[From NIGHTLIGHT 4(2), Spring 1992, Copyright,
The Lucidity Institute.]
Note: References below are to the issues of NightLight (NL) in which
the experiment (X) and the update (U) appeared.
A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS OF EXPLORING LUCID DREAMING
By Lynne Levitan
The NightLight experiments have brought forth important knowledge about
lucid dreaming. An overview of the research to date may help provide a
gestalt of current understanding of the lucid dream state and stimulate
1. INDUCING LUCID DREAMS [X: NL 1(1); U: NL 1(3)]
The first experiment, published in the first issue of NightLight, cut
straight to the core of our questions. It was an examination of the
effectiveness of a few lucid dream induction techniques that we had
reason to believe were helpful. Subjects collected information on their
lucid dream frequencies during four conditions. In the first, they
practiced no induction techniques. In the second, they used a form of
auto-suggestion. Before bed, they wrote on a piece of paper, "Tonight I
will have a lucid dream," and signed the paper. This condition was
intended as sort of control, in which people were attempting to have
lucid dreams but with a technique that we did not believe to be
effective. The third condition involved Reality Testing, asking several
times a day, "Am I dreaming," testing the answer and then visualizing
what is like to be dreaming and become lucid. The technique for the
fourth condition was MILD, the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams,
developed by Stephen LaBerge and used by him to learn to have lucid
dreams at will.
Our expectation was that Reality Testing and MILD would be more
effective than no technique or auto-suggestion. The results upheld this
hypothesis. The finding was clear-cut for MILD, but less so for Reality
Testing, probably only because we did not have an adequate number of
participants for solid determinations. Each participant tried one
technique per week. While practicing Reality Testing, 29 percent of
people had at least one lucid dream. In the MILD condition, 26 percent
had lucid dreams. These numbers compare favorably to the 20 percent of
participants reporting lucid dreams during the "control" conditions.
Additionally, Reality Testing proved to be more effective when practiced
more often during a day. The half of the group that did the most Reality
Tests per day (five times or more) had twice as many lucid dreams per
dream recalled (0.64) than the half of the group that did the least (two
times per day or fewer).
2. DISCOVERING DREAMSIGNS [X: NL 1(2); U: NL 1(4)]
The concept of dreamsigns developed during the writing of Exploring the
World of Lucid Dreaming (LaBerge & Rheingold, Ballantine, 1990), as a
term to capture the character of the anomalous events common in dreams
that often stimulate people to realize that they are dreaming. A
definition of dreamsign is, "a peculiar event or object in a dream that
can be used as an indicator that you are dreaming."
The first investigation with dreamsigns was designed to classify and
catalog which peculiarities were most common, and most likely to lead to
the increased reflectiveness necessary for lucidity. The preparation
involved reading hundreds of lucid dreams and selecting the events that
preceded or precipitated lucidity. This myriad of oddities formed twenty
preliminary groupings. The experiment asked participants to collect
their own dreamsigns, categorize them according to the preliminary
groupings, and rate them on a scale indicating how much the dreamer had
wondered about the dreamsign. They also noted any occasions of lucidity.
From 44 people, we collected 227 dreams, containing 964 dreamsigns. Many
types of analysis led to a refinement of the catalog of dreamsigns,
employed in a later NightLight experiment (see "Watching for
Dreamsigns," below). One analysis of particular relevance sorted out the
dreamsigns that were both very common in dreams, and very likely to
precede lucidity. These are presented in Table 1.
Table 1. DREAMSIGN CATEGORIES
Form 1.5%* 10** Dreamer is in a different body than
usual, or the body is distorted.
Role 2.6% 8 Dreamer is playing a role of other than
his or her normal waking self.
Action 11.6% 1 Dreamer does something unlikely or
impossible in waking life.
Perception 1.7% 6 Dreamer is able to see, hear, feel
things in a different way than usual.
Thought 5.3% 1 Dreamer has a dreamlike thought or
alters the dream events with thought.
Emotion 10.8% 3 Dreamer experiences unusually
Sexual 1.2% 8 Dreamer feels sexually aroused or feels
sensations in the erogenous area.
Out of Body 0.2% 9 Dreamer feels sensations as if
"out of body".
Body Sense 2.0% 5 Dreamer feels an unusual sensation on
or in his or her body.
Paralysis 1.0% 7 Dreamer feels unable to move.
Form 5.7% 2 A dream person is different than normal,
oddly formed, or strangely dressed.
Role 2.2% 8 A dream person is playing a role different
than in waking life.
Action 13.7% 4 A dream person does something unlikely or
impossible in waking life.
