An Expert Explains Lucid Dreaming, and How It's Done

Being in control of your dreams can be magical, but for many of us, it doesn't happen all that often.

Believe it or not, with training and practice, you can make regular lucid dreaming a reality. To learn more about the subject, we reached out to Dr. Clare Johnson. She'd been lucid dreaming since the age of 3 and runs a website called  Ahead of the publication of her book The Art of Lucid Dreaming, releasing March 8, she taught us all about the benefits of lucid dreaming, and how to make it happen in your own sleeping hours.

Sweety High: What exactly is lucid dreaming? How is the experience different from regular dreaming?

Clare Johnson: Have you ever realized during a dream, "Hey, I'm dreaming this!"? If so, then you have experienced a lucid dream—or at least a flash of lucidity. The really exciting thing is when you not only realize that you're dreaming during a nighttime dream, but are then able to stay aware and remain in that dream. This feels amazing, like watching a movie in black and white and suddenly having it change to color. Everything in the dream feels suddenly alive, the colors glow, your vision becomes crystal clear and there's this real buzz of glorious excitement because you understand that you are awake inside a dream, and can guide and shape it if you want to.


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SH: What are some of the top benefits of lucid dreaming?

CJ: Lucid dreamers are able to get better at skills like swimming or music or ballet by practicing these activities in their lucid dreams. They can do magical things like fly, breathe underwater and turn into any animal they like. Lucid dreamers can also overcome nightmares, get wonderful artistic inspiration, and create whole new worlds—and they can do all this while asleep in bed!


SH: Do we experience the same restful benefits of sleep when we're in control of our dreams?

CJ: Lucid dreaming is not all about control. It's perfectly possible to be lucid in a dream and not control events—just chill out and go with the flow instead. So lucid dreams can be beautifully restful. I have meditated in lucid dreams, or simply stood looking at a magnificent dream mountain or an awesome sunset. Sometimes we have such an amazing lucid dream that we make ourselves wake up when it's over, so we can write it down,  and that interrupts our night of sleep. But on the whole, we can experience restful sleep while having lucid dream adventures, for sure.


SH: What is the most effective way to train yourself to experience lucid dreams?

CJ: It's super important to keep a dream journal, and even if you don't have time to write down the whole dream in detail, just jotting down the title or doing a little sketch of the main images in the dream can really help you remember them. When we do this, we set up a connection with our dreaming mind, and we grow more familiar with the kind of dreams we have. This, in turn, makes it much easier for us to recognize when we are dreaming and become lucid!


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Also, try relaxing before you go to sleep and visualizing yourself becoming lucid in one of your recent dreams. What will you do? Fly to the stars? Meet your best friend? Turn yourself into a dolphin and leap through the waves? When we have a goal for our lucid dream, this helps to motivate us to get lucid. Another really effective way of getting lucid is to watch the pre-sleep imagery that appears in our mind's eye as we're nodding off. This imagery is weird and vivid, and if we manage to stay aware and watch it, it actually develops into a dream, so we can fall asleep while staying consciously aware. It may sound crazy, but it's perfectly possible. For more tips, watch my video.


SH: We find that realizing we're in a dream often causes us to immediately wake up. Do you have any tips for preventing that from happening?

CJ: It's so exciting to get lucid in a dream that we often wake straight up— and kick ourselves for losing the opportunity to have a lot of fun! It's very important to stay calm when we realize we're dreaming and to reach out and touch something in the dream, as this grounds us within the dream reality. Also, say out loud with great confidence: "I am lucid in my dream." Repeating this reminds you to stay focused, and the more focused you are, the more stable the dream stays. My new practical guidebook, The Art of Lucid Dreaming, has lots of practices on how to get and stay lucid in your dreams and a quiz to work out the best way for you to personally do this.


SH: What else do you think people should know about lucid dreams?

CJ: Lucid dreams can be wonderful for overcoming fears and dealing with nightmares. One girl was badly bitten by a dog while trying to protect her little brother from it. She started to have nightmares about the dog hurting her. When she heard that it was possible to become lucid in a bad dream and change the action, she was excited and wanted to try it. The next time the nightmare happened, she realized she was dreaming, and that the dog couldn't hurt her. She turned the nasty dog into a hotdog, and then ate it up! Her nightmares never returned. So we can work through fears in our lucid dreams and create a happier dream-life. This empowers us in our waking life, too.


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Curious about the nature of dreams? Click HERE to learn more tips for remembering your dreams and interpreting their meaning.