Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner's Guide

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John Smith making another title look like child’s play (no audio)

From 1994-1995 I had the great pleasure of training with wrestling legend John Smith, 2-time gold medalist and 4-time world champion (domestic freestyle record of 80-0; international freestyle record of 100-5).

He was famous for his low leg attacks that made even Olympic finals look like textbook demonstrations.

The problem was, of course, that I was in New Hampshire at boarding school and had never met John Smith. I only trained with him 45-60 minutes per night while I was lucid dreaming. I went on to have my best career season, which culminated with a more than 20-0 record before the national championships…

I’ve since used lucid dreaming to:

- Accelerate skill acquisition (example: yabusame)
- Reactivate “forgotten” languages in less time
- Cultivate zen-like present-state awareness and decrease needless stress

Lucid Dreaming 101

I applied to Stanford University because I wanted to refine my clinical understanding of lucid dreaming: the ability to become conscious during dreams and affect their content.

This isn’t new-age nonsense, either. It’s been tested in the strictest of lab settings.

Dr. Stephen LaBerge of Stanford was considered the world’s foremost researchers in the science and practice of lucid dreaming, and he had pioneered proving its existence. How? It turns out that eye movement, unlike the rest of the skeletal muscular system, is not inhibited by REM sleep. Subjects could memorize horizontal eye patterns (e.g. left-left-right-right-left-right-left) and repeat the patterns upon becoming lucid, which researchers could observe, all while recording brain activity with an EEG to confirm that the subjects where, in fact, in a dream state. Tibetan monks have been practicing lucid dreaming for thousands of years, but it was considered fringe speculation until it was captured in a controlled environment.

There are now dozens of studies that explore the incredibly cool world of lucid dreaming and hint at applications (search “lucid dreaming” here on PubMed).

I recently had dinner with former PayPal employee Mark Goldenson, who was a researcher in both Stephen LaBerge’s lab and Phil Zimbardo’s psychophysiology lab at Stanford, and the conversation convinced me that sharing the basics was worth a post.

For those interested in experiencing lucid dreaming, here are a few simple training methods, including:

Step 1) Develop dream recall -

Have you ever thought that you didn’t dream on given nights, or perhaps not at all? If I were to track your REM sleep, as I have mine on even “dreamless” nights, you quickly realize that this isn’t the case. Undeveloped recall is to blame.

Put a pad of paper next to your bed and record your dream immediately upon waking. Immediately means immediately. If you get dressed first, or even stare at the ceiling for a minute, dream recollection will be nil. Expect that you might not get more than a few lines for the first week or so, but also expect to get to multi-page recall ability within 2-3 weeks. This alone will make you look forward to going to bed.

Step 2) Identify dream cues and/or do reality checks -

Some people, like Mark, can use their dream log to identify common dream elements that recur from night to night. Water seems to be particularly common. These elements are then used for “reality checks”: asking yourself if you’re dreaming when you see these cues during waking hours, and then testing.

Testing entails doing something like trying to fly (not recommended) or looking at your environment for clear indications of dream state. The latter is my preference, and I typically skip the dream log and default to a few simple tests at set action (every time I check the time or walk through a door, for example).

Since working memory can only hold around 7 +/- 2 bits of information, and you are constantly creating your dreamscape in real-time, there are a few things that change if you look away and then look back at them:

a. Text (e.g., written signs)
b. Digital clocks/watches. Fascinatingly, analog clocks appear to keep accurate dream time, which, in my case, also corresponds to real time passing.
c. Complex patterns

For the last category, I like to look at wall brickwork or floor patterns, look away, and look back to see if their orientation (e.g. horizontal vs. vertical) or tile/block size has changed, asking “am I dreaming?” If there are changes, guess what? You are either on some strong hallucinogens or you are dreaming. If you’re dreaming and answer in the affirmative, it is at this point that you will become lucid.

