I had a lucid dream recently. As a longtime insomniac, chronicler of my dreams and seeker, I came across lucid dreaming back in my college days. This is the idea that some people, sometimes, will become conscious during a dream that they are dreaming and then be able to have some control of the dream.

You can find lots of examples of these experiences and people put themselves in place they want to go, do things they have always wanted to do (flying seems to be quite popular) and generally experience a feeling of euphoria and well-being.

It has happened to me a few times over the years, but always unbidden.

I have read a few books on lucid dreaming and the last one I picked up was Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, but there are also some websites that could get you started.

Let me note here that some people confuse or connect lucid dreaming with  an “out-of-body experience” or “OBE.”  This is when you are lying in bed, apparently awake, and feel a kind of heaviness and paralysis. Then you feel that you are leaving your physical body and traveling in what must feel like a second body, floating above the bed. This is also the experience described by people who have a “near-death experience” (NDE) which sounds interesting but is not something I want to try to induce.

I wouldn’t mind being an oneironauts but not all lucid dreamers do that kind of traveling.

Almost any source will tell you for do several things to prepare yourself for lucid dreaming.

Keeping a dream journal is usually step one. Like keeping a calorie journal when you are trying to lose weight, the important thing here is being mindful of what occurs.  The act of writing it down makes it a stronger memory. For me, the best thing about having multiple dream journals that go back a few decades is seeing patterns, themes and motifs. The only real “dream interpretation” comes from developing your own dictionary of your dream symbols, settings and characters (not general ones found in most books).

I keep a bound journal bedside and try to write dreams down as soon as I awaken from them. This happens only one or two times a week for me. On many mornings, a dream that is clear disappears in the seconds or minutes  it takes me to get to the book.

The “training” for lucid dreaming starts with trying to establish a habit of questioning whether you are awake or dreaming. Did you see the film Inception? There is a lot of this kind of training in that film.

One exercise that seems a bit foolish is to question whether or not you are awake now. Of course you are. Are you sure? Where’s the proof?

This reality check exercise might be best done in situations that are a bit less like reality – that walk in the woods, standing outside in total darkness, swimming under water, standing eyes closed outside during a storm or lying in bed before you fall asleep.

How can you confirm you are awake? The classic is to pinch yourself, but other suggestions include doing things that don’t seem to occur in dreams – turning a light on and off, looking at some text or numbers, then looking away and then looking back (according to researchers, in a dream, those letters or numbers would rearrange themselves).

In Inception, the protagonist uses a totem as his reality check. You choose an object that you know so well that if it is slighter different or it doesn’t obey the usual laws of physics, then you must be dreaming. Cobb’s totem is a spinning top that never stops. If it does, he must be in reality. [Footnote: I think that his totem might actually be his wedding ring which he never wears in reality, but always wears in the dreams because there he is still married. Final scene: no ring] You can try the methods used in the film. I’m sure that Christopher Nolan did his research, even though the film crosses over to the idea that we can share dreams and enter others’ dreams.

In my undergraduate days, there were no wikis on lucid dreaming with instructions.

Recording those dreams in the journal should turn up recurring circumstances or settings that you can then tune into more closely in your waking life, especially those that are real places that end up in  your dreams. That might be a specific place – your office or backyard – or a generalized place, like an elevator. When you are in these dream locations, do one of those aforementioned reality checks to confirm that you are not dreaming.

Another part of your prep is harder to adopt. It has to do with trying to determine the best time for you to have a lucid dream. You need to track your personal sleep schedule and then try to arrange your sleep pattern to help induce dreams and hopefully opportunities for lucid dreaming. I got a Fitbit as a  gift at Christmas and it tracks when I fall asleep, when I awaken and when I am restless. I can see the blocks of solid sleep and that seems to also relate to times when I wake up and recall a dream.

All dreams, including lucid ones, are strongly associated with REM sleep and REM sleep is more abundant just before your final awakening. Generally, you remember dreams when you just finished having them and wake up.  Unfortunately, when that occurs at 3 am, I am not very motivated to sit up and write a dream in the journal.

One site suggests that taking a nap a few hours after waking in the morning is a good time to have a lucid dream. Not very practical for most of us. That book I read recently says that the most reliable method for inducing a lucid dream is to “redistribute” your sleep.  This is also impractical. You would set your alarm to wake two hours earlier than normal. When you are awake, do some waking business. (I don’t think a shower is a good idea.) Then, after two hours, go back to sleep for at least two more hours. This delayed last stretch of sleep is supposed to be full of REM activity.

I will say that late-morning dreams are my longest and most intense. Or maybe they are the only ones I ever remember.

I tried this last summer for a few weekends, but no lucid dreams.

Then last week I had a dream and in it I realized that I was dreaming and that I was traveling back in time.  I knew it was the past and that I had traveled there by dreaming. It was a city. It seemed like London, or at least the London I know only from films. It was storybook and sepia toned. (Colors are important to note in your dream journal as they occur rather rarely.)  I wanted to walk up the steps to one of the flats on the street. I knew which one was the right one. I knocked at the door, but no one answered. I wanted them to answer, but I couldn’t control that in the dream.  I woke up.

I plan to go back to that place. I’m not sure how that will happen or when it will happen, but that’s my plan. Next time, someone will answer the door. I am very curious who it will be.