Control Your Dreams, Dreams, Higher states of consciousness, Lucid Dream Induction Device, Lucid Dreaming, Lucid dreams, Lucidity Institute, Oneironautics, Out-of-Body Experience (OBE), Surrealism, Tibetan Buddhist Dream Yoga
The science of lucid dreaming—in which the sleeper is aware they are dreaming—and how it could affect waking life.
Lucid dreaming means dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming. The term was coined by Frederik van Eeden who used the word “lucid” in the sense of mental clarity. Lucidity usually begins in the midst of a dream when the dreamer realizes that the experience is not occurring in physical reality, but is a dream. Often this realization is triggered by the dreamer noticing some impossible or unlikely occurrence in the dream, such as flying or meeting the deceased. Sometimes people become lucid without noticing any particular clue in the dream; they just suddenly realize they are in a dream. A minority of lucid dreams (according to the research of LaBerge and colleagues, about 10 percent) are the result of returning to Rapid eye movement (REM) dreaming sleep directly from an awakening with unbroken reflective consciousness.
The basic definition of lucid dreaming requires nothing more than becoming aware that you are dreaming. However, the quality of lucidity can vary greatly. When lucidity is at a high level, you are aware that everything experienced in the dream is occurring in your mind, that there is no real danger, and that you are asleep in bed and will awaken shortly. With low-level lucidity you may be aware to a certain extent that you are dreaming, perhaps enough to fly or alter what you are doing, but not enough to realize that the people are dream representations, or that you can suffer no physical damage, or that you are actually in bed.
Lucidity is not synonymous with dream control. It is possible to be lucid and have little control over dream content, and conversely, to have a great deal of control without being explicitly aware that you are dreaming. However, becoming lucid in a dream is likely to increase the extent to which you can deliberately influence the course of events. Once lucid, dreamers usually choose to do something permitted only by the extraordinary freedom of the dream state, such as flying.
You always have the choice of how much control you want to exert. For example, you could continue with whatever you were doing when you became lucid, with the added knowledge that you are dreaming. Or you could try to change everything—the dream scene, yourself, other dream characters. It is not always possible to perform “magic” in dreams, like changing one object into another or transforming scenes. A dreamer’s ability to succeed at this seems to depend a lot on the dreamer’s confidence. As Henry Ford said, “Believe you can, believe you can’t; either way, you’re right.” On the other hand, it appears there are some constraints on dream control that may be independent of belief. See “Testing the Limits of Dream Control: The Light and Mirror Experiment” for more on this.
A mysterious and highly controversial phenomenon sometimes occurs in which people experience the compelling sensation that they have somehow “left their bodies.” The “out-of-body experience” or “OBE“, as this fascinating phenomenon is usually termed, takes a variety of forms. In the most typical, you are lying in bed, apparently awake, when suddenly you experience a range of primarily somatic sensations, often including vibrations, heaviness, and paralysis. Then you experience the vivid sensation of separating from your “physical body” in what feels like a second body, often floating above the bed.
It is important to note the distinction between the phenomenal reality of the OBE and the various interpretations of the experience. What is really happening when you feel yourself “leaving your body”? According to one school of thought, what is actually happening is just what it feels like: you are moving in a second body out of and away from your physical body—in physical space. But this “explanation” doesn’t hold up very well under examination. After all, the body we ordinarily feel ourselves to be (or if you like, to inhabit) is a phenomenal or mental body rather than a physical body. The space we see around us is not physical space as “common sense” tells us, but as modern psychology makes clear, a phenomenal or mental space. In general, our consciousness is a mental model of the world.
OBE enthusiasts promote lucid dreaming as a “stepping stone” to the OBE. Conversely, many lucid dreamers have had the experience of feeling themselves “leave the body” at the onset of a lucid dream. From a laboratory study, we have concluded that OBEs can occur in the same physiological state as lucid dreams. Wake-initiated lucid dreams (WILDs) were three times more likely to be labeled “OBEs” than dream initiated lucid dreams. If you believe yourself to have been awake, then you are more likely to take the experience at face value and believe yourself to have literally left your physical body in some sort of mental or “astral” body floating around in the “real” physical world. If, on the other hand, you think of the experience as a dream, then you are likely to identify the OBE body as a dream body image and the environment of the experience as a dream world. The validity of the latter interpretation is supported by observations and research on these phenomena.
Upon hearing about lucid dreaming for the first time, people often ask, “Why should I want to have lucid dreams? What are they good for?” If you consider that once you know you are dreaming, you are restricted only by your ability to imagine and conceive, not by laws of physics or society, then the answer to what lucid dreaming is good for is either extremely simple (anything!) or extraordinarily complex (everything!). It is easier to provide a sample of what some people have done with lucid dreaming than to give a definitive answer of its potential uses.
Often, the first thing that attracts people to lucid dreaming is the potential for wild adventure and fantasy fulfillment. Flying is a favorite lucid dream delight, as is sex. Many people have said that their first lucid dream was the most wonderful experience of their lives. A large part of the extraordinary pleasure of lucid dreaming comes from the exhilarating feeling of utter freedom that accompanies the realization that you are in a dream and there will be no social or physical consequences of your actions. One might think that this is a rather intellectual concept, but an ecstatic “rush” frequently arises with the first realization that one is dreaming.