Step 3) Induce lucidity –

MILD

There are a number of techniques that help induce lucidity. One such technique tested by LaBerge, referred to as Mnemonic-Induction of Lucid Dreaming (MILD), involved — in my case — waking up in the middle of the night, setting the intention to lucid dream for 10-15 minutes, then going back to bed. I have found this to work best when I wake 5 hours or so after going to sleep (not just to bed). Here is a longer description from LaBerge’s FAQ.

I have also found duration of sleep to be an important variable. It will often be easiest for novices to achieve lucidity if they sleep to excess — more than 9 hours (think Saturday or Sunday mornings) — and then use the snooze button to wake every 10-15 minutes for another hour. This juxtaposition of waking and sleep blurs the lines and seems to make the lucid state easier to achieve.

Ancillary Drugs

Three drugs, in my experience, also seems to assist with induction: huperzine-A (200-400 mcg), melatonin (3 mg), and nicotine (standard patch). I don’t suggest combining them.

Huperzine-A is an acetyl-cholinesterase inhibitor, tested in Chinese clinical trials for treating Alzheimer’s, and will increase the half-life of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine at the synapse. This is my preferred tool if I’m using chemical assistance. Melatonin is involved with setting circadian rhythm and its release is controlled by the pineal gland and suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). Dreams on melatonin tend to be more colorful and more chaotic, as is also the case with nicotine. Nicotine is my last choice, as it is addictive and can cause total insomnia if you don’t time it properly. If you happen to be quitting smoking and will be using the patch regardless, be sure to put it on immediately prior to bed so the blood nicotine levels (and stimulant effects) peak well after you’ve fallen asleep. Mistime it and you’ll be one grumpy bastard the next morning.

Step 4) Extend lucidity duration

This is where things get a little strange, or even cooler.

The first few times you achieve lucidity, you will likely be so excited that you will wake yourself up. Two effective techniques for extending lucidity are spinning (a la a piroutte in place) and looking at your hands. Both techniques, I believe, originated with Carlos Castaneda, but LaBerge was the first to test them and quantify the effectiveness of spinning vs. hand rubbing:

…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.

Source: Lucidity Institute

Step 5) Once you’ve flown all over and had sex with every hottie you can think of…

Try to explore memory and performance. Indulge in the flying and sex binge, as all newbies do — no reason to rush that phase, of course — but then expand your carnal horizons in other directions.

Have fun and sweet dreams…

Posted on: September 21, 2009.

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406 comments on “Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner's Guide

  1. This is an interesting topic, and clearly it is one that fascinates all sorts. Clearly, one needn’t be very educated, or at least much of a writer, to express one’s interest. I am completely grooving on the use of the word “your” when “you are” is intended. Misplaced modifiers are even more fun! Thanks for the instant superiority complex! ;-)

    Like

  2. HOW TO MAKE THE DREAM MORE VIVID,MORE COLORFUL, AND MORE REAL.
    1) Relax backwards and fall, you will fall into a tunnel, sometimes black, sometimes with electricity or light and you will land on platforms of vividness. I mean you will fall into a level in your dream where the people and things around you seems more real and more colorful. If you are not happy with the level you landed into, just relax back and fall in the rabbit hall again. Once, I fell 4 times and the colors in the last level were cartoon like, really bright.
    2)another new technique I just came up with is to put index and thumb finger on your eye lid and force your eyes open. Basically our eyes are closed during the dream and we see the dream world telepathically, with our mind. Everything is an idea of what it is. Strangely, if we make sure that our eyes are open in the dream the world around us becomes incredibly real, almost like we turned on the switch in a dark room. I only did this once and I couldn’t keep them open for long but it was great.
    You might have the thought if you try to open your eyes in the dream that maybe you are risking to open your eyes in your body too. If that is the case just say to yourself before to go to sleep that you are willing to risk to wake up in order to try this technique. And you will be surprised your eyes will not open in the body because when you are in a lucid dream you are way deep into your mind and whatever you are doing to your body you are doing it to your Mental Body not the Physical one.
    3) Dive deep into dark Ocean water. Go up on a cliff and dive deep into dark Ocean water. The Ocean waters represent our unconscious so if you dare to dive deep into them and risk to encounter whatever is there you will come out of it strengthened and more aware. When I tried it I dove deep into the water until the bottom of the ocean and I realized there that dah! The water is not water (there is no water in a thought world!! It instead felt just like it was a fog like substance that was just preventing me to see my inner world.
    4)Last one is to look around for a noise almost like a grinder or a vacuum, when you find it relax and let yourself get sucked into, that’s the threshold between Lucid World and Astral Projection, of course only go there if you are interested to pass through these two worlds.
    I hope this can be of some use.
    Thanks for reading
    Netra

