How Lucid Dreaming Works

Sleep Image Gallery If you could fly, where would you go? Many lucid dreamers report dreams of flight. See more sleep pictures.
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If you could control your dreams, what would you do? Grow wings and fly, talk to God, travel to ancient Rome, dine with Marilyn Monroe, open opera season at the Met? Instead, we dream of showing up naked at work or falling or getting lost. But there's one type that offers the promise of control: lucid dreams.

When you dream, you generally don't know you're dreaming. The events of a dream feel real, regardless of how fantastic they may be. You awaken and wonder how those ideas even came to be inside your head. What do they mean?

In a lucid dream, you're aware that you're dreaming. There's a moment of clarity where you realize that you don't, in fact, have wings, and that you can't possibly be having dinner with Marilyn Monroe, because she's dead.

Lucid dreaming is somewhat controversial because it sounds "New Age-y," like reading crystals or undergoing color light therapy -- things not everyone believes in. There's science behind lucid dreaming, though. One study monitored subjects with electroencephalograms (EEGs -- a test of the electrical brain activity) as they slept. The participants motioned with their eyelids when they were in the middle of a lucid dream. The EEGs confirmed that they were in REM sleep while they signaled their lucid dream state [source: LaBerge]. The fact that people can have lucid dreams isn't under dispute. The question is whether or not people can control their dreams. Some scientists claim an enthusiastic yes, while others dismiss it as nonsense.

So how does it work? In this article, we're going to investigate lucid dreams. We'll explore both the science and the fantastic, and we'll find out how to put you in control.