what is lucid dreaming

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Lucid dreaming is real—so why not control your fantasies?

You too can harness your dreams through practice and dedication.


Ana Valens


Posted on Feb 15, 2018   Updated on May 22, 2021, 12:51 am CDT

Imagine being in a fantasy world where anything and everything you can think of can become a reality. You can visit space, hang out with Barack Obama, or eat as much food as you’d like without facing any negative consequences. Maybe in your wildest fantasies, you can do all three and fly.

As it turns out, you don’t need virtual reality to experience that. All you need to do is learn how to have a lucid dream. Here’s everything you need to know about lucid dreaming, and how to become a regular lucid dreamer.

What is lucid dreaming?

how to have a lucid dream
Lucid dreamers can envision utopias. Ian D. Keating/Flickr (CC-BY)

Simply put, lucid dreaming is “any dream during sleep in which you become aware that you’re dreaming,” according to the World of Lucid Dreaming. Any realization that you’re in a dream leads to lucid dreaming, and it gives you the power to control, change, or manipulate a dream as you see fit.

You’ve probably had a lucid dream by chance before. Any time you become aware of the fact that you’re dreaming is lucid dreaming, even if your sudden awareness is totally by mistake. However, harnessing a dream’s full power takes time and dedication. It takes long-term practice before you’re able to consciously alter your dream state for your personal enjoyment. While lucid dreaming is a difficult field to study, new research has shown that there are several successful techniques that can send you consciously into dreamland.


What can you do in a lucid dream?

lucid dreaming definition
Dream figures regularly appear, giving lucid dreamers signs they are currently dreaming. kellyholt125/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Plenty. In a thread on AskReddit, lucid dreamers opened up about the coolest dreams they’ve had while lucid, and their stories ranged from exciting to heartbreaking. In one case, a redditor in prison realized he was in a dream and began hugging his daughter “for as long as I could.”

“I was at a hobby store with my oldest daughter who was 9 at the time,” oldfashionedguy writes. “As soon as I realized what was happening I hugged her for as long as I could. It was so vivid. I could smell the shampoo she used and told her I loved her and that I’d never leave her like this again. I woke up in tears.”

Lucid dreaming is also a great opportunity to unleash your inner geek. You can put yourself into a Sailor Moon magical girl adventure, or join  and hang out with Tracer and D.Va. In one case, a lucid dreamer turned his dream into an adventure in the Star Wars universe.

“I was once a Jedi on a quest,” redditor jreeman writes. “Lightsabers, using the force, doing badass triple backflips and shit. Plus I was with 2 real-world friends who were Jedi with me. Yeah, that one was fun.”

Most of all, lucid dreaming is a great opportunity to act out sexual fantasies, as sex is so vivid and realistic during lucid dreaming. And dream sex can be downright kinky, too. One redditor reportedly tried to hook up with the grim reaper after becoming lucid.

“Lucid me has also turned nightmares into regular dreams by making them sexy,” Ailuroapult writes. “‘Haha this monster isn’t scary if I’m trying to fuck it!’ I tried to sleep with the grim reaper once.”

Is lucid dreaming safe?

how to lucid dream
Lucid dreams can resurface psychological trauma, making them somewhat risky. Rodrigo Paredes/Flickr (CC-BY)

Physically speaking, lucid dreaming is completely safe. But there are some psychological risks worth keeping in mind before jumping straight in.

Dreams can bring up parts of our subconscious that may be unavailable in everyday life. Traumatic life experiences might pop up, and people, places, or objects that have caused harm can resurface in dreams. This means lucid dreams can quickly become traumatic, and repeated exposure to triggering experiences in lucid dreams can worsen depression, anxiety, and traumatic disorders if lucid dreams aren’t properly broken down in a therapeutic setting.

Lucid dreams are also powerful and vivid experiences, and it can be hard at times to differentiate a lucid dream from reality. While that means lucid dreaming makes for a great escape from day-to-day life, lucid dreams can become addicting without moderation. Jared Zeizel, the author of The Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming, warns that people seeking pure escapism may become attached to lucid dreaming in unhealthy ways.

“You need to consider your goals,” Zeizel told Van Winkle’s. “If your dreams are about fantasy and not self-discovery, and your life is mundane in some sense, along with depression, it all can influence you.”

Lifehacker also warns that people who suffer from borderline personality disorder and other mental health issues that make reality hard to grasp may want to avoid lucid dreaming. The dream world can appear so lifelike that it’s easy to confuse lucid dreams with reality.


What is a lucid dream inducer?

how to have a lucid dream
Realizing one’s dream state plays an important role in lucid dreaming. Fabrizio Maestroni/Flickr (CC-BY)

In order to regularly induce lucid dreams, dreamers have to create a routine habit that can only be replicated in real life, thereby signaling that you’re lucid, but having a dream. This is called a reality check.

Some lucid dreamers will regularly check their fingers and wiggle them periodically as a habit. In the dream world, this often leads to strange results, such as fingers elongating or flapping around, giving lucid dreamers the perfect sign that they’re dreaming. Others prefer to write a number on their hand, and if the number changes shape after looking away during a dream, then it can induce lucid dreaming.

Once reality checks become second-nature, lucid dreamers can rely on them to signal their dream state and become lucid. From there, experienced lucid dreamers can begin manipulating their environment. Creating people, places, and new settings may take time, however, and require further practice with becoming lucid and maintaining lucidity.

How to have a lucid dream

lucid dreams
Lucid dreamers regularly use dream journals to track telltale dreaming signs. Rory MacLeod/Flickr (CC-BY)

Reddit’s r/LucidDreaming is a great resource for those looking to learn about and practice lucid dreaming. The subreddit hosts a quickstart guide detailing how to begin lucid dreaming in three simple steps.

First, build a dream diary detailing everything you see and remember from your dreams. Fill in your dream diary regularly, mentioning any recurring locations, people, or themes that regularly appear. This can lead you to identify signs that you’re dreaming, such as certain people, locations, objects, or events. Next, practice and routinely create reality checks while questioning your reality around you. Doing so regularly will help induce lucid dreaming.

And most of all, start slow and work your way up toward fantastic dreams. Lucid dreaming is a skill, and it takes time to pick up when you’re dreaming. Don’t expect to have wild fantasies from the start. Simply learn how to have lucid dreams, then you can go on amazing adventures with Luke Skywalker or have a ton of sex with the grim reaper once you’ve mastered your surroundings while lucid.

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.

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*First Published: Feb 15, 2018, 5:30 am CST