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.