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I wrote this up because some friends were interested in lucid dreaming and I figured I could share what I’ve learned.

Training to lucid dream is a lot of work, at least it was for me, but I think it’s worth it. Dreaming is something everyone does almost daily for their entire lives and it unlocks a vast new aspect to your life.

I got into it more than 10 years ago, but I’d say it took a solid three years before I was able to do so consistently. Even now, I think there’s still plenty of room for me to improve. When I first started learning I felt there were very few resources on the subject and I really had to experiment with a lot of strategies on my own to improve.

Step 1: Remembering your dreams
This is the starting point. If you don’t remember your dreams, you won’t even know if you’ve had lucid dreams or not. The best way I know of to start remembering your dreams is to write them down when you wake up. This is something extra to do in your daily routine and when you remember more and more details of your dreams it will take longer to do, so there is an immediate commitment involved.

My tip here is when you wake up, don’t move a single muscle. Just recall your dreams the best you can and then sit up and write them down. You’ll find that your ability to remember dreams more vividly increases quickly and soon you’ll be able to remember more of your dreams. If you’re sleeping 6-8 hours a night you’re probably have 3-4 dreams. There are also non-REM dreams which are more auditory than visual but seem more difficult to remember unless you’re waking up from them.

If for whatever reason you just can’t seem to remember your dreams, an effective yet unpleasant technique is to be waken up when you’re in the middle of REM sleep. You can have someone else do this, wear an EEG that’s programmed to trigger your alarm during REM, or just randomly have an alarm go off about an hour after you’ve fallen asleep and hope you’re in REM.

Step 2: Realize you’re dreaming
This was the most difficult step for me and I utilized a number of tricks I had read about online to help with it. I think this took at least a year before I had this step working consistently, but over that time period it became more and more frequent.

I’ve since read that you can use external stimuli when you’re in REM as your trigger. For example playing a song or a recording of your voice when the EEG you’re wearing knows you’ve gone into REM. I have never used this, but I can certainly see it working since external stimuli definitely affect your dreams.

I set a number of triggers while I was awake to be used while I was sleeping. I wore a watch and looked at it very frequently throughout the day. Every time I did, I would pause for a moment and think, “Am I dreaming?” When taking a similar action in a dream, I would realize that I am in fact dreaming and would go lucid. I also would reread my dream log on occasion and try to find similar illogical patterns that occurred. Recognizing nonsense would trigger a lucid dream for me as well. There are illogical things that help give away you’re in a dream pretty consistently such as looking at text, looking away, and back again with it being different. Same thing with clocks, textures, signs, etc.

Something else that works pretty well for me is if I’m sleep deprived I will immediately go into REM sleep, something called REM rebound. It’s pretty easy for me to go right into a lucid dream if I make that my intent while falling asleep.

Step 3: Staying asleep
Every time I realized I was dreaming I would wake up right away. This is pretty awful, especially if it’s in the middle of the night. One technique I remember reading about that worked pretty well was to start spinning. Just hold out your arms and start spinning around. The other thing that works for me is just freezing everything. I also have a particular place that I go to often when I first go lucid, but I’m not sure when I started using that. Something else that is pretty effective if you have some control of your environment is to generate a rope that’s attached to the ground and just grab onto it. Someone once told me they put their hand in their pocket and grab onto a rope in there that is anchored to the world which is the same concept. Another technique I’ve read about is to rub your hands together, but I haven’t tried it.

My tip on this step is just keep things simple. Don’t start trying to build worlds, summon creatures, and fly around quite yet. Anything that was exhilirating and would increase my heartrate substantially increased the difficulty of staying asleep. For example trying to have sex is incredibly difficult to stay asleep through.

I would say even after I became pretty good at staying asleep, the actual lucid dreams don’t seem to last very long. On average it feels like I’m lucid for approximately 5 minutes. Eventually it just kind of fades out while you shift out of REM and then when your next dream starts you’re back to square one. I’m sure the actual time into the dream that you go lucid has a large impact on the time you have. Something that helps make dreams seem to last for many times longer is letting yourself fall back into the dream. Go lucid, set up your scenario, forget that you’re dreaming, and then continue on. Sometime I will come into and out of lucidity a few times in the same dream when I feel the need to change the direction of events or redo something.

Step 4: Experiment
Fly, break physics, be in multiple places at once, try out synesthesia, go talk to yourself (this one is weird), try out some superpowers. Switch out body parts or body entirely. Build a house, city, world, solar system. Rewind time and do something different the second time. Visit places and events from earlier in your life. Make up a completely new life and set of places. Don’t exist at all and just watch time unfold.

One of the most difficult barriers to get over with experimentation in a dream is the logic bounds you have on how the universe works. For example, breaking physics was very difficult for me. If I throw a ball or launch myself at high speed, just suddenly stopping mid-air is pretty difficult to do because your brain wants to take physics into account. Anything that would cause you physical pain in reality such as shooting yourself in the foot is extremely difficult to deal with in a dream and takes some effort to get over. If you really want to break the limits of what you can do in your dreams I think you can systematically break down most of these mental constraints.

Early on I was so excited about lucid dreaming that I would go to sleep with a plan on what I wanted to do. One of my early projects was to build and visit a memory castle. A place I could walk around in and place items in different rooms. Awake I have a memory of this place I visited and can envision the different rooms housing different items that are associated with things I want to remember. Later on I more often went to sleep without any plans and discovered that my sleeping self has different and more simplistic desires.

There are a couple examples of things I’ve done while lucid dreaming that my awake self would consider a waste of a dream. I spent one dream stacking tuna cans higher and higher and needing to fly to continue stacking them. I tried reading a book out loud which was ridiculously difficult. I messed up pronunciations and would stutter, also many of the words I read weren’t real. I got half way down a page of a regular paperback-sized book before I woke up.

Just because you’re lucid dreaming doesn’t necessarily mean you have full control or complete understanding of what’s going on. Your subconscious is still going to render the majority of your surrounding environment including people and places. For better or for worse people may still say or do things that surprise you. You may wind up in places or meet someone you weren’t expecting to. There’s a city I’ve been building out for many years that I can go to if I ever want to remove myself from a scenario. I think it’s a good idea to have a safe and familiar place that you can always use as home base.