How I Use Lucid Dreaming to Battle Depression

Lucid Dream: a dream during which one is aware that they are dreaming. During a lucid dream, one may gain some amount of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment. With practice and mental discipline one can tear down emotional walls, overcome fears and manifest happiness that will carry into awakening hours.

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The very first time I had a lucid dream I was around 9 years old sleeping in my bed in Long Beach, California. My eyes opened as I began floating above my bed and for a moment I realized I was, in-fact, still sleeping. Within seconds I “came to” and woke up laying flat on my back under my blanket. A rush of euphoria came over me as I tried to rationalize what happened and how it made me feel. From that moment on I became obsessed with that freeing feeling of being able to float above my bed. What’s more, floating above my bed was only the catalyst to what came next. The very next time I had a lucid dream I floated longer and was more aware of my dream state. From then on every lucid dream lasted longer and “floating” turned into flying. With years of practice I began flying anywhere in the world I wished and I controlled how high or how low my body would go. Whether my fascination with flying came from my first experience in a lucid dream, or if “flying” has deeper meaning within my subconscious – I don’t know. What I do know is I NEVER feel freer than I do when I awaken in a dream and take off for flight with nothing but my body.

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Beyond flying, I picked up a few other tricks while in my slumber. One fun trick I am still working on is making my hair grow long and luscious. The reason I say still “working on” is because the subconscious will only allow that to which one believes something can happen. Flying became easy and believable because I had started young and practiced what made me comfortable in the dream, such as “the take off.” When I awaken in a dream and I prepare to fly I will get a running start on a street and take off. However, when it comes to making my hair longer, well, that is harder for me to physically imagine. Some other lucid dream activities I dabble in are: singing (well haha), super-human strength, telekinesis and interacting with dangerous animals. If this sounds like fun to you, read on. I want to share some well known lucid dream inducing tips, as well as some of my own.

