Have you ever wanted to know what it feels like to fly? Or reunite with someone you thought you’d lost forever? Or find inspiration for your next creative project on demand? Maybe you need to learn how to lucid dream. Lucid dreaming, or the ability to consciously control your dreams while you’re in them, offers the potential to do all of that and more. Tree Carr has published three books on dreaming, teaches regular dreaming workshops at She’s Lost Control, a London-based outlet for alternative wellness, and will be leading a talk on lucid dreaming later in March, in conjunction with Tate Modern’s ‘Surrealism Beyond Borders’ exhibition (until 29 August 2022).
Below, she breaks down the fundamental information you need to know about the practice and offers and a step-by-step guide on how to lucid dream.
Dream guide Tree Carr on how to lucid dream
What exactly is lucid dreaming?
Lucid dreaming is an exceptional experience of consciousness within the altered state of sleep. Also known as metacognitive dreaming or conscious dreaming, it is a phenomenon that occurs at the end of REM sleep when a dreamer becomes conscious and aware that they are within the dream itself. They can then proceed to interact with their dream environment with their conscious free will.
What is the history of lucid dreaming?
Human beings have been lucid dreaming for thousands of years and records of it have been documented in a wide variety of cultures and belief systems throughout the historical timeline of humanity. Lucid dreaming is most known for being central to both the ancient Indian Hindu practice of yoga nidra and the Tibetan Buddhist practice of dream yoga. There are also examples of lucid dreaming in Ancient Greece: the philosopher Aristotle once wrote, ‘often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream’.
Although people have been experiencing lucid dreams for thousands of years, it was only in recent history that it was scientifically proven in a sleep lab by Dr Keith Hearne, in 1975. The neurobiological basis of lucid dreaming is unknown, but emerging evidence points to the involvement of the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC) and parietal cortex in the brain.
How can lucid dreaming be used to improve or unlock creativity?
Dreaming has a long history as being a ‘muse’ to artists, musicians, mathematicians and scientists alike. There are countless examples of inventions, discoveries and moving works of art that all came through in the dream realms. The amazing potential of unlocking creative genius is amplified when a dreamer is able to become fully present and aware within the dream itself. An artist who goes lucid could ask the dream to show them a new painting, and the dream will create it. A musician could ask to hear a melody or a software designer could troubleshoot or problem-solve within the dream itself. Lucid dreaming is an incredible opportunity to interface with your unconscious potential in an organic virtual reality arena created by your consciousness.
6 steps to start lucid dreaming:
Step 1: understand your sleep cycle
It’s really helpful to be aware of the physical and biological aspects of sleeping and dream time. Get to know the five stages of sleep, the five brain wave oscillations, and the amazing liminal realms of hypnagogia and hypnopompia. This is important groundwork as you will begin to understand the optimum times during your sleep cycle in which to help trigger lucidity within a dream. Most lucid dreamers find they will naturally wake up for about five to ten minutes just before their final REM cycle, and when they go back to sleep, they usually go lucid. You can experiment with this by setting your alarm to wake yourself up earlier than normal, then go back to sleep again.
Step 2: improve your sleep hygiene
Make sure you get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, avoid electronics in bed and avoid caffeine/sleeping pills/alcohol before bed. Create an optimum space for sleep dreaming in your bedroom. If you have clutter in your room, remove it. Basically, if the objects in your bedroom have nothing to do with sleep, dreaming, or sex, then put them in another room. Let your bedroom be your dreaming sanctuary.
Step 3: Study your everyday environments
Embrace self-awareness by observing, studying and analysing your day-to-day environments. This can help you create a mental habit of reality checking. By implementing more awareness in your daily life you will soon find that this carries through in your dream realms and lucidity within a dream is more likely to happen. Set goals, intentions, mantras before sleep. Perhaps it is to find your hands in your dreams, or a doorway. Perhaps it can simply be: ‘I will go lucid in my dreams.’
Step 4: Keep a dream journal
Start a dream journal and record your dreams daily. This is the most important foundation of conscious dreaming. The more you record your dreams, the more you improve your dream memory recall and trigger more dreams. It also creates a long-view picture of your dreaming themes and helps you connect the dots of what is going on in your unconscious realms. It helps you see clearly the different genres of dreams you experience, plus it also creates a great record and proof if you are experiencing precognitive (psychic) dreams.
Step 5: Work with some oneirogens (dreaming plants)
Make oneirogen herbs into tea and consume them before bedtime. Not only does this prepare your mind for dream time, but the herbs themselves help activate more vivid dreams and increase the potential of lucid dreaming.
Step 6: Keep practising
If you have a brain and a consciousness, you can experience a lucid dream and although some people experience them arbitrarily, it is definitely something you can cultivate through dedicated practice. Consciousness is a muscle that can be trained and evolved. The more conscious, aware and present you are in your waking life, then the more chance you have of becoming conscious, aware and present within a dream.
Lucid dreaming is a practice that takes daily discipline and new habits. It very rarely has an overnight success rate. This is the training of your consciousness. It’s a bit like going to the gym. You won’t achieve a six-pack after one week’s training, it takes time.
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Mary Cleary is a writer based in London and New York. Previously beauty & grooming editor at Wallpaper*, she is now a contributing editor, alongside writing for various publications on all aspects of culture.