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  3. I need help. I’ve been trying to lucid dream for a while and I can’t get there. I tried the technique on this page and I feel like I get so close. I go back to sleep after 20 mins and everything becomes black and I hear a noise. I feel like as if I’m about to slip into a dream but I always wake up. Does this always happen or am I nuts? Is this a sign that I’m about to be in a dream? How do I get over this hump?

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  4. Hi Tim, this was very interesting. I heard of lucid dreaming tonight while on a date, my date seemed very excited but timid when telling me about lucid dreaming and his lucid dreams. I see why now after you mentioned the sex binge. I was interested and thought I would try it.
    a comment about the pirouette thing, I am a dancer. I read pirouette literally at first but then realized you meant turning on two feet instead of on top of your toes with the other leg doing majestic things while you turn. Maybe for other dancers or even normal people, while dreaming, try doing a difficult dance move. For me I would try a tripple pirouette into a coupé turn into multiple foutes. That is pretty difficult to master if you are a amateur dancer or a person who never dances. For instance, I had a dream that I was on a dance show, performing with a professional dancer. I knew I was dreaming when I felt my self doing multiple turns and then back attitude jettéd from turning. I didn’t know what lucid dreaming was but, I continued to do a lot of dance moves I knew I wasn’t able to do in real life. That could help others have a better understanding or better grasp of what it is they are trying to accomplish. I hope I helped! Thank you.

    Like

    • Alyssa,

      I think you missed the point about spinning in your dreams. You are taking it literally as a dance move, but the point of spinning(and a simple spinning that anybody can do is suffice) is to keep you in lucid dream state when you are feeling you are about to wake up.
      Alternatively of course if you are in a stable lucid dream, you can use it to practice your dance moves of course!

      Like

  5. Hopefully I will be able. To achieve lucid dreams to help my memory and perception. Tonight is day one for me. I am 55 year old female in the medical field as a. Pediatric nurse. Wish me luck!

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  6. So yeah on the subject of Lucid dreaming. I had never actually thought of this before, but I’m narcoleptic, and normally when I experience that i get tired as shit in the matter of seconds, but can still maintain being awake.

    Well at times like that i normally close my eyes for maybe just a minute or two, but i start dreaming right away, or sometimes i start dreaming before i close my eyes, but when i start dreaming before i close my eyes. I usually actually fall asleep, cause i dont realize I’ve started dreaming (reality and dreams just mix together) but yeah anyways, when I’m aware of that I’m dreaming I’m in control.

    Normally I’m just at the same place as I’m sleeping. cause that way I’m aware of well for example that school is about to start in five minutes so i cant sleep for long, but most of the times. I think for myself “if i open my eyes now all of this will be gone”, and well just as I would have predicted everything is gone when i open my eyes. Then i fall asleep again, cause thats just how shit goes with narcoleptic ppl. If you dont get like 15 minutes of sleep at the least, then you might as well just stay asleep.

    So when i fall asleep again, i usually extend the thoughts i have before i wake up. cause that is normally my line saying “if i open my eyes now all of this will be gone” before i wake up, but like when i keep falling asleep again, i test the limits so i like start thinking other things before i wake up so that I can experience thinking to myself while I’m asleep so that i actually know I’m being able to control things while I’m asleep.