Unfortunately for many people, instead of providing an outlet for unlimited fantasy and delight, dreams can be dreaded episodes of limitless terror. As is discussed in the books Lucid Dreaming (LaBerge, 1985),
Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (EWLD) (LaBerge and Rheingold, 1990) and
Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life (LaBerge, 2004), lucid dreaming may well be the basis of the most effective therapy for nightmares. If you know you are dreaming, it is a simple logical step to realizing that nothing in your current experience, however unpleasant, can cause you physical harm. There is no need to run from or fight with dream monsters. In fact, it is often pointless to try, because the horror pursuing you was conceived in your own mind, and as long as you continue to fear it, it can pursue you wherever you dream yourself to be. The only way to really “escape” is to end your fear. (For a discussion of reasons for recurrent nightmares, see “Overcoming Nightmares” from EWLD.) The fear you feel in a nightmare is completely real; it is the danger that is not.
Unreasonable fear can be defused by facing up to the source, or going through with the frightening activity, so that you observe that no harm comes to you. In a nightmare, this act of courage can take any form that involves facing the “threat” rather than avoiding it. For example, one young man dreamt of being pursued by a lion. When he had no place left to run, he realized he was dreaming and called to the lion to “come and get him.” The challenge turned into a playful wrestling match, and the lion became a sexy woman (NightLight 1.4, 1989, p. 13). Monsters often transform into benign creatures, friends, or empty shells when courageously confronted in lucid dreams. This is an extremely empowering experience. It teaches you in a very visceral manner that you can conquer fear and thereby become stronger.
Lucid dreaming is an extraordinarily vivid form of mental imagery, so realistic that the trick is to realize it is a mental construct. It is no surprise, therefore, that many people use lucid dreaming to rehearse for success in waking life. Examples of such applications include public speaking, difficult confrontations, artistic performance and athletic prowess. Because the activity of the brain during a dreamed activity is the same as during the real event, neuronal patterns of activation required for a skill (like a ski jump or pirouette) can be established in the dream state in preparation for performance in the waking world. See EWLD for examples.
The creative potential of dreams is legendary. The brain is highly active in REM sleep and unconstrained by sensory input, which together may contribute to the novel combinations of events and objects we experience as dream bizarreness. This same novelty allows thought to take on forms that are rare in waking life, manifesting as enhanced creativity, or defective thinking depending on one’s point of view (as Roland Fisher put it, “One man’s creativity is another’s brain damage.”).
The claim of enhanced creativity of the dream state is supported by LI research: One study found word associations immediately after awakening from a dream to be 29% more likely to be uncommon compared to word associations later in the day (NightLight, 6.4, 1994). Another study comparing a variety of kinds of experience including daydreams, memories of actual events, and dreams, found that dreams were judged as being significantly more creative than both daydreams and memories (NightLight, 4.1, 1992). In any case, many lucid dreamers report using dreams for problem solving and artistic inspiration; see EWLD for a variety of examples.
The effects of visual imagery on the body are well-established. Just as skill practice in a dream can enhance waking performance, healing dream imagery may improve physical health. Medical patients have often used soothing and positive imagery to alleviate pain, and the dream world offers the most vivid form of imagery. Thus, some people have use lucid dreams in overcoming phobias, working with grief, decreasing social and sexual anxieties, achieving greater self-confidence and by directing the body image in the dream to facilitate physical healing. The applications, which are described in greater detail in EWLD, deserve clinical study as they may be the greatest boon that lucid dreaming has to offer. Other potential healing applications of lucid dreaming include: practice of physical skills by stroke and spinal cord injury patients to encourage recovery of neuromuscular function, enjoyment of sexual satisfaction by people with lower body sensory loss (fully satisfying dream sex requires only mental stimulation!), more rapid recovery from injury or disease through the use of lucid dream imagery, and an increased sense of freedom for anyone who feels limited by disability or circumstance.
The experience of being in a lucid dream clearly demonstrates the astonishing fact that the world we see is a construct of our minds. This concept, so elusive when sought in waking life, is the cornerstone of spiritual teachings. It forces us to look beyond everyday experience and ask, “If this is not real, what is?” Lucid dreaming, by so baldly baring a truth that many spend lives seeking, often triggers spiritual questioning in people who try it for far more mundane purposes. Not only does lucid dreaming lead to questioning the nature of reality, but for many it also has been a source of transcendent experience. Exalted and ecstatic states are common in lucid dreams. EWLD presents several cases of individuals achieving states of union with the Highest, great peace and a new sense of their roles in life.
The overwhelming majority of lucid dreams are positive, rewarding experiences. Moreover, lucidity in unpleasant dreams or nightmares can transform habitual fear into conscious courage. The simple state of lucidity is frequently enough to elevate the mood of a dreamer in a nightmare. In a study of the effect of lucid dreams on mood, college students reported that realizing they were dreaming in a nightmare helped them feel better about 60 percent of the time. Lucidity was seven times more likely to make nightmares better than worse. Probably the only people who should not experiment with lucid dreaming are those who are unable to distinguish between waking reality and constructions of their imagination.
A parallel concern is that dying in a dream can cause death in reality. If this were true, how would we know? Anyone who died from a dream could not tell us about its content. Many people, after awakening alive, report having died in their dreams with no ill effect. Dreams of death can actually be insightful experiences about life, rebirth, and transcendence.
Some people believe that dreams are messages from the unconscious mind and should not be consciously altered. Modern research on dreaming, discussed further in chapter 5 of EWLD, suggests that dreams are not messages, but models of the world. While awake, sensory and perceptual information governs our model. While dreaming, our bodies are paralyzed and our brain builds a world model based on a secondary source; namely, our assumptions, motivations, and expectations. These biases are difficult to identify while awake, so a world based entirely on such biases, the world of dreams, can help us to recognize them. Thus, dreams are not messages, but are more like clues into the inner workings of our minds. The conscious and critical awareness that accompanies lucid dreams allows dreamers to thoughtfully interpret their dreams while they happen.
