The Science Of Lucid Dreaming: What It's Like To Control Your Dreams

by Dan Scotti

For me, “Inception” gave a new, more absurd meaning to the phrase “changed my life.” Typically, it’s an overused phrase, and one I more or less don’t like because it usually follows some mediocre movie with little to no true impact, like when your buddy tried telling you the latest Mark Wahlberg thriller changed his life.

In the case of "Inception," however, it actually changed my life. There was just something about Leonardo DiCaprio spinning that top that had me wanting to get out there and hop across galaxies in my own dreams. It became an obsession.

I had a little notebook – my dreambook, if you will – I used to keep logs of all my 17-year-old dreams (most of which ended with an awkward and/or strange sexual encounter).

My research was thorough, consisting of Google searches and printed out packets of my Wikipedia paper trail. I was focused, and yet, for whatever reason, I could never take control of my dreams like I dreamed of (pun playfully intended).

Let the record show, however: had I ever been able to successfully, I was fully prepared to rob a bank dressed like “Greenman.”

While I might’ve given up my dream-chasing days, in the most literal of senses, I can’t say I’m any less interested in the matter. For that reason, I have decided to reopen the cold case on “lucid dreaming” and find some concrete answers.

What is lucid dreaming?

First of all, for those who don’t know, The Mind Unleashed defines lucid dreaming as a “hybrid state of consciousness,” one where “it is possible to live out your wildest fantasies and engulf yourself in a world of endless possibilities.”

Essentially, it’s the ability to distinguish between dreams and reality and – in the dream state – do pretty much whatever the f*ck you want. In other words: the ability to know you’re dreaming, while you’re dreaming.

Is it actually possible?

The short answer is yes. According to a lot of the research I’ve done, it seems to be a bit of a controversial topic; there are certain circles that do call bullsh*t.

With all things dream-related, however, there will be the inevitable naysayer, and according to Robert Parmer of The Mind Unleashed, “there has been scientific evidence of lucidities’ existence for years.”

In the 1980s, there was a major scientific breakthrough made in the case for lucid dreaming. Concrete findings proving the existence of the phenomenon came from the laboratory of pioneering scientists Stephen LaBerge, Lynn Nagel, William Dement and Vincent Zarcone.

By placing electrodes on various parts of the face and scalp and monitoring REM (Rapid Eye Movement) levels, they proved a level of consciousness while sleeping – and, in effect, the idea of dream control became a reality.

How does it happen?

There really isn’t much scientific explanation to what’s going on in the brain during lucid dreams. For the most part, lucid dreams are rare deviations from the common dream, experienced no more than once in a lifetime.

According to LeBerge, before we begin to lucid dream, “an elevated level of CNS (Central Nervous System) activation” is required.

Because lucid dreamers are employing a high level of cognitive function during their sleep, it is necessary that they push forth a correspondingly high level of “neuronal activation.”

So, how do we do it?!

OK, now for the question everyone’s been waiting for: How the f*ck can we take control of our own dreams?

For starters, Jordan Lite of Scientific American has said the easiest way to promote lucid dreaming is to make sure to remind yourself you’re about to sleep, prior to sleeping.

For instance, by saying your own person sleep mantra like – “tonight when I dream, I want to realize I’m dreaming” – as Lite suggests, you will already increase your chances of lucid dreaming.

Lite continues to reinforce the importance of getting enough sleep if your goal is lucid dreaming. Dreams, in general, all stem from a state of REM, which is only reached during bouts of deep sleep. If you deprive yourself of sleep, you will inherently “get a lower proportion of REM,” says Lite., a website dedicated entirely to the lucid dreaming initiative, suggests a bunch of other ways to increase your propensity to experience the phenomenon, although, I will say, I cannot guarantee success. If you asked the folks at, however, they’d tell you “lucid dreaming is easier than you may think.”

One of the simplest techniques used to elicit lucid dreams is one known as “dream recall.” By writing down your dreams and recalling certain aspects about them immediately after waking up, while you still remember, you can strengthen your dream recognition skills.

The more dreams you recall, the more familiar your entire world of “dreams” will look to you going forward – which will aid your ability to distinguish between dreams and reality. Additionally, another method used to strengthen your recognition skills originates from what’s known as a “reality test.”

To complete a reality test, simply wear a digital watch or carry some paper with basic text on it. Throughout the day, practice reading the numbers on the watch or the text on the paper. Then, look away, and look back at the numbers shortly after and re-read them.

The important thing here is the notion of constancy. In dreams, there is very little constancy with regard to any type of text or reading material.

In fact, 75 percent of the time you attempt to reread something in a dream, it will change. If you attempt to reread something twice, the likelihood that it has already changed from the first time you read it skyrockets to 95 percent.

Another strategy revolves around the notion of MILD, or mnemonic induction of lucid dreams. In MILD, you are basically reminding yourself to do something – as you would, I don’t know, to study on the day before a midterm. In the case of lucidities, however, you will be reminding yourself to realize you’re dreaming.

Naturally, the best time to take a shot with MILD would be directly after waking up from a dream – say, in the middle of the night, for instance – right before you go back to sleep.

Not sure about you guys, but I’m 100 percent doing all of this sh*t tonight.