October 27, 2008

Lucid Dreaming for Slackers

Have any of you ever played around in the amazing, free, kick-ass fantasy world that is Lucid Dreaming?

With a bit of practice it's something many people can learn. Even I did. Then of course I got lazy and got out of the habit. Now I'm just starting to get back into it, and I have to say: totally worth the trouble! I'd forgotten how much fun it is.

What the Heck is Lucid Dreaming?

It's just a fancy name for realizing in the middle of a dream that you're... well, dreaming. It dawns on you that your current "reality" is not actually "real," and this awareness can then lead to the ability to control your dreams. And boy howdy, that's where the fun starts.

The cool thing: it's a learnable skill. There's a set of steps to follow, and if you do them, there's a good chance you'll eventually start having dreams where you're aware you're in a dream and you even get to control what happens.

If you recall your dreams easily, or if you already have occasional spontaneous lucid dreams, you'll have an easier time of it. But all kinds of folks who hardly ever remembered their dreams before they started practicing have learned how to do this.

The not-so-cool thing: it takes some time and attention--something you may not exactly have in abundance. But the more you put into it, the better results you'll have and the faster you'll start having them.

Fortunately, however, it's not a huge amount of time, so it's the perfect Personal Growth Project for Slackers. And this being Cranky Fitness, we will of course discuss Shortcuts.

Why Bother Having Lucid Dreams?

Serious lucid dreaming advocates always give these sort of pragmatic reasons for learning to have lucid dreams:

1. Reducing nightmares.

2. Creative problem-solving.

3. Practicing life-skills you find difficult.

4. Working through personal issues by interacting with significant people in your life in a non-threatening, no-consequences environment.

Blah blah blah.

Let's look at a slightly different list, shall we? Here are some things you can do when you get good at it:

1. You can eat any damn thing you want, totally enjoy it as though it were the real thing, knowing there are no calories or carcinogens or transfats.

2. You can fly.

3. You can explore intricate, intense, fantasy worlds with the smug realization that somehow your humble little brain created and imagined them all by itself.

4. You can have sex with your favorite celebrity, or your best friend's spouse, or that hot yoga instructor at the gym, or hell, all three at once--with no horrible guilt or divorce papers or awkward morning-after conversations.

It's your world, and it feels totally real, and there are absolutely no rules or repercussions. Sound like fun?

Here's what you gotta do to get there.

1. Start Remembering More of Your Dreams

Easier said than done, right? Is there anything slipperier than a half-remembered dream? But increasing dream recall is a necessary step in the process. You get better and better the more you try to do it.


  • Get in the habit of reminding yourself as you fall asleep that you want to remember your dreams.

  • Also get in the habit of checking, whenever you wake up for any reason, to see if you can catch any dream fragments floating by. Stay with them, gently and without getting frustrated if possible, and see if you can pull out any more images or feelings or voices or sensations from the dream.

  • Keep a dream journal by your bed and jot down notes whenever you remember anything.

  • Linger in bed for a few moments in the morning and try to ease gently into remembering your dreams. Don't immediately leap into thoughts about the upcoming day. Analytical thinking, planning, and worrying seem to be real dream-memory killers.

Bonus: you spend all this time every night dreaming, it's nice to reclaim some it! Unremembered dreams seem like a waste, while remembered dreams can add up to a fuller, if weirder, life.

Slacker Short Cut: While you really SHOULD keep a dream journal, I'm too lazy myself. I discovered I can increase dream recall by reminding myself, obsessively, to try to remember my dreams whenever I wake up.

2. Recognize Dream Signs

As you've probably already noticed, there are themes and situations that seem to come up in dreams a lot. Some recurring themes are personal; others seem to be more common. (How many of us have found ourselves semi-naked at work, or faced with a final exam in a class we've never been to because we forgot we'd signed up?)

Anyway, it helps to know what you frequently dream about, because your personal dream signs will help you recognize that you're not in waking reality. Phones or light switches that don't work are very common; as is the inability to scream or run; the ability to float or fly; teeth falling out or other bizarre body problems; dead people showing up to chat, etc.