Finally, some people worry that lucid dreams are so exciting and pleasurable that they will become addicted and “sleep their life away.” There is a biological obstacle to living in lucid dreams: we have a limited amount of REM sleep. More importantly, lucid dreams can be inspirations for how to act and improve in reality. Your behavior strongly influences your experience in both worlds. Lucid dreams can be signposts for how you can make your waking reality more exciting and enjoyable.
Lucid dreaming is a skill you can develop, like learning a new language. A few individuals may have an innate talent for achieving lucidity, yet even they can benefit from instruction and practice in making the most of their lucid dreams. Many more people experience lucidity as a rare spontaneous event, but need training to enjoy lucid dreams at will. The best predictor of success with lucid dreaming is the ability to remember dreams. This, too, is a skill you can develop. With specific techniques, you can increase the quantity and quality of your dream recall, which will in turn greatly increase your ability to have lucid dreams.
The two essentials to learning lucid dreaming are motivation and effort. Although most people report occasional spontaneous lucid dreams, they rarely occur without our intending it. Lucid dream induction techniques help focus intention and prepare a critical mind. They range from millennium-old Tibetan exercises to modern methods developed by dream researchers.
Dream Yoga: Lucid Dreaming in Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetan Dream Yoga and the ancient philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism. Explore new depths to lucid dreaming and get a taste of some dream yoga techniques.
Tibetan Dream Yoga is the original form of lucid dreaming documented for at least 1,000 years.
Also known as Milam – the yoga of the dream state – it’s a suite of advanced tantric techniques.
Just like our Westernized understanding of lucid dreams, the initial aim is to awaken the consciousness in the dream state.
However, as for what happens next, Tibetan lamas have more esoteric goals in mind…
The Basis of Dream Yoga
Dream yoga is taught within the trance Bardos of Dream and Sleep. In the tradiditon of tantra, it’s usually passed on by a qualified teacher, once the student has passed an initiation.
It’s considered a passing on of enlightened experience rather than reading texts, and requires the student to develop sufficient self awareness to achieve conscious lucidity during sleep.
Their aim is to harness the power of the lucid dream state by “apprehending the dream”. Students are then required to complete set tasks to take them to the next level. These tasks include:
- Practice sadhana (a spiritual discipline)
- Receive initiations, empowerments and transmissions
- Visit different places, planes and lokas (worlds)
- Communicate with yidam (an enlightened being)
- Meet with other sentient beings
- Fly and shape shift into other creatures
The ultimate goal in Tibetan dream yoga is to apprehend the dream – and then dissolve the dream state.
When deprived of physical and conceptual stimulus from the dreaming mind, you can observe the purest form of conscious awareness.
Dream Yoga Techniques
The philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism is complex, but you don’t need to be an expert to practice dream yoga techniques. However, you do need to show commitment; a technique is only as good as you are prepared to work at it.
One very broad but basic rule is this: continually compare your dreams to waking reality and know what it feels like to be conscious. This will increase your self awareness and you will find it easier to induce lucidity in dreams.
Here’s an example of a dream yoga technique. If you already practice lucid dreaming, you’ll find it familiar because dream recall is the key to lucid dreaming which ever way you look at it.
Every time you wake up, reflect on all the dreams you can remember. In Tibetan Buddhism, it’s believed that the ego travels about during sleep – revisiting places we have been to in real life, and repeating all our experiences.
So it’s important to meditate upon your latest dreams and recollections. Stay completely still while you do this, because the “dream body” is disturbed by physical movement and the memories are lost.
As you meditate on your dreams, repeat the mantra: RAOM GAOM, accentuating the O and splitting each word into two syllables. This will help focus your awareness on memories from the unconscious.
To learn more about dream yoga, I recommend The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. Unlike many other books on the subject, Tenzin is clear and concise and offers lots of practical examples.
This book is aimed at beginners to dream yoga, starting with the nature of dreams and their relationship with reality. He also emphasizes how you can incorporate dream yoga into your daily life and reap the rewards of this profound lucid dreaming practice.
Among the author’s accolades are his lifelong passion as a lucid dreaming practitioner and being a spiritual teacher of both the Tibetan Buddhist and Bon Tibetan religious groups. Enjoy the reading and happy dreaming!
* Also try some the following techniques and feel free to use personal variants. Experiment, observe, and persevere—lucid dreaming is easier than you may think.
The most important prerequisite for learning lucid dreaming is excellent dream recall. There are two likely reasons for this. First, when you remember your dreams well, you can become familiar with their features and patterns. This helps you to recognize them as dreams while they are still happening. Second, it is possible that with poor dream recall, you may actually have lucid dreams that you do not remember!
The procedure for improving your dream recall is fully detailed in EWLD and A Course in Lucid Dreaming in addition to many other books on dreams. A brief discussion of the methods involved is available on the Lucidity Institute website. The core exercise requires writing down everything you recall about your dreams in a dream journal, no matter how fragmentary your recall. Upon awakening, remain absolutely still while you recall the essential elements of the dream, paying particular attention to the dreamsigns (see 3.2.3 below). Then record the dream immediately in your journal. If you wait until morning you are likely to forget most, if not all, of the dream. In A Course in Lucid Dreaming we advise that people build their dream recall to at least one dream recalled per night before proceeding with lucid dream induction techniques.
