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.
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?