaming, these tests will usually deliver odd results, such as blurry or distorted images or unexpected results (as in flipping a light switch on and the lighting does not change)…all of which may tell you you’re dreaming.

Step 3: Try to prolong the dream

Discerning that you are dreaming is one thing. But how frustrating to wake right up at the moment you are about to seize control of your dream? To prolong the dream, you might try to engage your brain in areas activated during REM sleep. One technique is to ‘spin’ your dream body. Another is to rub your dream hands together. By asking your mind to perform these tasks, LaBerge has shown in studies that 90% of dreams can be prolonged (versus a third who attempted no technique while lucidly dreaming.)

Taking control in a world that seems to defy easy explanation can be fun and empowering. Sometimes, just the effort can have that effect. That’s probably why my son is so intrigued.

Do you have an experience with lucid dreaming? Share it in the comments or take our poll.

8 thoughts on “Taking control in an alternate reality: Lucid dreaming”

  1. I didn’t realize it was lucid dreaming but I have experienced the sensation of knowing I was in a dream while dreaming. Sometimes I even have recurring dreams and know that I’m dreaming. I have tried to prolong the dreams by forcing myself to talk to people or perform actions like jumping in the dream.

  2. Lucid dreaming in itself is the reality of bad sleep patterns. Sometimes when I am too tired and cannot fall into sleep readily because of it, I also experience lucid dreaming.

  3. As a gamer, I find this very interesting! I’ve always had lucid dreams, but I have found that since taking up games (specifically MMO’s) a number of years ago, I have many more of them. Fabulous article!

  4. I’ve experienced these lucid dreams but they don’t seem to happen frequently. I will try some of those tips and see if recalling them or controlling them will come easier. Thanks for the great article.

  5. I’m not sure if I’ve truly had lucid dreams or not, but I have definitely had a series of recurring dreams. The setting is always different, but the theme is always the same: I’m in a school, having gone back after a long period of time, and I’m usually unable to find my way around, and I’m afraid. I would love to turn this into a lucid dream the next time it occurs!

  6. i lucid dream alot and i can control every aspect of it , my only recurring problem is that no matter the dream/place/people
    i always end up being bitten by dogs and it weirds me out cause i have no fear of dogs.
    at first it was always a proper dog bite but after time i developed how to stop it by different methods but no matter what i do i still get bitten , and when this happens i wake myself up as i can always consciously feel my waking body

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