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Lucid Dreaming 101: A guide to lucid dreaming for beginners

Lucid dreaming is an act of knowing you're dreaming yet not being awake.

You are a lucid dreamer if you are dreaming one moment and the next you know that you are dreaming. You now can mould your dreams according to your wish like a potter. This talent is known as lucid dreaming. And no, you can not die during lucid dreaming. Also, no, it is not like the movie Inception.

To get a better knowledge about what lucid dreaming is, let us get a better look at what makes a lucid dream different from ordinary dreams. First, while you are dreaming, you have no information about whether you are dreaming or not. The lines between reality and dream are blurred. You probably are not even conscious of the discrepancies in the dream. The whole dream feels too real to question anything.

With lucid dreamers, things are different. They can not only dream but also be aware that they are dreaming. It can be defined as, a dream where the dreamers are aware of the dream not being a reality.

Note how, during lucid dreams, you are simply aware of dreams being dreams. You are not really awake.
The earliest known record of lucid dreaming appeared in On Dreams by Ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle. He writes of an incident where he experienced lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreams occur during the rapid eye movement sleep. It is abbreviated as REM sleep. What is REM sleep? Sleep which occurs during the night. It is characterized by rapid eye movements, more dreaming and bodily movements wit faster pulse and breathing — just another reason why you should sleep early.

There have been reported instances of lucid dreams occurring spontaneously at other hours, too.

If you are not a lucid dreamer, you can train yourself to be one. Or become better at it. The degree to which a lucid dreamer can dream a lucid dream varies with a different person. Some tend to wake up as soon as they realize they are dreaming. Others can continue despite knowing they are dreaming. These people might influence their dreams or parts of it through their actions and thoughts. They can change an unpleasant dream to a pleasant dream, a realistic dream into a fantasy one, etc.

Lucid dreams allow you to explore your inner self, allowing you to self discover and understand your needs and desire. It is also something magical. The whole part about the dream is magical because scientists are not yet able to find an appropriate reason, about why dreams occur. Lucid dreaming can have a therapeutic effect, help fight against recurring nightmares. This purpose of lucid dreaming is called lucid dreaming therapy. It also helps against phobias like fear of flying, spider, water, etc. You name it! Lucid dream provides the dreamer with an opportunity to expose themselves to their fears without the danger of any tragedy. Gradually, the phobia disperses.

It is also a huge source of entertainment, almost like virtual reality, a show or a book. Go on an adventure, interact with various sorts of biotic and abiotic factors; something you might not be able to do in real life.

Some tactics for lucid dreaming include:

1. Keeping a dream journal

This is a method most swear by. Keep a journal and a pen or even a mobile. The latter not being really suggested as it could prove distracting. As soon as you wake up, without missing a beat, grab the journal and pen. Write down what you dreamed of and how you felt during your dreams. Do this before you forget.

2. Reality Testing/ Reality Checking

It is a form of mental training where you train your brain to differentiate dream from reality. According to some, this method uses the prefrontal cortex. At every point, ask yourself whether you are dreaming or not. Look for visual cues in your environment to seek proof. These visual cues might include reflection in the mirror (though looking in one might scary during a dream), whether your hand passes through a solid object or not, normal hands or not, the time will change drastically in the clock, pinch your nose to see if you can breathe or not, etc. Pick one of these and do it at regular intervals.

3. Wake Back to Bed

Abbreviated as WBTB is a method of entering REM Sleep. Set an alarm clock five hours after your bedtime. Now, go to sleep as you would usually. After the alarm goes off, stay awake for a few minutes (suggested time is 30 minutes) and do some activity like reading. Now go back to sleep once again. This way, the chances of you having a lucid dream will increase. During the thirty minutes, just choose some activity which requires mental alertness but also allows you to fall back asleep easily.

4. Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams

Abbreviated as MILD was a method created by LaBerge and is renowned as the first method to use scientific research to induce lucid dreams. It is based on prospective memory (setting an intention to do something later on). You got to set yourself to have lucid dream later on. The steps include thinking of a previous dream before going to sleep and pinpoint what was weird about those dreams (something you would not see happening in reality). Now tell yourself that you will remember you are dreaming next time you actually recite. Continue reciting this to yourself. Combine this will WBTB method for best results.

While you would not die during lucid dreams, there are few risks associated with lucid dreaming. Especially for people with special need (Borderline personality disorder) or trauma.

Things like sleep paralysis are common during REM sleep. It prevents you from acting out while you are dreaming. It can be a frightening experience. One might feel as if someone is holding you down, and you can not even defend yourself. You might be aware that you are awake but could experience hallucinations, an after effect of the dream. This part is uncommon but a possibility. Before divulging in a lucid dream, you should research how to cure this stage.
Lucid dreams offer euphoric feelings which tickle all your senses. It could feel incredibly realistic. This might result in the distortion of reality and dreams. And not just in the physical sense. It could confuse your emotions. Negative and positive emotions could surpass the thin line between reality and fantasy.

Now, let us talk about dream claustrophobia. It is when people become lucid in dream scenarios they are unable to control and neither able to wake up from. They are vivid. Rest of the things are pretty similar to the common dream.
Some see the lucid dream as a form of escapism. What is the use of struggling in life when you could have your world where things revolve around you, where you are a god! Fortunately (or not) lucid dreams only last as long as your REM cycles last. Training to be a lucid dream for long requires lots of practice and years of experience.

If even one of these risk scare you then lucid dreaming is not the right choice for you.