Eachnight may earn commissions for products you purchase through our links. Our articles and reviews include affiliate links and advertisements, including amerisleep advertising. Learn more Updated June 24, 2021If you’ve ever struggled chronically with nightmares, you probably know exactly what lucid dreaming is and that lucid dreaming therapy (LDT) is one of the best ways to treat persistent bad dreams. For the rest of us, lucid dreams might not be as familiar.Lucid dreams are a type of vivid dream where you’re aware you’re asleep. Sometimes, people experience unprovoked lucid dreams. In fact, around 55 percent of people have reported having had at least one. But it’s also possible to learn how to lucid dream intentionally.Below, we’ll discuss some lucid dreaming techniques and why learning how to lucid dream can be beneficial.Cognitive Techniques for Lucid DreamingThere are several different cognitive techniques you can try to induce lucid dreaming, and there’s no “right” one. There’s just the one that works for you.If you’re a beginner with some time on your hands, learning to reality check over a period of weeks or months might be your best shot. If you want to try to start lucid dreaming right away, the WBTB method could be for you. And if you’re just dabbling with the idea, some knowledge of the WILD technique could be all it takes for you to induce a lucid dream without too much effort.Reality ChecksReality checking/reality testing is basically training your mind to be aware of itself and its own consciousness. This awareness of one’s own thought processes is called metacognition, and we exhibit strikingly similar levels when we’re awake and when we’re dreaming, meaning if you increase your metacognition while you’re awake, you’ll also increase it when you’re in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.To increase your metacognitive abilities, perform reality checks while you’re awake. There are a lot of different ways to do this. You can ask yourself frequently if you’re dreaming and then look for clues as to whether you are or not. Look at mirrors to see if your reflection is distorted. Check the clock to see if time is progressing at a consistent pace; in dreams, the time will fluctuate wildly. Pinch your nose and try to breathe through it—if you can, you’re in a dream state. Try to push your hand through a table or wall, and if it goes through, you know you’re asleep. You can also try to push the index finger of one hand through the palm of the other.It’s better not to do all these reality checks, since too many at once can confuse the brain. The best thing to do is pick the one you think will be the easiest to perform in your own dreams and practice this reality check multiple times a day during your waking hours. Training your brain to do it reflexively while you’re awake can make you more likely to remember it when you’re dreaming.Dream JournalsKeep a pen and pad by your bed so you can keep tabs on what you’re dreaming, writing down every detail you can remember as soon as you wake up. A lot of people have repetitive dreams or at least dreams that follow a few key themes. Common themes include flying, breathing underwater, falling, being chased, being back in school, and being in their underwear in public.If you have a dream a lot, being aware of the general situation and narrative can help your brain determine if it’s dreaming. A brain that’s familiar with the content of its own dreams is a brain better prepared to recognize them.The MILD TechniqueMnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD) is basically training your brain to recognize it’s dreaming by reminding yourself you’re going to recognize your dreams later. If you make the intention to remember you’re dreaming, your brain will be more likely to do it.To use this technique, first, think of a recent dream you can remember. Next, think about something odd or unreal from the dream—something that would never happen in real life; this will be your dream sign. Then, think about the dream sign as you fall asleep, maintaining awareness that if you see the dream sign, you will know for sure you’re dreaming. Try to fall asleep with the intention of recognizing when you start to dream. This can help up your likelihood of both seeing your dream sign and comprehending what it means.The WBTB TechniqueWake Back To Bed (WBTB) involves setting an alarm 5 or 6 hours after you fall asleep (making it more likely you’ll wake up out of REM) and then writing down all the details of your dream before you go back to sleep, focusing on continuing the same dream.When you wake during the REM stage, your brain is probably going to be dreaming. Waking up out of a dream, realizing it was a dream, and then trying to fall back asleep to reenter the dream with the knowledge it is, in fact, a dream can help you maintain awareness and control during subsequent sleep cycles.The WILD TechniqueWake Initiated Lucid Dreaming (WILD) is basically WBTB, only you wake up naturally. With this technique, if you happen to wake out of a dream, even if it was a bad dream, keep your eyes closed and try to immediately go back to sleep. Focus your thoughts on recalling the content of the dream, and you might even try consciously continuing the narrative of the dream.For instance, if you were dreaming about being chased by a monster, and you wake up during the chase, rather than bolting out of bed and assuring yourself it was a dream, try to direct the dream narrative. Maybe the monster shrinks to the size of a golf ball. Maybe it evaporates. If you take conscious control of the dream during waking, you might be able to maintain it once you fall back asleep.Benefits of Lucid DreamingLucid dreaming has a lot of benefits, both to treat certain sleep-related issues and to enhance desirable capabilities.Nightmares and PTSDPerhaps the biggest benefit to lucid dreaming is overcoming chronic nightmares. You might experience repetitive, long-term nightmares because of PTSD, certain medications, or mental disorders. If that’s the case, learning to lucid dream could help reduce nightmare frequency and/or intensity.If you’re able to recognize when you’re having a dream, you can maintain awareness the dreams aren’t real and pose no danger to you. If you get good at lucid dreaming, you might also be able to gain a large amount of control over the dream narrative, giving yourself the agency to make choices and decide how the dream ends.Anxiety and PhobiasAnother benefit of lucid dreaming is it seems to help sufferers of anxiety relieve their symptoms during wake time. Some people claim controlling their dreams helps them face anxiety-inducing situations without actually being in them.So for instance, if you were anxious about failing a test, you could induce a dream in which you passed the test—or maybe a dream where you did fail the test and it didn’t turn out so bad after all. This technique may also work with people who have specific phobias, allowing them to face their fears in a controlled, fake environment, almost like