October 26, 2009

Lucid Dreaming for Slackers

Have any of you ever played around in the amazing 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 (again), and I have to say: totally worth the trouble! I always forget 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 become 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?

[And yes, this is another Old Post from the Past--but before too long I'll be back from vacation with new stuff!]


  1. Do I get points for remembering this post almost instantly? :)

    I like the idea of lucid dreaming (which is why i remember it) but never think of it when going to bed, or have other stuff on my mind, or whatever.. maybe I'll try again.

    thanks for the repost Crabby, and get back to normal here soon. hope you're having fun!

  2. Hmmm I'm a very vivid dreamer, remember a lot of details while in it. I have on occasion when dreaming known I was in a dream and it wasn't reality. Like I could feel myself in my bed but still be in the dream somewhat.

  3. Great post! I remember my dreams in EXTREME DETAIL as in, they have plots, they have resolutions, they have mystery, suspense, they get really kind of crazy and borderline disturbing but they make for great writing material and story ideas. I do have some very odd recurring themes too, like crashes and getting shot (????) but I can now convince these things/people not to crash or not to shoot me (like last night!) i was so excited when I could start to wake myself up when I got too freaked out and think to myself that it was only a dream. However, you're right, I would completely wake up right then! Now, being able to completely shape my dreams i.e. have a little dream "coffee" with Peter Petrelli from Heroes, well, that's something I'm willing to explore! I'm gonna pay more attention now!

  4. This was super interesting!!! I have very vivid dreams, colorful & crazy when I remember them & I do alot OR they may be disturbing but always in color & crazy stuff. I have been in dreams when I know they are dreams but this lucid stuff with the ability to change & manipulate... never heard of that! Going to read the links when I have time!

    I always say to people if I could put in a book the craziness I sometimes dream about, I would be a millionaire BUT the dreams seem to go on forever yet when I remember them, I can tell them in just a couple minutes.

    Thx for the cool post!

  5. I've had occasional spontaneous lucid dreaming. They happening either when I realize I've had this dream before and/or this is a sequel, or when I am aware I'm having a medication -induced hallucination. I rarely have the wherewithal to try to control what's happening. Maybe I should give it a shot.

  6. Yes, I lucid dream. I don't tend to control a lot in my dreams, I don't have to as much any more, because most of what I used to have as "nightmares" are now dreams about empowerment. I always turn on the monster/bad guy/ whatever. While I'm dreaming, I'm also aware of certain cues that I'm dreaming. I even feel annoyed at times ("Oh, ((sigh)) THIS dream again")

    There are still things I can't get past. I can't bring myself to fly higher than about 6 or 7 feet off the ground, and I can't get around a certain wall in this one dream, no matter how hard I try.

    I also can't dictate the dream totally, but if something happens I don't like, I can "rewind" and get another shot at it, and if things still don't get better, I just wake up.

    and yes, it took practice, but I've been doing it successfully for a couple decades now.

  7. Only when I'm having a really horrible dream (think bugs, mice, or anything else equally as terrifying) do I realize I'm just dreaming. But then I don't want to continue with the dream--even if I can spit fire and burn 'em all. I'd love to experience lucid dreaming with some of my other dreams. Mine usually include some sort of espionage.

  8. alas I can not comment here as DREAMING intimates that Im sleeping enough & deeply enough to dream.

    **wraggles fists at heavens & implores the ChildWakingThunderStorms to sease & desist**

  9. I need to work on this. I am great at directed dreaming (I think about something I want to dream as I fall asleep, and then I dream it) but while I am dreaming I never realize it isnt REAL. I use directed dreaming to eat as much as I want at buffets, restaurants, parties. In my dreams I eat whole pizza and ice cream and stuff. In fact when I am awake, and am craving something, I often tell myself to WAIT because I can have it in my dreams for zero calories.

    The advantage of lucid dreaming would that that I wouldn't keep forgetting to eat cannoli.

  10. Other than being able to realise I'm dreaming and fly around a bit I haven't had much luck with this. I rarely realise I'm dreaming, and when I do I wake up.
    I'd love to be able to do more in my dreams though. I've a friend who has had quite a bit of fun with it. He saisd what really helped him was the checking if you're awake all the time bit...once it was habit he did it in his dreams too, and had more of a chance of realiseing he was dreaming and get to play with it.

  11. I've done it a few times, but never practiced enough to increase them or increase what I can do. I'll have to try these things again.
    Can't help but comment: fabkate for a couple decades! Impressive. So not the slacker I am :)

  12. I've guided my dreams at times, especially flying dreams! That can be fun! Not as much fun as droning down the highway through Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas, I'm sure :-)

  13. I love lucid dreaming, I learned in '05 and catch one about every week now. Flying is the best, even did a Harry Potter flying car a couple of times.

  14. I had no idea I could be so creative while sleeping. It's opened up a new world for me - now I don't have to sweat the whole reality thing.

  15. I had brain surgery (not a dream, unfortunately). A couple of years later, when we were sitting quietly at the end of a yoga class, on a day when I was particularly tired, our quiet was interrupted by a drill somehwere in the building. But for me, it was not in the building; it was in the operating room, and my surgery was just beginning. I could feel the chill in the room, smell the sterile environment, hear the conversations taking place around me, feel the vibration of the drill on my skull. I thought to myself, well, today is it. It will be over soon & I can start to recover.

    Then I returned to the yoga class. When I realized what was happening, I decided to see if I could get back to the surgery and experience it with less fear now that I knew it was a memory rather than a real experience. I was able to do it. It was weird but fascinating.

    I had never been able to do anything quite that clear before or since, but I have been consciously observing my dreams since I was in high school. It can be pretty cool!

  16. My first step would have to be noticing and/or remembering my dreams. Because I swear 360 nights a year I sleep for 8 hours without dreaming.

    I know- not possible- but I only rarely even remember that I have been dreaming.

  17. I still love this concept! Although it is a measure of my laziness that I haven't got around to checking it out any further since the last time you posted about this. Seriuosly, it's on my to do list!!

  18. *shudders*, I have super vivid dreams which are usually nightmares... the few times that I've realized I was dreaming, I wasn't able to get out of it. It was horrible. And I found that the harder I try to remember my dreams, the more intense and scary they get the following nights! I guess different things work for different people.

  19. I had a dream that you posted this and I already commented.

  20. I've found that 3mg of melatonin before bed really makes me have amazingly vivid dreams, much of which I'm able to remember.

  21. http://blueberry-dreaming.blogspot.com/

    I think that there is an element of quantum physics involved with the brain. See my blog regarding an experiment I recently did.

    If others tried what I've tried, I would be interested in knowning what they experienced.

  22. I love lucid dreaming. Sadly my attempts to produce it at will have always failed but it's appreciated on the rare occasions when it happens.

  23. Learning how to lucid dream—that is, to be aware during your dreams that you are, indeed, dreaming—will allow you to live out fantasies, stop nightmares, and even road test some solutions to real life problems.

  24. The part that I always have problems with is remembering my dreams in the morning. You are right creating a dream Journal definitely helps you not only remember your dreams, but also allows you to see if any are recurring and be able to decipher their meanings. Nothing worse than having that beautiful dream that you would love to remember again but can't.


Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)