In the film Inception, a team of espionage agents are highly compensated by multi-nationals to manipulate people through their dreams. Lucid Dreaming is the closest thing outside of the silver screen to this. It's not hyperbole when I say that lucid dreaming can and will make your REM sleeping hours the most vividly exciting part of your day. A few examples of my highly vivid and memorable experiences:
- Being a dictator of an underwater society.
- Falling through the center of the earth and experiencing zero gravity.
- Escaping from a version of Hell that would make any video game designer jealous.
- Epic Matrix-esque Kung Fu battles with swords, light sabers and machine guns.
- Hanging out on luxury yacht that would make Jay-Z proud.
- Making love to Lara Croft from Tomb Raider.
- Being attacked by a giant killer manta ray in the ocean.
- Rock climbing caverns with family.
- Skydiving with Neil Patrick Harris, after hitting on hot German girls (yes, I know he's gay, I'm obviously a big fan of Barney Stinson).
- Driving incredibly irresponsibly in high performance cars.
- Interacting with loved ones who passed away years ago.
- Personal consultations with Winston Churchill.
- Fighting giant bugs, Starship Troopers style!
- Speed dating grandmas.
This article will present methodologies for maximizing the entertainment value and personal development benefits from dreaming.
Lucid Dreaming is my 'coolest' lifehack. Why? It takes what is usually unproductive, forgetful time and turns it into world class entertaining adventures and opportunities for introspection. It really does also have some cross over benefits to real life personal development (explained below). While there's a few products that enhance it, Lucid Dreaming is free.
You face a red pill/blue pill moment dear reader, a dream life of adventure is not for everyone, so you may want stop reading NOW before being sucked into this surreal world of danger, sex, misbehaving physics and confusing conversations with your unconscious.
What are dreams?
The theory that I think you'll agree makes the most sense is that dreams are a threat simulation training environment. Like the Holodeck in Star Trek, where you can train for dealing with situations that might threaten your life. Dreaming, like a lot of our evolutionary psychology mechanisms is highly adaptive to the threatening situations we perceive. That's why you dream about:
- Being chased
- Being stuck
- Technology malfunctioning
- Vehicles breaking down
- Being interrogated as a covert agent after you watch the newest James Bond movie
Our dream life adapts to the threats we have faced in real life; soldiers, veterans, and trauma victims afflicted with PTSD, often have horrible, repetitive dreams which depict the traumatic event or versions of it.
Science of Lucid Dreaming
The majority of the nearly 7 billion people alive dream every night, so as opposed to being a shadowy world of uncertainty there is a substantial body of scientific research on dreaming upon which we can make credible recommendations. You can find +50 published studies related to Lucid Dreaming on Pubmed.
Dr. Steven LaBerge of Stanford University has spent his life researching and experimenting with Lucid Dreaming in psychology labs, he has written three definitive books on the subject. Some of his research work:
- Studying eye movement and EEG patterns during sleep.
- Developed the MILD Technique (more on this below).
- Founded The Lucidity Institute.
- Developed the NovaDreamer device.
Meditation practitioners in Tibet have lucid dreamt for thousands of years but Dr. LaBerge's research has made it a scientifically credible lifestyle pursuit.
Lucid dreaming must be induced, this happens as a result of a highly aware mindset in combination with Biohacking your physiology for producing lucid dreams.
MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams) Technique
Originally developed by Dr. Steven LaBerge, Lucid Dreamers practice the MILD Technique after awakening from a dream before falling back asleep so it's usually used between 3AM-9AM.
- Dream Review - Mentally review as many details as possible from the dream you just emerged from. Who were you with? What were you doing? Where were you?
- Focus Your Intent - Focus exclusively on your intention to recognize the next time you are dreaming. You mental mantra until you fall asleep should be "Next time I'm dreaming, I will remember I'm dreaming," purposefully ignore all other thoughts that enter your mind. Counter intuitively what you DO NOT want to use is the phrase 'lucid dreaming' in your mental mantra.
- Visualize Yourself Becoming Lucid - Visualize yourself back in the dream you just emerged from (if you don't remember the dream you were just in visualize a recent dream you do remember well). In this waking dream fantasy, imagine yourself recognizing that you are dreaming. Imagine yourself doing specific activities in your next dream; flying like superman, going on a date with Lara Croft, climbing a mountain with Indiana Jones, consulting Winston Churchill, killing Hitler, etc.