3.2.2 Reality Testing
This is a good technique for beginners. Assign yourself several times a day to perform the following exercise. Also do it anytime you think of it, especially when something odd occurs or when you are reminded of dreams. It helps to choose specific occasions like: when you see your face in the mirror, look at your watch, arrive at work or home, pick up your NovaDreamer, etc. The more frequently and thoroughly you practice this technique, the better it will work.
- Do a reality test.
Carry some text with you or wear a digital watch throughout the day. To do a reality test, read the words or the numbers on the watch. Then, look away and look back, observing the letters or numbers to see if they change. Try to make them change while watching them. Research shows that text in dreams changes 75% of the time it is re-read once and changes 95% it is re-read twice. If the characters do change, or are not normal, or do not make sense, then you are most probably dreaming. Enjoy! If the characters are normal, stable, and sensible, then you probably aren’t dreaming. Go on to step 2.
– REM (dreaming stage of sleep) your mind is MORE active than during the active awakened daytime. On the right is REM. The implication is, in part, that the mind is freed, more available and more focused than during busy daytime activity when habitual activities dominate
- Imagine that your surroundings are a dream.
If you are fairly certain you are awake (you can never be 100% sure!), then say to yourself, “I may not be dreaming now, but if I were, what would it be like?” Visualize as vividly as possible that you are dreaming. Intently imagine that what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling is all a dream. Imagine instabilities in your environment, words changing, scenes transforming, perhaps you are floating off the ground. Create in yourself the feeling that you are in a dream. Holding that feeling, go on to step 3.
- Visualize yourself enjoying a dream activity.
Decide on something you would like to do in your next lucid dream, perhaps flying, talking to particular dream characters, or just exploring the dream world. Continue to imagine that you are dreaming now, and visualize yourself enjoying your chosen activity.
Another dream-recall related exercise introduced in EWLD and further developed in A Course in Lucid Dreaming is identifying “dreamsigns.” This term, coined by LaBerge, refers to elements of dreams that indicate that you are dreaming. (Examples: miraculous flight, purple cats, malfunctioning devices, and meeting deceased people.) By studying your dreams you can become familiar with your own personal dreamsigns and set your mind to recognize them and become lucid in future dreams. The Course also provides exercises for noticing dreamsigns while you are awake, so that the skill carries over into your dreams. This exercise also applies to lucid dream induction devices, which give sensory cues—special, artificially-produced dreamsigns—while you are dreaming. To succeed at recognizing these cues in dreams, you need to practice looking for them and recognizing them while you are awake.
The MILD technique employs prospective memory, remembering to do something (notice you’re dreaming) in the future. Dr. LaBerge developed this technique for his doctoral dissertation and used it to achieve lucid dreaming at will. The proper time to practice MILD is after awakening from a dream, before returning to sleep. (Modified from EWLD, p. 78)
- Setup dream recall.
Set your mind to awaken from dreams and recall them. When you awaken from a dream, recall it as completely as you can.
- Focus your intent.
While returning to sleep, concentrate single-mindedly on your intention to remember to recognize that you’re dreaming. Tell yourself: “Next time I’m dreaming, I will remember I’m dreaming,” repeatedly, like a mantra. Put real meaning into the words and focus on this idea alone. If you find yourself thinking about anything else, let it go and bring your mind back to your intention.
- See yourself becoming lucid.
As you continue to focus on your intention to remember when you’re dreaming, imagine that you are back in the dream from which you just awakened (or another one you have had recently if you didn’t remember a dream on awakening). Imagine that this time you recognize that you are dreaming. Look for a dreamsign—something in the dream that demonstrates plainly that it is a dream. When you see it say to yourself: “I’m dreaming!” and continue your fantasy. Imagine yourself carrying out your plans for your next lucid dream. For example, if you want to fly in your lucid dream, imagine yourself flying after you come to the point in your fantasy when you become lucid.
- Repeat until your intention is set.
Repeat steps 2 and 3 until either you fall asleep or are sure that your intention is set. If, while falling asleep, you find yourself thinking of anything else, repeat the procedure so that the last thing in your mind before falling asleep is your intention to remember to recognize the next time you are dreaming.
Two observations led LaBerge in the late 1970s to develop morning napping as a method of lucid dream induction. First, he noticed that lucidity seemed to come easier in afternoon naps. The second suggestion same from several lucid dreamers who noted that certain activities during the night appeared to induce lucid dreaming. The diverse qualities of these interruptions: sex, vomiting, and pure meditation, piqued LaBerge’s curiosity regarding what feature each might possess conducive to lucidity. The answer proved to be quite simple: wakefulness interjected during sleep increases the likelihood of lucidity. In fact, the nap technique, refined through several NightLight (see 1001 Nights Exploring Lucid Dreaming) experiments, is an extremely powerful method of stimulating lucid dreams. The technique requires you to awaken one hour earlier than usual, stay awake for 30 to 60 minutes, then go back to sleep. One study showed a 15 to 20 times increased likelihood of lucid dreaming for those practicing the nap technique over no technique. During the wakeful period, read about lucid dreaming, practice reality checks and then do MILD as you are falling asleep. Lucidity Institute’s training programs include this technique as an essential part of the schedule, one of the reasons why most participants have lucid dreams during the session.
The speed with which you develop the skill of lucid dreaming depends on many individual factors. How well do you recall dreams? How much time can you give to practicing mental exercises? Do you use a lucid dream induction device? Do you practice diligently? Do you have a well developed critical thinking faculty? And so on.
