Lucid dreaming: what is it and how can it help you?

By planetm | September 6, 2021

Leah Larwood explores how we can use lucid dreaming to support our wellbeing

With the world spending increasingly more time indoors this year, for some of us that has meant more sleep, and for others that has meant an increase in disturbed nights. Whatever your sleep routine is like at the moment, the year ahead is a great opportunity to tap into your own resources to find solutions to personal situations – and to stay well.

Once you have an understanding of the different sleep and dream states, you can begin to access your inner world. Lucid dreaming is a wonderful opportunity for you to boost your sleep, support your health and explore the issues that are causing you most concern.

What is lucid dreaming?

A lucid dream is effectively a dream where you are aware that you are dreaming, and you’re able to exert some influence over its content. It’s when you recognise that although you are asleep in bed, you’re actually awake inside your dream, and you can change what happens next. Once mastered, it’s a thrilling feeling!

Lucid dreaming isn’t a new thing. It’s something that has been practised by various traditions, cultures and religions for centuries. Humans have been doing this since eternity began, yet it’s only been in recent decades that we’ve realised that you can actually do some pretty powerful inner growth work within lucid dreams and within the states of consciousness just before and after sleep – especially when using mindfulness techniques.

Rather excitingly, lucid dreaming is something that can be learnt, even if you’re not currently recalling many of your dreams. Here in the West, it was first recognised scientifically by a Dutch psychiatrist named Frederik van Eeden, who came up with the term ‘lucid dreaming’ in 1913. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that lucid dreaming really exploded and various studies validated the phenomena and delved deeper into the field.

These days, lucid dreaming is something that’s practised independently by individuals looking for ways to develop their inner world, and it’s increasingly being used by psychotherapists and hypnotherapists to help clients with PTSD, anxiety and depression.

How does it work?

When you’re within a lucid dream, you’ve accessed a really refined state of consciousness. It’s a bit like a state of hypnotherapy, only arguably more powerful, and you’re totally in the driving seat. When in a lucid dream state, you can choose to explore your psyche, whether that’s to solve problems you’re facing at work; as a tool to help find inspiration on a project; to practise a skill you want to perfect; develop your spiritual path by meeting your teachers; or simply just to have fun.

One school of thought is that anything you do in a lucid dream is said to be seven times more powerful than if done in the waking state. When you lucid dream, your neural pathways in the brain can be strengthened. So, if you engage in a certain activity within your lucid dreams (such as finding a solution to a stressful situation), you are strengthening the pathways associated with those issues, which makes them easier to do in the waking state.

Lucid dreams allow us to tap into the areas of our lives we wish to develop, by working directly with the unconscious – without our conscious mind editing or analysing the situation. The great thing is, while lucid, you have direct access to the epicentre of your psyche. You can decide what it is you would like lucid dreaming to help you with, and once in a lucid dream, you can carry out what it is you need to do.

How to start lucid dreaming

There are several different techniques you can learn, but the Wake Back to Bed Technique is arguably the most effective. Research shows that it can boost your chances of a lucid dream by 2,000 per cent.

  • Set an alarm for at least two hours earlier than you would normally wake.
  • Stay awake for 30-60 minutes. You can try some mindfulness or read (you want to be awake, not over-stimulated.)
  • After this time, set your alarm for two or more hours’ time (the time you want to wake for the day) and go back to sleep with a strong intention.
  • Recite an affirmation in the present tense.

If you are suffering from insomnia, disturbed sleep or it’s essential for you to have good sleep, then you might feel this approach isn’t for you. However, you can use your next natural nocturnal wake by setting an intention to have a lucid dream. Recite ‘tonight, I lucid dream’ as you fall back to sleep.

Tip: Still not lucid dreaming despite trying various techniques? Try dream incubation. Recite an affirmation before bed and set an intention to have a dream that plays out your hopes. Many have used this approach successfully.

This article first appeared in issue 15 of Planet Mindful magazine.