I stared out of the cafe window and waited for her to arrive. With each swing of the front door, the frozen February wind rushed in, biting my hands and face. Around me, students gossiped and studied with each other.
It was 2014 — my freshman year of high school — and I had plans to catch up with an old childhood friend. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, she stepped inside, bundled in a heavy coat and scarf.
We chatted for a short bit, eager to reconnect. I remarked on how long it had been since we last saw each other, to which she replied: “Well, I came to visit your band class today, but you weren’t there.”
Band was my favorite class; how could I have missed it? The cafe we were in was across the street from my high school and the busses were starting to leave. Clearly, I had come from school, but I had no memory of taking the walk over.
I had no memory of anything.
The realization slowly dawned on me. I no longer felt the cold air bite. The loud chatter in the cafe dimmed to a whisper. Below me, my chair seemed to disappear as I lost the sensation of touch. All feelings were replaced by two thoughts, thoughts which seem to contradict each other:
I was asleep. And I was conscious.
Sleep and Dreams
We usually think of sleep as a state of unconsciousness, divided into two main parts: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement), which occurs in three stages. REM sleep is when we usually dream.
Scientists are still studying how the brain functions during sleep, but one thing is clear — it’s not as simple as consciousness and unconsciousness. In fact, we’ve been aware of transitionary stages of consciousness for centuries.
Different levels of consciousness occur during dreams too. Often, though you have sensory experiences that you may remember in the morning, you are unaware of the fact you are asleep during the dream. But what if during your dream, you suddenly became aware of your dream? Could you learn to control your dreams? In short, yes. This is the world of lucid dreaming.
What is Lucid Dreaming?
[bf_image id="ss5pwjkmsvv9z282jrjkth6"] Lucid dreaming is defined as a dream state in which one is conscious enough to recognize that one is in the dream state, and which stays in one's memory. It typically starts as a regular dream, until the realization hits that you’re asleep.
Since your mind was creating the dream to begin with, you can use it to change the course of your dream. Once lucid, your brain can conjure up any situation imaginable, including flying, accomplishing goals, living out fantasies, or delivering a message to a loved one.
Why Lucid Dream? [bf_image id="f5j37fbt4nc42wjbtjh8wgp3"]
Besides just being cool, lucid dreaming can have a number of psychological benefits. For instance, you can:
Explore Any Situation: Lucid dreaming allows you to look deep into your imagination and live your wildest fantasies. Flying is one of the most common courses of action once a dreamer is lucid, but it doesn’t stop there. You can travel to a location you’ve always wanted to visit, give yourself superpowers or even step inside your favorite book or TV show.
Enhance Your Creativity: Many famous artists and writers have looked to their dreams for inspiration. Lucid dreaming can also be a problem-solving time, as you have the opportunity to try out several different solutions without fear of failure or a deadline.
Improve Your Lifestyle: The Ancient Greeks often went on pilgrimages to healing temples, or Asclepions, to seek guidance and cures to their ailments. Here they would practice dream incubation — the process of inducing a lucid dream — to receive guidance from the gods on the best course of action. While you may not have divine interference in your dreams, lucid dreaming can be a time to hear the messages your subconscious is trying to tell you.
How to Lucid Dream
[bf_image id="rfvq369qmf8vkq5qwtgh72n"] So, how do you get started? Lucid dreaming comes naturally for some people, while others need to work for it. Whether you’re an experienced lucid dreamer or can’t remember your dreams in the morning, here are some tips to help you start controlling your dreams:
Look for the Signs: When you’re dreaming, your mind can’t always create an accurate reality, so it takes shortcuts. By noticing these inaccuracies, you could discover a dream while you’re having it. Common signs of dreaming include an abnormal amount of fingers, an inability to notice reflections, and a lack of continuity in the progression of time.
Keep a Dream Journal: Everybody has their own specific dreams with their own recurring themes. By keeping track of what happens in your dreams, you’ll start to notice patterns that will make it easier to recognize when you’re asleep. Just make sure you write your dreams down as soon as you wake up, as you start to forget your dreams after being awake for only a few minutes.
Hit the Snooze Button: Studies from 2016 and 1994 found that people who snooze their alarm clocks in the morning are more likely to have a lucid dream afterward, though nobody is sure why. One theory is that the shorter period before wakefulness and REM lets your brain move faster between states of consciousness, increasing the likelihood of lucidity.
Game On: Playing video games may make you more prone to lucid dreaming, and may even help you control these dreams. Dr. Jayne Gackenback, a psychology professor at MacEwan University, says: “Gamers are used to controlling their environments, so that can translate into dreams.”
Listen to Beats: And I don’t mean the headphones. Your brain is constantly giving off electrical impulses, known as brain waves. These waves occur in different patterns that correspond to different levels of consciousness. Allegedly, listening to binaural beats, an audio illusion caused by listening to very similar notes in each ear, can induce different brain waves. This Spotify playlist contains music with Theta-inducing beats, which are often associated with meditation and lucid dreams. You’ll need headphones or earbuds for the effect to work, however.
I left that cafe to explore the new world around me. My friend didn’t mind — she was only a figment of my imagination. Only one thought captivated my mind: flying. I’d tried in the past but I always lost control, falling on my bed and waking up with a hypnic jerk. Not this time.
I looked up at the sky as I imagined it getting closer to me. Slowly, my feet left the ground and I began to ascend. Farther and farther I climbed until the cars below were just little specks on a frosty globe. I was weightless.
That winter was one of the hardest times of my life. Plagued by intense, chronic depression, I’d lost several friends and my academic performance was plummeting. Each day grew colder and shorter. I couldn’t escape the gloom.
Back in the sky, I took off in a random direction. The snow melted and suburbia faded away as I found myself in vibrant woodlands, brought to life by the springtime. I descended into a meadow of wildflowers. My senses came back with my imagination as I smelled the blossoms, listened to the humming of bumblebees, and felt warm rays on my skin.
I laid down, and I dreamt of the sun.