Case histories may provide a more tangible picture of the process of learning lucid dreaming. Dr. LaBerge increased his frequency of lucid dreaming from about one per month to up to four a night (at which point he could have lucid dreams at will) over the course of three years. He was studying lucid dreaming for his doctoral dissertation and therefore needed to learn to have them on demand as quickly as possible. On the other hand, he had to invent techniques for improving lucid dreaming skills. Thus, people starting now, although they may not be as strongly motivated as LaBerge or have the same quantity of time to devote to it, have the advantage of the tested techniques, training programs, and electronic biofeedback aids that have been created in the decades since LaBerge began his studies.
Here’s a list of the Top 5 Sleep Masks for Lucid Dreaming and Meditation:
Lucidity Institute also offers electronic devices that help people have lucid dreams. They were developed through laboratory research at Stanford University by LaBerge, Levitan, and others. The basic principle behind these devices is as follows: the primary task confronting someone who wishes to have a lucid dream is to remember that intention while in a dream. One of the best ways to increase a person’s chances of having a lucid dream is to give a reminder to the person during REM sleep. In the lab, we found that flashing light cues worked well in that they tended to incorporate into ongoing dreams without causing awakening. You may have noticed that occasional bits of sensory information are filtered into your dreams in disguised form, like a clock radio as supermarket music or a chain saw as the sound of a thunderstorm. This is the same principle used by our lucid dream induction devices: the lights or sounds from the device filter into the user’s dreams. In cases of very deep sleepers, we found that it was sometimes necessary to use sound as well as light to get the cues into dreams. The dreamer’s task is to notice the flashing lights in the dream and remember that they are cues to become lucid. Because we could not possibly accommodate everyone who wants to come into the sleep lab for a lucid dream induction session and most people would rather sleep at home anyway, we worked for several years to develop a comfortable, portable device that would detect REM sleep and deliver a cue tailored to the individual user’s needs.
The NovaDreamer lucid dream induction device works by giving flashing light or sound cues when the user is dreaming. Users modify the device settings to find a cue with the right intensity and length to enter their dreams without causing awakening. In addition, device users practice mental exercises while awake to enhance their ability to recognize the light cues when they appear in dreams. The NovaDreamer includes a soft, comfortable sleep mask, which contains the flashing lights, a speaker, and an eye movement detection apparatus. The NovaDreamer’s electronics are all inside the sleep mask. The NovaDreamer uses REM detection to time the delivery of lucidity cue and provides feedback on the number of cues given. It includes the “Dream Alarm” feature to boost dream recall. Users have a choice of a wide selection of cues and receive feedback on the number of cues they receive during a sleep period.
The lucidity cues of the NovaDreamer are intended to enter into ongoing dreams. This can occur in several ways. Cues can be superimposed over the dream scene, like a light flashing in one’s face, or they can briefly interrupt the dream scene. The most common (and most difficult to identify) incorporation of cues is into dream stories. Little brother flashing the room lights, flash bulbs, lightning, traffic signals, police car lights: all are real examples of incorporations of NovaDreamer cues. The trickiness of cue appearances underscores the need to thoroughly prepare one’s mind to recognize cues via waking practice.
The NovaDreamer offers a second method of lucid dream stimulation. This method arose out of the discovery that while sleeping with the NovaDreamer, people frequently dreamed that they awakened wearing the device, and pressed the button on the front of the mask to start the “delay,” a feature that disables cues while you are drifting off to sleep. Ordinarily, a button press would cause a beep to tell you that you had successfully pressed it. Dream versions of devices are notorious for not working normally. Once people were advised that failure of the button in the middle of the night was a sign that they were probably dreaming, they were able to use this “dreamsign” reliably to become lucid during “false awakenings” with the NovaDreamer. Research suggests that about half of the lucid dreams stimulated by the devices result from using the button for reality tests. (Some of these are available from Lucidity Institute. For details, see the NovaDreamer manual (in html format), or in Acrobat PDF format.)
Lucid Dreaming Induction Devices are designed to help people achieve lucidity by giving them cues while they are dreaming and also by providing a reliable means of testing one’s state of consciousness. They do not make people have lucid dreams any more than exercise machines make people develop strong muscles. In both cases the goal, strength or lucid dreams, results from practice. The machines accelerate the process. Several factors enter into success with one of these devices. One is how accurately the cues are coordinated with the user’s REM sleep. The devices’ REM detection systems are adjustable to individual variables. Another success factor is how well the cues enter into the dream without awakening the sleeper. A third factor is how prepared the user is for recognizing cues in dreams and becoming lucid. Finally, the user’s commitment to performing a reality test on each awakening with the device influences success. All four of these factors are, to some extent, controllable by the device user: adjustment of eye movement sensitivity to catch REM sleep, selecting a cue that enters dreams without causing awakenings, mental preparation to recognize cues in dreams, and resolution to do reality tests. Therefore, it is difficult to obtain a truly accurate measurement of the effectiveness of the devices. Nonetheless, research with various versions of the DreamLight have shown that it definitely helps people have more frequent lucid dreams.
An earlier study with a different version of the DreamLight showed a five-fold increase in lucid dreaming frequency when people used the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming (MILD) mental technique in conjunction with the device, compared with using no device and no mental technique. Using the device without mental techniques worked about as well as just using the mental technique; both cases were an improvement over using nothing.
In summary, at this stage the lucid dream induction devices can definitely help people to have lucid dreams, or to have more of them. Important factors contributing to success are good dream recall (the DreamLight and NovaDreamer also can be used to boost dream recall with the “Dream Alarm feature”), diligent mental preparation, and careful adjustment of the device to meet individual needs for cueing and REM detection. No device yet exists that will make a person have a lucid dream.