Place 6.7% 7 A dream person is in a place where he or
she is unlikely to be in waking life.
Form 9.1% 7 A dream thing is strangely built, or
doesn't exist in waking life.
Action 4.6% 2 A dream thing does something unlikely or
impossible in waking life.
Place 4.4% 7 A dream thing is in a place where it is
unlikely to be in waking life.
Form 7.8% 3 The place where the dream occurs is oddly
constructed or impossible.
Place 5.4% 10 Dream occurs in a place the dreamer is
unlikely to be in waking life.
Time 2.6% 10 Dream occurs either in the past or in
some projected future.
* Percent of the total number of dreamsigns for this category.
** A ranking from 1-10 with lower numbers more frequently
occurring as lucidity triggers.
3. PROLONGING LUCID DREAMS [X: NL 1(3); U: NL 2(1)]
Because one of the most common constraints of the achievement of goals
in lucid dreams is their brevity, the development of a reliable
technique for prolonging lucid dreams would greatly increase the
benefits available from the state. This study compared the effectiveness
of three types of behavior on dream length.
The experiment was based on the notion that the dreamer can predict when
a dream is about to end and be followed by an awakening by noticing that
the dream is "fading." This process seems to be typically characterized
by loss of visual image clarity, brightness and dimensionality. However,
no systematic investigations of dream fading yet exist, so the
reliability and universality of this phenomenon is unknown.
The first lucid dream prolonging method was "spinning," which means
twirling around in a dream, like a dancer or a dervish. LaBerge
discovered and refined this technique during his doctoral dissertation
work on training himself to be a frequent lucid dreamer. His experiences
and those of many lucid dreams who have also tried spinning indicated
that this technique could be highly effective for postponing awakening.
For the experiment, participants were to wait until their lucid dream
began to fade and then begin to spin around (while still feeling their
dream body) until they were in a dream again or awake.
The other two methods were not suspected dream prolonging techniques.
Their purpose was to provide a contrast to spinning, to demonstrate
whether or not spinning was actually having an effect on dream length.
One method was "going with the flow," meaning continuing, or attempting
to continue, whatever action the dreamer had been engaged in when the
dream began to fade. This constituted doing nothing different in the
dream, and so acted as a neutral control.
The third method had actually been proposed by Dr. Paul Tholey of
Germany as a technique for causing awakening from lucid dreams. This was
to focus visual attention on a single point in the dream and hold it
their until the dream ended. The experiment presented this behavior as
another dream prolonging technique, as a way of testing the power of
suggestion in the effectiveness of actions meant to prolong dreams, and
as a test of the verity of Tholey's idea.
The results derived from this study were provocative, but unfortunately,
inconclusive. Not enough people submitted usable data to permit a clear
understanding of the information collected, especially regarding
differences in frequency of awakening following each of the three
conditions. It will be very interesting to repeat this experiment with a
larger group of participants.
The data from the 14 who completed the tasks hinted that dreams
following spinning and going with the flow were more likely to be lucid
than those following focusing on a point (70% vs. 29%). One indication
that spinning may be better than the other methods for prolonging dreams
appears in the finding that the average word count of dream reports from
post-spinning dreams was highest (225 words), followed by going with the
flow (176), and focusing on a point (151).
4. WATCHING FOR DREAMSIGNS [X: NL 1(4); U: NL 2(1)]
This experiment used the information collected in the previous
"Discovering Dreamsigns" study to examine the relationship between
dreamsign occurrence and lucidity. That study had permitted condensation
of the larger 20 class catalog into a more concise list focusing on the
characteristics of dreamsigns most relevant for stimulating lucidity.
This list is composed of four categories:
* Inner Awareness: Peculiar thoughts, strange emotions, unusual
sensations or altered perceptions.
* Action: The dreamer, a dream character, or an object does something
unusual or impossible.
* Form: The dreamer's body or another body or object is oddly formed or
* Context: The setting or situation in a dream is anomalous.
The structure of the experiment asked people to alternate between an
induction technique of visualizing becoming lucid in a remembered dream
because of noticing a dreamsign and a technique of visualizing becoming
lucid without focusing on a dreamsign. No indication arose that either
of these techniques was more effective at causing lucid dreams. More
data from more people, however, may show a difference.
The interesting result was that people were more likely to become lucid
in dreams that contained many dreamsigns. The frequency of Inner
Awareness and Action dreamsigns in particular correlated significantly
with lucid dreaming frequency.
This finding suggests the possibility that increasing our awareness of
dreamsigns might enhance our ability to notice them in our dreams, and
hence our chances of becoming lucid. Lucidity Institute courses include
exercises for training people to become aware of dreamsign-like events
in waking, with the hopes of increasing this awareness in dreams as
well. An important target of future research should be the development
of effective means of teaching dreamsign awareness.
