Most of us have occasionally experienced the strange sensation of realising we’re in a dream. Sometimes, this can be thrilling. “Amazing!” we think elatedly, as it suddenly occurs to us that we’re not really strolling through a snowy meadow discussing gender politics with Helen Mirren and the Genie from Aladdin. “What a wonderful and unusual experience my sleeping brain has manufactured for me!” At other times, the shock of understanding that we’re dreaming is enough to jolt us awake immediately.
The knowledge that you are dreaming is an essential ingredient in a lucid dream, where the dreamer is not only aware that they’re not experiencing reality, but has the ability to control the experience. Lucid dreams can be exhilarating and empowering, as dreamers can manipulate situations that would never be possible in real life. It’s thought that around 51% of people have experienced a lucid dream at least once – but until now, scientists haven’t been sure whether it’s possible to train yourself to control your dreams in this way.
However, new research suggests that it is possible to teach yourself to lucid dream. Dr Denholm Aspy, a psychologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, conducted a series of studies into lucid dreaming (the results of which were recently published in the journal Dreaming).
Dr Aspy found that people can increase their chances of controlling their dreams if they use the following techniques:
- Reality testing. This involves checking your ‘real’ environment several times a day to see if you’re dreaming (much like Inception).
- Wake back to bed. This technique requires waking after five hours of sleep, forcing yourself to stay awake for a short period, then going back to sleep in order to enter REM sleep (a specific kind of deep sleep characterised by more dreaming).
- MILD (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams). This method also involves waking up after five hours. Before going back to sleep, imagine yourself in a lucid dream and repeat the phrase: “The next time I’m dreaming, I will remember that I’m dreaming” several times.
Forty-seven people took part in the studies. Dr Aspy found that participants who combined all three techniques experienced a 17% success rate in having lucid dreams over the course of one week – a much higher rate than when they didn’t use any techniques at all.
In addition, people who were able to go to sleep within the first five minutes of completing the MILD technique had a 46% success rate.
“The MILD technique works on what we call ‘prospective memory’ – that is, your ability to remember to do things in the future,” says Dr Aspy.
“By repeating a phrase that you will remember you’re dreaming, it forms an intention in your mind that you will, in fact, remember that you are dreaming, leading to a lucid dream.”
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While some people report feeling exhausted after waking from a lucid dream, Dr Aspy says that the MILD technique appears to protect against this.
“Those who reported success using the MILD technique were significantly less sleep deprived the next day, indicating that lucid dreaming did not have any negative effect on sleep quality,” he said.
Dr Aspy is continuing his research into lucid dreaming with a new study, open to any English-speaking people aged 18 and over anywhere in the world. For more information and to take part in the study, click here.