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dreams 


It’s rare that I have an exciting or fun dream. Two-headed monsters or the ability to breathe underwater rarely come up when I’m sleeping. The most interesting dream I’ve had recently involved me returning to my college job as an ice cream scooper and muttering to a coworker, “Man, this sucks!” It sure did.
Yet many of my friends tell me fantastic nighttime tales of flying all over the world or of scandalous encounters with Clive Owen on a train. I’ve heard that it’s possible to control the course of our dreams via lucid dreaming, but I always assumed that it was an innate ability. In fact, anyone can learn to take the reins from the subconscious and alter dream situations. Using a variety of techniques, we can turn mundane dreams into fantasies that make it even more exciting to crawl into bed.

1. Dream Journaling

A good place to start the lucid dreaming process is to keep a record of previous dreams. There are numerous ways to remember your dreams, but one of the easiest and most popular is to keep a dream journal. Put a notebook and pen next to your bed and immediately upon waking write down everything you can remember from your dreams. If writing is too much effort so soon after snoozing, try a voice recorder instead. The point is to keep track consistently so that your dream recall improves over time. After all, what’s the point of lucid dreaming if you can’t remember it in the morning?

2. Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD)

This technique, created by psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge, stresses the recognition of dreaming while it’s in process. Begin by making it a goal to wake yourself up when you notice that you’re dreaming and chronicle everything you can remember about the dream. As you’re falling back asleep, focus on re-entering your previous dream, but this time direct yourself to explore the dream instead of waking yourself up. Keep that awareness as you fall into REM sleep (the sleep stage during which lucid dreaming most commonly occurs). It might help to state aloud, “I am aware of my dream state,” as you drift off.
Look for indications—also called dream signs—that alert you to the fact that you’re dreaming. These could be anything that are out of the ordinary or would be impossible in real life (the previously-mentioned two-headed monster, for example). This technique can take a while to master, but with steady practice, you can learn to recognize dream signs while still in the dream state, thereby putting yourself in control of the situation.

3. Reality Testing

Reality testing requires constant attention to the world around us—both in dreams and in real life. When going through your day, perform small checks to determine if what you’re seeing is possible in reality. The answer will usually be yes since you know you’re awake (and it’ll probably feel silly at first), but the repeated questioning will set your mind up to take the same actions in dreams. For example, something simple like a car not starting is often overlooked in a dream because that’s something that could happen in real life. But if a spouse’s hair is blonde instead of brown, that’s a clear signal for someone using reality testing that he or she is actually dreaming, and this knowledge allows more control over the course of the dream. To get into the habit, set an alarm or make it a goal to do reality checks a certain number of times per day. The checks are a way to teach yourself to notice out of the ordinary occurrences in dreams so that you can reach that coveted awareness without fully waking up.

4. Wake-Initiation of Lucid Dreams (WILD)

Those who use the WILD method to achieve lucid dreaming must learn to stay at least somewhat conscious (but not too conscious, since that might keep you awake) as your body moves into deep sleep. According to the Lucidity Institute, a group that promotes lucid dreaming research and theories, you must start with about five or six hours of sleep before attempting WILD.
Upon waking, stay up for anywhere from half an hour to an hour, and then try to fall back asleep while remaining conscious of what’s going on and thinking about your next dream. Many people enter a hypnagogic state (the period of grogginess preceding sleep) at this point, since their bodies have already passed through the previous sleep stages during the five- to six-hour period. As you’re getting closer to the REM stage, you might see strange colors or images behind your closed eyes or hear odd noises—this is part of falling into a dream state. If you can focus on these occurrences enough to know what they are without rousing yourself to complete consciousness, they will turn into dreams that you can manipulate.

5. Lucid Dreaming Induction Devices (LDID)

For those who can’t achieve lucid dreaming on their own, there are products on the market designed to help you enter the desired dream state. One example is the NovaDreamer, which was developed by Stephen LaBerge. It involves a mask that goes over your eyes that flashes lights or emits a sound when you fall into the REM stage of sleep. The REM-Dreamer is a similar product that claims to have better technology than LaBerge’s version. They’re both meant to serve as a reminder that you are actually dreaming, and, with practice, that semi-awareness will grant you the ability to direct the course of your dreams.

6. Lucid Dreaming Via Food

Though not as popular as the other methods listed, some believe that ingesting certain foods before going to bed will increase the likelihood of lucid dreaming. Some potential triggers are mustard, dairy, pickles, and popcorn. However, eating these foods too late at night might prevent someone from falling asleep altogether. Feel free to try it, especially if a pickle craving is actually keeping you awake at night. However, you might be better off attempting one of the other techniques first.
There are other similar methods suggested for lucid dreaming and many of them center on achieving a certain state of consciousness while altering sleeping patterns. What they all have in common is the need to stay focused and keep our stress levels down, as constant worry will only produce anxiety-ridden dreams. The ability to control our dreams requires effort, determination, and consistent application. However, all that hard work might just pay off when we dream about flying over the Great Pyramids or swimming with dolphins as opposed to our spouses cheating, showing up naked and late to work, or fighting mutant monkeys in space alongside Vin Diesel. (Actually, that last one sounds kind of cool …)
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