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Lucid dreaming is the conscious perception of one's state while dreaming, resulting in a much clearer (lucid from Latin, lux "light") experience and sometimes enabling direct control over the content of the dream, a realistic world that is to some degree in the control of the dreamer.[1] The complete experience from start to finish is called a lucid dream. Stephen LaBerge, a popular author and experimenter on the subject, has defined it as "dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming."[2]

LaBerge and his associates have called people who purposely explore the possibilities of lucid dreaming oneironauts (literally from the Greek ονειροναύτες, meaning "dream sailors"). The topic attracts the attention of a diverse and eclectic group: psychologists, self-help authors, New Age groups, mystics, occultists, ufologists and artists. This list is by no means exhaustive nor does interest in lucid dreaming apply necessarily to each group.

The validity of lucid dreaming as a scientifically verified phenomenon is well-established.[3][4] Researchers such as Allan Hobson with his neurophysiological approach to dreaming have helped to push the understanding of lucid dreaming into a less speculative realm.

Scientific history

A number of universities conduct continued research into the techniques and effects of lucid dreaming, as do some independent agencies such as LaBerge's The Lucidity Institute.

The first book on lucid dreams to recognize their scientific potential was Celia Green's 1968 study Lucid Dreams. Reviewing the past literature, as well as new data from subjects of her own, Green analysed the main characteristics of such dreams, and concluded that they were a category of experience quite distinct from ordinary dreams. She predicted that they would turn out to be associated with REM sleep. Green was also the first to link lucid dreams to the phenomenon of false awakenings.

The first scientific support for lucid dreaming came in the late 1970s from the efforts of British parapsychologist Keith Hearne, and a volunteer named Alan Worsley, who used eye movement signals on a polysomnograph machine to signal the onset of lucidity. Philosopher Norman Malcolm's 1959 text Dreaming argued against the possibility of checking the accuracy of dream reports in this way, but this experiment proved that actions agreed upon during waking life could be recalled and performed once lucid in a dream. Similar experiments were duplicated by Stephen LaBerge at Stanford University for his doctoral dissertation some years later. Interestingly, LaBerge had no knowledge of Hearne and Worsley's previous experiments at that time, probably due to the lack of publication of Hearne's work.

During the 1980s, further scientific evidence to confirm the existence of lucid dreaming was produced as lucid dreamers were able to demonstrate to researchers that they were consciously aware of being in a dream state (usually again by using eye movement signals).[5] Additionally, techniques were developed which have been experimentally proven to enhance the likelihood of achieving this state.[6]

Research and clinical applications

Neurobiological model

Neuroscientist J. Allan Hobson has hypothesized as to what might be occurring in the brain while lucid. The first step to lucid dreaming is recognizing that one is dreaming, this recognition might occur in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex which is one of the few areas deactivated during REM sleep, and where working memory occurs. Once this area is activated and the recognition of dreaming occurs the dreamer must be cautious to let the dream delusions continue, but be conscious enough to recognize them. This process might be seen as the balance between reason and emotion. While maintaining this balance the amygdala and parahippocampal cortex might be less intensely activated.[7] To continue the intensity of the dream hallucinations it is expected the pons and the parieto-occipital junction cortex to stay active. In order to verify the predictions of this hypothesis it would be necessary to observe the brain during lucid dreaming using a method such as a PET scan, which captures a snapshot of the blood flow brain. As of 2007, no such experiment has been performed.[8]

Treatment for nightmares

People who suffer from nightmares would obviously benefit from the ability to be aware they are dreaming. A pilot study was performed in 2006 that showed lucid dreaming treatment was successful in reducing nightmare frequency. This treatment consisted of exposure to the idea, mastery of the technique, and lucidity exercises. It was not clear what aspect of this treatment was responsible for the success, though the treatment as a whole was successful.[9]

Perception of time while lucid dreaming

The amount of time that passes in lucid dreaming has been shown to be about the same as while waking. In 1985 LaBerge performed a pilot study where lucid dreamers counted from one to ten (one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc.) while dreaming, signaling the end of counting with a pre-arranged eye signal measured with Electrooculogram recording.[10] The pilot study was repeated in 2004 by researchers in Germany and LaBerge's results were duplicated. The German study by Erlacher, D. & Schredl, M also studied motor activity and found that deep knee bends took 44% longer to perform while lucid dreaming.[11]

Replicating near-death & out-of-body experiences in the lab

Due to the phenomenological overlap in lucid dreams, near death experiences, and out of body experiences researchers believe a protocol could be developed to induce a lucid dream and near death experience in the laboratory.[12] A study of 14 lucid dreamers was performed in 1991 that showed that people who experience wake initiated lucid dreams report experiences consistent with aspects of out-of-body experiences such as floating above one's bed and the feeling of leaving one's body.[13]

Cultural History

Even though it has only come to the attention of the general public in the last few decades, lucid dreaming is not a modern discovery.

