Some people can’t remember their dreams even the moment they wake up. For others, dreams are a playground where they consciously model the slumbering fantasy of their choosing. The latter are called lucid dreamers. Now, scientists have confirmed three methods that anyone can employ to become one.
While in a lucid dream, a person is not only aware they are dreaming but also actively controls the experience. According to a popular German study, researchers found that about 51% of people have experienced a lucid dream at least once. Some, however, are so proficient at lucid dreaming that they can enter the state almost every night.
A quick online search will render various tricks and tips you can use to facilitate lucid dreaming. Previous research, however, demonstrated that these techniques provide little success in improving the odds of dreaming lucidly. This sort of setback has limited further research that might investigate the potential benefits and applications of lucid dreaming.
Next time I’m dreaming, I will remember that I’m dreaming, Next time I’m dreaming, I will remember that I’m dreaming…
We now have a breakthrough. Australian researchers at the University of Adelaide led by Dr Denholm Aspy tested three popular lucid dreaming techniques and found all of them improve the chance of success. One technique had an impressive 46% success rate.
The 47 participants were separated into four equal group based on their previous experience with lucid dreaming: a frequent lucid dreamers group, a mental practice group, a physical practice group, and a control (no experience with lucid dreaming).
Each participant practiced three techniques: reality testing, wake back to bed (WBTB), and mnemonic induction of lucid dreaming (MILD).
Reality testing is the most common method anecdotally reported. It involves actively testing the environment around you, whether it’s in reality or in a dream, to spot inconsistencies. For instance, you can consciously check the mirror a couple of times a day to see whether or not the reflection is right. In a dream, the reflection can be distorted or not appear at all. Knocking on doors or pinching yourself can also provide good results. The idea is to elicit sensations, and when the door doesn’t feel like wood or we don’t feel the pinch, then we must be dreaming. By practicing enough each day, this technique can make us aware when we are, in fact, dreaming.
Wake back to bed requires a bit more dedication and control. It involves setting an alarm five hours into sleep. The participant then has to stay awake for a while before returning to sleep. . Around this time, most people enter REM sleep — the sleep phase where dreaming is most common. The idea is that the brief conscious activity of waking up will make you more likely to be aware of the dream state.
Lastly, mnemonic induction of lucid dream is similar to WBTB in the sense that prospective lucid dreamers also need to wake up five hours into sleep. This time, however, the participant also has to consciously intend to remember that he’s dreaming upon falling to sleep. “Next time I’m dreaming, I will remember that I’m dreaming,” is a common line lucid dreamers repeat before falling back to sleep.
“The MILD technique works on what we call ‘prospective memory’ – that is, your ability to remember to do things in the future. By repeating a phrase that you will remember you’re dreaming, it forms an intention in your mind that you will, in fact, remember that you are dreaming, leading to a lucid dream,” says Dr Aspy, Visiting Research Fellow in the University’s School of Psychology.
The highest success rate (46%) was found among participants who used the MILD technique. For the group who combined all three techniques, participants achieved a 17% success rate in having lucid dreams over the period of just one week, as reported in the journal Dreaming.
You’d think that MILD or WBTB negatively affects sleep quality but, remarkably, the reverse was true. The Australian researchers found the MILD group was “significantly less sleep deprived the next day, indicating that lucid dreaming did not have any negative effect on sleep quality,” Aspy says. This suggests that people having trouble sleeping well could not only benefit from lucid dreaming but could also feel more refreshed the next day.
“These results take us one step closer to developing highly effective lucid dream induction techniques that will allow us to study the many potential benefits of lucid dreaming, such as treatment for nightmares and improvement of physical skills and abilities through rehearsal in the lucid dream environment,” Dr Aspy says.