However, you probably have your own personal recurring situations or themes. If I'm in an elevator and the whole thing starts to tip sideways, for example, or if I'm a passenger in a plane that seems to be driving along the freeway instead of flying, those are both pretty good signs I'm dreaming.

3. Test Waking Reality

This is probably the strangest step.

Are you dreaming now? Of course you're not! It's rare that we get confused about this when we're actually awake. So it will probably feel totally stupid to get in the habit of asking yourself, many times a day: am I dreaming right now?

Of course you're not--you're reading Cranky Fitness!

But these inane periodic check-ins makes a huge difference. Eventually, as they becomes a habit, you'll start doing them at night in your dreams too.

And sometimes the answer to: am I dreaming right now?

Will be: um, you know what? I think I am!

If you have a recurring dream sign that relates to something that you do frequently in real life (i.e., weird things happen when you dial a phone or start your car or use a public restroom), then try to use these ordinary experiences as cues to ask if you're dreaming. But even just checking at random times is good too.

Dedicated approach: set a timer on your watch or computer or add a bunch of entries to your daily schedule to remind you to ask yourself if you're dreaming. Even though the answer seems like it's obviously "No," perform a test: read some text and then go back to read it again to see if it changes. Notice if anything impossible is going on. See if you can float. Turn on a light switch and see if the light goes on.

Slacker Shortcut: If you are damn sure you're awake, you don't actually have to perform the tests. But do remind yourself that you would totally check things out if you were on a spaceship to mars, or if your computer just turned into a pink refrigerator stocked with olive jars and paper clips and headless Barbie Dolls.

Additional Slacker Tip: Is there some other annoying thing you're already been trying to remember to do several times a day? Improve your posture, get up to stretch, take deep breaths, drink more water, etc? Then every time you nag yourself to do one of other things, throw in the additional question: am I dreaming?

4. Get Lucid

There are lots of fancy wake/sleep manipulations and gadgets and rituals you can try to hasten the process (see resources below), but basically, if you keep up with the first three steps with a fair amount of dedication, you will most likely (eventually) catch yourself dreaming.

It may start with a vague suspicion, or you may notice a dream sign, or you might suddenly recall that you are long past elementary school so what are you doing back in Mrs. Benjamin's classroom again? And it will finally occur to you to ask yourself whether you are dreaming when you are actually dreaming.

If you answer "yes, I AM dreaming," congratulations! You've had a lucid dream.

And if you are like most people you'll get all excited and wake up almost immediately. Crap.

5. Stay Lucid

This is one of the huge challenges of lucid dreaming. It's really a tricky balance to stay aware enough to enjoy the lucid experience, but not so aware and conscious that you wake yourself up.

Helpful hints to staying lucid:

a. Stay calm.

b. Notice the physical details of your surroundings. Look at your hands; rub them together; try to increase the sensual aspects of the experience.

c. If you feel yourself waking up, try spinning around and around. (No idea why this often works, but it seems to help many folks stay in a dream state).

d. But, try to stay mindful you are dreaming. It's also easy to float back into accepting everything and forgetting that this is not real life.

Once you start having more lucid dreams, you may discover that some end quickly but others will linger. Or that you'll start to wake up but will find yourself in another lucid dream later the same night. Keep it playful; try not to get too frustrated. Unless you've discovered a way to make sleep optional, you'll have every night for the rest of your life to play with this.

6. Start Messing With Your Dreams

Controlling your dreams is a blast when it works, but alas, it's unreliable. Sometimes it happens easily and you can order up your favorite fantasy and experience it in intense detail. Other times, it seems impossible to have any input and all you can do is watch things unfold, and appreciate that you get to experience a dream from a conscious, aware perspective.

See that landscape in front of you? Well, maybe you can't fly through it tonight, but you created it! Every leaf on that tree, you put there. It's pretty cool.

Cultivate a relaxed but hopeful approach. Don't try to force it, but imagine that what you'd like to happen is gradually coming to pass. You're about to walk into the next room, and inside will be... what? Some nights, it may be George Clooney in the all-together; other nights, it could be your next door neighbor's pet iguana Iggy; and who the hell wants to party with Iggy?

But perhaps Iggy will offer you the key to another room, and you can open the door and discover that inside... there's a huge all-you-can-eat cupcake buffet in progress!

