This Is Your Brain On Lucid Dreaming

Research on the people who change the world in their sleep, and how to be one of them.

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“Lucidity, noun: The ability to think clearly, especially in intervals between periods of confusion or insanity.”

Lucid dreaming is attaining clarity and awareness inside the confusion of a dream. When a person attains lucidity in a night’s sleep, they are aware that they are dreaming.

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” — Carl Jung

There are interesting reports of athletes even using the extra time and space of a lucid dream to train in their sleep.

The neuroscience

In normal periods of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep — — aka dreaming — blood flow to the brain and oxygen consumption is accelerated, while the body’s muscles are paralysed to stop you acting out your dreams.

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The hotter the colour, the greater the activity. via Arjun Walia

How can I do it?!

First of all, here are three lifestyle hacks that will make finding success with the specific techniques much, much easier. All of them are simple and can take five minutes a day.

  • Meditate before sleep. This has the added bonus of helping you relax, unwind, and feel sleepy in the first place. Becoming more aware and present in your surroundings is exactly the skill you’ll utilise to become present in a dream. Meditating has been shown to lead to more lucid dreams.
  • Don’t drink that night. Alcohol may feel like it helps you drift off, but it actually makes your sleep quality poorer by blocking REM periods of the cycle. That’s where the dreams happen, so we want as much time in REM as possible!
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Some (of mine) do feel like this: except with a ridiculous amount of stars. via Unsplash
  • Count your fingers. This is known as a reality check. Remember the spinning top from Inception? Here’s an easier one. Get into the habit of examining the palms of your hands, whenever anything weird happens in real-life. You don’t have to be an obvious oddball in public, but just take a glance. Twice. In real life, they’re just hands. In a dream, for some reason, it’s really hard for your brain to maintain the same number of fingers on two separate looks. Or sometimes they’ll be furry, or rough-hewn squares, something else bizarre. The idea is once you get into the habit of this, you then automatically hand-check when something strange happens in your dream, note that your hands are Off, so this isn’t real — et voilà, you’re lucid!
  • WILD technique / The wake-back-to-bed method. By far the most reliable success rate, but also the most intensive on your sleeping pattern. To do this, set your alarm for in six hours. When it goes off, get up. Shake off the cobwebs, stretch, read something, it doesn’t matter. When you’ve been awake for 20 minutes, lie down and let yourself drift back to sleep. Wake-back-to-bed works because this is the time of night where you have the most REM dreams normally, back-to-back. By waking yourself up in the middle, you help blur the boundary between the self-reflective awareness of being awake, and your next dream.

Parting tips

Be prepared to find your first lucid dreams hard to stay in for long. I mean, you’ll be so “I’m doing it! I’m actually doing it!” excited and boggled by the novelty of the experience, that you wake yourself up again.

“I dream my painting, and I paint my dream.”
― Vincent Willem Van Gogh

Written by

Accredited psychologist, England. Smuggling useful truths out of academia. Gen Z.

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