Everybody dreams. Sometimes, you gasp awake, drenched in sweat over a terrifying apparition of your mind. In other cases, you wake up with a feeling of utmost contentment and peace at having a wonderful dream. Maybe your dreams are populated with events so strange you can hardly describe them. Or, more often than not, you can’t recall your dreams—they fade as soon as you wake up, leaving lingering emotions and a feeling of having lost something, grasping for a memory just out of reach. But the underlying thread behind our dreams is the way they progress: out of our control. Your brain populates a world in your sleep and you drift through it lazily, yet you can’t decide what to do. You never realize that you’re dreaming when you’re in a dream. That’s where lucid dreaming comes into play.

A lucid dream is a dream in which you realize that you’re dreaming, and can subsequently control the course of your dream. If you’re in a lucid dream, you can decide to do basically anything: the laws of physics don’t apply to your dreams! It’s possible to fly, gain superpowers, travel the world (or the galaxy), and revisit loved ones in your dream. So how does it work?

A lot of this process is still a mystery. Researchers have correlated the occurrence of lucid dreams with prefrontal cortex activity, which controls many cognitive functions. Moreover, lucid dreams most commonly occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of the sleep cycle, when your brain is the most active. As REM is the last stage of the sleep cycle, researchers believe that lucid dreams originate from non-lucid dreams—in other words, you can turn a regular dream into a lucid dream upon becoming aware that you’re dreaming. 

For many people, this entire phenomenon sounds daunting. But anyone can learn to lucid dream—it’s just a matter of hard work and a bit of creativity. One of the biggest ways to get started is to start a dream journal, where you detail as much as you can remember about your dreams as soon as you wake up. This helps your mind focus more on your dreams and, hopefully, you start identifying “signs” that recur throughout dreams. In addition, doing “reality checks” are helpful as well: several times throughout the day, build up a habit of “checking” your reality (the same concept is used in the movie Inception). Reality checks can be as simple as stopping to read a line of text, like a candy wrapper or sign. The important thing is that you do this enough while awake to build up a habit, so even in dreams, you’ll subconsciously be “checking” your reality. There are other ways to induce lucid dreaming, but starting with just those two steps are key to the entire process.

So why should you try lucid dreaming? True, there is effort involved in achieving it, and it might not seem worth the time you spend trying to get there. However, lucid dreaming is an amazing phenomenon, and it allows you to literally experience your deepest dreams. If you’ve always wanted to try flying, travel to Paris, or adventure through a fantasy world of your own design, lucid dreaming is for you. You can even use it for more boring purposes, like practicing presentations or motor skills—that experience actually translates to real life. Lucid dreaming has even been used to combat anxiety and improve your problem-solving ability. While lucid dreaming sounds far-fetched on paper, it’s an incredible phenomenon that anyone can experience—the only limit is your imagination. 

Sources: https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/lucid-dreams-overview, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/dreams/lucid-dreams, https://thedublinshield.com/showcase/2022/03/24/the-science-behind-lucid-dreaming/

Photo Credit: The Dublin Shield

Written by

Cassidy Cheng

Cassidy Cheng, senior, has always loved to read and write, and she loves diving deeper into her interests, from food to biotech to new book releases. She’s proud to serve as one of the Editors-in-Chief this year, and loves seeing how creative Muse writers can be!