virtual reality.Creativity EnhancementAnecdotal evidence suggests lucid dreams can also boost your creativity by letting you act almost like an observer of your dreams, going along for the ride inside your own imagination, all the while knowing nothing happening around you is real.Motor Skill ImprovementThere’s some evidence to indicate lucid dreams might help strengthen coordination and motor skills in people with physical disabilities. For example, in a lucid dream, a partial paraplegic might practice wiggling their toes or even walking, which could help them accomplish these things in physical therapy. Repeating certain behaviors consistently while dreaming has been shown to translate into improved physical ability at those same behaviors in the real world.Drawbacks of Lucid DreamingWhile the actual act of lucid dreaming doesn’t appear to have many, if any, negative aspects, learning the induction techniques can cause problems. Things you need to be aware of include:Sleep DisruptionIf you’re deliberately waking yourself in the middle of the night (like you would with the WBTB technique), you could wind up having a hard time going back to sleep. Interrupting your sleep every night long-term can turn into chronic fatigue or sleep deprivation.Sleep ParalysisIf you’re consistently waking yourself up out of REM sleep, you’re also upping your odds of experiencing sleep paralysis. Your body naturally maintains a state of immobility during REM so you don’t act out your dreams. If you wake during REM, you can sometimes experience a few second delay between regaining consciousness and regaining the ability to move. While this phenomenon isn’t dangerous, it can be upsetting and scary.If you’re interested in learning more, check out our guide to the neuroscience of sleep paralysis.Depression and AnxietySleep is vital for your mental health. Studies in adults and children have indicated sleep problems can both increase the risk of and even contribute to the development of certain psychiatric disorders. If you’re constantly interrupting your sleep, it may up your chances for a depressive or nervous episode, since good sleep is essential for a stable, positive mood. When you deprive your brain of sleep, you also deprive it of its ability to regulate emotions and handle stress.Keeping a Sleep ScheduleLucid dreaming may interfere with your sleep-wake cycle, so it’s important to make sure you have a strong sleep schedule in place before you try lucid dreaming, and that you continue to maintain it through your efforts.Excellent time management is a key part of falling asleep. Your daily schedule should budget for about 7 to 9 hours of sleep, plus time to nod off. When you don’t leave enough time to sleep, you’ll begin to feel the effects of chronic sleep deprivation.Using a sleep calculator can help you determine your ideal bedtime, by counting back from when you want to wake up.One of the biggest ways to fix your sleep schedule is to make sure you have a bedroom to promote sleep. Your surroundings should cool and dark. Ideally, you also want a bedroom free of clutter to promote relaxation.Some people find pleasant smells help them fall asleep. If you’re interested in aromatherapy, you might want to consider essential oils for sleep. You can diffuse the oil, mist it about your room in a spray bottle, or mix it to make a soothing massage oil.If you prefer the idea of natural herbs for sleep, you can brew a relaxing herbal tea or consume extract supplements.FAQsCan I wake myself up in my dream if I’m lucid dreaming?Sure you can. If you get good at maintaining control over your dreams, you may eventually be able to wake yourself up at will. Some good techniques for waking up from a lucid dream include repeatedly blinking, calling out for help, or falling asleep in your dream.Who discovered lucid dreaming?In the 1970s, Dr. Stephen LaBerge began researching lucid dreaming for his Ph.D. in psychophysiology. By the 1980s, he’d created a few techniques for initiating lucid dreams at will. Most notably, he’s the researcher who came up with the MILD technique.He subsequently popularized the idea of lucid dreaming in American culture by signaling to a colleague using previously agreed-upon eye movements while he was in REM sleep, thus demonstrating dream control was possible.Are there any people who shouldn’t try to lucid dream?Yes. If you have certain sleep disorders like insomnia or circadian rhythm issues, you could increase your chances of sleep problems if you use the WBTB technique. It also might not be a good idea for people with certain mental disorders in which they already have a difficult time distinguishing reality from fiction to try to lucid dream.If you fall into these categories, it’s best to speak with your doctor before trying it.How can I tell if I’m having a lucid dream without meaning to?If you’ve never tried to lucid dream, but you think you might be dreaming and aware of it anyway, you can still perform reality checks in what you think is your dream. Remember, time swings wildly in dreams, so if you look at the clock, look away, and then look back to find the time changed dramatically—you’re dreaming. If you look at a book page that says one thing, and when you look away and look back it says another—you’re also dreaming. Another general rule is if you’re pretty sure you’re dreaming because you’ve already noticed a lot of cues that don’t happen in real life, it’s a good bet you’re having a lucid dream without intending to.Do lucid dreams ever mean anything?Like all dreams, lucid dreams can indicate a lot of things about what you’re feeling or thinking in your subconscious mind. Writing down your dreams as soon as you wake up can help you keep track of them. Once you have enough dreams in your journal, you can start trying to identify patterns that you can interpret while awake.Bottom LineIn the ideal lucid dream, you’re not only aware you’re dreaming, but you’re also able to control the dream’s narrative. Since dreams happen entirely in the brain, controlling them isn’t at all implausible—all you have to do is learn how.Being able to maintain awareness and control during your dreams might be vital for you to overcome nightmares, and it might be just something you do for fun. Whatever the reason you’re learning to lucid dream, make sure it isn’t disrupting your sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is a lot more vital to a healthy body and mind than being able to become a super admin inside your own subconscious.About the author Rosie Osmun CERTIFIED SLEEP COACH Rosie Osmun is a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Government from Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.For more than 13 years, she has been involved in the beauty, health, sleep, and wellness industries. Her work has been featured and published in Byrdie, Lifehacker, Men’s Journal, EatingWell, and Medical Daily. Find more articles by RosieAuthor Social Links Follow: Author Linkedin Author Twitter Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.