7. Read More About It

This is obviously just a quick and quirky summary; there are books and websites and discussion forums and workshops and all kinds of further information if you'd like to become a well-traveled oneironaut. Here's a link to one fairly well thought out lucid dreaming website. And you may want to check out the venerable Lucidity Institute founded by Dr. Stephen LaBerge, a dude from Stanford University who's been studying this stuff for decades. These sites contain further links, or hell, you can just start googling!

Anyone else have lucid dreams? Or do your dreams contain any weird recurring themes you're willing to share?


  1. Absolutly fascinating. I haven't had the patience to try lucid dreaming. I've had occasions where I realize I'm dreaming and I know I've had the dream before or I understand that I'm in the sequel.
    I've had several scary waking dreams in the last several months which I credit to the beta blockers. I hadn't realized the
    light switch and telephone things were common. Good to know. Thanks.

  2. I've never actively practiced lucid dreaming but it does happen on occasion, though most of them it seems I am aware that it's a dream but I'm not actively controlling anything that is happening.

    I do have weird recurring dreams though. They're not funny, they just expose how deeply disturbed I am so I think I'll keep that to myself. :-)

  3. Interesting stuff. The Bag Lady wonders, though, if her dreams would be as boring as her life? ~~sigh~~

    Actually, I hardly ever remember my dreams, except for the one where I'm in a disgusting public washroom, with toilets overflowing and people lined up, or no doors on the stalls, etc.....which I have come to realize means I need to get up and go to the bathroom! :)

  4. I sure have! Not surprisingly, my favorites are dreams where I'm flying, sans plane of course!

  5. Bag lady, I have that one ALL THE TIME.

    And Dr. J, isn't flying fun? I like it much better in a dream than in a plane.

  6. Very interesting topic! I generally remember my dreams but, like Bag Lady, think they are usually too boring to warrant much attention. I've never tried messing with them though. Fun concept:)

  7. I've always thought the idea of lucid dreaming was really cool but I've never had the patience to try it out, either.

    A variation on the "can't run" theme... I sometimes have "can't run" dreams where I am running, or at least trying to, but the ground is disintegrating. Anyone else get that?

  8. Very interesting!

    I actually am often aware that I am dreaming, but am unable to change what is going on. Most of my dreams seem to involve a natural disaster. But man, I have that dream about the final in the class I've never been to ALL of the time. Crazy!

  9. I'm almost always aware that I'm dreaming (er, was dreaming, back when I got enough sleep to remember dreams) but I rarely try to influence things, I just go with the flow.

    I stopped having the recurrent dreams that my teeth were shattering like china when I told my dentist about them and he ground my molars down a bit.

    Sign that I'm a nudist: when I dream that I'm naked in some public place, _no one_ ever notices me!

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  10. I have always had lucid dreams, and not until the last few years did i ever know this was unusual. sometimes i wake up and try my new "flying method" - please, don't laugh.

    the only time they're not lucid, is when it's a nightmare. but i don't have those often. for me, it's nice to know "this is a dream" and just get to wander around and do cool things while i sleep.

  11. I did this just the other night, although I didn't know there was a name for it. I was having a nightmare, and I just all of a sudden realized it was a dream and I told myself to wake up, and I did.

    My husband thinks I am crazy because of all my weird dreams - he never remembers his dreams. I almost always remember mine.

    My recurring dream is the finals in the mystery class I never took, and a variation of the running in quicksand theme - I'm trying to punch somebody but my punches lack any strength and so they end up being sissy slaps. Okay, maybe I am a little bit crazy!

  12. This is a great topic, and I appreciate all the tips and shortcuts... except for the part about deliberately lingering in bed in the morning. I do /not/ need any additional incentive in that direction :(

  13. This would have helped me so much when I was little: I had night terrors, which are like nightmares, but you don't distinguish between waking and sleeping. Meaning that there were many nights I'd wake up convinced that if I moved or spoke, the bad guy in the room would kill my entire family. Not fun.

