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The why, how, and what of lucid dreaming

‘If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended, that you have but slumber’d here, while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream.’

Dreams are weird, really weird. Everyone from the Pope to Dr. Freud has had a crack at figuring out what’s going on with the psychedelic mini movies flickering past your eyelids every night.

Still, most of us are content to let the topsy-turvy stories play out and only spend about 0.05 seconds feeling unsettled about having conjured an 8 hour hallucination of an ex-girlfriend’s mother hiking in the Himalayas.

Where the whole wibbly-wobbly mess of grey matter gets a whole lot stranger is when the dreamer has control over what’s playing out. These are what are known as ‘lucid dreams’.

What is lucid dreaming and why does it happen?

The term 'lucid dream' was coined in 1913 by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in A Study of Dreams, and it basically means that you are conscious of the fact you are dreaming despite remaining fast asleep.

Scientists have used electroencephalography and other polysomnographic measurements (which are words we were also 100 per cent aware of the meaning of before reading them ten seconds ago) to confirm that lucid dreams start in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep.

Lucid dreamers also continue to have activity in the amygdala and parahippocampal cortex, areas of the brain associated with conscious thought, and these people experience higher amounts of beta-1 frequency band (13–19 Hz) brain wave.

In short, for some reason your brain thinks you’re awake when you’re actually asleep. Simple.

How do I get myself some sweet lucid skills?

Even though some folks might be biologically wired towards lucid dreams, there are strategies to encourage your brain to make the shift.

Write a dream journal
Jotting down a few short sentences about your dream every morning will help you recall the details, themes, and images that crop up repeatedly when you’re asleep. Developing an awareness of these elements will help you acknowledge discrepancies with the real world and identify that you’re in the midst of a dream.

Focus in on objects
You probably remember this one from Inception; Leo looking intently at the spinning top to separate dream from reality. The thinking behind this is that in the world, the motion will eventually lose momentum and fall over, whereas in the dream world it’s potential to spin is infinite.

Others rely on looking at their palms 5-10 times a day. When you’re asleep, having no external stimulus to support an image will encourage it to distort. If you try to focus on your palms they will likely be oddly shaped or fuzzy, tipping you off that you’re in dreamland.

Make a habit of asking questions
It might make you feel a bit stupid but asking and answering yourself the question ‘am I dreaming?’ ‘No, I’m not dreaming’ throughout the day will reportedly prompt you to ask the same question in your dream. This will encourage you to become conscious of your dreaming state, leading to lucidity.

The app,  Dreamz, will even monitor your sleep cycle and play back a recording of your own voice, delivering an ‘I am dreaming’ audio cue at the ideal moment.

Sweet (lucid) dreams, Koalas.

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