- Repeat - Keep repeating steps 2 and 3 above until you drift off to sleep. If you get distracted by any other thoughts, just make sure the last thing in your mind is your intention to remember you are dreaming.
Calm Down - Many people's first couple lucid dreams are exceptionally short as their excitement causes them to wake up. Yes, there are few things in life as exciting as realizing you are inside of an action packed, consequence free dream. So it's important to keep from getting over excited while dreaming.
For example: one of the first times I experienced lucid dreaming, I was siting in my old living room talking to my family, I got up and walked to the door, looking outside I could see a strange fantasy world. Knowing that much stimulation would wake me up, I turned around and continued the dull conversation in my childhood home.
In the beginning of your Lucid Dreaming it's best upon realizing you are dreaming to acquiesce a little of your free will, treat it like a movie or a fantastic ride that you are on and let the dream take you away.
Dream Signs - There's a lot of consistency between the elements of your dreams night to night. There might be a particular cat you keep seeing in your dreams, a song you hear, a woman in a blue dress or whatever. One of the best ways to recognize Dream Signs is to keep a dream journal (more on this below). If you spot one of your Dream Signs, you are most likely dreaming. A frequent Dream Sign of mine is being a leader or in political power another is driving the old sports car I had when I was a young man.
Meditation - The art of disciplined thinking, is connected in a profound way to one's ability to Lucid Dream. Mediation on a physiological level is disconnecting your cognition from your psychosomatic nervous system and your mental dialog. This prompts the kind of mind that is more able to detect when it is dreaming.
In Inception, the characters use physical widgets to test if they are dreaming. The most successful Lucid Dreamers are in the habit of asking themselves every couple of minutes: Am I dreaming? If they suspect the answer may be yes, then they perform a simple reality test:
- Words and Letters Change - Fine text is very unstable in dreams, looking at a word, looking away, and looking back. In a dream, the word will usually change by the first time you look back, definitely by the second or third time. Fine text will also be blurry a lot of the time.
- Reality Checking while Watching TV - It's good to get yourself in the habit of asking: Am I dreaming? While watching TV scenes of violence, falling, chases, tension, action or aggression. This gets your mind in the habit of questioning reality during the kind of mind states you are likely to encounter while dreaming.
- Light Switches - It's quite difficult to change the ambient light levels in dreams, thus light switches seem broken a lot of the time, or will only change the light level by a fraction of what you expect it too.
- Your Name - It's very difficult to say your own name during a dream. No one knows why...
One of the biggest problems with dreams, especially the most exciting, is that they are fleeting. It seems like as soon as you are really starting to enjoy the dream, you wake up and loose it. I think we are all familiar with the feeling of disappointment upon waking up realizing a particularilly appealing dream fantasy world we experienced just moments prior is now gone forever. Luckily there are some easy to apply methods for stablizing the dream.
- Hand Rubbing - You can enhance the vividness and stability of the dream by rubbing your (dream) hands.
- Spinning - If you feel a dream slipping away, simply spin around in your dream body. You'll find that you spin at tremendous speeds and that it brings you back into the dream.
- Focus on Body Sensations - In general focusing on your dream body's sensations will stabilize the dream. So really focus on the physical sensations of the dream's aesthetics; the feeling of someones skin, the wetness of water you might be in, your center of gravity, etc.
Nootropics, Nutraceuticals or Smart Drugs - however you prefer to refer to them are one of the biggest secrets of Lifehackers and Lucid Dreamers. Promoting the right Neurotransmitters can, literally overnight, in a lot of cases double or triple the intensity and vividness of Lucid Dreaming experiences. One of the most commonly reported effects of Nootropics (even by people who've never even heard of Lucid Dreaming) is 'dreams that seem really real' and are 'longer than normal'.
- Alpha BRAIN - This stack in particular has a reputation amongst it's many thousands of customers for producing very vivid and stable lucid dreams. Alpha BRAIN optimizes the cholinergic system for profound restful sleep and stimulation of lucid dreams. Although, you don't want to take a Nootropic stack like this directly before bed. It's worthwhile to experiment with how late in the day you can take Nootropics without disturbing your sleep. Checkout this very cool (and informative) presentation that Onnit did on lucid dreaming.
- Choline & Huperzine A - Choline is one of the core building blocks of the Nuerotransmitter Acetylcholine, Huperzine A maintains Acetylcholine. Acetylcholine, among other things is important to the perceived connection between you and your dream body, it is also important to really profound REM sleep. People on these Nootropics report that the fantastic dream world feels more real. Some people even report Out of Body Experiences (often a form of Lucid Dreaming) while unconscious on Huperzine A.