  14. ugh...I suffered from horrible, horrible nightmares for about 8 years and am just now, this year, getting past it. To be able to sleep without nightmares or bad dreams is such a wonderful beautiful thing and you don't realize it until it's taken from you. At one point, amongst the sleep studies, psychoropic and sleep medicines, therapy, acupuncture, etc, a professor I know told me he could lucidly dream and I was so jealous. I've never seen step by step instructions - this is really so intriguing. However, now I''m trying to focus on not remembering anything and just waking refreshed. maybe one day in the future...

  15. Very interesting. I've had terrible nightmares for years now- they come and go every few months and tend to be themed. It's strange and not enjoyable at all. I used to write down my dreams but then the nightmares would be that much more vivid so now I don't and that way I can forget about them quicker. A couple times I've sort of been able to do the lucid dreaming thing, except I'll be aware that I'm dreaming but unable to control the dream.

  16. Interesting topic. I'd love to try it, but I'm one of those people who almost never notices/remembers dreams. I'm sure I have them, I don't have any memory of having them.

    Except when the insomnia is kickin in and I'm not sleeping. then I spend nights on the edge of sleep, and the dreams become stranger as the night goes on.

    Still.. wish I could figure out how to access this.

  17. Oh my gosh. When I was a kid I used to have lucid dreams all the time! If they ever got too intense, I was able to 'leave' by hopping out a window, or running into a wall at full speed in the dream, and I would wake up. It's gone away as I've gotten older, but I'm going to try these steps to get it back. It was always so much fun and so vivid!

  18. I usually know when I'm dreaming because my dreams are so bizarre, which is probably why I don't mind my nightmares so much (even though many people have told me that I'm seriously disturbed after I've share my nightmares).

    But every time I've tried to control them I usually wake myself up, so I usually just go with the flow and watch. It's kind of interesting to see what my dream self does, then wake up and compare how my awake self would react.

  19. I've a friend who is very good at lucid dreaming...she keeps inspiring me to try it out. It sounds like a great thing. She said she picks a goal and tried to do it in her dreams before moving on to something else (I believe there is a website for lucid dreamers taht gives you a monthly task to try an ddo in your dreams...one was to try and go to the sun and bring back a piece. Another was to try and lay an egg...)
    Usually when I realise I'm dreaming I wake up though, sp IO have a long way to go.

  20. I hardly ever remember my dreams. I'm not sure if it means I need more sleep or something, but it's just really rare that I actually wake up remembering one. I was shocked (and pleased) when I woke up remembering an x-rated dream recently.

    How can you work on lucid dreaming if you can't remember your dreams? Any way to work on the remembering before getting to the lucid part?

  21. This would be a great skill, 'cause I've been having some crazy-a$$ dreams the past few months!
    The other night I dreamed that our dog had died. Thankfully I woke up and there she was, at the side of the bed, waiting for me to give her a tummy rub!

  22. Leth--

    Yeah, remembering dreams is one of the hardest parts. You have to be pretty motivated and determined to try to recall dream fragments whenever you wake up; either in the morning or the middle of the night. There are even folks who figure out when their REM cycles are likely to be and wake themselves up with alarms--seems like a hassle so I haven't gone that far. (There's a page in the first lucidity site link with a handy chart for REM cycles).

    And I think the whole notebook by the bed thing is highly recommended.

    There's a lot of individual variation in dream recall. But I know I notice a HUGE difference in my own ability to remember dreams when I really focus a lot of energy on it.

  23. I'd respond but it's ridiculous to think I can type while dreaming.

  24. I have recurring dreams of my first husband who died in a tractor-train collision and who I was not allowed to see dead. I had no closure. In my dreams, he's either simply "been away" and I'm so happy to see him or I can't get to him, like he's sick or dying and I can't let him know I'm right there trying to see him. Either dream I'd wake up exhausted and depressed. Now I can usually control the outcome because I recognize the dreams as non-reality and can manipulate a happier, or at least not as desperate, ending. Great post. I hope people give this a try, particularly to help ease trauma.

  25. i love lucid dreams, but i didn't realize it was something you could learn to do more often! i'm going to get to work on this immediately!

  26. i have really bizarre dreams. We have a pear tree that went nuts this year and I can't keep up with it. The other night I had a dream someone cut it down in the middle of the night. You think in my dreams I would be happy, but i woke up crying!? WHat's that all about!?

