If you, like me, have never had a lucid dream, it’s hard not to be jealous of those who have. In contrast to the mundanity and routine that account for so many of your waking hours, a lucid dream means total freedom. You’re not bound by the laws of time or physics: If you want to fly, cool. If you want to have a conversation with someone long ago lost to your past, go right ahead.
Dreaming in general is a complicated thing to study, but there is some data suggesting that lucid dreaming in particular may be quite common. One 2011 study co-authored by sleep researcher Daniel Erlacher found that about half of the 919 German adults surveyed said they’d had a lucid dream at least once in their lives.
Put another way, sleep researchers know that lucid dreaming happens. Sadly for those of us seeking a simple how-to, it seems that exactly how lucid dreaming happens is another matter entirely. Like dreams themselves, the science here is rather hard to make sense of, writes Simon Oxenham in New Scientist — but there are a few things that seem to at least improve your chances of becoming the director of your own dreams.
For one, some research has suggested that lucid dreaming is more likely to happen when people wake up from deep sleep, but then fall back to sleep. So here’s one thing to try: Set two alarms for yourself, with “at least half an hour between them to give yourself a decent chance to begin dreaming again — you may have more luck with a gap closer to 2 hours,” Oxenham writes.
But there is also a second suggestion, one that is rather appealing in the way it calls to mind the 2010 Leonardo DiCaprio film Inception. Remember how DiCaprio’s character (and the rest of his partners in dream-mischief) had a little token he would touch to tell the difference between dreams and reality? This is kind of like that. Oxenham explains:
If all else fails, you might improve your chances by training yourself to conduct frequent Inception-style “reality tests” while you are awake, such as counting the fingers on your hand, reading and rereading the words on a page or turning the lights off and on again. If you remember to do these tasks while you are dreaming, you’re more likely to notice that your hand looks unusual, words jump around on the page or light switches don’t work.
Got it: That’s light switches first. Then — flying next? It’s worth a try, anyway. Good luck tonight, aspirational lucid dreamers.