The hypnagogic state is a peculiar sensory experience that marks the onset of sleep. You will almost certainly recognize it, even if you've never paid attention or thought much about it before.
This intriguing mildly hallucinogenic state can be used to have wake induced lucid dreams, by remaining aware while they lull you to restfulness. You can even shape the visions at will, leading directly to your lucid dreamscape.
Hypnagogia can include a mesmerizing array of visions, sounds, bodily sensations and insights as you sail through the borderland sleep-wake state.
It usually begins with phosphenes - vague blobs of purple and greens, which appear slightly luminescent in the darkness of your closed eyelids.
In time, these blobs evolve into more interesting geometric imagery, and eventually familiar faces and landscapes. The deeper you go without falling asleep, the more likely you are to hallucinate voices and other sounds - sometimes even music. This is the start of the dream state.
The hypnagogic state is by no means limited to visuals.
Auditory hypnagogia range from household noises like phones ringing, to music, to voices calling your name, to the loud buzzing noise associated with the onset of out of body experiences. Hypnagogia can even cause you to feel as if you are floating outside of your body.
While some people consider hypnagogia to be meaningless activity of the brain - a way of clearing out unwanted junk - others believe it has more value.
Like lucid dreams, hypnagogia can be consciously guided and interpreted as it happens, forging a two-way communication with the unconscious mind.
Scientists have linked the hypnagogic state with several stages of sleep: NREM sleep, pre-sleep alpha waves, REM sleep and relaxed wakefulness.
There is a theory that regular meditation can enable you to develop a skill to freeze the hypnagogic process at later and later stages. From personal experience, I find that hypnagogia can be helpful in judging the depth - and deepening - the meditative state required for wake-induced lucid dreams.
Although it is more readily seen before sleep, you can observe some mild hypnagogia right now, while mentally alert and aware.
Close your eyes and cup your palms over your eye sockets (without actually touching your eyeballs). Focus on the middle distance. What do you see?
At first there may be an afterimage from the glare of the screen, but then you should see some faint visuals in the darkness like holographic wallpaper lining your eyelids.
They will typically appear as static, geometric patterns which intensify a little when you direct your focus towards them.
For more exercises like this see How to Visualize.
Observing and interacting with the hypnagogic state as you drift to sleep is one way of entering a lucid dream on demand.
The most powerful technique is known as a Wake Induced Lucid Dream, which in some circles is known as the Hypnagogic Induction Technique because hypnagogia plays such an important role.
To begin, lay quietly in a darkened room as if you are going to sleep. (An even better starting point is when you wake up in the night, already relaxed, preferably after 4-6 hours of sleep.)
Allow your eyes to close naturally and observe the darkness. The goal is to relax deeply and convince your body that you are going to sleep. The challenge, however, is to quiet your mind just enough (no mind chatter) while holding onto a strand of awareness.
Hypnagogia often begins with amorphous blobs of color slowly moving through my field of vision. Then they shape up into more interesting patterns. I then visualize new forms for my hypnagogia to take by willing the visuals to form shapes with increasing complexity. It can help if you mentally say things like: "I'm going to see a square now" and then actively look for it.
With practice, you will learn how to evolve these moving shapes into people and places, which dictates the nature of your upcoming lucid dream.
At some point, your dreaming mind takes over, introducing new imagery from beyond your field of vision. I'd liken this to recalling a memory. The sensation and emotions and visual recall come to mind, from somewhere beyond the projected imagery.
And so the lucid dream begins...
If you remain aware, you'll find yourself in a lucid dream. To be a true WILD, there is no lapse in consciousness. (You may lose awareness for a few moments, then remember you are dreaming. This is more aligned with a Dream Initiated Lucid Dream or DILD.)
Depending on your state of mind when the hypnagogic state begins, it can take as little as a few seconds to turn the visuals into a lucid dream. Or it can take 20-30 minutes.
After this length of time, it is a judgment call whether to keep going. If you are starting to feel restless, then it's time to stop. If you feel dreamy and sleepy, by all means keep going...
The hypnagogic induction technique is a compelling way to explore the realm between consciousness and sleep. You will discover deep relaxation, trippy visuals, clarity of thought, stress-relief and new insights.
Some people find it difficult to master at first. The hardest part is making the transition from observing the hypnagogia to becoming fully submerged in the dream. However, it is worth practicing because this also serves as a powerful form of meditation, which itself aids lucid dreaming.
I've discussed multiple techniques on this site in which the hypnagogic state plays a role. To learn more, check out:
What do blind people dream about? Can they "see" in their dreams? Take a look at scientific studies into the dreams of the blind, colorblind, and black-and-white dreamers. In 1999, dream researchers at the University of Hartford analyzed 372 dreams of 15 blind people. They found that both the congenitally blind and those who went blind before five years old did not have any visual dreams at all. That's because our dreams are made up of real world experiences and our innermost thoughts, anxieties and desires. So for someone who has never perceived images or light (or can't remember any) their dreams simply can't manifest visually.
Not long ago, scientists at Frankfurt University discovered how to produce lucid dreams with electronic stimulation. It was a world first. And - astonishingly - it worked in non-lucid dreamers 77% of the time. Now you can buy the same technology for yourself. The foc.us V2 - which delivers the proven optimum 40 Hz transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) - was originally developed to increase working memory in video gamers and improve sleep.
As technology continues to move us towards more immersive dreamlike experiences, one can only wonder what digital wonders lay just beyond the horizon of tomorrow. We may also question just how the future of virtual reality will impact the study and practice of lucid dreaming. Are we, perhaps, the last generation to whom lucid dreaming will maintain an appeal?
Jeremiah Morelli is a whimsical fantasy artist and visual storyteller. He places conceptual fairytale creatures in vivid dreamscapes to capture the imagination. He's also a school teacher, and amazingly finds the time and motivation to create this huge gallery of artwork. Such light and dark fairytale paintings make beautiful places to visit in your lucid dreams.
Inspired and named for the notion of Flatland, artist and photographer Aydin Buyuktas has created a series of works where "a space of surprises creates a space that creates surprises." Based on photos of Istanbul, Buyuktas explains: "We live in places that most of the times don't draw our attention, places that transform our memories, places that the artist gives another dimension; where the perceptions that generally crosses our minds will be demolished and new ones will arise. These works aim to leave the viewer alone with a surprising visuality, ironic as well as a multidimensional romantic point of view."
Experts agree that everyone is capable of having lucid dreams. Dreaming itself is a normal function of the mind. We all dream every night, even if we don't remember. And we all achieve conscious awareness while awake every single day. So what does it mean to combine these states? Why, the amazing ability to have conscious - or lucid - dreams. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why do I keep hearing from people who say they can't achieve their first lucid dream?