A lucid dream is a type of dream in which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. Estimates say that around half of us will experience this at some point in our lives. A small minority of us, around 1 per cent, may even have several such experiences each week.
Sometimes, people in a lucid state can even begin to choose what happens in their dream, as if they were a director of their own movie.
If that sounds like your idea of fun, there are three main techniques that dream researchers recommend for increasing your odds of experiencing a lucid dream, which can either be used on their own or in combination.
The first technique is ‘reality testing’ which involves making a regular habit during wakefulness of testing whether you are asleep or awake. For instance, several times a day you might check whether you can press the fingers of one hand through the palm of your opposite hand (a feat that is usually possible in dreamland, but obviously not while awake). This might sound odd, but the idea is that if you get into the habit of doing this while you’re awake, you’ll be more likely to try doing it while you’re dreaming, and if you ever do, you’ll realise that you’re dreaming and you’ll become lucid.
Read more about dreaming:
- How does time change when we dream?
- Does dreaming affect the quality of our sleep?
- Do blind people see in their dreams?
Wake me up before you go go
Another technique is called ‘Wake Back To Bed’ (WBTB) and involves setting an alarm for approximately two to three hours before you usually wake up. Upon waking, you then allow yourself to drift right off back to sleep, but with the renewed intention to lucid dream. The rationale here is that lucid dreaming occurs during REM sleep (the stage of sleep when narrative dreaming is most common) and so you’re waking yourself up at just the right time of night when you’re likely to be in the midst of REM sleep, and then diving right back into it with the active plan to lucid dream.
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The final technique is called Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (or MILD for short), which involves repeating a mantra to yourself several times before you go to sleep, along the lines of “the next time I’m dreaming, I will remember I’m dreaming”. You can either try it when you first go to sleep at night, or you can combine it with WBTB in the early hours of the morning.
Dave Green, the comedian turned lucid-dreaming artist, recommends the MILD technique: “I just repeat over and over again ‘Tonight I will have a lucid dream and create a drawing’,” he says.
Q&A: Is it dangerous to wake a sleepwalker?
When someone is sleepwalking they’ll move out of bed and show complex behaviours while lacking high-level cognition (such as planning). They’re also likely to have their eyes open and may be staring vacantly, which can be disconcerting to anyone they encounter.
Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, involves a partial arousal from deep sleep. This typically occurs during the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage of sleep. This type of sleep predominates during the beginning of the night, which is why sleepwalking typically happens at this point.
Children are more likely than adults to sleepwalk due to the composition of their sleep. Overall prevalence rates of sleepwalking vary widely, but one meta-analysis estimated as many as 7 per cent of people sleepwalk.
As to whether it’s dangerous to wake a sleepwalker, it’s not advisable to do this forcefully as this could lead to disorientation or even a violent response from the sufferer. However, in certain circumstances, it may be appropriate to gently wake someone who has completed a sleepwalking episode and let them fall back to sleep again in order to prevent them from moving straight back into another sleepwalking episode.
If you discover a sleepwalker, rather than waking them, you might want to calmly lead them back to their bed in order to help ensure their safety.
Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.