COULD YOU BE A LUCID
DREAMER? A new sleep technique could increase your productivity
There is nothing more boring than other people’s dreams. So I’ll try to be concise when I tell you that one of my earliest memories is of a dream I had when I was three years old. I was in a fire engine, wearing yellow wellies and a coat over my nightie. I said to one of the firemen (yes, I was boringly genderbiased as an infant), ‘I know this is a dream, because I don’t know any firemen, I don’t have any yellow boots, and if this was real life I wouldn’t be wearing a nightie.’ Then, to test my theory, I climbed up the pole with ease – something I would have found impossible in reality – and slid down. I repeated this until I woke up. Although I didn’t know it, I was having a lucid dream – an experience in which you are aware that the dream is happening and you can control your actions within it. Lucid dreaming is becoming increasingly popular in the wellness community. Why? Because it can make you more productive, more positive and can even help to manage mental health. Tree Carr, a mystic and dreaming guide who runs dream workshops from Malibu to Margate, explains, ‘Lucid dreaming can be very beneficial for people with anxiety or phobias.’ As someone who struggles with an anxiety disorder, this sounds very appealing. I decided to try Charlie Morley’s online Awake Academy lucid dreaming video course. Charlie has been teaching mindfulness and lucid dreaming for nine years. Admittedly, I’m a little sceptical, or rather, nervous that I won’t be a good student. That said, unlike school, this is one occasion where I’m supposed to sleep in class…
A new sleep technique could make you more positive, productive and happier. Daisy Buchanan tries it out…
The dream journal
Charlie explains that most of us will typically have four to five dream periods a night, and it’s key to keep a journal, where we write down as much detail as we can. I’m a bit concerned mine will end up as a series of humiliating scribbled notes, like ‘OLD SCHOOL + NO PANTS?’ Still, Charlie says that he once worked with an older man who insisted that he never dreamed, but simply keeping a journal was enough to trigger his memory. He said,
‘I’ve been dreaming for 62 years, I just didn’t care to notice!’
I keep my phone next to my bed in aeroplane mode, and when I jolt awake at 4am, aware that I’ve been dreaming about something, I make as many notes as I can, writing, ‘Hannah friend christening dinner gate crashing,’ before going to sleep again.
I don’t remember any other dreams, but in the morning I’m able to fill in the blanks. I’d dreamt that I’d been supposed to be meeting my friend Hannah for dinner, got the date wrong, and ended up at her friend’s daughter’s christening, where everyone was too polite to tell me that I really wasn’t invited. Although the dream wasn’t logical, some of the recollections and emotions were really overwhelming. I could remember the dust motes dancing through the air, highlighted by the sunlight coming through the church window. More importantly, I could remember being hot with shame and awkwardness, how horrible it felt to seem so out of place. It occurred to me that I often wake up feeling similarly emotionally unsettled.
Deciding on a dream
Still, Charlie is very confident that lucid dreaming is the way to deal with past traumas and bad experiences, because we’re engaging with the parts of the brain that we can’t access when we’re conscious, and all the wisdom we’ve ever accumulated. So, I set an intention and attempt to ‘make a request to the dreaming mind’. As I go to sleep, I think about the topic I have the greatest anxiety about – money. At the moment, my husband and I are saving to buy a house, and I spend a lot of time panicking about the mortgage process, convinced that our lives will descend into some sort of Kafkaesque financial nightmare. So, as I start to go to sleep, I ask the question, ‘Will I ever buy a house?’
This is a mistake, because instead of dropping off, I start obsessively fretting about my tax return, regretting every ASOS purchase of the past 12 months and wondering whether
I’ll ever be paid for some work I invoiced for last summer. When I do fall asleep, I dream of trying to get cash at an ATM and having every single one of my cards declined. There is no opportunity to go lucid or take control of the experience.
Happy sleep habits
Feeling quite discouraged, I speak to Tree. She echoes Charlie, and tells me not to fret when dreams get a bit worrying. ‘Learning to control your nightmares, face them and change the outcome of the dream can give the dreamer quite a bit of healing,’ she explains. I decide to make myself as relaxed as possible, and instead of putting pressure on myself to have a lucid dream, do what I can to have a happy one. Before bed, I have a long bath with lavender oil. I drink some valerian tea, which is supposed to aid sleep, and I spray my pillow with yet more lavender. Rather than relying on my brain to think relaxing thoughts – left to its own devices it’s only going to yell ‘WHY HAVEN’T YOU GOT A PENSION?!’ at me – I reread one of my favourite Nancy Mitford novels until my eyelids flutter. Unusually,
I sleep soundly until morning. I struggle to work out what to put in my dream journal, but I have a vague memory of happy thoughts. I remember a room decorated in pink and pale gold, the smell of paint and cake, and something to do with jewellery.
Keeping it kind
Today’s workshop is all about ‘compassionate acceptance’, as successful lucid dreaming is linked to mindfulness and thoughtful kindness. Charlie bluntly explains that when we start managing our dream life more consciously,
‘we become lucidly aware of when we start projecting our bullshit on to others.’ Like
pretty much everyone I know, I have a lapsed Headspace subscription, and I’m familiar with mindfulness but don’t practise it nearly enough. I toy with going for a walk and really noticing some leaves, but in the end, what does it for me is carelessly scrolling through Instagram and really noticing how jealous I feel of a friend’s exciting work trip. I do a deep dive into my jealousy and work through it, eventually dealing with my envy by pitching a travel feature. Then I get it. I can go to Mauritius in my dreams! I can lie on a deserted beach without feeling selfconscious about being in a bikini! That night, I go to sleep imagining myself on a lilo, in the middle of a tranquil sea. Sadly, I do not dream of a holiday but I sleep heavily and wake up happy.
Making it memorable
Admittedly I’ve struggled with some of Charlie’s advice and longed for something more specific. However, today he obliges by saying that we need to work on our waking memory in order to improve our dream recall and open the lucid gateway. ‘Try remembering a friend’s phone number, or memorising your to-do list,’ he explains, so I have a go. I memorise the 16-digit number on my debit card and try to walk around Morrisons without picking up my phone and checking my shopping list. I make a connection between memorising and mindfulness – I find that I need to be sharply focused, and to really think about any feelings or sensations that will help to sear these facts into my consciousness. Charlie suggests a mantra – ‘tonight, I remember my dreams’ – and recommends setting an alarm a couple of hours before I’d usually wake up, during the final period of REM sleep.
I set my alarm for half five, and when it goes off the next morning, it’s a horrible shock.
I’ve been dreaming about being fired from a mysterious job, while finishing a novel that I’ve been working on. When I think about it deeply, I realise that I have experienced a couple of moments of lucidity. When the firing happens, I remember thinking, ‘This can’t be real, because I am freelance, I don’t need to worry about this,’ while having a flash of insight about my unfinished novel, realising that I can do it in real life and I just need to keep going.
Right now, I feel mixed about my experiences, and a little frustrated that I haven’t quite managed to achieve a fully lucid dream. However, while trying to learn to lucid dream, I’ve learnt to sleep better, think more positively, boost my memory skills and be much kinder to myself and others. Also, I feel as though this is the very beginning of the experiment. Tree explains to me that this is a lifelong journey, and I should be inspired to ‘carry on exploring my own consciousness through the dream states’. Just recording my dreams and delving into the way my brain manifests and presents thoughts and memories has made me realise that I can ease my anxiety with patience and self-compassion, and that feels like an incredibly useful lesson.