  27. Thanks for giving the steps to increase it! It's not often that I do, but I'd love to do it more...just need to keep the balance between aware and waking up.

    So cool - thanks again!

  28. Like the Bag lady, I don't usually recall my dreams and that one with the bathroom is awful! I have had a couple of lucid dreams in the last few years, so maybe I should have a closer look at this.

  29. I spent years and years of my life plagued by constant terrible nightmares, and I followed this method and learned to control my dreams. Now nightmares are hardly an issue for me at all, even when I have them once in a while I am able to control them and change them for the most part. The only thing I didn't really do was to keep a written dream journal right after I woke up, I would just try to remember as much as I could in my mind and not write it down.

    Of course the best side effect is that being a lucid dreamer I can often control my dreams and make them something really enjoyable. Two nights ago I had an incredibly lucid dream. I had a huge piece of cake because I've been craving sweets and I knew it was the only way to enjoy it without paying the price. I'm having money issues so next I opened a huge stack of mail, all of which contained money. Then I chose to watch my favorite band perform and had a wonderful conversation with the bass player...he's a funny guy..lol

  30. Crabby,

    I would love to find the time to focus on this. I do know I am dreaming sometimes but I never knew what to do with that experience. Now I have something to try.


  31. I could LOVE to do this. I should do this. I will do this. I can fly!!!!

    And the cranky tips? Priceless.

  32. Golly, I'm a lucid dreamer!! I frequently have had dreams where I have gone, "wait, this is probably a dream." And the control thing works, though rarely. I didn't know it was an accomplishment!

    I used to dream about flying constantly, or about dancing and being able to hover in the air forever. The past several years, the flying dreams have been replaced by running dreams! I dream about just running a long way, like home from upstate NY or something. Though I did dream about flying again not too long ago.

  33. crap, i've had so many recurring dreams throughout the years. most of those, i later realized, were just smaller pieces of the same dream. that is, dream a and dream b are two different experiences, but the ending spot of each dream is at the same wall but on different sides. dream c also connects into those but in a completely different manner. i just never had the connecting dreams.

    i typically remember a lot of my dreams and can do things like read (which i've heard is uncommon). i typically dream in bright, vivid color but occasionally black and white. if i'm stressed out at work i'll have work dreams. i've also been in dreams both first and third person - am a part of the dream, but at the same time, an active observer. almost like i'm watching myself on tv.

    i guess that means i'm a partial lucid dreamer.

  34. What a fun topic. I tend to go through phases of seemingly no dreams, to snippets to semi-lucid dreams. I think this could be fun to try. But I'm staying away from Baggie's dream bathroom.

  35. Great post. I have had phases where I've tried lucid dreaming with success, although not for a while now. That spinning round thing really works - if you feel yourself coming out of the dream, spin round and round and you should stay there!

    I almost always have vivid or weird dreams, and I'm afraid I've only ever used lucid dreams for fairly vacuous purposes - running round stealing things, or trying to sleep with members of the opposite sex! Good fun though in a harmless environment.

    I never like dreaming about eating though - I tend to wake up feeling sick. And I have that nasty bathroom dream as well.

  36. Wow! It's all your fault. I haven't had dreams that vivid and that weird in years.

    The winner was the dead man with his embalmed penis hung around his neck on a chain. In the same dream I had placemats made out of oatmeal--hard to clean! Can I just go back to sleep now?

    Mary Anne, weirded out in Kentucky

  37. OMG, funny you should mention this!

    I've always had very vivid dreams and had long been lucid in them. Without knowing that this was a "thing" out there with a name, I got rid of my bad Iraq dreams this way.

    During a dream in which mortars were raining down, I suddenly stood up, looked around, and realized it was a dream. Then I picked the mortars up off the ground and started lobbing them back over the wall. Then it became a giggly game of yard darts. And after it happened once, I was able to keep it up.

    I feel pretty lucky and other OIF vets I know look at me like I've just offered them a crack pipe when I tell them how I got rid of the dreams.

    Great post!

