Mastering Dreams


Su Jin Nam

The day before he had to give a presentation in school, Sean Jung ’16 concentrated on engraining the topic into his memory while looking at himself in front of a mirror, before he went to sleep.

In his dream that night, he was able to give his presentation to his class, and when he woke up the next morning, he wrote down a few notes on what points seemed to work and what points did not.

Jung was able to lucid dream, a form of dreaming in which the dreamer becomes aware that they are dreaming and begins to control elements of the dream.

“People use lucid dreaming for many things: to have fun and experience freedom, to access creativity, for emotional healing, for improving physical health, for exploring the dream state and for spiritual growth,” said Richard Waggoner, author of two books about lucid dreaming, ex-president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and the co-editor of the online magazine, “The Lucid Dreaming Experience.”

Lucid dreaming came easily to Jung when he first heard about it in eighth grade.

“It was a cool concept, so I tried it once, and it worked, which got me more excited,” Jung said. “I only attempt it occasionally now though.”

One method that is commonly used to induce lucid dreams is to assign a visual cue that is easily recognizable in a dream.

Once the dreamer sees the cue, he or she is able to become aware that he or she is dreaming and control the dream.

“The visual cue varies by dream, but I usually know that I’m dreaming when I see someone very out of place,” Jung said. “For example, I might be at a restaurant, and I see someone in full football gear sitting at a far table.”

Waggoner said that the visual cue does not have to be anything special or particularly odd.

“At age 17, I created a simple technique to help me become lucidly aware after reading the book, “Journey to Ixtlan,” by Carlos Castaneda,” Waggoner said. “Each night before going to sleep, I would look at the palm of my hands for about five minutes, while mentally suggesting, ‘tonight in my dreams, I will see my hands, and then realize I am dreaming. Tonight in my dreams, I will see my hands, and then realize I am dreaming.’”

Caleb* ’15 has tried to lucid dream on several occasions.

“The first time I heard about it was in a cartoon show. In one of the episodes, a character was lucid dreaming. I’d heard about it before then but hadn’t really thought about it so I decided to look it up on the internet and thought that it might be something interesting to try. I’ve lucid dreamt on occasion, but it’s nothing regular.”

Lucid dreaming is also something that takes practice.

Many people encounter difficulties, though, or can only lucid dream in certain situations.

There are classes offered in Los Angeles for anyone who wants to learn the techniques.

“My ability to control my dreams, varies,” Caleb said. “It depends sometimes on my emotional response to normal dreams that I may have. If the dream is about something I’m emotionally invested in, it’s a lot easier to start lucid dreaming.”

Dora Schoenberg ’16 often finds that her lucid dreams happen as a result of her nightmares.

“When scary things are happening, I try to change them,” Schoenberg said. “Like when I used to dream I was in the ‘Hunger Games,’ I would try to alter the dream so that my friends and I were safe. Those were terrifying. If you’re having a nightmare and you realize you are dreaming, then you can change or prevent bad things from happening.”

There are a number of cell-phone applications and products that claim to aid in the lucid dreaming process. One app that is available in the Apple store is called Awoken. It features a dream journal for recording dreams, audio cues to alert the dreamer of their dreaming state and a pattern tracker that analyzes the most-used words in the dream journal.

While Awoken aids the user in becoming more aware of their dreaming patterns, galantamine, which is both a prescribed drug used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and sold as an over-the-counter natural supplement that claims to induce lucid dreams, is advertised as promoting the lengthening of the dreaming state, elongating the duration of REM sleep and aiding in dream recall.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an alert about the drug in 2005 once it was discovered there was a higher mortality rate among patients who used it.

Side effects of using the supplement that some people experience include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss and sleep paralysis.

Another type of product that claims to induce lucid dreams is called an REM Sleep Mask.

The mask determines when the wearer is in a state of REM sleep by detecting slight eye movements and uses various patterns of lights to alert the wearer to their dreaming state.

However, according to a 2009 study titled “Lucid Dreaming: A State of Consciousness with Features of Both Waking and Non-Lucid Dreaming,” published in “SLEEP,” the official journal of the Sleep Research Society and the American Academy of Sleep, commercially available products are actually ineffective in inducing lucid dreams.

“It was not possible to induce lucidity with dedicated devices, either those which are commercially available (e.g., the REM dreamer), or those of our own design,” the study said. “These devices rely on emitting specific light or sound signals, and only led to arousals and awakenings but not to lucidity in our subjects.”

Both Jung and Schoenberg said that they do not use any of these supplemental aids to induce their lucid dreams.

“I do not use special apps or devices,” Jung said. “I use a mirror to help me focus and sometimes write a couple of minor brainstorming notes down on an index card.”

Luba Bek, counselor and humanities teacher, believes that lucid dreaming is harmless and can actually be beneficial in some instances.

“[Lucid dreaming] is a lot of fun,” Bek said. “It works really well when you’re having a scary dream, you can steer yourself away from a scary image and reframe it. Other than that, it’s a lot of fun. And also, everybody likes to sleep.”

*Names have been changed.