  • It is in the fifth century that we have one of the earliest written examples of a lucid dream, in a letter written by St. Augustine of Hippo in 415.[14]
  • As early as the eighth century, Tibetan Buddhists were practising a form of yoga supposed to maintain full waking consciousness while in the dream state.[15]
  • An early recorded lucid dreamer was the philosopher and physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682). Browne was fascinated by the world of dreams and stated of his own ability to lucid dream in his Religio Medici: "... yet in one dream I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests and laugh my self awake at the conceits thereof;"[16]
  • Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys was probably the first person to argue that it is possible for anyone to learn to dream consciously. In 1867, he published his book Les Reves et les Moyens de Les Diriger; Observations Pratiques (Dreams and How to Guide them; Practical Observations, in which he documented more than twenty years of his own research into dreams.
  • The term "lucid dreaming" was coined by Dutch author and psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in his 1913 book A Study of Dreams.[17] This book was highly anecdotal and not embraced by the scientific community. The term itself is considered by some to be a misnomer because it means much more than just "clear or vivid" dreaming.[18] A better term might have been "conscious dreaming". On the other hand, the term 'lucid' was used by van Eeden in its sense of 'having insight', as in the phrase 'a lucid interval' applied to someone in temporary remission from a psychosis, rather than as referring to the perceptual quality of the experience, which may or may not be clear and vivid. To that extent van Eeden's phrase may still be considered appropriate.
  • In the 1950s the Senoi hunter-gatherers of Malaysia were reported to make extensive use of lucid dreaming to ensure mental health, although later studies refuted these claims.[19]

Achieving and recognizing

Many people report having experienced a lucid dream during their lives, often in childhood. Although lucid dreaming is a conditioned skill,[20] achieving lucid dreams on a regular basis can be difficult and is uncommon, even with training. Despite this difficulty, techniques have been developed to achieve a lucid dreaming state intentionally.

There are some factors which can affect the ability to experience lucid dreams:

  • Meditation, and involvement in consciousness focusing activities can strengthen the ability to experience lucid dreams.[21]
  • Children seem to have lucid dreams more easily than adults do. The ability to sleep appears to decrease when people get older.[22]
  • Hypnotism may help induce lucidity[23]
  • Induction techniques can help a great deal in becoming lucid.

Dream recall, the ability to remember one's dreams, is often practiced in conjunction with learning to lucid dream. A better dream recall ability makes one more aware of their dreams in general as well as allowing one to remember if they did have a lucid dream.[24]

Common induction techniques

Reality testing

Reality testing is a common method that people use to determine whether or not they are dreaming. It involves performing an action with results that are difficult to re-create in a dream. By practicing these techniques during waking life, one may eventually dream of performing a reality check—which will usually fail—helping the dreamer realize that they are dreaming. Common reality tests include:

  • Holding one's nose, then breathing through it. Often, it is possible to breathe through the nose, even though it is pinched shut.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • Read some text, look away, and read it again, or to look at your watch and remember the time, then look away and look back. Observers have found that, in a dream, the text or time will often have changed.[25]
  • Flipping a light switch or looking into a mirror. Light switches rarely work properly in dreams, and reflections from a mirror often appear to be blurred, distorted or incorrect.[26]
  • Pinching oneself or hitting an object hard. The acute pain usually cannot be felt in dreams.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Another form of reality testing involves identifying one's dream signs, clues that one is dreaming. Dream signs are often categorized as follows:

  • Action — The dreamer, another dream character, or a thing does something unusual or impossible in waking life, such as photos in a magazine or newspaper becoming 3-dimensional with full movement.
  • Context — The place or situation in the dream is strange.
  • Form — The dreamer, another character, or a thing changes shape, or is oddly formed or transforms; this may include the presence of unusual clothing or hair, or a third person view of the dreamer.
  • Awareness — A peculiar thought, a strong emotion, an unusual sensation, or altered perceptions. In some cases when moving one's head from side to side, one may notice a strange stuttering or 'strobing' of the image.
  • Cohesion — Sometimes the dreamer may seem to "teleport" to a completely different location in a dream, with no transition whatsoever.

Though occurrences like these may seem out of place in waking life, they may seem perfectly normal to a dreaming mind and learning to pick up on these dream signs will help in recognizing that one is dreaming.

Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD)

The mnemonic induction of lucid dreams is a common technique used to induce a lucid dream at will by setting an intention, while falling asleep, to remember to recognize that one is dreaming, or to remember to look for dream signs. Because it is easy to master (almost everyone sets intentions frequently), it is ideal for those who have never practiced lucid dreaming induction techniques before.

