Lucid dreaming is a learnable skill, but it can be difficult to “break through” to the other side.  Learning is easier for some than others. The strength of intention, your daily habits of self-awareness, your level of dream recall, and your sleep hygiene all impact the learning curve.

I have already mentioned the importance of good dream recall. Here are some other must-have lucid dreaming techniques.

Set a Strong Intention To Become Lucid

Go back to my dream incubation article and read it again with a mind to incubating lucid dreams. Dream incubation involves setting an intention. There are many lucid dreaming techniques out there, including using technological devices, listening to brain entrainment music, and even going to sleep with a full bladder. However, I have found that none of these are effective unless you know how to set an intention before you go to bed. This is the single-most important indicator of becoming aware in dreams.

So why do you want to go lucid? Is it philosophical curiosity? The quest for power? Lucid pleasure? Be honest with yourself and stick with the strongest intention you can muster. Are your mind, heart, and gut on board? A powerful intention lives in all of these places.

Next, decide upon a behavior you will do once you realize you are lucid. Codify it. “When I realize I’m dreaming, I will fly over the trees.” Make it simple, short and sweet. What makes lucid dreaming so cool is that, unlike ordinary dreams, you can honor the dream with action while still in the dream, and even interpret the dream as it goes along. If dreaming is the royal road to the unconscious, lucid dreaming can be the super highway.

Become More Aware During the Day

This is called “reality testing” and it is an effective way to increase spontaneous lucid dreams. The truth is that we are not very aware as we go about our daily lives. How aware of your surroundings are you when you are eating lunch? Shopping? Driving? By taking a second and thinking something like, “I am aware right now,” you are training your mind to become more aware during dreams as well. This is why many religious approaches, such as Sufism and Tibetan Buddhism, consider lucid dreaming to be an indication of good meditation and “waking up.”

Carlos Castaneda popularized a good reality check in his book The Art of Dreaming. Simply look at your hands and think, or say out loud (even better), “I am aware.” Do it until you really mean it. The nice thing about hands is you always have them around.

Another effective technique that works for me is noticing every time you pass through a doorway. This is hard at first, and really shows how unaware we are in our everyday patterns. I’ve had many lucid dreams emerge from my habit of noticing these thresholds.

Discover Your Dream Signs for Lucidity

Dream signs are signals that you are dreaming. Usually these signs are elements of the bizarre, perceptual anomalies, or other personal symbols. One for me is dreaming that I’m looking in the mirror and obsessing about my teeth. I’ve trained myself to think, “when my teeth are messed up, I’m dreaming,” so when I have this dream, I become aware I’m dreaming. You can strengthen the dream signs that have led to lucid dreams in the past, or try developing new ones. For instance, you might study an image and say, “The next time I see this, I’m dreaming.”

The Role of Sleep Hygiene

There’s no way around it: good lucid dreamers are good sleepers. If you don’t get much sleep, you are cutting out those long REM stages that only comes after 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. On weekends or days off, try going back to sleep after waking up at your normal time. The extra sleep will probably have an extended period of dreaming. Also, afternoon naps are frequently REM sleep and result in high levels of lucid dreams.

I’m a fan of the late afternoon nap, personally. Not only is it a chance to lucid dream, but I wake up in 20 or 30 minutes refreshed and ready for a whole new day. Much more effective than a cup of coffee.

Try Lucid Dreaming Supplements

Supplements, in my perspective, are a waste of money if you don’t do the real work, which is about becoming more aware in daily life. Honestly, this is the real path. But supplements can help with that first boost into lucidity, provided the other preconditions have been met (dream journal, check. Strong intention, check. The chance to take a nap undisturbed, check). Check out my review of the most popular lucid dreaming supplements currently on the market.

Stimulate the Frontal Cortex with Reading

I personally have had great success with waking up, reading for 15 minutes or so, and then going back to sleep. Especially effective if the reading material is about lucid dreams. The reading activates the frontal cortex which is the seat of analytical awareness that says “I’m dreaming!”, so you are more likely to stay aware immediately afterwards.

Do lucid dreaming incubations really work?

Yes, they do. I wrote my MA thesis based on my experiences of incubating lucid dreams. During that period, I had a lucid dream twice a week (without trying, I have lucid dreams about once a month). Another way to boost your results is to form a lucid dreaming circle, either online or in your home town. A little social pressure is good – too much can have the opposite effect, however. Lucid dreaming takes a lifetime to master, so be patient with yourself. We have all our life to wake up to our greatest challenges and opportunities.

So start with today, right now. Are you dreaming? How do you know?

My favorite lucid dreaming source books:

Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Self by Robert Waggoner.

Conscious Dreaming by Robert Moss.

Sleeping, Dreaming and Dying: explorations in consciousness with the Dali Lama, edited by Francisco Valera.