Each and every night, your brain transitions through different stages of sleep.
Each stage has different effects on your body - from physical restoration during deep sleep, to memory consolidation during dreams.
All together, these stages add up to about 90-110 minutes, making up one complete sleep cycle.
We used to identify five stages of sleep (as above) but recently Stages 3 and 4 have been grouped together for their similarities.
Let's take a closer look at those four stages:
Your longest and most memorable lucid dreams usually occur in the fourth and fifth sleep cycles of the night - after about six hours of sleep - during the REM sleep stages. Critically, during these later sleep cycles, periods of REM sleep become longer.
The graph shows REM sleep occurring at the end of each sleep cycle. This is your most memorable dream time.
If you don't wake up to an alarm, you'll find you often wake directly from a dream, which makes it much easier to remember. When this happens - don't move. Just allow yourself to gently re-enter the dream, while thinking "I'm dreaming".
This graph also shows how it's essential for lucid dreamers to get sufficient shuteye and not miss out on REM sleep by cutting sleep short. Indeed, the more chances you have to sleep in, the better. Sleeping-in allows extended REM time in the morning, more vivid dreams, and more chances to become lucid.
So, how much sleep do you meed?
It seems that the amount of sleep required differs from person to person, however as a rough guide experts have come up with the following daily sleep guide based on age:
What's also important is to look at how you're waking up - ie, after how many sleep cycles.
If you wake to an alarm every day, your sleep is likely to be interrupted mid-cycle. This is such a common problem it's known as getting out of the wrong side of the bed. This may also explain why you're not a morning person.
An alarm cuts your sleep short arbitrarily and denies your final REM phase. It's much healthier to wake up after the cycle is complete which is what happens without an alarm.
Fortunately, there is a growing array of sleep tech to achieve this without being two hours late for work every day. These gadgets and apps can track your sleep cycles and wake you only once a cycle is complete.
We can measure the length of dream time using an EEG machine which reads brainwave activity. Dreams are directly correlated to REM sleep - to the extent that your eyes can move and track in the same direction you are looking in the dream.
The brainwave readings tell us that REM sleep at the end of the first sleep cycle lasts only a few minutes. Much of the first cycle is dedicated to non-REM sleep, driven by the need for physical rest. So, these early dreams are often fleeting. You are unlikely to remember them and they're unlikely to yield lucid dreams.
As you sleep on through the night, your REM phases grow longer in each sleep cycle. By morning, your fourth or fifth sleep cycle (ending when you wake up for the day) may allow for 45-60 minutes of uninterrupted REM sleep. It's perfect for lucid dreaming.
Every now and then I hear an urban myth about lucid dreaming that someone had a dream that encompassed an entire lifetime.
I've had such a dream, while taking the dream intensifier, Calea Z. Time seemed to stretch and I felt like I was in this dream for years. But as vivid as the dream was, I didn't literally experience those years, minute-for-minute. It was more like watching an epic movie that spans 200 years in the space of two hours, yet you feel like you were there longer.
Generally, the timeframe of regular dreams are in line with reality. However it's always difficult to judge the length of a dream from the first-hand perspective of dreaming it. Whether you're lucid or not, time can be distorted in dreams - and there are a lack of constants against which you can measure the passing of dream events.
So, if you feel a dream lasted for days or years, it's just your perception of events in the dream that made it seem to last so long. I don't believe that such dreams - however mind-blowing in their realism and adventure - are comparable to the experience of real time passing in the waking world.
Like regular dreams, lucid dreams can last anywhere from a few seconds up to an hour (and possibly even more). For me, a typical lucid dream lasts 10-20 minutes.
Most beginners find their lucid dream collapses within a few seconds because the emotions of becoming lucid are so overwhelming. However with a few simple dream stabilization methods, you can massively prolong your lucid dreams.
As soon as I learned how to prolong my lucid dreams, it opened up a world of possibilities. My dream world posed a new adventure playground, in which I could travel anywhere and do anything I wanted to with complete clarity and awareness. What's more, these stabilization techniques serve to enhance the dream clarity and my ability to control it, while preventing me from waking up prematurely.
For step-by-step tutorials on lucid dream induction and exploration, check out The Lucid Dreaming Fast Track, my online study program for beginners and beyond.
If we're completely honest, lucid dreaming isn't really known for being the most social of interests. In fact, often it's a lone pursuit - just you, your dream journal and the landscape of your mind. But this technique called PAL (or Partner Assisted Lucidity) breaks down that wall and turns lucid dream exploration into a social event.
Members of our lucid dream forum have been asking how to create dream characters in lucid dreams. The most common problem is having characters who look nothing like they should. Or they seem disinterested in your company. Or they fail to show up on command altogether. So, how to combat this? It's a matter of finding creative solutions that bypass logical expectations.
To lucid dream, I recommend being able to remember at least one vivid dream per night. That will boost your self awareness in dreams (making lucidity more likely) and also means you can actually remember your lucid dreams. Which is nice. Here are four detailed tips on how to remember your dreams more frequently. And if you don't think you dream at all - trust me, you almost certainly do. It takes an extraordinarily rare sleep disorder to deprive someone of dream sleep.
It is estimated that these wise and wily Indians have been using mugwort in their healing and ritual practices for 13,000 years, where it is known as the ‘dream sage’. They use the herb to promote good dreams, which they consider an essential aspect of normal human functioning! But that’s not all...
Silene Capensis has been used for millennia by the Xhosa shaman of the river valleys in the eastern cape of South Africa, where it is known as Undela Ziimhlophe or 'white paths'. It's fragrant white flowers open only at night, when they emit a fragrant and almost hypnotising aroma. Also known as African Dream Herb or Ubulawu, Silene Capensis induces spectacularly vivid dreams - yet has never entered the mainstream and remains a fringe taste within western culture.
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?