- DMAE - Is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore a more direct precursor to Acetylcholine. From a 1988 study on DMAE: "A food supplement, namely DMAE, that facilitates the induction of lucid dreams is discussed." DMAE is also a potent Nootropic that helps your focus and awareness during waking hours and has powerful antiaging effects on the brain.
- Galantamine - A favorite of Lucid Dreamers, 4MG - 8MG of this Alzheimer's drug will prolong the half life of REM producing Acetylcholine in your synapses. Galantamine is something you want to limit to 3-4 times weekly.
- Tyrosine - Tyrosine also helps with the feeling of restfulness, if you are operating on less than enough sleep, a dose of Tyrosine will add 3-5 extra hours of productivity to your day.
- Melatonin - Supplementing the naturally occurring Nuerotransmitter of deep sleep is a good idea for everyone. Especially if you are a person who spends hours staring at glowing screens after dusk, Melatonin is a good idea because bright screens (Television, Tablet, Laptop, or iPhone) blocks the Melatonin release that makes you tired and leads to fulfilling sleep. Some of the supplements above which promote the kind of enhanced state of mind that produces really awesome lucid dreams, can also make it difficult to sleep sometimes.
- Marijuana? You would think that the weed artists and writers alike adore would augment Lucid Dreaming. Actually quite the opposite, Marijuana (especially before bed) is a great way to kill your Lucid Dreaming life.
When to take supplements: During the night sleep happens in cycles, a lot of times with micro or full awakenings in between REM sleep cycles. Usually you have your most vivid lucid dreams between 4AM and the time you wake up, what is ideal is if you can take the your lucid dreaming supplements in the middle of the night before your final REM cycle (4AMish). If you're like me, often you will have a dream around Midnight to 4AM that will wake you up.
Remee Lucid Dreaming Mask - Dr. Stephen LaBerge originally developed a REM sensing dream mask but it went off the market a few years ago. A New York startup has released this very clever mask to rave reviews.
Audio Dream Journal - It's virtually impossible to habituate Lucid Dreaming without keeping a consistent dream journal, dream journal are especially important for becoming aware of your own Dream Signs. for years this wreaked havoc on the sleep cycles of lucid dreamers and their bed partners; turning on the light, finding the dream journal, finding a pen, scribbling an account of the dream and then trying to go back to sleep. Luckily in the current era of technology we have things a lot little easier, simply install Miidio recorder, Evernote or any other audio recording app for free on your Android or iPhone, when you wake up from a dream, make a voice note describing the dream as thoroughly as you can describing the dream and then go back to bed without disrupting your circadian sleep cycle. Check out this article with some details for voice journaling your dreams with Evernote.
Zeo Sleep Manager Pro - A sleep analysis device that measures multiple dimensions of the quantity and quality of your sleep; the amount of REM sleep you get, how often you have micro awakenings during the night.
Things To Do
Once you've gained a competence inducing, stabilizing and remembering your Lucid Dreams it's time to start having fun!
Sex Most people's first desire upon realizing they are lucid dreaming is to have sex. While less enjoyable, it's way less work than having sex in real life is, simply state your intention to have intercourse to the dream world and usually a willing partner will show up promptly. In my experience, the sexual sensations are pretty dulled but the visual stimulation and the feeling of running your hands over someone's soft skin can be very vivid. If you are really adventurous see if you can have intercourse in a dream as the opposite sex of what you are in real life. I haven't been able to pull this off yet but many lucid dreamers report being able to change their appearance at will so it stands to reason that you could change your anatomy, down there also.
Fighting Arguably as fun as the item above, dream fighting is a blast. You can do all sorts of awesome martial arts moves you can't do in real life; fight 5 full grown men at a time and use all sorts of weapons and unlike the most recent Medal of Honor video game it's not all blood and guts, the combatants in my dreams generally don't even bleed. Contrary to popular belief you can feel pain in dreams, don't let the sensation of pain shock you out of the dream. In dreams you are usually the one who starts the fight.
Flying Another crowd pleaser of the dream world, it's time to set your Superman fantasies free! However it takes some practice to dart in and out of skyscrapers and landscapes like Neo in the Matrix will take some development of aerial skills. Start by attempting simple levitation, focus on the sensation of your feet on the ground then imagine your feet lifting off, you'll find yourself levitating several meters off the ground. From there see how much altitude you can gain, practice with forward and backward momentum.
