Is It Possible To Control What You Dream?

Dream control may sound like the plot of an otherworldly fantasy novel, but scientists suggest that our favorite sci-fi characters may not be the only ones able to do it. In fact, research shows that roughly half of us have had one or more lucid dreams at some point during our life (via Frontiers in Psychology). Lucid dreaming is a state in which we are actively aware that we're in the midst of a dream, according to MedicalNewsToday. For some, this awareness evolves into an ability to control the content of their dreams.

By implementing certain techniques, we may be able to cultivate the skill of directing our dreams. In an interview with Scientific American, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School Deirdre Barrett explains that one such technique involves giving our brain a visual prompt of the desired subject matter before bedtime. "Very often it's a person someone wants to dream of, and just a simple photo is an ideal trigger," Barrett told the publication. This method can also be effective for those looking to problem-solve in their sleep. To do so, Barrett suggests keeping an item relevant to the problem by your bedside. "If you're an artist, it might be a blank canvas," Barrett suggests via Scientific American.

As opposed to prepping before bedtime, some research shows that dream control can also potentially be stimulated in the middle of the night (via MedicalNewsToday).

Up the odds for lucid dreaming with these techniques

After analyzing over 300 participants between the ages of 18 and 84, researchers of a 2020 study published in Frontiers in Psychology identified two methods that were most effective at increasing the likelihood of lucid dreaming — both of which involved waking one's self up during the night five hours after heading to bed (via MedicalNewsToday). The first technique, which is called mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD), involves making a verbal declaration before going back to sleep, such as, "Next time I'm dreaming, I will remember I'm dreaming." The other method, known as senses initiated lucid dream (SSILD), uses grounding techniques. For a period of 20 seconds, the individual concentrates on their senses — what they see, hear, and feel before returning to bed.

For those who aren't fans of midnight wake-up calls, a morning practice may be more to your liking. To help control your dreams at night, Healthline suggests maintaining a dream journal. Journaling your dreams first thing in the morning and continuing to revisit your entries regularly can help exercise your dream awareness muscle and boost your chances of lucid dreaming.

Fun fact: Deirdre Barrett tells Scientific American that controlling someone else's dream may not be out of the question either — all it may take is a whisper. "The auditory things seem to work best, such as water or a voice saying something," Barrett told the publication.