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  1. Focus – Throughout the day tell yourself you will have a lucid dream tonight. As often as you can, think about having a lucid dream and what you would like to happen when you ‘awaken.’ Examples:
    •  Driving in the car; imagine the car taking off for flight.
    • Looking in the mirror; picture something on your body morphing.
    • Stare at an object and imagine the object hovering; or flying across the room.
  2. Dream recall – Have you ever awoken from a dream and analyzed what happened? Whenever you wake up from a dream, stay up for a moment (do not open your eyes) and recall any details that come to mind. Lucid and non-lucid dreams are much more likely to happen in the early morning due to the longer stages of a REM cycle. Sleep cycles start with wakefulness and move to deep sleep, then back to wakefulness. On average, a person will go through four to six sleep cycles in a single night while sleeping. REM (rapid eye movement/”active brain in a paralyzed body”) being the cycle in which a person is most likely to recall a vivid dream. Tips:
    • If you must open your eyes – keep a notebook next to your bed and write down with copious notes every detail about each dream you can recall.
    • Practice waking up with your eyes still closed and focus on the details you see. Do you see: colors, fireworks, or squiggly lines? Keep your eyes closed and hone in on the figures.
    • Upon waking up with your eyes closed, imagine somewhere you want to be or something you wish to be doing. Allowing your body to get heavier and your breathing slower, continue to picture this as you drift back to sleep.
  3. Alarm clock – Set an alarm clock an hour or two before you naturally wake up to start the day (remember, configure the settings so the alarm does NOT snooze.) This tip coincides with your cycle and will allow you to wake at the opportune moment to induce a lucid dream. Specifically, the alarm you use must be one that will indeed wake you from a sleep, but not be one that is so jarring as to race your heart when you hear it.
  4. First Lucid Dream – A lucid dream causes intense euphoria; as there is nothing like being aware that you are dreaming and exploring your sub-conscious dreamland. This feeling is enough to excite your heart into waking you up. DO NOT stress. If you indeed do wake from a lucid dream, slow down your breathing, allow your body to become heavy again and you may drift into another lucid dream. More often, than not, your mind will fall back into a similar lucid dream. If successful, stay calm and take mental notes of the surrounding details. For amateur lucid dreamers it is so important to recall specific details of what you see and feel. The better the details, the greater chances you have of reoccurring lucid dreams.
  5. Read, Listen, Watch – Pick up any literature, listen to audio books, or watch clips and movies that discuss the topic of lucid dreaming. When one studies a topic the mind will recall such details in the subconscious dream world (many sleep study specialists hypothesis state that dreams are our subconscious’s way of interpreting knowledge and daily activities.) Knowing this, it would behoove one to be immersed in the world of lucid dreaming on a daily basis.
  6. Food, Drink and Surroundings – What we eat plays a major role in our sleeping structure and yes, there are foods that are linked to vivid dreams. Such foods are as follows:
    • Stilton Cheese – Stilton cheese has been reported to cause vivid dreams when consumed right before bed. The British Cheese Board provided a survey in 2005, which reported that the consumption of Stilton cheese, half an hour prior to sleep, induces vivid dreams in 85% of women and 75% in men.
    • Garlic – garlic has been claimed to cause “very weird” dreams.
    • Vitamin B6 – Taking Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) before sleep can produce very vivid dreams, according to personal reports. Additionally, scientists have considered a correlation between excess vitamin B6 and vivid dreaming. Foods that contain vitamin B6 are as follows: bananas, carrots, spinach, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, chicken and oranges.
    • Tryptophan – Tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) by the tryptophan hydroxylase enzyme. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for: regulating mood, restful sleep and relaxation.
    • Apple Cider Vinegar – This pungent liquid can be blamed for causing realistic and vivid dreams. If unpleasant alone, there are plenty of cocktails than can be created to mask the taste.
      • Cautionary tale for eating before bed – scientists and doctors alike report the disadvantage to eating before bedtime; and I am not just referring to the possible weight gain side-effects. Vivid nightmares, acid reflux and all around poor sleep quality have been reported when certain foods are consumed right before bed. If this is something you have done in the past – without negative side effects – you are probably safe giving it a whirl.
    • As far as drinks are considered, avoid alcohol in general. Alcohol is known to produce nightmares and restless sleep.
    • Surroundings – turn off all lights in the room (if complete darkness is unsettling, it is recommended to use red lighting.) Blue wavelengths are the least recommended due to the sensitivity of ipRGC cells located in the retina of our eyes – so turn off that TV and put down your phone at least an hour before bedtime.
  7. Reality Checks – Throughout the day stop and look at your surroundings. Notice the details and ask yourself: “am I dreaming?” This is one of the best ways to induce a lucid dream because you are training your brain to question your dreams. “How did I not know I was dreaming?” This is a common question when waking from a dream. Dreams can be so abstract and nonsensical. So why do we not question the validity of the dream? One theory is that the activity in the precuneus is lower. The precuneus is activated when we ‘self-reflect’. In a small study, the activity in the precuneus was higher during a lucid dream. One can conclude that due to the lack of activity in the precuneus, a dream is less likely to appear abnormal and not realistic. 
  8. Almost lucid – For a split second, there is a moment of clarity during a nightmare. In this moment the mind triggers doubt that this situation is occurring in reality. These moments are vital to hold on to because beyond being able to induce a lucid dream, you can also use it as an opportunity to end the bad dream. Here are some key tips I have personally used to change my nightmare into a dream (and this usually results in lucidity):
    • Close your eyes and spin around three times
    • Take your pointer finger and push it through the palm of your hand
    • Look for a clock (this works more often than not). After looking at the clock, look away and then look back to check what time it changed to.
  9. Dream Journal – I touched on this topic briefly in “2. dream recall”. With this exercise you will keep a journal next to your bed. Each and every time you wake from a dream write down every detail you can remember. Be as thorough as you can as this will aid you in your dream recall ability.
  10. Daily meditation – This exercise is by far the most beneficial concerning every day mental health. With meditation you allow your conscious to cleanse the subconscious and prepare the mind for a restful sleep. Furthermore, the more spiritually cleansed your soul is, the less likely nightmares will appear to invade your sleep.

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So how do I use lucid dreaming to battle depression? To put it dramatically – can’t help it – I feel on top of the world when I am lucid dreaming. In that moment of pure euphoria, nothing is impossible. To better describe how one might feel once lucidity finally kicks in, imagine anything in the world that makes YOU so happy and ecstatic – now prolong that feeling for as long as you can – that is the feeling you get when you ‘wake up’ in a dream. With each new lucid dream my subconscious absorbs new tricks and my mind gets better at deciding what belongs in MY dreamworld. When I wake up from a lucid dream I feel: pure, liberated, and spiritually cleansed. The more often these types of dreams occur, the happier and less depressed I am everyday.

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