A number of substances and drugs have been suggested to enhance the likelihood of lucid dreaming, from vitamins to prescription drugs. There are few good scientific studies to test such claims. Lucid dreaming is highly subject to the placebo effect; the belief that something will stimulate a lucid dream is very effective! This is not to say that there are not substances that do, in fact, promote lucid dreaming. We are interested in discovering such and welcome observations from fellow dreamers. At this time, however, we do not endorse any substances for inducing lucid dreams. Many prescription drugs as well as marijuana and alcohol alter the sleep cycle, usually by suppressing REM sleep. This leads to a phenomenon called “REM rebound,” in which a person experiences intense, long REM periods after the drug has worn off. This can manifest as nightmares or, possibly, as lucid dreaming, since the brain is highly active. Drugs in the LSD family, including psilocybin and tryptamines actually stimulate REM sleep (in doses small enough to allow sleep), leading to longer REM periods. We do not recommend the use of drugs without proper guidance nor do we urge the breaking of laws.
Beginning lucid dreamers often have the problem of waking up right after becoming lucid. This obstacle may prevent some people from realizing the value of lucid dreaming. Fortunately there are ways to overcome this problem.
The first is to remain calm in the dream. Becoming lucid is exciting, but expressing the excitement can awaken you. It is possible to enjoy the thrill that accompanies the dawning of lucidity without allowing the activation to overwhelm you. Be like a poker player with an ideal hand. Relax and engage with the dream rather than withdrawing into your inner joy of accomplishment.
Then, if the dream shows signs of ending, such as a loss of detail, vividness, and apparent reality of the imagery, the technique of “spinning” can often restore the dream. You spin your dream body around like a child trying to get dizzy. LaBerge developed this technique after experimenting with the idea that relaxing completely might help prevent awakening from a dream. When in a lucid dream that was fading, he stopped and dropped backwards to the floor, and had a false awakening in bed! After a few trials he determined that the essential element was the sensation of motion, not relaxation. The best way to create a feeling of movement, especially in the dream scene has vanished, leaving nowhere to move to, is to create angular momentum (or the sensation of it), by spinning around your axis. You are not really doing it, but your brain is well familiar with the experience of spinning and duplicates the experience quite well. In the process, the vestibular and kinesthetic senses are engaged. Presumably, this sensory engagement with the dream discourages the brain from changing state from dreaming to waking. Note that dream spinning does not usually lead to dizziness. Be aware that the expectation of possible awakening sometimes leads to a “false awakening” in which you dream of waking. The vividness of the spinning sensation may cause you to feel your spinning arm hit the bed. You think, “Oops, I’m awake in bed now.” Think now—your physical body wasn’t really spinning, it was your dream body—therefore, the arm is a dream arm hitting a dream bed! To avoid being deceived, recite, “The next scene will be a dream,” until a scene appears. If you are in doubt about your status, perform a thorough reality test. If awakened, lie still and imagine the sensation of spinning while reminding yourself that the next scene may be a dream. This tactic can result in a return to dreaming with lucidity.
Research at Lucidity Institute has proven the effectiveness of spinning: the odds in favor of continuing the lucid dream were about 22 to 1 after spinning, 13 to 1 after hand rubbing (another technique designed to prevent awakening), and 1 to 2 after “going with the flow” (a “control” task). That makes the relative odds favoring spinning over going with the flow 48 to 1, and for rubbing over going with the flow, 27 to 1.
Over the past thirty-five years, exercises, techniques and training materials have been developed and refined to the point where most anyone can learn to have lucid dreams if they are willing to devote time and effort. Lucidity Institute offers lucid dreaming training through several modalities. To start, most bookstores carry the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (EWLD) by LaBerge and Rheingold (Ballantine, 1990), or you can order it online from Amazon.com. It presents a step-by-step training program with exercises and an introduction to the various possible applications of lucid dreaming. Lucidity Institute’s A Course in Lucid Dreaming (included with the NovaDreamer package) provides a more thorough training program with five units of exercises and a workbook for tracking your progress. EWLD is the textbook for the Course.
There are several other good resources, although caution is in order when buying books on lucid dreaming. Some are poorly researched and present claims or methods that have not been rigorously tested. Below is a list of books and audio tapes that we have found valuable for introducing the facts about lucid dreaming, conveying something of the experience, or assisting with training. Some excerpts from the books are available on the Lucidity Institute website.
By Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D., (Ballantine, 1986; ISBN 0-345-33355-1)
This is the seminal work that first brought lucid dreaming to the attention of the general public and legitimized it as a valuable field of scientific inquiry. It is still the best general reference on lucid dreaming and a pleasure to read. The phenomenon of lucid dreaming is explored from many angles, beginning with the history of the practice in human cultures. LaBerge describes the early days of the scientific research and tells the story of his successful challenge of the established school of thought in sleep research, which held that awareness while dreaming was impossible. He discusses many methods of lucid dream induction, including the way he taught himself to have several lucid dreams per night. Other topics covered include: contemporary theories of the function of dreaming “Dreaming, Function, and Meaning”, applications of lucid dreaming, the relationship of lucid dreaming to out-of-body and near-death experiences, and the possibility of using lucid dreaming as a gateway or stepping stone on the path to spiritual enlightenment. See Annotated Table of Contents for more details. Out of print; check Addall.com, Half.com, Amazon.com, and other online bookstores for a used copy.
