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New study offers eye-opening, Inception-like practices for controlling your lucid dreams

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Jul 22, 2020, 9:40 PM EDT

Most of us spend one third of our lives asleep, and that accounts for a significant number of hours perhaps dreaming of lost loves, haunted garden shacks, or forgetting school locker combinations. Lucid dreamers, those able to control and sense awareness of their nocturnal adventures, represent only a minority percentage of the snoozing world. 

However, a new Aussie sleep study reveals data showing we have much greater influence over our dreams than previously believed, and can actually practice improvement techniques. Like something out of Joseph Ruben's 1984 sci-fi horror flick, Dreamscape, or director Christopher Nolan's trippy 2010 thriller, Inception, the notion of changing the direction or events inside a dream often seems like fantasy material. 

But according to research carried out by Dr. Denholm J. Aspy of Australia's University of Adelaide and published last week in the online psychology journal Frontiers, scientists confirmed that 55% of adults have experienced a minimum of one lucid dream, and 23% experience lucid dreams regularly at the rate of once a month or more. Conscious, deliberate control is apparently possible in approximately one third of all lucid dreams, which includes semi-conscious periods where location changes and intentional waking up is achieved.

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In the new study, Dr. Aspy's International Lucid Dream Induction Study (ILDIS) investigated and compared five different combos of lucid dream induction techniques to ascertain which delivers the greatest level of control.

According to the team's findings, "lucid dreaming has many potential benefits and applications, such as treatment for nightmares, improvement of physical skills and abilities through dream rehearsal, creative problem solving, and research opportunities for exploring mind-body relationships and consciousness.”

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To deliver a clearer understanding of the nature of lucid dreams, ILDIS investigated and compared the effectiveness of five different combinations of the following lucid dream induction techniques, in order to determine exactly which methods worked best:

Reality Testing (RT) - involves checking your environment several times a day to see whether or not you’re dreaming.

Wake Back to Bed (WBTB) - involves waking up after five hours, staying awake for a short period, then going back to sleep in order to enter a REM sleep period, in which dreams are more likely to occur.

MILD - involves waking up after five hours of sleep and then developing the intention to remember that you are dreaming before returning to sleep, by repeating the phrase, "The next time I’m dreaming, I will remember that I’m dreaming."

SSILD - requires waking up after five hours of sleep, then repeatedly focusing your attention on visual, auditory, and physical sensations for 20 seconds each before returning to sleep. Technique is similar to mindfulness meditation, but involves repeatedly shifting your focus.

HYBRID - combines elements of MILD and SSILD, which, like the SSILD technique, involves repeatedly focusing attention on visual, and physical sensations. Participants also repeat the phrase, "The next time I’m dreaming, I will remember that I’m dreaming." 

The worldwide experiment was conducted online and involved 355 participants averaging 35.3 years of age, all exhibiting a keen interest in lucid dreaming; 71.8% of subjects were employed non-students, with 19.4% listed as students and 8.7% labeled unemployed or retired.

Dr. Aspy's final results concluded that the MILD and SSILD techniques were both equally effective for inducing lucid dreams. The hybrid method showed no advantage over MILD or SSILD, while RT appeared to be totally ineffective.

“One of the applications of lucid dreaming is that it provides a way to have vivid, life-like, and fulfilling experiences while dreaming that are not possible for some people while they are awake,” Dr. Aspy noted. “This could be due to debilitating medical conditions, but also due to circumstances like self-isolation or quarantine when daily habits are disrupted and emotional stressors are high.”

So the next time Mr. Sandman comes to carry you away to dreamland, try one of these techniques to help you recall that vexing high school locker combo!