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12/12/2014 08:55 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How To Control Your Dream (While You're Sleeping)

The authors of A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming explain how we may be able to change and guide our dreams while we sleep, making us happier -- and able to fly.

By Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeizel and Thomas Peisel

Lucid dreaming is the ability to know you're dreaming while you're dreaming. A lucid dreamer is able to go to sleep at night, and wake up within his or her dream. Once lucid, you can explore and even change elements of the dream. You may notice that you're in a location that would normally be impossible (Wait, how did I get to Hawaii?) or perhaps you stumble upon something absolutely absurd (Is that an ostrich driving a car?). Maybe your trigger has more to do with your past (Wait a second, I'm not in college anymore! This has to be a dream!). Typically, lucid dreams are triggered by some sort of inconsistency, something that suddenly causes the dreamer to stop and question his or her reality.

Imagine being free of your physical body, leaving behind silly things like gravity. Picture yourself flying, and doing so in the literal sense, feeling the air rushing across your face, the weightlessness of your body, breaking every Newtonian law out there. Imagine seeing and conversing with the natives of the dream, who provide valuable insights and knowledge about your life. Hidden in this place you can find wisdom and guidance that could change your life.

The Secrets to Starting
Keep a dream journal... As you jot down more of your nighttime adventures, you'll notice that you often dream about very similar things. For example, you might have a frequent dream about your sister, your pet, the ocean, school, snakes -- anything. These recurring dream elements are called dream signs, and they're a powerful stepping stone to lucid dreams. Even now, without knowing it, your dreams contain certain people, events, locations and situations that pop up again and again, dream after dream. Once you identify those personal dream signs, they will essentially act as landmarks in the dream world, a great way to achieve lucidity.

Keep a journal for a few weeks, and you'll begin to see patterns. A dream sign is personal to you. You might have a recurring dream sign that's been with you your whole life, such as a fear of snakes. Dream signs might change frequently as you yourself change, such as suddenly including your new boss. Find a highlighter, read through your dream journal and start underlining the objects, places, people and themes that pop up more than once: a large mansion, owls, your brother Joe, the park, embarrassment. Keep a list of all these dream signs.

Locating and identifying dream signs will train your subconscious to spot them the next time they appear. If you recognize that you often dream about your old girlfriend, for example, you can use this as a trigger for becoming aware that you're dreaming. Tell yourself before bed, "The next time I see my ex-girlfriend I will realize that I am dreaming." Knowing that your dreams speak a familiar language with recurring places, people or themes will be one of the easiest ways to recognize that you're dreaming.

By asking yourself the question, "Am I dreaming?" throughout your day, you will begin to ask the same question while in a dream. Your suspicion of reality will echo into your sleep, bouncing around your mind until -- voilà! -- you find yourself within the mecca of your own psyche. Reality checks are another cornerstone of lucid dreaming.

If you stop and think about it, you can usually tell if you're dreaming or not: The trick is stopping and thinking about it. It may sound crazy to ask this question when you know for sure that you're awake, but your feelings of lunacy will be justified when you have your first lucid dream. Soon enough, you'll perform a reality check in a dream and realize: "Wait a second, it worked! I am dreaming!"

The Best Activities to Try
It isn't a surprise that flying is the primary form of travel among dreamers. Most people report that this is their favorite thing to do when they find themselves self-aware in their dreams. The feeling of the wind rushing across your face, the freedom and exhilaration of moving in any direction, free of all limitations, is quite an intoxicating experience.

When it comes to lucid dreaming, one of the simplest but most interesting experiences is walking through solid objects. In the dream world, obstacles only appear to be in your way. A window, a brick wall, a rock face -- these things are only illusions, projections from your mind. They are not physical. Objects may feel solid when you touch them, but they feel solid only because you expect them to feel that way. Think of the object as air, and you will pass through it effortlessly.

In a lucid dream, you can create anything. Nothing is off-limits -- no object, creature or contraption is out of reach. Your creation can be as large as a mountain or as complicated as a living organism. If you could create the impossible, what would you make?

The Unexpected Benefits
After a few lucid dreams, many people experience a drastic alteration of their perspectives -- they realize that there is much more to reality than they currently understand. Dreams often alert us to our problems, and guide us toward a resolution. Read over your dream-journal entries and ask yourself, "Do any of these dreams contain advice on how I can be happier and more whole?" We can record and interpret our normal dreams in order to decode the messages from our subconscious. Sometimes, however, interpreting our dream journals can be tough. It's not always possible to know exactly what your subconscious is communicating. This is where lucid dreaming comes in. You can find lost parts of yourself while actively exploring your inner world.

This is an adapted excerpt from A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics by Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeizel, and Thomas Peisel.

