Fri
Nov 5 2010 1:04pm

Your own personal holodeck

My six-year-old daughter recently became a Star Trek fan (The Next Generation, to be specific). These things must be genetic. It took her all of twenty seconds to tell me she loved it.

A lot of it went over her head, but we’d pause it and discuss what was going on. She was particularly intrigued by the holodeck. And who can blame her? Does any Star Trek fan not want a holodeck? Who wouldn’t love to have a full-sensory world of your own creation in which to play?

One night after watching a few episodes with her, I dreamed that I was on a beautiful beach with enormous waves crashing. I thought, “Hey, summer is over. Why am I here?” And that’s when I realized I was dreaming. The whole scene became clearer and very rich, like an Alma-Tadema painting. I felt a warm breeze, smelled sage and lavender flowers and tasted salt in the air. I thought, “Since I’m dreaming, I can do anything!” I leaped into the clouds, played with birds and swam in the ocean. It was an all-around kickass experience.

I’ve had many lucid dreams before, but it had been a while since the last one, and this was a pleasant gift to myself. The next day I told family and friends about it and I was surprised to learn how few of them had ever heard of lucid dreaming, let alone experienced it. It’s a dream in which you know you are dreaming, I told them, and you can observe and even alter the dreamworld around you.

When I explained it, some found it hard to believe. They thought I was ripping off Inception, pretty much. Or they mistook it for some psychic phenomenon, which I don’t think it is (I know lucid dreamers who consider it related to remote viewing or going out-of-body. I have no intention of contradicting their personal experiences, but for the sake of this post, at least, I’m not looking at this from a supernatural perspective).

Lucid dreams are real. Well, not real like real, but like you really can have them. And it isn’t all that difficult to start. Lucid dreams are, basically, a holodeck in your head.

It would not surprise me in the least if many readers here have had lucid dreams. But if you haven’t, well, they’re such fabulous adventures that I cannot help but share about them. They’re fun, informative, free and entirely your own.

There are two types of lucid dreams. One is when you realize you’re dreaming and “wake up” within the dream. The second is when you go from consciously awake to consciously dreaming without interruption. I have only accomplished the first type, and that’s what I’ll be talking about here.

While some people may be more talented in controlling dreams, it is primarily a skill, and I think anyone can learn it. The whole knack of lucid dreaming is to recognize a dream as a dream while you are dreaming. It’s all about establishing an awareness of your dream-states. There is no need for special classes, equipment, long periods of meditation or drugs (though some lucid dreamers find one or all of the above helpful).

Some lucid dreamers say that galantamine (an extract of a red spider lily) combined with choline bitartrate can boost dream recall and lucidity. I’m curious but I haven’t tried them. Galantamine, and related prescription drugs such as Namenda, are mainly used with Alzheimer’s patients. They’re thought to improve memory in general, though if you want more info than that, you’d have to ask a neurologist. How they change dreams I don’t know, but there is some connection between galantamine and B-vitamins, if I understand it correctly. I have noticed that when I take B-vitamins, especially niacin, B12 and B6, my dreams are more vivid and memorable. But that might just be me.

It should also be noted that being “awake” in a dream will not lead to you feeling the next day like you haven’t slept. You’ll be very well rested. And while you can control your actions and other details in the dream, you will not control every tiny detail. There are plenty of surprises in lucid dreaming. That’s part of the fun.

Lucid dreaming: The Basics

1. Get enough sleep. This is by far the most important thing. You need to sleep to dream, even if you are Fiona Apple. The dreaming part of your sleep cycle gets longer the more you sleep. If you have a sleep disorder, however, I am not sure of what approach to take to lucid dream. Sleep meds can impair lucid dreaming, I’m told.

2. Learn, read, experience. Not a problem for the readers here, I’m sure. The more novel information your brain receives, the more varied your dreams will be. But be sure to follow rule #1!

3. Increase dream recall. Dream recall is crucial to lucid dreaming. You can do this simply by keeping a dream journal. When you wake up, before you do anything else, ask yourself, “What did I dream last night?” Write down anything and everything you remember, no matter how disjointed. You will find that, in the beginning, it will be like snapshots, but very rapidly will improve to remembering dream scenes and, eventually, full dreams. Also, write it down if, at any point in the day, you remember a dream.