5. NAPS: THE BEST TIME FOR LUCID DREAMING [X: NL 2(2); U: NL 2(3)]
This experiment marked the beginning of a series of investigations into
the timing of efforts for inducing lucid dreams. Both laboratory and
home based studies of when lucid dreams happen have shown that they are
not evenly distributed throughout sleep time. In full nights of sleep,
lucid dreams tend to cluster towards the end of the night, becoming more
likely with each REM period of the night. Furthermore, in LaBerge's data
on his own lucid dream times, he noted that he was much more likely to
achieve lucidity during afternoon naps than during nightly sleep.
The goal of the nap studies is to find out whether naps are generally
better than nights for lucid dreaming. If so, then what factors make
this true? For example, it could be that a period of wakefulness
preceding the attempt to become lucid may stimulate attention on the
goal and subsequent success. On the other hand, or perhaps in addition,
the condition of the brain and body at the time of day when naps are
taken may be optimal for fostering lucidity.
In this study, participants maintained the same total number of hours of
sleep, while shifting the last two hours of their nights' sleep to
either two or four hours after rising. Thus, in the two hour condition,
they were returning to bed at their usual waking time, and in the four
hour condition they napped two hours after their usual waking time.
The findings were astonishing. Lucid dreams happened ten times more
often in the nap periods than in the nights. Part of this result could
arise from the fact that dreams are much more common in the latter hours
of sleep. For example, in this study the number of dreams per hour of
sleep was four times higher in the naps than the nights. However, the
ratio of number of lucid dreams to number of dreams recalled was still
three times higher in the nap periods than in the nights. This meant
that three out of ten dreams from naps were lucid while one out of ten
dreams from nights was. There was some sign that the two hour delayed
nap was better for lucid dreaming than the four hour delayed nap, but
the data set was too small for this finding to be conclusive.
Such strong results showed that nap-taking was worth a lot of attention
as a potentially very powerful lucid dream induction technique.
Therefore, napping and other investigations of time of day relationships
to lucid dreaming have become a primary focus of NightLight experiments.
6. FIFTEEN MINUTES TO LUCID DREAMING [X: NL 2(1); U: NL 2(4)]
The concept tested here was whether lucid dreaming could be stimulated
by brief periods of intense focusing. One of the great challenges of
lucid dream induction techniques is remembering to attend to the task.
The idea was that perhaps concentrating complete attention in a
circumscribed period of time could provide the benefit of periods of
lesser attention scattered throughout a day.
The study aimed at finding out whether the fifteen minute focusing
notion had any validity. Alas, we still do not know, because
participation achieved a nadir with this experiment. Although the
procedure did not require that people have lucid dreams to complete it,
which always limits participation to those able to induce lucid dreams,
only 20 people submitted results. Perhaps it is too much to ask for
someone's complete attention for fifteen entire minutes, but that would
be a dire analysis of the human condition.
A glimmering of a result appeared in that focusing periods in the
evening seemed to have more of an effect on chances of becoming lucid
the following night than focusing periods in the morning. However to
ascertain that this finding was not due to random statistical
fluctuations, similar data from at least 65 more subjects would be
Because there is little point in conducting experiments if not enough
people contribute, we made a strong plea after this for more
participants. We encouraged people by offering a very simple experiment,
requiring almost no effort. This was "The Dream Clock" (see below).
7. BACK TO THE NAP [X: NL 2(3); U: NL 3(1)]
Continuing where the previous nap study left off, this experiment
manipulated the time at which people took the last 90 minutes of their
night of sleep and compared those results with what happened when people
simply stayed in bed for an extra 90 minutes. One questions was: does it
matter when the last 90 minutes of sleep are taken, that is are they as
effective if taken at their usual time as when delayed? The other was,
could it be that the high number of lucid dreams seen in a delayed nap
are the result of sleeping at that time of day, instead of being related
to inserting a period of wakefulness into the block of sleep time?
The three conditions were: a. get up 90 minutes early, stay awake 90
minutes, then nap for 90 minutes; b. sleep the usual amount of time, but
wake up 90 minutes early and do MILD for five minutes before completing
the last 90 minutes of sleep; and, c. sleep the usual amount of time,
then wake up to do MILD for five minutes before sleeping an extra 90
minutes. Again, it would have been preferable to have many more
participants. Nonetheless, some salient results emerged. Almost 90
percent of the lucid dreams collected occurred in the naps or the last
90 minutes of sleep, and most of these occurred in the delayed nap
condition. Twice as many people had lucid dreams in the delayed nap time
than in the last ninety minutes of the "normal" night of sleep (no
delayed nap or prolonged sleep). These people had three times as many
lucid dreams in the delayed nap than in the last 90 minutes of the
normal night. Furthermore, an analysis of the number of lucid dreams
happening per dream recalled showed that the delayed nap lucid dream
frequency was six times higher. So, it seems clear that the delay
contributes significantly to success with lucid dreaming.