EXPLORING THE WORLD OF LUCID DREAMING
By Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. and Howard Rheingold (Ballantine, 1990)
A practical guide for lucid dreamers. The first half of the book establishes a basic understanding of sleep and dreams, followed by a progressive series of exercises for developing lucid dreaming skills. These include cataloging “dreamsigns,” your personal landmarks that tell you when you are dreaming, the Reflection-Intention and MILD techniques for becoming lucid within the dream and methods of falling asleep consciously based on ancient Tibetan Yoga practices. Induction methods are followed by practical advice on maintaining and guiding lucid dreams. After presenting the lucid dream induction techniques, Dr. LaBerge explains his understanding of the origin of dreams, founded on current views in the sciences of consciousness and cognition. This provides a foundation for the methods of employing lucid dreams to enhance your life, which are detailed in the second half of the book. The applications considered are: adventures and explorations, rehearsal for living, creative problem solving, overcoming nightmares, healing, and discovery of expanded awareness and spiritual experience. Many delightful and illuminating anecdotes from lucid dreamers illustrate the use of lucid dreams for each application. See Annotated Table of Contents for more details. Available from Amazon.com.
LUCID DREAMING: A CONCISE GUIDE TO AWAKENING IN YOUR DREAMS AND IN YOUR LIFE
By Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. (Sounds True, 2004)
In this book, Stephen LaBerge invites you on a guided journey to learn to use conscious dreaming in your life. Distilled from his many years of pioneering research at Stanford University and Lucidity Institute—including many new and updated techniques and discoveries—here is the most effective and easy-to-learn tool available for you to begin your own fascinating nightly exploration into Lucid Dreaming. Includes guided practices on CD (or downloadable). Available from Soundstrue.com and Amazon.com.
By Stephen LaBerge and Lynne Levitan (Lucidity Institute, updated edition 2002)
This is a comprehensive home-study training program in lucid dreaming. It takes you from the beginning stages of improving your dream recall and becoming familiar with the hallmarks of your dreams, through several different techniques for increasing your ability to have lucid dreams, to mastery of the art of lucid dreaming. All known methods of lucid dream induction are covered. Many focusing exercises help you develop the mental powers needed to become an expert lucid dreamer. Charts and logs assist you in assessing your skill level and monitoring your progress. The Course has five Units and takes a minimum of four months to complete.
Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain – Perspectives on Lucid Dreaming Edited by Jayne Gackenbach, Ph.D. and Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. (Plenum, 1988; ISBN 0-306-42849-0)
Nineteen dream researchers and other professionals contributed to this scholarly volume. It represents a wide spectrum of viewpoints in the field of lucid dreaming study and is an essential reference for anyone interested in studying lucid dreams or applying them in clinical practice. Topics include: literature, psychophysiology, personality, therapy, personal experience, related states of consciousness, and more. Out of print; check Addall.com, Half.com, Amazon.com, and other online bookstores for a used copy.
OUR DREAMING MIND
By Robert L. Van de Castle (Ballantine, 1994; ISBN 0-345-39666-9)
An excellent overview of the vast field of dream research; comprehensive and very well written by one of the field’s pioneers. Discounted at Amazon.com.
By Celia E. Green (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1968)
This is the classic book that inspired Dr. LaBerge to begin his studies of lucid dreaming. Green supplemented the scant published literature on lucid dreaming (e.g., the Marquis de Saint-Denys and Frederik van Eeden) with case histories from her own informants to put together a concise and thoughtful picture of the phenomenology of lucid dreaming. A bit dated, but still worth reading 45 years later. Out of print; check Addall.com, Half.com, Amazon.com, and other online bookstores for a used copy.
Dreams and How to Direct Them By The Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys, edited by Morton Schatzman, M.D. (Duckworth, London, 1982)
A great pioneer of the art of lucid dreaming, the Marquis first published this exploration of lucid dreaming in 1867, yet this is a very modern, and yes, lucid, thesis. He describes his personal experiments and the development of his ability to exercise control in his lucid dreams. Out of print; check Addall.com, Half.com, Amazon.com, and other online bookstores for a used copy.
Pathway to Ecstasy: The Way of the Dream Mandala By Patricia Garfield, Ph.D. (Prentice Hall, 1989)
Delightfully told story of Patricia Garfield’s transcendent and erotic adventures with lucid dreaming. Out of print; check Addall.com, Half.com, Amazon.com, and other online bookstores for a used copy.
Controlling Your Dreams By Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. (Audio Renaissance Tapes, Inc., 1987, 60 minutes)
This audio cassette tape captures the essence of Dr. LaBerge’s public lectures on lucid dreaming. It is highly informative and inspirational. Use it as an excellent introduction to the topic or a concise refresher. Dr. LaBerge begins by portraying the experience of lucid dreaming. He then presents methods for learning the skill, including the powerful MILD technique. The descriptions he gives of possible applications of lucid dreaming, from creative problem solving and rehearsal for living, to overcoming nightmares and achieving greater psychological integration, will encourage you to learn this valuable skill. Available from Amazon.com.
THE LUCID DREAMER
By Malcolm Godwin (Simon & Schuster, 1994)
Beautifully illustrated with nearly 200 full-color and black-and-white illustrations of little known dream masks and Zen paintings, Aboriginal Australian art, North American paintings, and works by modern native primitives, Surrealists, and schizophrenics. The text is a well-written, thoughtful, and inspiring survey of lucid dreaming as viewed primarily from a philosophical and mystical perspective. At Amazon.com.