4. Question reality. Also probably not a problem for tordotcom readers! Develop the habit of asking yourself if you are dreaming, throughout the day. This will lead to you asking yourself the question during a dream. Look at the details around you. Are you suddenly in a different city? Talking to someone dead? Riding a weird animal? In a dream, these things feel perfectly natural, but questioning them will become easier and more frequent as dream recall improves. Here is a quick exercise. Ask yourself “Am I dreaming?” Then look at a bit of written text. Close your eyes. Ask “Am I dreaming?” again. Re-read the text. Has it changed? If so, you are dreaming. If not, you aren’t. There are many other tests you can perform, but this is the one that works best for me.

5. Suggestion. Tell yourself, throughout the day, and before you sleep, that you will remember your dreams. It is not acommand, but rather a reminder. After a while, you can try suggesting specific dream scenarios. “Tonight I will dream of Paris.” “Tonight I will dream of flying.” “Tonight I will dream of Eric Northman wrestling Eric Cartman.” But in the beginning, it’s not necessary to be so particular.

And that, believe it or not, is all you need to get started. Sleep, learn, remember, question, suggest. And don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t happen right away. That’s okay. In the meantime, you’ll be improving your dream memory, which is rewarding on its own.

If you’re a lucid dreamer and want to share your experiences or suggestions, please do! I’d love to hear about it. Extra points if you ever had a lucid dream about Star Trek.


Jason Henninger apologizes for any True Blood/South Park mashup dreams he may have caused.

19 comments
lady she
1. lady she
This is seriously cool,very well written (as always) and I'm gonna do it. Only had one lucid dream and I flew!
lady she
2. Lsana
When I was about six, I had a dream that I was lost and a monster was chasing me. I realized it was a dream, so I stopped, turned around, and ordered the monster to show me the way home. It very meekly obeyed.

Other than that experience, I haven't had much luck controlling the dream world even when I know it's a dream. I can usually give myself some degree of flight (in fact, that's usually how I check to see if I'm dreaming or not: I try to fly), but enemies tend to remain enemies, and walls remain solid no matter how many times I tell myself I ought to be able to walk through them. Do you have any tips for controlling your dreams once you realize that they are dreams?
Jason Henninger
3. jasonhenninger
@2
Hmmmm....I don't have specific tips other than to say that, for me, control of my dreams improves with practice. The more lucid dreams I have, the better I can change things.

There are a lot of lucid dreaming websites and some might provide better advice. I'll see what I can find for you.
Alex McKee
4. mckale
One question I've always had though is: how do you end your lucid dreaming period? Do you simply say, "Okay, that was a lot of fun flying around, but I'm pretty tuckered out. Time to go back to non-lucid sleep." Part of me fears a scenario similar to one of the Batman cartoon episodes where Batman is trapped in his dream with no way to get out.

No matter how it's done, I just finished reading the Lathe of Heaven and this post is a great continuation of the dream theme. Imagine if George Orr had known about lucid dreaming.
lady she
5. Ramenth
Do you really dream things like "riding a weird animal" or "dreaming about paris" or "flying" or whatever? I don't think I've ever had a dream that didn't have a plotline, even if it wasn't particularly coherent.
Michael Burke
6. Ludon
Sleep meds can impair lucid dreaming, I’m told.

Various meds can impair your dreams. When I have to take cold medicine my dreams tend to get stuck in a For Next loop that repeats throughout the night as I'm not able to find what is needed to advance the dream. I usually wake up feeling like I've hardly slept at all.

I've never really tried to control my dreams. I usually just enjoy following the flow. And, my dreams can be strange.

I don't keep a journal but I do sometimes draw some memories from my dreams and I add notes where I feel they're needed. I've done one large painting composed mostly of things harvested from my dreams I've titled that painting "A Procession Of Souls Sentanced To A Life On Earth."

Two crude drawings tacked on the board behind my drawing table are waiting for me to do something with them. The first shows a Webster University hallway space in which water rained from the ceiling. My note states the location and the rain and that I saw this just before I saw the door. The second drawing is of an arched doorway with a young acolyte figure detailed on the wooden door. The note on this drawing is as follows.

"A door seen in a dream 6/10/05.
Wood or wood covered door.
The figure is in raised detail (Relief).
Seemed to have been on the Webster Campus.
Elijah Wood refused to go through it."

