Harness the Hypnagogic for Better Lucid Dreaming
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Harness the Hypnagogic for Better Lucid DreamingCharlie Morley gives the lowdown on this extraordinary sleeping state
Charlie Morley More by this author
One of the most accessible parts of the journey into sleep is found in the hypnagogic – the transitional state of mind that lies between wakefulness and sleep. It’s the drowsy, in-between stage often characterized by the hypnagogic imagery – the visual or sometimes conceptual displays that we experience as we drift off to sleep.
These hypnagogic hallucinations are made up of memories of the day, mental preoccupations and displays of the mind’s content. For most people the hypnagogic state can seem as mad as a bag of badgers, but if befriended it can be harnessed to tap into a deeply creative source.
We pass through the hypnagogic state every time we fall asleep, which means we have a daily opportunity to engage it with awareness. As is indicated by the word ‘hypnagogic’, this is a state not dissimilar to the hypnotic trance state, and in fact my hypnosis teacher, the late Mervyn Minall-Jones, once told me (in his broad Australian accent): ‘Charlie mate, you enter a state of hypnosis twice a day! When you fall asleep through the hypnagogic and when you wake up through the hypnopompic.’
As we enter the hypnagogic state we might experience sudden spasms known as ‘myoclonic jerks’. Some researchers believe that this is an evolutionary throwback to when we used to sleep in trees – the jerk would help us maintain awareness of our sleeping space so we didn’t fall out of the tree.
Most often people just zonk out and ‘fall’ asleep but if we really want to get to know the territory of the hypnagogic we need to float rather than fall. The hypnagogic is a state of huge potential, but how can we spend more time in it than the 10 or so minutes that it usually takes us to fall asleep? We must learn simply to hang out in it.
Five steps to hanging out in the hypnagogic
The aim of this practice is to stay in the hypnagogic mindfully without entering into the sleep that lies beyond it. This is a practice from the Mindfulness of Dream and Sleep approach rather than a lucid dreaming technique per se, but my advice is this: get to know your hypnagogic state well because it’s the gateway into the dream. The best way to extend our experience of the hypnagogic is to enter it during the daytime. Here’s how:
1. At a time when you’re drowsy but not too tired, find a place where you can lie down. On top of the bed is fine, but not in it. We don’t want to fall asleep, remember.
2. Set an alarm for 20 minutes later (just in case you fall asleep) and then simply lie down on your back with a pillow under your head and close your eyes.
3. In the afternoon hours most people will enter into the hypnagogic within about five to 15 minutes. Once you’re in the hypnagogic aim to stay there for about 10 minutes if you can. Just rest in it, watching the imagery and being aware of the waves of drowsy energy that wash through it. Maintaining awareness of your breathing and of your bodily sensations will help keep you from falling asleep.
4. After 20 minutes your alarm will sound, so gently bring yourself back to fully wakeful awareness.
5. Alternatively, you could just go to bed half an hour earlier, allowing yourself to intentionally float into sleep more slowly than usual. Find what works for you and enjoy it.
If you like the sound of this practice then you might want to check out my CD of guided sleep mediations – Lucid Dreaming, Conscious Sleeping – which contains a 25-minute guided hypnagogic meditation. It’s available to buy or download online.