How to Control Your Dreams (For Real!)

Ever wanted to spend a romantic evening with George Clooney or headline at Madison Square Garden? Ever wished you could fly at will or speed through the desert in a sports car with the wind whipping your hair?What if I told you, you can?Before you give up on your wildest fantasies, try this technique: lucid dreaming.Never heard of it? Most haven’t. Lucid dreaming is the ability to influence your dream self’s actions and choices—a freedom you gain when you train yourself to notice that you’re dreaming. Essentially, it means you assume control in the dream world. (Think: The 2010 hit movie, “Inception.”)Sure, it sounds a little sci-fi, but lucid dreaming is real and it’s possible for anyone to master. (See our tips and tricks at the end for help getting started.)Beyond giving you and the sexiest man alive a little “alone” time, lucid dreaming can help you build confidence, face your demons and more.Here are four ways that taking control of your dreams will make your life better (and boost your inner beauty, to boot):Bend the rules. The best thing about lucid dreaming is this: There are no rules. Oh, you’re sick of gravity? Totally fine—gone. You want a mansion to appear out of nowhere? All yours. Lucid dreams are the perfect opportunity for a little fantasy action.“Do things you can’t do in waking life,” says Joy Fatooh, an artist and wildlife biologist with a knack for lucid dreaming. “It’s very freeing and uplifting to the spirit.”MORE: Eat for Better SleepIn fact, Fatooh loves to experiment with bending the rules in her dream worlds. “One night, I walked into a room and thought, ‘I would love to play the piano.’ I don’t play in waking life, but I always thought it would be fun. I walked to where I thought a piano should be and sat down confidently as if there were a piano. As I started to play, a piano materialized and I played the most beautiful music. The more I played, the more solid and real it became.” While she still can’t play the piano when she’s awake, the memory remains. “The beauty of that music has always stayed with me.”Research supports that dreams are an outlet for fantasies that are out of reach in real life. One study found that paraplegics often walk in their dreams—even if they were born with the condition. Another study looked at a group of monks who had taken a vow of silence and found that all of them had conversations in their dreams, half of them frequently.So next time someone shoots a sarcastic “in your dreams” your way, you can just smile and say, “I will do that in my dreams. And it will be awesome.”QUIZ: Are You Getting Your Beauty Sleep?Conquer nightmares. If recurring nightmares haunt you whenever you close your eyes, lucid dreams are the perfect opportunity to fend off the boogieman for good. By facing the fear head on, you’ll turn a shadowy, roaring terror into a Pixar-friendly fuzzy blue monster.The trick is simple: Do something unexpected.“Anything creative or courageous that the dreamer does to change the way she responds to the dream will affect the dream’s outcome,” says Scott Sparrow, Ph.D., assistant professor of counseling psychology at University of Texas-Pan American. “I have seen many people completely overcome a recurrent nightmare through a single lucid dream.”In fact, one of Sparrow’s patients had recurring nightmares about being assaulted. In the dream, she typically ran away, so Sparrow counseled her to stand her ground. “One function of dreaming is to process unfinished business, or aspects of our lives that we have not resolved, healed or integrated,” says Sparrow. “The lucid dreamer can facilitate healing by engaging the characters in a dream in constructive ways.”The next time his patient found herself running, she realized it was a dream and turned around to face her attacker, asking, “What can I do to help you?” When she realized she couldn’t be harmed, the nightmare lost its power. “She never had that dream again, as far as I know,” says Sparrow.MORE: How to Talk to Your Doc About Sleep Issues

LEARN TO LUCID DREAM

Never had a lucid dream before? No worries! Here are two techniques to get you started:Reality testing. Make a habit of asking, “Am I dreaming?” In a dream, light switches, mirrors and clocks don’t work, running feels like slow motion, text moves and impossible situations arise. Noticing any of those oddities can trigger a lucid dream.Dream reliving. Write down or replay your dreams and make up new possibilities for the choices you could have made at each turn. You’ll remember your dreams more easily and become more likely to lucid dream.

Practice skills. Feel like there’s never enough time in the day? If you can’t find enough waking hours, make use of lucid dreams to practice a skill you’d like to improve (like dancing or playing an instrument). “A dream is a risk-free environment to practice,” says Fatooh. “A gymnast won’t have to worry about falling off the beam and breaking her neck.”The dream may even improve your skill in real life by strengthening the brain connections required to execute the action. A 2011 study published in Current Biology asked lucid dreamers to practice chosen movements in their dreams and found that the dream movements activated the sensorimotor cortex—the area of the brain responsible for voluntary movements—just as they would in real life.MORE: The Mechanics of SleepIf nothing else, practicing a skill in the shadow of a dream can give you more confidence when the curtain rises. “Without fear, the lucid dreamer can experiment with a variety of new behaviors and engage people with less concern for their reactions,” says Sparrow. Whether you want to practice socializing at a party or asking for a raise, shedding those shy shackles will help you project your best self 24 hours a day.And last but not least…Have fun! “The most basic thing that has tremendous value is to just have fun,” says Fatooh. Indulging a sense of play in the dream world can translate into waking life. “Lucid dreaming has really cultivated a sense of lightheartedness in my life in general. It’s hard to be gloomy or take things too seriously when I spend my nights flying about.”Tonight, go flying, walk through walls, scale a building, defy gravity.Until the sun rises, dream big.

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