Stephen LaBerge is an American psychophysiologist who pioneered the scientific study of lucid dreaming both in his PhD work at Stanford and through the world-famous Lucidity Institute, which he founded in 1987. Stephen LaBerge has published many articles on the subject of lucid dreaming, as well as several how-to books for lay people interested in achieving lucid dreams. The best well known of these books include Lucid Dreaming: The Power of Being Awake and Aware in Your Dreams, Lucid Dreaming: a Concise Guide to Awaking in Your Dreams and in Your Life, and Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (with Howard Rheingold).
In 1980, Stephen LaBerge earned his psychophysiology PhD from Stanford based on work he did individually and with volunteers, in which he not only verified that lucid dreams do occur, by measuring physiological markers in his sleeping subjects, but also discovered certain reliable methods by which a person can train themselves to achieve lucid dreams. In order to complete his PhD, Stephen LaBerge had to develop techniques for reliably achieving lucid dreams. LaBerge’s methods are still in wide use today among the lucid dream community: for instance, La Berge developed the “wake back to bed technique” of lucid dreaming, in which you set your alarm for one to two hours before you normally wake, stay awake doing a light activity like reading for 20 to 40 minutes, and then go to sleep again while repeating an intention to become aware in your dreams. I can claim from personal experience that this technique really is quite effective!
Stephen LaBerge’s lucid dreaming techniques rest on the idea that you can prime your brain to have lucid dreams using various affirmations and active visualization techniques, both in the daytime and at the cusp of sleep. Because of its emphasis on these kinds of mnemonics, LaBerge’s method is often called mnemonic induction of lucid dreams, or MILD. In combination with his “wake back to bed” technique, mnemonic affirmations are a powerful way to achieve lucid dreams because they prime your brain to greater awareness while it’s in the malleable, semi-conscious state that precedes sleep. By temporarily waking up and then going back to sleep, your brain will retain a state closer to your waking awareness even as your body reenters sleep— an ideal state for lucid dreaming.
In his experiments with lucid dreamers such as Englishman Alan Worsley, La Berge sought first of all to prove that lucid dreaming was possible, and then to take measurements of the physiological phenomena associated with lucid dreaming. In a sleep lab setting, Stephen LaBerge measured subjects’ brainwaves using an EEG (electroencephalogram), as well as physical cues such as skin electricity, muscle tonicity, and eye movements to determine that they had entered the REM state associated with dreaming. Previously to sleeping, volunteers like Worsley agreed on preset eye movements they would perform once they achieved lucidity in their dreams, which La Berge could record in the lab.
After verifying that lucid dreaming was actually occurring in lab, Stephen LaBerge and his lucid volunteers performed a number of experiments in their dreams designed to ferret out the differences between the waking and dreaming states, and also measured the subjects’ physical reactions to changes in their dream worlds. For instance, in one experiment LaBerge had subjects count out ten seconds in their dreams and report, via eye movements, when they had completed the task. By measuring the time that passed on the outside as the dreamers performed this task, LaBerge discovered that the dream act of counting out ten seconds took about ten seconds in the waking world. This means that contrary to many popular conceptions of dreaming, in which time dilation occurs in the dream world, dream actions actually take about as long to play out as they would in the waking world. However, in some dreams you may have the sense that greater amounts of time are passing, which may explain the perception of time dilation that many dreamers encounter.
Furthermore, another of Stephen LaBerge’s experiments which has been repeated elsewhere found that modest time dilation occurs for certain physical actions in dreams: he had lucid dreamer Alan Worsley perform deep knee bends in his dreams and signal when he had completed them, the measured that time against an average measure of how long the action would take to complete in real life. LaBerge’s results showed that Worsley’s perception of the time it took him to perform the action was about 44% longer in the dream than it would have been in real life. Other areas of dreaming that Stephen LaBerge studied included the physiological activity of people’s brains when they sang both in dreams and awake, and the physiological arousal associated with experiencing sex and orgasm in dreams.
Since 1987, Stephen LaBerge has helmed the Lucidity Institute, dedicated to promoting research on lucid dreaming and educating the public on how to achieve lucid dreams on their own. LaBerge also developed one of the first dreaming devices— the Dream Light— an early precursor to the Nova Dreamer device later developed by lucid dreamer Craig Webb when he worked for the Lucidity Institute. LaBerge’s Dream Light is a version of the same dream induction device, which uses a sleeping mask hooked to an LED light that flashes when the sleeper’s eyes start exhibiting the rapid eye movement characteristic of dreaming, with the idea that this will help the person “wake up” to the fact they are dreaming and achieve lucidity.
Stephen LaBerge’s Lucidity Institute website is still active and offers years worth of archived advice, stories and step-by-step guides to lucid dreaming. It also has a frequently asked questions section and posts links to conferences on lucid dreaming and related practices of awareness training. Stephen LaBerge himself also gives several lectures yearly on the subject of lucid dreaming and how ordinary people can train themselves to explore the world of the subconscious to improve quality of life.