Demand a Gift Many tribal societies incorporate dreaming into their coming of age rituals, one of the more unique rituals is to face the frightening creatures of your nightmares, fight them and demand they give you a gift. Give it a try!
Personal Development Applications
While Lucid Dreaming is not primarily an entertainment tool, there are some interesting personal development benefits.
A Dr. Erlacher demonstrated in a German sleep lab that dreams make for a decent practice environment (although not as good as real life practice) through an experiment involving throwing coins in a coffee cup.
- Other less formal experiments have involved teaching oneself to skateboard, ride a unicycle and even snowboard.
- Video game designers and developers use lucid dreaming as a concept generation space. They manifest certain monsters and characters in their lucid dreams and then model game elements and adversaries after these figments of their subconscious.
- I found Lucid Dreaming helpful in overcoming approach anxiety while interacting with beautiful women, sometimes easier to do in the dream world than in real life!
Ask a Deep Question - Once you get over the sex fantasies, the gunfights and the space exploration, you'll hopefully be drawn to explore the depths of your own subconscious. Pick a deep question about yourself and start asking it to the characters in your dreams. For example:
- Why am I afraid to ___________?
- What option is best with ___________life decision?
- Should I quit my job?
- Should I continue my relationship with ___________?
- Should I continue my education or focus on ___________?
- Should I have kids ___________?
- Or my (very personal) deep question: I was once very religious with strong faith, now I am not. When I was religious I always believed that none-religious people, while claiming intellectual reasons for their atheism where actually just need using it as an excuse for their hedonistic activities. Now I carry on a hedonistic existence and I'm not religious. Am I really intellectually justified or am I just avoiding my maker because my moral standards are a shadow of what they used to be? Here's the answer I got.
About 60% of the answers you get will be junk, disorganized none sense, but occasionally like Cobb questioning Mal while in Limbo, you will extract some real gems of introspection from your mind.
Mindfulness and Situational Awareness
You seem to hear this repeated by everyone from Doctors and psychologists to comedians and pornstars; to synopsize the philosophy it means habituating a more profound level of situational awareness. Successful Lucid Dreaming depends on being highly observant of small details in the world around you while asking the most abstract of all questions constantly; Is my world real?
Like most ambitious, busy lifehackers my day to day thoughts are probably focused:
- Future 50%
- Present 20%
- Past 30%
I don't really want to change these proportions, the objective is to change the flexibility of my mind so I can transition robustly from thinking about the future, past and present. Furthermore when I am present I want to be 100% present, not 80% present and 20% worried about some credit card bill I forgot to pay.
The kind of reality checks that an experienced Lucid Dreamer does dozens of times a day act as an anchor to acknowledging and pondering the present moment. Myself and many other Lucid Dreamers have found a highly reciprocal relationship between our Lucid Dreaming and being more present in our waking life. Checkout this article on Gamifying Situational Awareness.
Self Control The threat stimulation environment of dreaming exists for the specific purpose of training your mind to focus on responding to danger, so it is great practice for your self control to consciously take a step back from the immediate dangers your world presents you with and ask the Lucid Dreamer's question: Is my world real?
Practicing Creating One's Own RealityI'm sure you've heard the pithy line that what separates successful people is the ability to create one's own reality based upon desire and vision.
This idea while romantic, is ultimately pretty useless to the kind of person who is not used to getting what they want in life. The veteran Lucid Dreamer is a supreme master of their nocturnal domain; anything they desire pops into existence before them upon demand. Thus the Lucid Dreaming experience conditions our mind to creating our desired reality.
There's somewhat of a debate going on over at the Dreamviews forums about whether using a Nicotine Patch is a healthy way to induce lucid dreaming. What's not in debate is that Nicotine patches increase the vividness and your ability to recall dreams, Nicotine has a lot in common with Acetylcholine and thus promotes lucid dreaming. A single cigarette contains 1MG-3MG Nicotine which leave the body quickly, a Nicotine patch contains about 7MG which gets released into the body over many hours. Many lucid dreamers on the Internet report some of their most vivid dream experiences while wearing Nicotine patches. You would have to have pretty none-existent self control to get addicted to Nicotine from wearing a patch... So maybe worth trying once if you or a friend have got some Nicotine patches laying around but you may wake up with a yearning for a cigarette!
You could also try using the Nicotine USP solution that I so enjoy for stimulating creativity.
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