Lucid dreaming means being aware you are dreaming while it is happening. If you know you are in a dream, you can even begin to control what happens. This was something that captured my imagination from the moment I heard about it. A way to control your dreams and make them what you wanted!? Sign me up!
But what are the benefits of lucid dreaming? Scientists have been researching the use of lucid dreaming to treat anxiety and PTSD with some success. Under a doctor's care, it has been used (in combination with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to reprogram your brain and how you perceive your past traumas. It has been used as a form of therapy to problem solve, rewrite narratives that scare you, and gain a greater sense of control in your life. Skilled lucid dreamers can even use their imagination to practice things they want to be better at in real life, like asking for a promotion or enjoying a party. Others have used it to explore the sleep world for ideas they then use for artwork or writing.
I have always had nightmares, so I was totally on board with the idea of giving it a try. Lucid dreaming takes time to master, so buckle up for some time dedicated to your dreams!
First, you want to start a dream journal (see Nichole's Mind, Body, Soul on page 17). This can either be on your phone or just a pen and paper. I did a pen and paper because I started this before cell phones! You will want to leave the journal by your bed because dreams fade fast sometimes, and you want to have a record of them to read later. This is going to help you remember your dreams and make them more real to you.
The second thing you are going to want to do is to start meditating. I would suggest trying it during the day and right before you fall asleep. This can help you sleep and give you an avenue to start trying to control your dreams.
The third is reality checks. While you are awake, be aware that you are awake. All you need to do is take a moment and be conscious that you are awake. Repeat a check, like looking at a clock or pinching your nose to see if you are breathing several times a day. Creating a habit like this will make you are more likely to perform this check on yourself as you become aware of your dreaming state.
One practice that is used is called WBTB, or “Wake Back to Bed.” You dream while in REM sleep. The later in your sleep cycle, the longer your REM sleep lasts. Because of this, some people wake themselves up briefly about 5 hours after falling asleep. They spend some time doing something quiet, calm, and non-disruptive (no screens), then go back to sleep so that when they hit the longer REM cycle, their bodies are closer to consciousness.
Another way researchers have attempted this is called the MILD method. As you fall asleep during WBTB, or while meditating, think back over a recent dream, repeating it repeatedly. Identify a “dreamsign” or something unusual about the dream that wouldn't happen in real life. Imagine returning to the dream, then tell yourself, “The next time I dream, I want to remember that I am dreaming.”
Have you ever had a dream you wanted to wake up from? Goodness knows I have! I have managed to wake myself up by yelling at myself in my dream, “WAKE UP!" Turns out, this was the right thing to do! Yelling or calling out for help can interrupt your brain and tell you it's time to wake up - your dream yelling may turn into real-life yelling. Other methods that have consistently worked include blinking rapidly, going to sleep in your dream, or making yourself read something. Tell yourself to read a book or a street sign - reading uses parts of your brain you don't usually use while in REM.
It should be noted that not everyone should try to lucid dream. If you have a history of struggling with hallucinations, delusions, or a sense of reality, lucid dreaming could worsen these issues. You may experience paralysis, as most people are unable to move while in REM sleep (which makes sense, so that you don't act out your dreams as you have them). If you have insomnia or another sleep disorder, attempting some techniques such as WBTB could further disrupt your sleep patterns.
This was just a small how-to, there is so much more to what you can do and learn, so go have some lucid dreams!