The data from the prolonged sleep periods ruled out the possibility that
simply being in bed 90 minutes after usual rising time is enough to
cause lucidity. The last 90 minutes of the long sleep period turned out
to be the worst time for lucid dreaming, also characterized by low dream
recall. The next goal in the study of napping and lucid dreaming is to
extend this study with many more participants, and to discover when is
the best time to take the nap.
8. THE DREAM CLOCK [X: NL 2(4); U: NL 3(2)]
For this study, people were simply to note the times when they awakened
in the night, and whether they had just awakened from a dream or a lucid
dream. This was part of the effort to discover the relationship between
lucid dreaming and biological clock cycles.
Sixty-four people contributed, making a data set of thousands of
awakenings. In 79 percent, people had just had a dream. Ninety awakening
were from lucid dreams (7.6 percent), meaning that about ten percent of
dreams remembered were lucid. That is a very high number! It seems that
simply sleeping with the intention to be aware of what is going on
during the night, whether one is awake or asleep, is enough to stimulate
lucid dreams for many people. Almost 60 percent of the participants had
at least one lucid dream during the week in which they were collecting
times of awakening.
As for the times, lucid dreams happened on average later in the night
than non-lucid dreams, and non-lucid dreams happened later on average
than awakenings with no dreams recalled. This corresponds to previous
work demonstrating that lucid dreaming probability increases with time
of night. In fact, 90 percent all of the lucid dreams in this study
occurred after 4 hours of sleep, and fully one half after 6.5 hours of
This is a very important finding. It clearly implies that, if we assume
that lucid dream induction techniques are most effective when applied
closest in time to the time when we hope to have a lucid dream, it would
be best to focus our efforts as close to the optimal time for lucid
dreaming as possible. The "Back to the Nap" experiment also indicated
that wakefulness and induction exercises work better when practiced at
6.5 hours into a sleep period than at the beginning of the night.
9. BIOLOGICAL RHYTHMS, THE NASAL CYCLE & DREAMS [X: NL 3(1); U: NL 3(3)]
In studying the relationship of lucid dreaming to the daily cycle of
waking and sleeping, it is essential to consider the biological rhythms
involved. In addition to the well-known 24 hour circadian cycle there
are shorter cycles, called ultradian. One of these appears in the form
of shifting dilation of the nostrils. If you hold one nostril closed and
breathe through the other, and then switch nostrils, generally you will
find that one nostril is easier to breathe through than the other. The
change from left to right seems to follow an approximately 90 minute
Some research has suggested that the nasal cycle may be connected to
cycles of activity in the brain and also to cognitive abilities.
Furthermore, a shift in nostril dilation can be produced by pressure on
a reflex point on the side along line beneath the armpit. Possibly,
then, one could effect a change in cognitive activity by deliberately
pressing on this point.
In the oldest available references on lucid dream induction, the
thousand year old text on Dream Yoga in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition,
is the advice to the initiate attempting to achieve a lucid dream that
he should sleep "on the right side, as the lion doth." It is possible
that the purpose of this posture is to encourage the type of brain
activity conducive to lucid dreaming. After all, most of our current
knowledge about reflex points on the body is found in ancient yogic
This experiment examined the effect of sleeping posture on chances of
lucid dreaming and attempted to assess if nostril laterality bore any
relation to posture and lucid dreaming. The results were complex and
difficult to interpret, showing that this type of study is probably best
done in a laboratory under well controlled conditions. The procedure
asked people to note when they awakened in the night, whether they had
been dreaming, or lucid dreaming, which nostril was most open and to
rate their dreams on several scales. The finding to take home from this
study is that indeed, people had three times as many lucid dreams when
sleeping on their right sides (as the lion doth?) than when sleeping on
their left sides. Back sleeping presents a more complicated picture,
also seeming to be better than sleeping on the left, but here we must
examine other factors, such as which nostril is open. Further conclusion
is deferred until a laboratory study is accomplished.
