July 28, 2010
Dr. Chris Winter, Medical Director of the Martha Jefferson Sleep Center, talked to Men’s Health about the power of being able to control your dreams. The concept has recently been a hot topic, thanks to the box-office sucess of “Inception”, in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays a character that can infiltrate the dreams of those around him.
The following was taken from Men’s Health Magazine:
Take Control of Your Dream Life: 5 ways to steer yourself toward better health–while sleeping
By: Madeline Haller
In the summer blockbuster Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a character who can infiltrate and control people’s dreams. Now imagine: What if you could do the same? Well, you can–at least with your own dreams. And turns out, it can actually be good for you.
So how do you do it? The secret is to realize when you’re actually dreaming–what scientists call having a “lucid dream.” It’s a bit like waking up during the middle of a dream, yet the dream continues, allowing you to assume command of your actions. This is referred to as ‘dream control,’ says W. Christopher Winter, Medical Director at Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center, and learning to do it can have many psychological benefits.
For example, practicing dream control can provide peace-of-mind to people who are bothered by life situations, Winter says. They can dream about loved ones, happy times, or even re-imagine an altercation that ended badly.
One example: Your boss won’t stop hounding you about a project. “You could leave your office, fly to a restaurant, and order a margarita,” he says.
The first step to controlling your dreams, says Winter, is to realize when you’re asleep and dreaming. Once you can do this, you can decide which people to dream about, what to do, and where to go.
Taking control of your dreams starts when you’re awake, says Winter. The best way to do this is by practicing a series of reality checks throughout your waking day. Here are some common ones to practice:
1. Look at yourself in the mirror. In dreams, your reflection appears distorted, because you don’t see yourself enough in a mirror to create a spot-on image, says Winter. Make it a reality check: The next time you walk past a mirror, make a mental note that you look normal. Then say, “I’m awake, I am not dreaming.”
2. Look at your hands. In dreams, your hands tend to look different than they do when you’re awake–similar to the image-in-the-mirror scenario. “Dream hands” tend to be a different color or have a missing or extra digit, says Winter. Make it a reality check: Look down at your hands a few times each day. Picture how they look and say, “I’m awake, I am not dreaming.”
3. Push on the middle of your palm with your finger. If you do this in a dream, you won’t be able to feel the pressure, he says. Or, if you do, your finger will go right through the middle of your hand. That’s because it’s difficult for your brain to replicate a physical sensation during a dream. Make it a reality check: Throughout the day, press your index finger into the center of your palm. When you feel the pressure, repeat the mantra: “I’m awake, I am not dreaming.”
4. Flip on a light switch. It is very difficult for your brain to simulate real-life light changes in a dream, he says. Flipping a light switch in a dream will not affect the contrast in light all that much. Make it a reality check: Any time you flip a light switch, make a note of the contrast in available light. Focus on the amount of light you are seeing, then say to yourself, “I’m awake, I am not dreaming.”
5. Be aware of the time. Clocks in your dreams tend to be not only wrong, but nonsensical. There are usually characters on the screen that would never exist on a watch, such as A9:3X, display in unusual combinations, such as 100:99, or the time changes from one glance to the next. Make it a reality check: Make wearing a digital wrist watch a habit and constantly check it throughout the day. Every time you glance at the watch and see that the time is correct, think to yourself, “I’m awake, I am not dreaming.”
“Typically people’s dreams revolve around what they do on a day-to-day basis,” says Winter. “So if you’re focusing on these reality checks, and they become a part of your everyday routine, you’ll start to do these behaviors in your sleep.”
Once the reality checks start to appear in your dreams, it’s much easier to realize you are dreaming and then work on controlling your dreams.
Don’t be discouraged if initially you suddenly awaken when your reality check confirms you are dreaming (i.e., you have 3 thumbs). With time, you will be able to maintain your dream despite your awareness. Then, with lucidity established, you can practice summoning people or dictating what scenarios you want to play out.
Other Useful Tips
1. Start a dream journal
It’s common to dream about the same thing over and over again. By keeping track of what you saw, who was there, and what happened in your dreams, you can train your mind to notice when the situation is reccurring. “The more you can remember from your dreams, and the more you document them, increases your chances to lucid dream,” says Winter. “Think about these themes or settings before you sleep, recognize them, and you can try and take control of the dream.”
2. Set an alarm
The easiest time to lucid dream is in the morning, because your REM cycle is much denser in the second half of the night than in the first. A common practice is to set an alarm 30 minutes before you would normally wake up, rise from bed, walk around a little bit, then return to bed. Once you are lying down again, concentrate on lucid dreaming and focus on a specific reality check. Typically, your body will complete that last cycle of REM, which means you would start dreaming right as you fall asleep.