TRANCE INDUCTION OF LUCID DREAMING (Dream Library)
By Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. (Lucidity Institute, 1993, 40 minutes)
Dr. LaBerge’s trance induction is designed to help you create a mind-set in which lucid dreaming will happen easily. The hypnotic induction begins with progressive relaxation accompanied by guided visualization of calming images. Once you have attained a peaceful state of mind, Dr. LaBerge gives you suggestions for building confidence that you will succeed at having lucid dreams. You are guided in devising a personal symbol to help you to recognize when you are dreaming. Musical accompaniment by Robert Rich. The Trance audio file is included with A COURSE IN LUCID DREAMING.
Lucidity Institute offers workshops, in which oneironauts (explorers of the dream world) convene to dedicate several days and nights to developing their lucidity skills under the guidance of Dr. LaBerge. Using the most effective techniques and technology, derived from Tibetan dream yoga and Western science, LaBerge and team present instructions on methods of developing the mental skills that foster lucidity and on directing consciousness within both dreaming and waking states towards fulfillment of personal goals. During these residential workshops, participants also have an opportunity to use the NovaDreamer, and, if they wish, to participate in ongoing research on a natural substance that, according to recent studies, has been shown to stimulate lucidity and mindfulness. Participants in our workshops have enjoyed phenomenal success with lucid dreaming, with most having at least one during the program. For further reviews, see Keelin’s “Diary From Lucid Dream Camp” and Bucky McMahon’s “Loose but Lucid: A Dreamer in Paradise” (pdf).
On the internet, anyone can play “expert,” and there are several FAQs on dreaming and lucid dreaming. Which FAQ is authoritative? What qualifies Lucidity Institute to write this FAQ? Why should readers take its contents any more or less seriously than those of other FAQs? These are all reasonable questions to ask. This FAQ was written by Lucidity Institute staff (primarily Lynne Levitan) and Stephen LaBerge. Dr. LaBerge has had more than 35 years of relevant personal and professional experience, having received his Ph.D. in Psychophysiology from Stanford University for his pioneering laboratory research on lucid dreaming. During the course of his dissertation study, he learned to have lucid dreams at will, and has recorded more thousands of lucid dreams which he has used for personal growth and exploration as described in his books Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life. His contributions to lucid dreaming methodology include developing lucid dream induction techniques (e.g., MILD, the counting technique for falling asleep consciously, and early morning napping), the spinning and hand-rubbing techniques for stabilizing lucid dreams, and various lucid dream induction devices such as the DreamLight and NovaDreamer.
His scientific contributions include using eye-movement signals to prove the reality of lucid dreams, characterizing the basic physiology of lucid dreams (and coining the terms DILD and WILD), and showing through a variety of experiments that lucid dream actions affect the brain (and to a lesser extent the body) as-if they were actually happening. Lynne Levitan has also had many years of personal and professional experience with lucid dreaming and has writtten many of the articles for Lucidity Institute’s newsletter.
Lucidity Institute aims to encourage as many people as possible to learn lucid dreaming and to use it to grow and improve their lives. We also know that the people who see the potential of lucid dreaming are the ones who can help most to map this new frontier and discover its treasures. The Lucidity Institute membership society is an organization for all people interested in lucid dreaming, novices and experts, laymen and scientists.
Members receive frequent short email updates (LUCIDITY*FLASHES) which may include articles on lucid dreaming—new findings, applications, speculations, inspiring examples, and experiments for members to participate in at home. The results from the experiments appear in subsequent issues, so members can benefit from them. Some studies are of methods of inducing lucid dreams, or about ordinary dreams, so that novice lucid dreamers can contribute. Others test activities and applications within lucid dreams.
Lucidity Institute’s research currently has three foci. These are: the mapping of brain activity during the initiation of lucidity, the study of Tibetan Dream Yoga (see more above) methods of inducing and manipulating lucid dreams, and the development of expert explorers of states of consciousness.
The brain mapping project is an extension of prior research into the psychophysiology of the lucid dream state, which found that high physiological activation is a prerequisite for lucidity. The goal is to identify which brain areas are activated during the onset of reflective consciousness in the REM sleep state. With this knowledge, we may be able to develop methods of easily and reliably inducing lucid dreams whenever desired, using biofeedback or direct stimulation.
The study of Tibetan Buddhist Dream Yoga techniques of lucid dreaming is aimed at making use of the thousand years of experience accumulated by this tradition. Literature currently available is couched in esoteric language from which it is difficult to discriminate useful techniques from culture-bound ritual. Through online and laboratory experiments, we are testing the effectiveness of lucid dream induction methods found in the Buddhist doctrine and dream yoga.
The third aspect of our work is part of the long term goal of Lucidity Institute to foster understanding of all types of higher states of consciousness. The purpose of this project is to assemble and train a group of individuals with extensive experience in meditation, lucid dreaming, hypnosis, and other altered states to facilitate study of these states’ mind-body relations and potential applications and benefits. 4.7 HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED WITH LUCID DREAMING RESEARCH?
Students who wish to conduct research on lucid dreaming can prepare by studying the fields of psychology and neuroscience.
The best way to contribute to ongoing lucid dream research by participating in the experiments on Lucidity Institute’s website. These experiments are designed for individuals to carry out at home and report the results back to Lucidity Institute for analysis and publication. Much of our current knowledge about the most effective methods of inducing lucid dreams has come from such experiments, as has valuable information about the nature of dreams. We are grateful to our oneironauts (explorers of the dream world) for helping us to advance understanding of dreams and lucidity.