Yes. He was there. I remember that he was frozen with fear - afraid to go through the door and afraid to back away from it. I didn't make it through the door as that was about the time that the alarm woke me for work in the morning.

My dreams can be a lot of fun and some of them have been frustrating. On a few occasions I've done things (like saying something rude to someone asking for help) in my dream that I've felt regret over during my waking hours.

There is someone who occasionally appears in a dream. He's always sleeping next to me (and sometimes leaning against me in his sleep) while I work on something. When he is there I know who he is and I'm always happy that he's there. When I wake up I know that he had been in the dream but I can't remember who he was. Still. For a few days after he's been in a dream I have that good feeling you get from having spent some time with an old friend. Someone from my childhood,I think, but who? He ended up being part of the inspiration for a novela I've written and have to take through at least one more draft before I try submitting it.
Samantha Brandt
7. Talia
I haven't had a lucid dream in a long time, but the most frequent variation of them tended to occur during disturbing dreams. At some point I'd realize "wait, this is bogus, I'm totally dreaming. " And then I'd feel better about everything, but still decide I was going to wake up and I'd "nudge" myself awake. Thing is, about half the time I'd "wake" up in my bed and immidiately realize I was in fact still dreaming. Very Inception-y. :) Sometimes it would take a few "nudges" to get through all the layers of dreaming.
lady she
8. Lord Squire
I start my lucid dreams with what I call "Newspaper dreams". On the verge of sleep (or maybe I am asleep), I picture a newspaper, and can actually see it. At first, it is blurry but soon comes into focus. Sentences appear into focus, and images too - moving images a la Harry Potter. The sentences are gobbledy-gook, but can be amusing in their own right. I let them spout forth their wisdom for a while: "Song for the lamb tones the spat. Crinoline road prepare. etc..." At this stage, I know I'm dreaming and know I'm lucid. Controlling what the paper says is now trivial, so it is more amusing to see what it writes. Though, there is the danger that I go properly asleep. But if can stop that, I can "slide" into one of the newspaper pictures, and then control the dream.
YouDont NeedToKnow
9. necrosage2005
When I was a kid I used to not be able to watch any movie or T.V. show that was even mildly scarey because I'd have horrible nightmares and wake up at night. Some family members told me that when I noticed that I was having a bad dream that I should just tell myself that that is all that it was. I took this one step further and when I notice a dream start not going the way that I want it I become a director and rewind the scene in my head and make it play out the way that I want until I either get it right or morning comes and I have to drag myself awake to shut off the screaming alarm clock. I haven't had too many nightmares since.
Fake Name
10. ThePendragon
Every time I see things like this I get really frustrated. I've been trying to do this for years, dream journl and all. I have yet to have a SINGLE lucid dream and yet I talk to and hear of people all the time who act like it's the most normal thing in the world to be able to do whatever the hell you want when you dream. GAH! Nothing against you personally, but I'm pretty jaded on this now.
Ursula L
11. Ursula
When I was little, and still had problems with occasional bed-wetting, my father told me that if I had a dream where I was looking for a bathroom, it meant I really needed to use the bathroom, and I should wake up and use the bathroom properly.  This worked to solve my bed-wetting problem.  An odd but very practical application of lucid dreaming.
lady she
12. GunningForTheBuddha
I have had lucid moments within dreams, but one of two scenarios usually plays out: 1) I try to get too creative changing my environment and end up fully awake, or 2) something in the dreamscape distracts me and I'm sucked back into normal unconcious dreaming. I'm guesstimating that these lucid moments haven't lasted longer than 20-30 seconds and they have usually followed weeks of me trying to induce lucid dreaming.
lady she
13. codename_boyscout
I have had similar experiences. Where if i try and change to much my mind rejects it and i am startled awake. Generally when I have experienced a lucid dream the most i have been able to do is alter one or two small things and then let the dream carry me again. Usually this is something like, "and now I can fly," or "everyone can breathe underwater." and suddenly in my dreams i am able to do that, but once again the plot slips away from me and with the exception of the minor change I am once again merely enjoying the dream rather than defining it.
lady she
14. DrAngela
I have been able to remember and control many of my dreams for as long as I can remember, but my favourite lucid dreams are the re-runs - I have a great swashbuckling pirate dream that I first had when I was around 8 years old. Every time I dream it I alter it slightly (e.g. costumes) but the basic plot is always just right. The flying dreams of course are brilliant: nothing like that feeling! I also have a lucid recurrenct dream of being onstage in a dance concert that has changed over time from ballet to Arabic and is now ballroom, following my current dance hobby. That one is a lot of fun too.
As some people have noted, you have to have a light hand in altering the dream - it is as if your conscious will is trying to sneak these changes past your unconcious without it really noticing, and if the suspension of disbelief is punctured, you lose the dream. A little like not overthinking a skill-based activity - as soon as your unconcious works out it's not in charge you lose the fluency. Oliver Sacks has a nice description in Musicophilia.
I don't get lucid dreams if I'm too tired, and they mostly seem to occur in the half-hour to forty minutes before I usually wake up. Mostly I have to go to bed around 9:30 to get a lucid dream, which seems to happen around 6am. The other time I can usually get into them is that lovely situation when you have been woken by something (e.g. alarm), have turned it off or dumped the kids on the other half, and you drowse back off again.
Jason Henninger
15. jasonhenninger
Wow...I went out of town for a few days...didn't expect to see so many responses!