    Now I’m not to used to performing lucid dreaming while sleeping for a long time, but I might be able to if i just start being conscious about that I am actually having my eyes closed, and if i try to control it from the start.

    Like

  7. My mind limited the control I had after i realized that i was dreaming i was trying to fly super high and I could only get 6 inches off the ground

    Like

  8. im 13 years and want to lucid dream and i had accidentally had one well i had know clue what was happening and i was scared everything was keeping up with my dream especially the movie i was watching kept going while i was watching and i couldnt move and i got really hot answeaty

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  9. Hi,

    I seem to be a little late, huh? 2009?

    Anyway, to the point.

    My name is Haley, and I’m fourteen years old. I need to learn how to control my dreams. Not just because it, “sounds cool” but because it’s seriously affecting my health.

    I have nighterrors every night. No matter what I think about before I go to sleep. These nightterrors are causing me to have paranoia, and I have to force myself to fall asleep. Which, isn’t good in general, especially if you’re in high school.

    It’s also affecting my grades- badly. I was a straight A student last year and the beginning of this year, but that all went downhill. I’m down to B’s, C’s, and one F.

    If anybody could possibly help me, I’d be really grateful. I’m sick and tired of dark rings under my eyes.

    Thanks,
    Haley

    Like

    • Hi Haley.

      First step is to write them down in detail. Then, imagine that you have superpowers and can do in your dream whatever you can think of. What would you do in that situation if you had the powers of your favourite superhero? Now close your eyes and imagine yourself doing that in your dream.

      Repeat after every nightmare. Soon you’ll find yourself aware in a dream that you’re dreaming – use your powers and demolish your enemies. If something goes wrong rewind the time and repeat with some changes.

      I pity your adversaries ;)

      And one thing. Instead of mauling them at once you can consider asking them who they are and what they are representing – what they are trying to tell you in your dreams. If they answer they won’t return again. If they attack you instead feel fre to anihilate them in your favourite way :)

      Good luck!

      Like

    • When I was about 6 yrs old, I once dreamed the boulder from Indiana Jones crushed me in my dreams over and over again. I woke up feeling very sick each time. I then finally imagined seeing myself jumping over it and it was like a video game, and I became disassociated from the image (I then saw myself playing what used to be me as instead a character in the game, and rather than seeing the video game screen I saw an image of myself playing the video game so it was further detached)

      Like

  10. This is an incredibly intriguing topic and a good guide for people who want to improve their lucid dreaming and dream recollection. I’ve had a few lucid dreams and in the one I can recall the best was before I even knew what a lucid dream was. I was conscious in my dream, I was a wizard at hogwarts (don’t judge me :p I was in love with Harry potter as a kid) and once I realized I was conscious, I remembered magic was only in movies and all my powers stopped working. I was so confused because I thought it was reality until I woke up in the morning. (Sorry for the lengthy post) I just have a couple questions, when you are in REM sleep and become concsious bu don’t know you are in a dream is it still considered a lucid dream? Or is that a different kind of dream altogether? And in these dreams how can one achieve full lucidity? I have tried most of the methods on here, like dream diary, picking an object that helps u determine if you are dreaming or not and the method where you wake up intermittently and go back to sleep thinking of what u wanna dream(this one works the best). In my lucid dreaming experiences I found they are far different and more eratic and inconsistent than when I am conscious in my dream but don’t realize it’s a dream.

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  11. I am a huge fan of your work (as an entrepreneur, the 4 hour work week has helped my professional life) and a long time lucid dreamer (I was an insomniac in my youth due to sleep anxiety, and was taught and encouraged to lucid dream as a form of therapy).

    I particularly enjoy the way you seem to dive into a subject with the passionate curiosity for experience and understanding, but you always maintain a uniqely concise communicative style, even moving from subject to subject and discipline to discipline.

