More and more, as individuals become increasingly aware of the power of dreams and the many different cultural concepts of dreaming, they are starting to wonder how to have lucid dreams. A lucid dream is a dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming, and in which one can potentially affect the outcome of the dream. Lucid dreaming has been extensively researched and its existence is well accepted. It first entered the Western cultural consciousness through Celia Green’s 1968 study Lucid Dreams, which analyzed the characteristics of lucid dreams and concluded that they were most likely associated with Rapid Eye Movement Sleep. In the 1970’s researchers started working with different methods to try to influence lucid dreaming in a lab setting. Alarm bells and eye-lights were used while an individual was asleep to try to bring them in to awareness. It was concluded that techniques like these could indeed be used to facilitate lucid dreams.
The first tools that people who are interested in lucid dreaming will generally come across when they are trying to figure out how to have lucid dreams will most likely be a combination of psychological methods and lucid dream machines. Individuals use techniques such as reality checks during the daytime, such as pinching themselves and saying “I’m awake”, trying to form a habit so that when they are in the dream state they will habitually perform that action and will then realize they are dreaming, i.e. when they do not feel any pain with a dream pinch. Another much used psychological technique for lucid dreaming is to set an intention to learn to lucid dream, which will create a pattern for lucid dreaming in the conscious mind. Many people also start a meditation practice, which can significantly increase awareness both when awake and when asleep. This was one of the first things I did when I decided to start trying to learn to lucid dream, and I believe that having a daily meditation practice is one of the best ways to train the mind and to become increasingly aware, both when awake and when asleep.
Another popular method for people who are trying to figure out how to have lucid dreams come in the form of lucid dream machines. Most lucid dream machines are devices that are placed over the eyes, like masks, and which emit lights and sounds at specific intervals. The theory behind these is that the individual will experience the stimulus in the dream and realize that they are dreaming. Lucid dream machines are generally more effective when people have been working with psychological lucid dreaming techniques as well. These machines can be made at home for fairly little, and there are also kits available that are quite reasonable. However, fully assembled lucid dreaming machines can be very expensive, partly because many of them also have sensors that let them know when the user is going in to REM sleep and only start to emit signals at that time. This prevents broken sleep and ensures that sleep is only being disturbed when the individual is capable of lucid dreaming.
A final modern technique for figuring out how to have lucid dreams is to work with binaural beats. Binaural beats are auditory processing artifacts which stimulate the brain in specific ways. Different beats will have different effects, from inducing relaxation to assisting with meditation or with sleep. In particular, theta wave states seem to induce a sleep that is rife with lucid dreams. At this time no scientific studies regarding the efficacy of binaural beats in lucid dreaming are available, but individual reports indicate that certain binaural beats definitely have an effect on dreaming.
All of these modern techniques are interesting, and have certainly been shown to be effective, but the question of how to have lucid dreams has been asked in various form for thousands of years all over the world. A letter by St. Augustine of Hippo dated to 415 AD refers to the lucid dream state. In the 8th century, Bonpo practitioners in Tibet were practicing a technique known as Dream Yoga, which allows full waking consciousness in the dream state.
Many peoples also came to realize that they had access to certain plants which would allow them access to lucid and vivid dream states. In the last few years, many of these plants have entered the Western cultural consciousness and have become the number one answer to the question of how to have lucid dreams for many individuals. These plants and the dreaming traditions surrounding them come from all over the world, although the most powerful seem to come primarily from Africa and the Americas. This is perhaps because these countries still have significant numbers of indigenous peoples who are still interested in keeping their traditional knowledge of plants alive.
The most popular of these plants is probably Calea zacatechichi, a plant which, in many ways, taught me exactly how to have lucid dreams by increasing REM sleep and inciting very vivid and lucid dreams. Other more newly available dream herbs, such as Uvuma-omhlope, actually seem to increase the depth of sleep while allowing for intensely vivid dreams. Finally, there are a number of plants which have been used traditionally as medicines for hundreds of years which also seem to have a positive effect on inducing vivid and lucid dreaming. These herbs, such as Celsastrus paniculata, are usually used for reasons other than dreaming, such as mental enhancement, but are often reported to dramatically increase lucid dreaming!
Relatively little is known about the mechanisms of most of these dream herbs, although more and more studies are being conducted to figure out exactly how they work. Perhaps with increased research we will come to a greater understanding of the dream state in general, and how lucid dreaming works. This may answer the question of how to have lucid dreams once and for all! In the meantime, there are so many different interesting and useful techniques to achieve lucid dream states that any individual who is interested in lucid dreaming has an incredible variety of different paths by which to achieve their goal. Working with lucid dreaming is a great way to learn more about the self, to increase awareness in general, and to understand the human mind in general more deeply.