Having lucid dreams takes learning a few basic techniques and cultivating a specific mindset. Some persons will require more time or effort in developing their induction abilities than others. Persistence and optimism can be helpful, and your inspiration and motivation may also play a role. Check out the summary below for the most tried-and-true ways to induce lucid dreams.
Improve your dream recall
The first step in preparing to lucid dream is to increase your dream recall. To quote Lucidity institute, “…if you don’t recall your dreams, even if you do have a lucid dream, you won’t remember it!” Dream journaling is instrumental for most practicing lucid dreamers, and is highly recommended for reasons that extend even beyond the purpose of induction.
Intend to Notice Dreamsigns
A key skill in lucid dreaming is learning to identify dreamsigns: signs that you are dreaming. Usually you will become lucid by critically reflecting on something unusual or dream-like within the dream, realizing that the explanation is that you are dreaming. The more familiar you are with your dreams, the better you will be at recognizing them. Additionally, many practicing lucid dreamers notice that they dream of recurring dreamsigns from time to time, such as certain people, places, or events (e.g. dreaming you are unprepared for an exam). Recurring dreamsigns are useful because you can expect to dream about them again at some point in the future, and therefore prepare your mind to recognize them. Make a list of all your recurring dreamsigns. Then train yourself to recognize you are dreaming the next time a dreamsign appears in your dreams via mental rehearsal and other intention-setting techniques. Learn more on improving dreamsign awareness here.
Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD)
MILD is a technique developed by Stephen LaBerge that takes advantage of state-dependent learning and integrates several induction skills (e.g. recall, reflection, imagery rehearsal and intention setting). MILD is based on training your prospective memory, which is your ability to remember to do things in the future. After all, in order to have a lucid dream, you need to remember in the future to recognize that you are dreaming.
See here for MILD instructions.
Am I awake?
Consider throughout the day whether or not you are dreaming. Use your critical thinking skills to reflect on your present state and identify possible dreamsigns. The more you practice reflecting on your present state, the more this mindset will be accessible to you when you truly are dreaming—leading to lucidity.
Rereading State Test (RRST)
While reflecting on your state of consciousness in the daytime helps to optimize your mindset for lucidity, it still has limitations. This is because the belief that you are awake is a deeply rooted assumption. Moreover, dreams often share features of waking consciousness, so it can be hard to accurately discern your state.
State testing—commonly referred to as reality testing—is a way of discerning your current state by attempting to evoke a specific sort of dreamsign, such as attempting to levitate. These are practiced during the daytime, and you may also test your state while dreaming if you miss noticing dreamsigns that are already present.
You may have heard of many types of reality tests before, but most are not reliable and often result in false negatives. The reality test that is recommended as the most reliable is the Rereading State Test. The task is to read some printed text, look away at something else, then read it again to determine if the words or numbers change, as often happens when one tries to reread in dreams. In fact, LaBerge tested the stability of printed text in dreams on 46 lucid dreamers. They reported that the text changed upon second glance in two or less attempts 95% of the time.
As a complement to increasing dreamsign awareness, the Rereading State Test can help you narrow your focus onto recognizing one class of dreamsign. This is useful if you notice a dreamsign, but still are not certain you are dreaming. It is not recommended to rely solely on state tests to induce lucid dreaming. Instead, use the Rereading State Test as part of an integrated repertoire of skills that will make up a strong mindset for remembering when you are dreaming..
For more background on the Rereading State Test, check out this post.
Identifying Possible Dreamsigns While Awake
Looking for potential dreamsigns in your waking environment can also help you strengthen your mindset for lucid dreaming.
A "possible dreamsign" is something dream-like that occurs in waking life, for example, something improbable but not impossible (e.g. You run into a friend you have not seen in years). When you encounter a possible dreamsign, practice questioning whether you are dreaming and conduct a Rereading State Test.
Wake-Initated Lucid Dreams (WILD)
WILDs differ from the more common Dream-Initiated Lucid Dream (DILD), which is when you become lucid while the dream is already in progress–perhaps by suddenly recognizing a dreamsign or by performing a state test. In a WILD, you maintain explicit awareness of your current state through the waking to dreaming transition. In other words, you are lucid as soon as you begin to dream.
WILD techniques are an alternative means of inducing lucid dreams, relying on focused and sustained, meditative awareness as one transitions from the waking to dreaming state. As you relax and fall asleep, common techniques to WILD include repeating a mantra ("I will remember I am dreaming), counting, watching hypnagogic imagery form, or performing a body scan.
Mindfulness meditation skills can be particularly useful for WILDs by helping you observe yourself fall asleep with an open, relaxed yet alert, awareness. If you are able stay aware while falling asleep, you will transition to being entirely embedded within the lucid dream state.
A certain degree of wakefulness during the sleep cycle seems to make lucidity in dreams easier to achieve. Lucidity Institute conducted several tests to explore whether sleep interruption can increase the probability of lucid dreaming. Since lucid dreams tend to occur in a more highly activated phase of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep–the sleep stage most associated with vivid dreaming, they reasoned that increasing wakefulness during the sleep cycle would promote lucid dreams. They found that interrupting sleep for 30 to 60 minutes and then returning to bed for an early morning nap was more associated with lucid dreaming. Some people refer to this technique as wake-back-to-bed (WBTB). This has been confirmed by later researchers. Sleep Interruption should be combined with mental set in order to work.
To practice sleep interruption:
1) set your alarm to awaken you after approximately your 3rd REM period, or you may find you awaken naturally in the middle of the night.
2) When you wake up, get out of bed and stay up for 30 minutes engaged in a quiet wakeful activity, such as dream journaling or reading.
3) Return to sleep while practicing MILD.
How do you time your REM periods? A good rule of thumb to remember is that most people transition through REM sleep about every 90 minutes. Short sleepers or the insomnia-prone may prefer to awaken after their 2nd REM period.
There are other adjunctive strategies to mental set, such as biofeedback-assisted induction or herbal supplements, to up your chances of remembering when you are dreaming. The most important thing to keep in mind is that products you may hear about on the web, if they even have merit, are useless without training in the proper mental set for induction anyway. There is more to learning lucid dreaming than is summarized in the above techniques. Learn more by reading Stephen LaBerge’s classic guide to lucid dreaming, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (1990). You can also read my book, Learn to Lucid Dream, for concise yet refined instruction. Lucidity Institute is another trustworthy resource. For individualized and group, expert instruction in lucid dreaming, sign up for my 6-week online workshop.
Denholm, J.A., et al. (2017). Reality Testing and the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams: Findings From the National Australian Lucid Dream Induction Study. Dreaming, 27(3), 206-231. doi:10.1037/drm0000059
Kahan, T. & LaBerge, S. (2011). Dreaming and Waking: Similarities and Differences Revisited. Consciousness and Cognition, 20(3), 494-514. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.09.002. LaBerge, S. (1990). Lucid Dreaming: Psychophysiological Studies of Consciousness during REM Sleep. In Bootzen, R.R., Kihlstrom, J.F. & Schacter, D.L., (Eds.) Sleep and Cognition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, pp. 109-126. LaBerge, S., Phillips, L., & Levitan (1996). An hour of wakefulness before morning naps makes lucidity more likely. Nightlight, 6(3). LaBerge and Rheingold (1990). Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. New York: Ballantine Books. LaBerge, S., Steiner, R. and Giguère, B. (1996). “To sleep, perchance to read” Nightlight 8(1&2): 17-21.