It's the most frustrating thing about lucid dreaming. You finally realize you're dreaming, get excited about the infinite possibilities... and immediately wake up.
What's the point of all this lucid dream training if the experience only lasts a few seconds? How much more effort is it going to take to learn how to prolong your lucid dreams?
The answer is: none at all.
Once you've finished reading this article, you'll know exactly what to do as soon as you become lucid. You'll know how to stabilize your lucid dreams and extend them - perhaps for as long as an hour.
These tips come from my own experiences of staying lucid, plus advice from the classic book Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming by Dr Stephen LaBerge.
It's mostly down to inexperience. Beginners have no understanding of how to stay lucid - which actually means staying focused on the thought: "I am dreaming."
Beginners also tend to overlook the need to stay calm. Naturally, it's a terribly exciting thing to happen, and the very real adrenaline rush can jolt you awake.
I went through this in my teens. My first lucid dreams were very short - we're talking seconds. I would realize I was dreaming and then get excited and run around telling everyone about it.
Or I would just attempt something overambitious and get confused why I couldn't succeed. And I'd actually forget I was dreaming. This is how poorly memory can perform in dreams - even lucid dreams.
Memorize the list below, and the next time you become lucid, immediately perform any number of these dream stabilizing techniques until you feel the lucid dream is at full intensity.
These techniques build on your self awareness within the dream, heightening your level of consciousness and cementing the knowledge that you're dreaming... and nothing is "real".
This is a fantastic jumping-off point for an incredibly vivid and long-lasting lucid adventure.
The most important principle is to avoid running around while shouting, "I'm dreaming!"
Firstly, no-one cares. The characters in your lucid dream don't usually understand what you're talking about. And even if they do, they'll tell you that the dream is real. For whatever reason, they try to preserve the illusion. That's the most common finding among lucid dreamers.
Secondly, you'll get over-excited and wake yourself up, which is the fastest way to end an otherwise exhilarating lucid dreaming.
So stay clam. Get a grip on your emotions and relax into your lucid dream.
Research has found that many kinds of kinesthetic actions (ie, movement) inside lucid dreams serve to stimulate the conscious brain further. It draws a higher awareness to your dream body, grounding your sense of self inside the dream.
So, rub your hands together like a diabolical genius. It works for me.
I tend to combine any physical stabilization action with reminders like: "I'm dreaming. None of this is real. I'm inside my head right now." Say it out loud in your dream. Say it calmly.
Here's a really neat trick from Carlos Castaneda's The Art of Dreaming, and it's simply this: find your hands.
This is a good way of becoming lucid in the first place. If you habitually look at your hands during the waking day, while asking if you're dreaming, the same action will filter into your dreams.
To make your lucid dreams last longer, once again, find your hands and study them close-up. You'll enhance your dream vision and bring awareness to this aspect of your dream body.
As you're starting to see, the goal is to sharpen awareness of your mind and body inside the dream.
Besides looking at your hands, try a simple reality check
One of my favorites, again from LaBerge's ETWOLD, is to attempt to push my fingers through my palm. This never works in reality (I hope you'll agree) but it works all the time in a lucid dream.
Here's me doing this classic reality check, apparently while floating in front of the moon:
Again, this should coincide with the calm spoken words: "I'm dreaming."
LaBerge figured out the need to be very firm with our lucid dreams. If you say (or shout) what you want to your dream, it will happen.
It doesn't really matter what you say, as long as you know what you mean and you say it with a confident expectation that your dream will oblige.
Try the phrase: "CLARITY NOW!"
Maybe you'll say: "Make this dream more intense!"
"Give me high definition!"
Work in the positive. If you say something in the negative ("stop this dream being blurry") it's an instruction with the word blurry, and your dream is less likely to clarify things up.
Also, you have to want it. Really feel the need for clarity, like you yearn for it. Words on their own can be ineffectual in a lucid dream. The feeling and the desire must be there too.
Almost always, your dream will snap into greater focus, as if by magic.
Consider quadratic programming:
A really simple sum will do. The goal is to engage yet another higher functioning area of your brain, in order to build consciousness.
I say things like: "Four plus four equals eight. Two times three is six."
That's all you need.
If you're an advanced math student, feel free to solve complex equations in your lucid dreams. Who am I to judge what you do with your infinite dream potential?
(Actually, Ramanujan did just this.)
Some people get angry when I talk about dream supplements. They think it's cheating.
Obviously, you decide what goes into your body. You don't have to listen to me. I would just nonchalantly point to the millions of vitamin and protein supplements used by people from all walks of life. I don't think they're cheating. I think they're giving their body a boost.
It's still your call. Importantly, I only recommend herbs and supplements which are legal.
Personally, I use lucid dreaming supplements sporadically, just for fun. I wouldn't suggest it to anyone as the only tool or technique in achieving lucidity.
However, in the early days of dream experimentation, a supplement can demonstrate the extraordinary heights of lucid dreaming.
Ok, so you're more of a performing arts student. Try this: spin around in your lucid dream.
LaBerge swears by this as a way to bring more awareness to your dream body and prolong your lucid dream. It's based on the kinesthetic principle again.
Personally, spinning makes me lose my dream vision, and to get it back I have to visualize a new dream scene. So for me, this one is about teleportating to a new dream location.
Once, after spinning, I found myself a bodiless point of consciousness, floating in space. That is always weird to experience. I then created a new dream scene by imagining it on a piece of movie reel in the darkness. Then I zoomed in until I was in the movie and the scene became 3D around me. It was a bit like this:
Nonetheless, many other lucid dreamers use spinning as a stabilization technique and I have no reason to question LaBerge so I recommend it here.
Lastly, if you've tried everything else and still feel like you don't have a good grip on your lucid dream reality (and that would be very unlikely by this point) then fall backwards.
This creates a vivid physical sensation like nothing else.
Be warned, this last-ditch attempt to stabilize a lucid dream may cause you to jolt in bed, snapping you into a false awakening (a dream of waking up) or a real awakening. Which is kind of the thing we were trying to avoid in the first place. Hence, the last resort.
Try it when you feel your lucidity is slipping away and you have only a second to react.
As soon as I learnt how to stay lucid, my dream world exploded. Instead of lucid dreams that lasted seconds - or if I was lucky, a couple of minutes - the dream world became my oyster.
I could prolong my lucid dreams for an average of about 15-20 minutes. That's my best guess. Sometimes, when I'm tripping through multiple lucid dreams on a Saturday morning lie-in, I'll keep glancing at the clock every time I wake up. Then I'll go straight back to sleep and into another lucid dream - and another adventure.
What's more, sometimes my lucid dreams feel like they last 2-3 times longer than they actually have in real time. Maybe experiences like this guided Nolan's vision of Inception.
My longest lucid dream was around one hour long. On a number of good days (and nights) I have had lucid dreams around the 45-60 minute mark. Sometimes I can chain lucid dreams together, with momentary awakenings, diving straight back into the same dream scene, to create this effect.
In one spectacular lucid dream, I escaped from a nightmare, flew to outer space, time traveled to an ancient civilization, explored a mansion, passed through walls, flew over mountains, played the piano, and ate delicious food. I was fully lucid the whole time, guiding the dream and letting the dream guide me.