10. DREAM RE-ENTRY AS A WAY TO LUCID DREAMING [X: NL 3(2); U: NL 3(4)]
There are two primary types of lucid dream. Dream induced lucid dreams
(DILDs) occur when the dreamer becomes lucid while involved in an
ongoing dream. Wake induced lucid dreams begin when a person enters
directly into the dream (and REM sleep) from the waking state with
continuity of awareness. The latter kind of lucid dream shares many
features with the phenomenon often refereed to as "out of body
experiences" (OBEs). Indeed, our theory is that OBEs, like WILDs, most
commonly occur during conscious transitions from waking to dreaming, the
difference being that in the former dreamers believe themselves awake,
while in the latter dreamers know that they are dreaming.
One important reason for connecting WILDs and OBEs is that they share
phenomenological features. The experience of vibrations, strange noises,
electrical sensations, feelings of weight on the chest and difficulty
breathing, and floating -- sometimes with the sensation of peeling out
of the body are common to both. The primary intent of this NightLight
experiment was to see whether these sensations could be deliberately
evoked by attempting to initiate WILDs, and if so to find their
frequency of occurrence. Another purpose was to compare methods of WILD
induction. The procedure was carried out in the context of attempts to
re-enter dreams, under the assumption that the best time to directly
enter the REM state is immediately after having awakened from it.
The first method was counting to sleep. The instructions were to sleep
with the intention of noticing awakening from a dream, and upon
awakening to begin counting, "One, I'm dreaming; two, I'm dreaming;
etc." until asleep. The other method was a body-oriented technique of
passing attention around 61 points distributed all around the body in an
orderly sequence. Both procedures were based on the principle of
maintaining mental vigilance while the body's physiological systems pass
into the REM sleep state.
The most striking, and unexpected, result of this experiment was that
one out of five attempts to re-enter the dream state resulted in a lucid
dream! There were 191 attempts to re-enter dreams (from 30
participants). Sixty-one percent of these attempts were successful, and
one third of the re-entered dreams were lucid. Furthermore, two-thirds
of the participants reported having a lucid dream as the direct result
of the dream re-entry procedure.
Addressing the original purpose of the study, the examination of
sensations occurring on the border of waking and dreaming, 62 percent of
participants experienced at least one of the phenomena on the
questionnaire. These were: paralysis, weight on chest, vibrations,
buzzing (or other noises), and floating or sinking. The significance of
this is that these weird feelings are not rare or anomalous. Apparently,
they can happen to anyone. People often describe their sleep paralysis
or OBE experiences as terrifying, perhaps reflecting on their mental
health. There is no need for such anxiety. The fascinating transition
between the two states of consciousness, the two worlds of waking and
dreaming, is nothing to dread, but should provide much interest for
researchers of the mind.
11. CREATIVITY IN DREAMS & WAKING LIFE [X: NL 3(3); U: NL 4(1)]
Common knowledge tells us that dreams are weird. In technical language,
dreams contain bizarre elements. One question is, are dreams more
bizarre than other mental experiences? That is, is their something about
the dream state that produces more nonsensical or unordinary
associations than such purely mental activities as storytelling,
fantasizing, and remembering. Where does lucid dreaming fit into the
scheme of things?
There has been some debate among dream scientists about whether dreams
are really more bizarre than fantasies. The question is important in
that it bears on what is actually happening in the brain in the dream as
compared to in waking. This experiment attempted to study these factors,
under the guise of examining creative output in various waking mental
activities and in lucid and non-lucid dreams. This is the first stage of
an ongoing project to analyze the cognitive correlates of dreaming.
The five types of mental experience studied were lucid dreaming. non-
lucid dreaming, fantasizing (really daydreaming), storytelling, and
remembering. The instructions asked people to write a report of each
type of experience. There were some difficulties with the data
collection. Much misunderstanding arose regarding the fantasy, with
several participants not carefully reading the directions and generating
deliberate fantasies rather than capturing spontaneous daydreams, as
requested. Furthermore, the memory task was confounded in that it did
not ask the people to first remember the event, then report on the
memory which would have been parallel to the other tasks.
The clearest result came out of an analysis of the frequency of bizarre
elements. The experimenters judged each report, without knowing whether
what kind of mental experience it represented, for the occurrence of
discontinuities (sudden scene or topic shifts) and inconsistencies
(anomalous combinations of events, places, or things). Lucid dreams and
dreams both contained more bizarreness than memories or fantasies, as
one might expect. The stories collected were stories made up about
dreams. They contained as many inconsistencies as dreams, perhaps
because people expect inconsistencies in dreams and include them in
made-up dreams. In any case, the indication is that more strange things
happen in dreams than in waking life. More research will butter more
PLEASE JOIN US IN MAKING THE FUTURE OF LUCID DREAMING.