Wake-back-to-bed (WBTB)

The wake-back-to-bed technique is often the easiest way to induce a lucid dream. The method involves going to sleep tired and waking up five hours later. Then, focusing all thoughts on lucid dreaming, staying awake for an hour and going back to sleep while practicing the MILD method. A 60% success rate has been shown in research using this technique.[27] This is because the REM cycles get longer as the night goes on, and this technique takes advantage of the best REM cycle of the night. Because this REM cycle is longer and deeper, gaining lucidity during this time may result in a more lengthy lucid dream.[27]

Wake-initiated lucid dream (WILD)

The wake-initiated lucid dream "occurs when the sleeper enters REM sleep with unbroken self-awareness directly from the waking state".[28] The key to this technique is recognising the hypnagogic stage, which is within the border of being awake and being asleep. If a person is successful in staying aware while this stage occurs, they will eventually enter the dream state while being fully aware that it is a dream. Because one does not have to recognise a cue in order to induce a lucid dream using this technique, it tends to be more reliable than other techniques. There are key times at which this technique is best used; while success at night after being awake for a long time is very difficult, it is relatively easy after being awake for 15 or so minutes and in the afternoon during a nap. Users of this technique often count, envision themselves climbing or descending stairs, chanting to themselves, exploring elaborate, passive sexual fantasies, controlling their breathing, concentrating on relaxing their body from their toes to their head, allowing images to flow through their "mind's eye" and envisioning themselves jumping into the image, or any various form of concentration to keep their mind awake, while still being calm enough to let their body sleep. During the actual transition into the dreamstate, one is likely to experience sleep paralysis, including rapid vibrations,[13] a sequence of very loud sounds and a feeling of twirling into another state of body awareness, "to drift off into another dimension". Also there is frequently a sensation of falling rapidly or dropping through the bed as one enters the dreamstate or the sensation of entering a dark black room from which one can induce any dream scenario of one's choosing, simply by concentrating on it. The key to being successful is to not panic, especially during the transition which can be quite sudden.

Induction devices

Lucid dream induction is possible by the use of a physical device. The general principle works by taking advantage of the natural phenomenon of incorporating external stimuli into one's dreams. Usually a device is worn while sleeping that can detect when the sleeper enters a REM phase and triggers a noise and/or flashing lights with the goal of these stimuli being incorporated into the dreamer's dream. For example flashing lights might be translated to a car's headlights in a dream. A well known dream induction device is the Nova Dreamer;[29] however, as of 2006, the device is no longer manufactured.

Prolonging lucid dreams

One problem faced by people wishing to lucid dream is awakening prematurely. This premature awakening can be especially frustrating after investing considerable time into achieving lucidity in the first place. Stephen LaBerge proposed two ways to prolong a lucid dream. The first technique is spinning your dream body, he proposes that when spinning you are engaging parts of your brain that may also be involved in REM activity, helping to prolong REM. The second technique is rubbing one's hands. The idea behind rubbing your hands is that you are engaging your brain in producing the sensation, preventing the sensation of lying in bed from creeping into awareness. LaBerge tested his hypothesis by asking 34 volunteers to either spin,rub their hands, or go with the flow while lucid dreaming. Results showed 90% of dreams were prolonged by hand rubbing, and 96% prolonged by spinning. Only 33% of lucid dreams were prolonged by going with the flow (doing nothing).[30]

Other associated phenomena

REM Sleep. EEG highlighted by red box. Eye movements highlighted by red line.

  • Rapid eye movement (REM) and communication during sleep: during dreaming sleep the eyes move rapidly. Scientific research has found that these eye movements correspond to the direction in which the dreamer is "looking" in his/her dreamscape; this apparently enabled trained lucid dreamers to communicate the content of their dreams as they were happening to researchers by using eye movement signals.[31] This research produced various results, such as that events in dreams take place in real time rather than going by in a flash.
  • False awakenings: In a false awakening, one suddenly dreams of having been awakened. Commonly in a false awakening the room is identical to the room that the person fell asleep in, with several small subtle differences. If the person was lucid, he/she often believes that he/she is no longer dreaming, and may start exiting their room etc. Since the person is actually still dreaming, this is called a "false awakening". This is often a nemesis in the art of lucid dreaming because it usually causes people to give up their awareness of being in a dream, but it can also cause someone to become lucid if the person does a reality check whenever he/she awakens. People who keep a dream journal and write down their dreams upon awakening sometimes report having to write down the same dream multiple times because of this phenomenon.
  • Sleep paralysis: During REM sleep the body is paralyzed by a mechanism in the brain, because otherwise the movements which occur in the dream would actually cause the body to move. However, it is possible for this mechanism to be triggered before, during, or after normal sleep while the brain awakens. This can lead to a state where a person is lying in his or her bed and he or she feels frozen. Hypnagogic hallucinations may occur in this state, especially auditory ones.