    From reading your works, I feel that you have already explained much about how you organize your productive process, I was wondering if you find yourself displaying the same structured personality traits in your lucid dreams, or have you found exploring the worlds within your mind to be a less systemtic process?

    I am specifically curious if you structure and or prioritize your expeditions into the uncharted subconsious landscape of dreams in a similar way that you would a project or expedition while conscious? Do you use a similar sytematic process when contolling the content and narrative of your dreams?

    I personally find myslef bringing complex plans for experimentation, agendas, ongoing projects, and other mentally intensive things into my subconscious exploration process. I also find that if I do this for long perioids, without allowing intermittent freeform dreaming, my cognitive process during waking hours become effected similar to sleep deprivation even though I am getting plenty of deep sleep.

    At this point, I think I have found a decent balance.

    Thanks in advance for your response! I appreciate that you directly engage your audience as much as you do!

    Like

    • Hi Kenneth,

      Thanks for the thoughtful and kind comment. I have not had this problem in my lucid dream state, though perhaps I’m still experiencing beginner’s luck. I’d imagine that the more comfortable I become, the more these often bad habits will infiltrate dream space, but not yet :)

      Pura vida,

      Tim

      Like

  12. Hey Tim,
    Love your work its so inspiring and has helped my speaking loads . I’ve been trying to get my lucid dream for about a month but it won’t come I’ve come close and realised I was dreaming but then I just wake up. Any ideas ?
    Thanks , Matty

    Like

  13. I’ve just recently come to know what Lucid Dreaming really is and how you can achieve it & all that.. I’m only 18 & since I was about 6 I’ve remember all my dreams.. Like pretty much ALL OF THEM.. I don’t keep a dream journal or anything like that but when I dream I Do know that I’m dreaming, & I control all of my dreams. Is this a bad thing though, being able to lucid dream? I don’t practice any if the techniques that you talk about & yet I control every dream I have. Why would someone WANT to lucid dream? &

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  14. Hey, I’m really interested in lucid dreaming b/c of the movie Inception and b/c one of my friends has done it successfully multiple times. Is there anyway of skipping the first step of recording what you dreamed or waking yourself up every 10-15 minutes? I work full time and am 17 years old so I have to be up at a certain time everyday and get an irregular amount of sleep (anywhere from 5-8 hrs of sleep a night). I feel like it would be fun to create anything that comes to your mind and having the ability to do whatever you would like. Can you please give me some other tips to make this a quicker process?
    BTW, thanks for the very informative post!

    A.C.

    Like

  15. hi, i cannot access this link The 4-Hour Body Tools

    Pre-Hab: Injury-Proofing the Body

    Find a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) Expert

    (www.fourhourbody.com/fms)

    please fix it? thank you

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  16. So last night I had my first Lucid Dream without knowing what it was, so I did tons of research. I saw a lot of people said you have to not move, itch, swallow, or blink with your eyes closed. They say you have to do that until your body falls asleep, I cannot stay still and not swallow. Is there any other way to fall into a Lucid Dream?

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  17. I know i’m kinda late last comment was 2009 but i’ve recently heard about Lucid dreaming?! Crazy shit. Im 18 and i’ve always has vivid dreams and i could remember them pretty well i’m also a crazy sleeper ive jumped out my window while sleeping before broke my arm!! So im thinking with the right instructions i can do this! Everyone on here seems like they’ve done it. Ive started looking at text and looking away then back etc when i’m awake and i’ve wrote Awake on the side of my hand to keep checking and asking if im dreaming and about to start writing my dreams when i wake up.. Anything else i need to do?

    Like

    • Sounds like you are one of the few sleepwalkers who don’t go into sleep paralysis when asleep so you act out your dreams. Could be dangerous to try to fly in dream if your body may go with.