I won't respond to everyone except to say thank you for reading my post! But a few specific responses:

@4 I've never thought about ending the lucid dream. I like them to go on as long as possible! But we sleep in cycles, so there's no avoiding the fact that all dreams end eventually. That's just the way brains work.

@5 My dreams are seldom coherent at all, and have little like plotlines. So to answer, yes I really do dream of riding animals (dolphins and whales most of all) and flying and Paris and all that.

@6 Fascinating! I certainly don't think lucid dreaming is the *only* way to explore your dreams(though it is my favorite), and I think what you are saying illustrates that well.

@10 I didn't take that personally at all, though I'm sorry to have added to your frustration. I doubt I can provide any suggestions you haven't already tried, so i won't. But I'm curious to know, with the journals and all the rest, do you find at least that you have a solid dream recall? As I was saying to Ludon above, I think it's all worthwhile to have dreams be a larger part of your life, even if lucidity itself isn't a consistant result.

@11 I applaud your father for giving such sage advice!

@12-13 That's happened to me quite a lot, too. With me, it's that the sudden rush of lucidity is so exciting I kind of lose control. All I know is that, for me, consistency is the key. The more I make it a daily and nightly habit, the better my control is. But control isn't the only objective; remembering the experience clearly, I think, is a huge part of the appeal.
Karolína Košťáková
16. Awaris
I don't really try but usually I get lucid dreams about twice a year and it always comes as a reward :)
But with time, it gets more and more complicated. Everytime I create a rule in my dreamworld, it's still there the next time.I like things to have a reason, pattern, make it a ritual, so... rules. I'm stupid like that.
Like when I was still a kid, I wanted to have a flying dream. So I decided that in order to fly, you have to have a bite of an enchanted steak. (Yes, steak. Cookies are overrated.) But now I can't fly without it and sometimes, there just aren't any. Or it turns out the dreamcook didn't do them right. And that means no flying, because trying to change the rules messes up all the lucid dreaming. And there are loads of rules in my dreamworld :D

But still. It's fun.
Fake Name
17. ThePendragon
It actually varies. Oddly enough I had one of the best dreams I've ever had around two days ago. It wasn't lucid, but it was very vivid, and I remember it very well even several days later. I've had a few great dreams like that, which have stuck with me throughout the years. Other times though, dream recall is not that great. Even looking back and reading the dream journal, I find myself sometimes thinking, what the hell is this? I dreamt this? :p
Francesca Forrest
18. Asakiyume
I enjoyed reading this tremendously. I've had lucid dreams occasionally, and as you describe, it helps to question the dream. One occasion I recall in particular was suspecting I was in a dream and then thinking, "If I am dreaming, I should be able to stick my head through this wall." I tried, and succeeded.

This leads me, now and then, to try doing similar in real life (truly). I close my eyes and slowly bring my head or hand or whatever toward the wall, and for the moment before body part hits wall, I'm full of excitement. Then comes the letdown--no, I'm not dreaming.
lady she
19. mdcjb3
Lathe of Heaven for sure. I've also enjoyed dreams of breathing underwater and flying. The first took me to scuba diving and the second took me to get my private pilots license. Great fun. I still enjoy the falling off a bridge and swimming around like s fish. :-)

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