See also


  1. Lucid dreaming FAQ by The Lucidity Institute at Psych Web.
  2. What is lucid dreaming? Lucid dreaming FAQ by The Lucidity Institute. (October 2005)
  3. Watanabe,-Tsuneo (Mar 2003). Lucid Dreaming: Its Experimental Proof and Psychological Conditions.. Journal-of-International-Society-of-Life-Information-Science 21(1): 159-162.
  4. Lucid Dreaming: Psychophysiological Studies of Consciousness during REM Sleep Stephen LaBerge in Bootzen, R. R., Kihlstrom, J.F. & Schacter, D.L., (Eds.) Sleep and Cognition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1990 (pp. 109-126)
  5. Lucid Dreaming: Awake in Your Sleep? by Susan Blackmore, published in Skeptical Inquirer 1991, 15, 362-370.
  6. Validity Established of DreamLight Cues for Eliciting Lucid Dreaming, by Stephen LaBerge and Lynne Levitan, Dreaming, Vol. 5, No. 3, 1995.
  7. The prefrontal cortex in sleep, by Muzur A, Pace-Schott EF, Hobson JA, Trends Cogn Sci. 2002 Nov 1;2(11):475-481.
  8. Hobson, J. Allan (2001). The Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness (in English), 96-98, Cambridge,Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  9. Spoormaker,-Victor-I; van-den-Bout,-Jan (October 2006). Lucid Dreaming Treatment for Nightmares: A Pilot Study.. Psychotherapy-and-Psychosomatics. 75(6): 389-394.
  10. Lucid Dreaming (1985) ISBN 0-87477-342-3 by Stephen LaBerge.
  11. Time required for motor activity in lucid dreamsErlacher, D. & Schredl, M. (2004). Required time for motor activities in lucid dreams. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 99, 1239-1242.
  12. Green,J. Timothy (1995). Lucid dreams as one method of replicating components of the near-death experience in a laboratory setting.. Journal-of-Near-Death-Studies 14: 49-59.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Other Worlds: Out-of-Body Experiences and Lucid Dreams, by Lynne Levitan and Stephen LaBerge, Nightlight 3(2-3), 1991, The Lucidity Institute.
  14. Letters of St. Augustine of Hippo
  15. The Best Sleep Posture for Lucid Dreaming: A Revised Experiment Testing a Method of Tibetan Dream Yoga, The Lucidity Institute, March 2005.
  16. Religio Medici, part 2:11. Text available at
  17. Originally published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 26, 1913.
  18. What are lucid dreams? at Psych Web,
  19. Senoi Dream Theory: Myth, Scientific Method, and the Dreamwork Movement, by G. William Domhoff, 2003. Retrieved July 10, 2006 from the World Wide Web:
  20. LaBerge, Stephen, (1980). Lucid dreaming as a learnable skill: A case study. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 51, 1039-1042.
  21. Lucid Dreams and Meditation, by Harry T. Hunt, Brock University, Ontario, Canada, Lucidity Letter, Vol.5, No.1, June 1986.
  22. Chronic Insomnia: A Practical Review, by Vijay Rajput, M.D. and Steven M. Bromley, M.D.
  23. Oldis, Daniel. The Lucid Dream Manifesto, pages 52-53. ISBN 0-595-39539-2.
  24. Oldis, Daniel. The Lucid Dream Manifesto, page 11. ISBN 0-595-39539-2.
  25. Reality testing, Lucid Dreaming FAQ, by The Lucidity Institute. (October 2006)
  26. The Light and Mirror Experiment by Lynne Levitan and Stephen LaBerge, The Lucidity Institute, from Nightlight 5(10), Summer 1993.
  27. 27.0 27.1 An Hour of Wakefulness Before Morning Naps Makes Lucidity More Likely, by Stephen LaBerge, Leslie Phillips, & Lynne Levitan, NightLight 6(3), 1994, The Lucidity Institute
  28. Validity Established of Dreamlight Cues for Eliciting Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge and Lynne Levitan, The Lucidity Institute, from Dreaming, Vol. 5, No. 3, 1995.
  29. Novadreamer Lucid Dream Induction DeviceThe Lucidity Institute
  30. Prolonging Lucid Dreams by [[[Stephen LaBerge]], The Lucidity Institute, From NightLight 7(3-4), 1995.
  31. [ Lucid dreaming: Evidence and methodology. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23(6), 962-3, LaBerge, S.(2000)

Further reading

External links

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