Inception in Real Life: 24 Lifehacks for Lucid Dreaming

Inception in Real Life: 24 Lifehacks for Lucid Dreaming

By Jonathan Roseland

In the film Inception, a team of espionage agents is 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, lightsabers, and machine guns.
  • Hanging out on a luxury yacht that would make Jay-Z jealous.
  • 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.

Lifehacking Lucid 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 does also have some cross over benefits to real-life personal development (explained below). While there are 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 to 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
  • Falling
  • 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.

The Science of Lucid Dreaming 

LaBergeThe 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 3 AM-9 AM.

  1. 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?
  2. Focus Your Intent - Focus exclusively on your intention to recognize the next time you are dreaming. Your 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 on your mind is your intention to remember you are dreaming.

KeepCalmCalm Down - Many people's first couple of 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 sitting 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.
At 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 some consistency in 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.

Dream Totems

Dream Totems

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 to.
  • Your Name - It's very difficult to say your own name during a dream. No one knows why...

Dream Stabilization


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 lose it. I think we are all familiar with the feeling of disappointment upon waking up realizing a particularly appealing dream fantasy world we experienced just moments prior is now gone forever. Luckily there are some easy to apply methods for stabilizing 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 someone's skin, the wetness of water you might be in, your center of gravity, etc.

Supplementation and diet also make a big difference in dream stability, explained below.

Lucid Dreaming Supplements 

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. Some of the most commonly reported effects of Nootropics (even by people who’ve never even heard of Lucid Dreaming) are that dreams that seem really real and are longer than normal.

  • Alpha BRAIN - This stack, in particular, has a reputation amongst its 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. Check out 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 Neurotransmitter 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 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 - Can 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 Neurotransmitter 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 awesome lucid dreams can also make it difficult to sleep sometimes.
  • Marijuana? You would think that the weed artists and writers adore would augment Lucid Dreaming. On the contrary, 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 4 AM and the time you wake up, what is ideal is if you can take 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 4 AM 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. 

recorder appAudio Dream Journal - It's virtually impossible to habituate Lucid Dreaming without keeping a consistent dream journal, dream journaling is especially important for becoming aware of your Dream Signs. For years this has 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. EvernoteLifeHackingLuckily in the current era of technology, we have things a lot 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 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 competence inducing, stabilizing, and remembering your Lucid Dreams it's time to start having fun!



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.


Dream 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 in a dream

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

fighting 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.

Practicing Skills


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 non-religious people, while claiming intellectual reasons for their atheism were just using it as an excuse for their hedonistic activities. Now I carry on a hedonistic existence and I'm not religious. Am I 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 nonsense, but occasionally like Cobb questioning Mal while in Limbo, you will extract some real gems of introspection from your mind.

Mindfulness and Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness Body Language Being Present

Be Present

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 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 that 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. Check out this article on Gamifying Situational Awareness.

Self Control

The threat simulation 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 Reality

Creating Your Own Reality

I'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 create 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 leaves 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 non-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.

Who Lucid Dreams?



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