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 Sounds
    If you’ve ever incorporated the sound of your alarm clock into your dream -- maybe it became a fire alarm or a whistle -- you
    Costanza Theodoli-Braschi
    If you’ve ever incorporated the sound of your alarm clock into your dream -- maybe it became a fire alarm or a whistle -- you know that real-life sounds can find their way into your dreams’ storylines. An app even monitors sleep and plays sounds specifically designed to evoke certain dreams. Loewenberg attests that soundtracks can influence the content of your dreams, and while she doesn’t recommend making a habit out of this -- again, it interferes with the cognitive work your dreams are meant to accomplish -- she says that “it’s OK, once in a while, if you want to influence a really awesome dream, to play your favorite album quietly while you sleep. Or maybe the sound of the ocean, if you want to dream about a romp on the beach with Ashton Kutcher.”

    For a restful sleep, though, she recommends white noise: It drowns out the other sounds around you and should improve your sleep, allowing for organic dreaming.
  • 2 Smells
    In a<a href="http://oto.sagepub.com/content/139/2_suppl/P109.2.abstract" target="_blank"> small 2008 study</a>, German resear
    Costanza Theodoli-Braschi
    In a small 2008 study, German researchers introduced either a positive smell (roses) or a negative smell (rotten eggs) when women entered rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep -- a prime time for dreaming. When the women were woken up, they were asked about what they’d dreamt. Smelling roses yielded positive dreams, while smelling eggs yielded negative dreams.

    Loewenberg explains that if you smell flowers, chocolate or perfume when you’re awake, it tends to evoke positive emotions, so it makes sense that the dream would follow a similar pattern. But there’s a biological explanation, too: “The limbic system part of the brain that controls the ability to receive smell also receives emotions,” she says.
  • 3 Sleeping Position
    OK, here it gets a little wacky: A recent study out of Hong Kong found that sleeping on your stomach increases the chances yo
    Costanza Theodoli-Braschi
    OK, here it gets a little wacky: A recent study out of Hong Kong found that sleeping on your stomach increases the chances you’ll have a sexual dream -- or a dream about being persecuted. The examples of themes mentioned in the study include “having a sexual relationship with a big wheel or celebrity,” “being smothered, unable to breathe,” and “being tied, unable to move.”

    Which all makes sense: When you’re on your stomach, your genitals are in contact with the bed—i.e., they’re stimulated -- and it’s harder to breathe, just like when you’re having sex ... or being suffocated. One more tidbit about sleeping position: The best way to remember your dreams is to stay in the same position you were in when you woke up. “That’s really all it takes to be able to start remembering your dreams,” says Loewenberg. “Don’t move -- stay put.” And if you wake up to go to the bathroom and want to re-enter the dream you were in the middle of, try getting right back into the position you were sleeping in before getting up.
  • 4 Your State Of Mind
    Not surprisingly, your mental state -- not just what happens to you and around you -- has a huge impact on your dreams. Depre
    Costanza Theodoli-Braschi
    Not surprisingly, your mental state -- not just what happens to you and around you -- has a huge impact on your dreams. Depression, for example, can influence your dreams’ color palettes. “I’ve found in my research that if you have a dream that’s in black and white or where the colors are muted or it’s in shades of gray, that can be a symbol for depression,” Loewenberg says. (Depression, however, also suppresses dream recall.)

    Loewenberg explains that the weather patterns you dream about are connected to your mind frame, too: Anxiety brings tornadoes, which represent “spinning out of control”; a clear, calm mind tends to dream of sunny days; and depression and sadness can bring rain. “Weather in dreams is very much connected to your emotions in real life,” she says.
  • 5 Quitting
    Ever wonder why you’re haunted by pizza and ice cream in your dreams when you’re trying to lose weight? “Whenever you quit so
    Costanza Theodoli-Braschi
    Ever wonder why you’re haunted by pizza and ice cream in your dreams when you’re trying to lose weight? “Whenever you quit something -- drinking or smoking or even just cookies -- you’re going to dream about it,” Loewenberg says. That is, if you diet or cut out sugar, your dreams are likely to feature a delectable buffet of treats. People who quit smoking tend to have dreams about smoking for the first couple of years afterward stopping the harmful habit -- and some are visited infrequently by such dreams even 30 years later, Loewenberg says.
  • 6 Drugs And Vitamins
    There’s a whole host of ways in which pharmaceuticals can influence your dreams. “A lot of prescription meds affect REM and c
    Costanza Theodoli-Braschi
    There’s a whole host of ways in which pharmaceuticals can influence your dreams. “A lot of prescription meds affect REM and can really make your dreams crazy,” Loewenberg says.

    Nicorette, for example, tends to give people intensely vivid dreams. Drugs can also affect dream recall: Since depression makes you less likely to remember your dreams, anti-depressants can counteract that effect. Vitamin B6 has also been shown to help people remember their dreams more vividly and easily.
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