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.
Access Rebecca's popular e-course, 10 Steps to Lucid Dreams, plus personal insights and links to her best web content. 30,000 people are on board.
Books are a powerful way to increase our understanding and generate new perspectives. Good books are immersive and profound: they can change the way we live our lives. In teaching us new lessons, stripping away fallacies and inspiring independent thought, the following books on lucid dreaming are bestsellers for a reason - they are groundbreaking and thought-provoking reads to expand your awareness and develop your lucid dreaming skills.
Galantamine is best known for its ability to improve memory and provoke intense lucid dreams. Research by Dr Stephen LaBerge has found that taking galantamine intensifies your dreams on many levels, including cognition, lucidity, recall, control, bizarreness and visual vividness. If you want to boost your dream life, and maybe prompt some lucid dreams, it's worth taking the occasional galantamine supplement.
Why write a book about how to "hack" sleep? Well, I've suffered from sleep issues throughout my entire adult life. Sleep was such a tough thing to figure out. It didn't respond to willpower. I could beg and cry and kick and scream to myself to fall asleep, but my body would not listen. Finally, I realized that enough was enough and that I was going to fix this very important area of my life for good, or at least do my best to try. I spent nearly one year constructing a system to improve the quality of my sleep.
Humans are unique in our endless capacity for imagination. According to Steven Mithen, an anthropologist at the University of Reading in the UK, we needed to evolve seven critical mental skills before we could have imagination as we know it. Each of these abilities serve a distinct purpose in their own right, while imagination is the culmination of them all.
This dream starts out pretty violent but then suddenly goes all profound on me. I'm having a nightmare in which a thin, gray-faced man is trying to kill me. I become lucid and battle him with ease, firing shots of lighting out of my hands and hitting him in the chest. He falls to his knees and I lock him in a gated prison using only my mind. But then my lucid dream evolves into a lucid nightmare. Another villain, who looks like Krang (or Krang's body at least) from that delightful cartoon about giant mutant turtles, frees the gray man using his telepathic powers. I am no match for him.
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?