Lucid dreaming is as close as you can get to making your wildest dreams come true without entering The Matrix. It is the process where you become aware you are dreaming without waking and then proceed to take control of events and processes at your whim in the dream state – and millions of people are doing it. Now scientists believe lucid dreaming is associated with better metacognition.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich have discovered that the brain area which enables self-reflection is larger in lucid dreamers. Thus, lucid dreamers are possibly also more self-reflecting when being awake.
Neuroscientists compared brain structures of frequent lucid dreamers and participants who never or only rarely have lucid dreams. They found that the anterior prefrontal cortex, or the area of the brain controlling conscious cognitive processes and playing an important role in the capability of self-reflection, is larger in lucid dreamers.
This finding convincingly suggested that lucid dreaming and metacognition are indeed closely connected. Images taken of brain activity of test subjects showed that activity in the prefrontal cortex was higher in lucid dreamers. “Our results indicate that self-reflection in everyday life is more pronounced in persons who can easily control their dreams,” states Elisa Filevich, post-doc in the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
Luckily, the researchers believe that even if you currently aren’t a lucid dreamer that you could still gain the metacognitive advantage by simply learning to lucid dream. They plan to test this hypothesis in the coming months.
Guide to Lucid Dreaming
PM decided it was in all of our best interests to increase our collective metacognitive abilities, so here is a guide to have your very own, out-of-this-world lucid dream!
Anything you can imagine, will be possible, from flying, going to Mars, falling in love or spending time with a long lost friend or family member – anything can be achieved, so we think it’s well worth the little bit of effort to learn how. Be patient, it will take a few days and you have to stay focussed, but if you do, the rewards are remarkable. We know, because ours involved many instances of flying cars and summoning helicopters to fly to the Moon (we didn’t say they would be mature scenarios).
There are three general strategies to induce ludic dreaming in beginners. We do not recommend the W.I.L.D (Wake Induced Lucid Dream) method, which involves inducing sleep paralysis. This can be frightening and is not necessary at all.
The M.I.L.D method*
This method (Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dream) is the easiest way to get to your first lucid dream. It requires the least amount of effort, but takes a few days to a week or so to really get into the habits. To succeed, these steps should be followed religiously and taken seriously. Good luck!
The easiest way to get lucid in a dream is while you are dreaming naturally. What happens is that at one point during your dream you wonder if you are sleeping. If you can prove to your brain that this is the case then you become lucid. But how do you prove it?
RCs are tests you can do quickly of which the outcome is so hard wired in your brain that you will instantly know if they fail. Surprisingly your sleeping brain cannot recreate the real behaviour.
Things that work
- Count your fingers (it’s hard to focus and count in the dream.)
- Push your finger through the palm of your hand.
- Hold your nose shut and take a deep breath.
- Try to read anything or tell the time from a watch
One of the problems with reality checks is that they are not things that you would normally do during the daytime, and so you almost never do them during your sleep. How often do you really question reality in everyday life and do a RC? So try doing them habitually during events that often recur across both your waking hours and the average dream.
- do a RC every-time you talk to someone during the day
- do a RC every-time you pass through a door
- do a RC every-time someone calls you
The idea is to create a reflex in your brain. Door -> look at hand -> question reality. Pick the one you like best. Then think of lucid dreaming (LD) while you do.
Priming your Sub-conscious
Your sub-conscious brain is what governs your non-lucid dreams. If your sub-conscious wants you to LD then it will present you with huge dream signs to try and tell you that you are dreaming. This combined with Reality Checks is the best way to induce LDs.
How can you make your sub-conscious friendlier? Every person knows themselves best but some techniques that may work are strong affirmations “I will LD tonight!” repeated as you fall asleep, meditation, and one of my favourites “visualisation”.
Visualisation (Dream Incubation)
Do you daydream? You should!
Daydream during the day about a place you want to be in your sleep. Make it very specific, draw the outline in your brain, the texture of the things there, the smells, the sounds. Close your eyes and fantasize about it. Don’t put any other people in the scene. Imagine only a place. Do this as often as you can during the day. Don’t talk about it; just imagine how it will be without using words in your mind. Dwell on the feelings it gives you. Open your eyes and do a RC.
Before you go to bed, visualise your desired place as much as you can while you are falling asleep. There is a good chance that you will find yourself there at some point in your dream. Then, do a Reality Check!
You did a reality check and you are dreaming, it feels like a membrane was lifted from your eyes and you can see and hear super-sharply, you are somewhere.
If it’s your first time you can get really agitated and anxious/happy and the dream will start dissolving. Rub your hands together! Calm down, it’s all there for you; you can stay here for as long as you want. The only thing you need to do is keep remembering you are dreaming.
Rubbing your hands stabilises the LD. Touching things and savouring their texture stabilises. Tasting things stabilises. If the dream is really dissolving spin fast around yourself a couple of times; this should also stabilise the dream.
So remember: REALITY CHECKS throughout the day (pick one and do it, like counting fingers), VISUALISE your dreamscape, STABILISE as soon as you attain lucidity.
The W.B.T.B method*
This method is called the ‘Wake-Back-To-Bed’, or ‘Intention-technique’.
You go to sleep and set your alarm to wake you 4.5 hours after your estimated time of falling asleep. The hardest part is actually waking from the alarm, so maybe set more than one alarm. Once you are awake, you will have to remain awake for at least 30 minutes. You will be tired and if you lie down you will probably fall asleep very quickly so it’s best to just keep standing. That way you are sure not to fall asleep.
Go downstairs for a bit, drink some water and go to the toilet. Try not to get too active or do anything that might really wake you up. Your mind has to stay between drowsy and awake. Take your dream-journal or some paper and a pen with you. This is where the ‘intention’ part comes in.
Write down what you want to do (You want to lucid dream, but also what you want to do in your lucid dream) and why you want to do it. Also explain the technique in short. Do it like you’re trying to converse. (Short example: “I just woke after 4.5 hours of sleep, now I’m going to lucid dream. By looking for dream-signs really well I will recognize when I am in a dream. I will have at least 1 lucid dream and will remember 3 dreams”) Don’t simply copy this sentence exactly, you need to write down what YOU are going to do and how you are going to do it. The more details you can add, the better. You can also add how you will recognize you are dreaming.
If you want to increase your chances even higher with this technique, you should try to be aware of your state the whole time you are awake. So just keep doing reality checks and making sure you are awake. You can also visualise yourself in a dream finding out you are dreaming. Visualise what you would like to do.
After being awake for at least 30 minutes and writing your intention down, you go back to sleep. Don’t worry about not being able to fall asleep after so long.
*Credit to reddit users u/gorat and u/achareat whose guides the above are based upon.