  38. Amazing timing on this post, because believe it or not...I recently decided to try to write down weird dreams I have so I can begin doodling them and perhaps start a comic strip based on their absurd fun-ness! I'll give you a link when that goes up and mention your post as odd yet well timed confirmation for my idea!

  39. Hey brenda, there's already a dream comic strip - check out www.slowwave.com - very funny yet surreal!

  40. "or faced with a final exam in a class we've never been to because we forgot we'd signed up?"

    OH how I hate that dream, it would come in times of stress and stay for a week or so. I couldn't find the building where the exam was, or if I found the building, couldn't find the room. Never went to class, never bought the book, wondering how the heck it never got onto my schedule, wondering if I actually FOUND the room, if the professor would let me in because I was also of course LATE, and then if I could fake it well enough on the test to get a D-.

    I used to fly as a kid, not now. It was tough though, I could never get very high. Flying is supposedly connected to astral travel somehow.

    I dream about the dead a lot after they have gone, and actually a current psychic theory is that those kinds of dreams just before we wake up are actual communication with the deceased. Our brains are in a wave rhythm that enhances psi abilities. All of my dead pets (the dogs and horses anyway) have come back to me young and vibrant to let me know they were ok. My friend knew her horse that had been stolen years before had died, because she came to her in a dream young and strong, and my friend hopped on the mare's back, no tack, and rode her. They were ecstatic to see each other! I did the same with my best horse several times, he was such a huge love of my life, he was a "lifetime" horse, of which you get ONE. My buddy and I didn't find out we'd both had that dream a few years apart until years later. My ex who died last year has come to me many times, and what is unusual about these dreams is that they are all extremely detailed and have a feeling of reality that is usually striking. Nothing is weird, laws of physics are observed, there are very rational conversations and interactions, and they are memorable. This is as close to lucid dreaming of the kind where you can actually control the dream as I have gotten.

    I believe the communication is a real connection. I just wait for them now. My dad died a couple months ago, and I have not dreamed of him, but we had not talked for years, and no one even told me he was ill. I knew there was something wrong, I had been thinking of him and breaking down sobbing for hours and couldn't figure it out, until I got an email. I was grieving his loss (or really the loss of the dad I wished he'd been) without consciously knowing he was going or maybe gone, I wasn't told the date. I figure someday I'll "hear" from him.

    My hubby literally dreamed that people were trying to kill him every night for decades. He's in customer service! It's getting better now though, since he has been meditating.

    Has anyone had the dream about the car you forgot you had, and trying really hard to remember where the heck you parked it, so you could go get it? I had that a lot for awhile, and sometimes it's a house! Lordy, I would hope I'd remember where my house was if I ever get another one... or a car.

  41. Question: does this work if you wake with an alarm?

  42. I have always wanted to do this, but I used to never even remember my dreams. About 3 months ago I dropped caffeine during the day and started sleeping better and remembering my dreams. After practicing wake checks for about 2 weeks after I read this post I had my first lucid dream. It was awesome! Thanks for the great post and wish me luck with my next dreams.

  43. Great post! I think you will like this website on lucid dreaming too: http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com

  44. Interesting article, I have always wanted to try lucid dreaming.

  45. I have practiced lucid dreaming in the past, and never really liked it.

  46. I love to see that global awareness about lucid dreaming is growing every day all around the world. Many people started playing with it just because of curiosity but after some time realized it is a part of bigger picture like meditation and spirituality is. World is changing, many times i feel it is going wrong way but events and people like these are bringing back hope that eventually truth and general well being will be on first place. I am editor of website about lucid dreaming where I tend to teach people about this phenomena. Many don't even know about it, some heard but didn't know what it is and big majority is thrilled when figure out that everyone can learn to be lucid. If you are interested, Lucid Dreaming Guide by Emma Rose is my web site.


  47. Very interesting article! Romantic dream is one of my favorite dreams happened in my life, going to the beach and took a candle light date with my husband :)

  48. Snakes are also seen as symbols representing evil. The bible uses the symbol of the serpent in the Garden of Eden to represent Satan. In other cases the snakes is seen as a phallic symbol. Recurring dreams indicate a fear or an unresolved issue. lifeandpeople.com/seeing-snakes-in-dream/


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