      Like

  18. CAN SOMEONE HELP?

    I’ve been looking for a group of people to talk to about this. I have this ability, that has been called “weird” by some and has shocked others when I described it to them. I can put myself into a dream in a few minutes (less than 5). I timed my self a few times with an alarm and I’ve gotten into this state in 2 minutes being at my last recording. I can recall my dreams in colorful, sometimes vibrant, 3-dimensional, detail and can often recount an entire dreams of dialogue in verbatim. I also dream lucidly each time I am aware that I am asleep, which is almost every time I fall asleep. What gets me, is that I have never “made” myself do this in a way like what is detailed above; It just came to me randomly one night. Also, I can do this thing when I close my eyes for a few seconds, where I am wide awake, and can see vivid images of random sceneries, artifacts, faces, ect. I can do this at will. Sometimes, when I’m walking on a straight sidewalk, and plan to do so without turning or crossing a street for a few seconds, I close my eyes while walking, and see these images. Sometimes they are a bit muddied compared to what I can see when I do the same process while sitting down, but I can still recount them in their entirety. I REALLY WANT TO UNDERSTAND THIS. Can I get some input from you all? Oh, and I’ve never done any psychoactive drugs or any of that. I am completely sober and have been drug free my entire life.

    I’m a 17yr old male

    Like

    • Mr Muthra,

      You have been given a gift and talent!
      I would sell my soul to be able to do that!

      Just be happy you have that!
      Do you know the possiblilities you can use that for?! You can use it to practice/learn/experience anything you want and then apply to reality. It can be as if you are a god of your own universe!! What more can anyone want in this world??

      Like

    • Muthra, that sounds amazing.

      It seems that you are able to see “hypnagogic images”. Google it, and you’ll find some info. Hypnagogic images are the images/hallucinations that people see just before they fall asleep.

      I’ve experience the odd flash of images when I’m awake, I think it’s when I’m really tired though, and nowhere near the same level as you.

      I think you should contact a neuroscientist, or sleep researcher, just to be safe.
      I’ve never heard of what you’ve described, but any sleep researcher, or neuroscientist would be excited to run some tests, and see what’s going on.

      A “sleep centre” might be best, since they would be able to see what you are doing.

      If you want my 2 cents, I think you’ve just figured out the ‘path’ to sleep. Actors train themselves to be happy, or sad on cue. You’ve just trained yourself to sleep on cue. Everyone can sleep, so everyone knows how to fall asleep. You’re just conscious of the process.

      Like

  19. Maybe this will help someone,or at least serve as an interesting bit of information, but ive been flying off and on in dreams for a couple years and i realized i could do this after a reoccuring ball was showing up in my dreams and basically i could hold this ball and it provided some kind of extra lift for me, and it made it easier for me to train my willpower in dreams; maybe any vice can work i dont know but, after about the third time with the ball i was able to hover and fly by thinking and feeling like i was.. lighter than a thought, the power of my thinking it was counter-balancing me to fly..

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  20. I had 2 similar dreams 2 nights in row. The dreams were of me getting a new tumbling skill. The tumbling skill was one that I have been working on for months. I’m pretty sure I was in a lucid dream. What does my dreams mean?
    Thanks for any help

    Like

  21. Excellent post as always Tim!
    The best times to lucid dream are the early morning hours, when REM sleep is longest in duration, and daytime naps.
    Along with the MILD technique, I have had countless lucid dreams using the Wake Back To Bed (WBTB) method – waking up after 6 hours of sleep, staying up for 30 minutes, then falling back asleep. Sometimes I take Galantamine (4-8mg) + choline (250 mg) after the 6 hrs to increase your chances…highly effective supplement combo. But don’t take them at your bedtime.

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  22. i really want to lucid dream…one day i was sleep and i had awareness the i was dreaming i got so scared i woke up….does this count as a lucid dream?

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  23. Again great artcile I practice lucid dreaming since long time and I agree that is an amazing experience. I am much more happy and relaxed now. I encourage everyone to try this. We sleep a third of our life, so it’s better to use this time properly!

    [Moderator: Link removed]

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