by Stephen LaBerge
From NightLight 7(3-4), 1995.
The Lucidity Institute
People frequently awaken from lucid
dreams sooner than they would like. Nothing is more frustrating than
to invest hours or weeks of effort aiming at the goal of having a
lucid dream, and then to wake up within seconds of becoming lucid.
Fortunately, however, there are several effective techniques that
allow beginners and experts alike to prevent premature awakenings
from lucid dreams.
The earliest method for stabilizing lucid dreams was described by
Harold von Moers-Messmer in 1938. Moers-Messmer, a German physician,
was one of the handful of researchers who personally investigated
lucid dreaming in the first half of the 20th century. He was the
first to propose the technique of looking at the ground in order to
stabilize the dream. 
The idea of focusing on something in the dream in order to prevent
awakening has independently occurred to several other lucid
dreamers. One of these is G. Scott Sparrow, a clinical psychologist
and author of the classic personal account, Lucid Dreaming: Dawning
Of The Clear Light. 
Carlos Castanedaís famous
technique  of looking at his hands while dreaming to induce and
stabilize lucid dreams and argues that the dreamerís body provides
one of the most unchanging elements in the dream, which can help to
stabilize the dreamerís otherwise feeble identity in the face of a
rapidly changing dream.
However, as he points out, the body isnít
the only relatively stable reference point in the dream: another is
the ground beneath the dreamerís feet.
Sparrow uses this idea in
this example of one of his own lucid dreams:
"...I walk on down the street. It is
night; and as I look up at the sky I am astounded by the clarity
of the stars. They seem so close. At this point I become
lucid. The dream íshakesí momentarily. Immediately I look
down at the ground and concentrate on solidifying the image and
remaining in the dreamscape. Then I realize that if I turn my
attention to the pole star above my head, the dream image will
further stabilize itself. I do this; until gradually the clarity
of the stars returns in its fullness."
A problem with using vision to stabilize
a lucid dream is the fact that when a dream ends, the visual sense
fades first. Other senses may persist longer, with touch being among
the last to go.
The first sign that a lucid dream is about to end is
usually a loss of color and realism in visual imagery. The dream may
lose visual detail and begin to take on a cartoon-like or washed-out
appearance. This may all happen very fast; within a few seconds, the
dream can fade to black, leaving nothing visual to focus on! For
this reason, one might speculate that focus on sensory modalities
other than vision may be more useful to stabilize dreams.
turns out, one would be right.
In December, 1978 I had the good fortune to discover a highly
effective technique to prevent awakenings and produce new lucid
dream scenes. I started by reasoning (mistakenly but as it happens, felix culpa!) that since dream actions have corresponding physical
effects, relaxing my dream body might inhibit awakening by lowering
muscle tension in my physical body.
The next time I was dreaming
lucidly, I tested the idea. As the dream began to fade, I relaxed
completely, dropping to the dream floor. However, contrary to my
intention, I seemed to awaken. But, a few minutes later became clear
that I had actually only dreamed of awakening. I repeated the
experiment many times and the effect was consistent--I would remain
in the dream state by dreaming of waking up.
However, my experiences
suggested that the essential element was not the attempted
relaxation but the sensation of movement. In subsequent lucid
dreams, I tested a variety of dream movements and found both falling
backward and spinning in the dream to be especially effective in
producing lucid dreams of awakening (and, of course, thereby
preventing premature awakening).
Out of the one hundred lucid dreams in the last six months of the
record in my doctoral dissertation, I used the spinning technique in
forty percent. New dream scenes resulted in eighty-five percent of
these cases. Lucid consciousness persisted in ninety-seven percent
of the new dreams. For comparison, during the six months before I
developed the technique, in over a third of my lucid dreams I woke
almost immediately after becoming lucid and certainly most ended
before I was ready.
In the summer, 1989 issue of NightLight we first attempted to
determine the general effectiveness of spinning in stabilizing lucid
dreams. The results derived from this study were promising, but
unfortunately, statistically inconclusive due to too few subjects
completing the experiment. There was a trend for lucid dreams to
last longer following spinning compared with a control condition.
As an aside, it is worth noting that while in my experience with the
spinning technique, the new dream scene almost always closely
resembled my bedroom, this was not the case for others. For
instance, one lucid dreamer found herself arriving at a dream scene
other than her bedroom in five out of the eleven times she used the
spinning technique. These results suggest that spinning could be
used to produce transitions to any dream scene the lucid dreamer
In my own case, it appears that my almost exclusive
production of bedroom dreams may be an accident of the circumstances
in which I discovered the technique.
Why should dream spinning decrease the likelihood of awakening?
Several factors are probably involved. One of these may be
neurophysiological. Information about head and body movement,
monitored by the vestibular system of the inner ear (which helps you
to keep your balance), is closely integrated with visual information
by the brain to produce an optimally stable picture of the world.
Because of this integration of information, the world doesnít appear
to move whenever you move your head, even though the image of the
world on your retina moves.
Since the sensations of movement during dream spinning are as vivid
as those during actual physical movements, it is likely that the
same brain systems are activated to a similar degree in both cases.
An intriguing possibility is that the spinning technique, by
stimulating the system of the brain that integrates vestibular
activity detected in the middle ear, facilitates the activity of the
nearby components of the REM-sleep system. Neuroscientists have
obtained evidence of the involvement of the vestibular system in the
production of the rapid-eye-movement bursts in REM sleep.
Another possible reason why spinning may help postpone awakening
comes from the fact that when you imagine perceiving something with
one sense, your sensitivity to external stimulation of that sense
decreases. Moreover, and this is probably the most important factor,
if the brain is fully engaged in producing the vivid, internally
generated sensory experience of spinning, it will be more difficult
for it to construct a contradictory sensation (i.e., lying
motionless in bed) based on external sensory input. When presented
with two contradictory interpretations of the state of our body or
the world, our consciousness chooses one or the other, but not both
If this is the major reason why spinning helps to prevent awakening,
one can readily think of other techniques that should work with
similar effectiveness. For example, if you rub your dream hands
together as the dream is fading, as long as you are experiencing the
sensation of rubbing hands, you cannot experience the contradictory
lack of sensation that you would need to feel to wake up and
perceive the actual condition of your hands.
The experiment in NightLight 7.1 was designed to test this idea and to collect
additional evidence on the effectiveness of the spinning technique.
Lucidity Institute members were invited to compare each of the
following three "techniques for prolonging lucid dreams." (In fact,
one technique--"going with the flow"--was intended as a control.)
A. Spinning When in a
lucid dream and the dream began to fade, while they still felt
their dream body, they were to spin around like a top, as
rapidly as possible. Beginning in a vertical or standing
position, they were to turn around on a point with their arms
outstretched. It was indicated that it is important to
experience a vivid sense of movement. They were to continue to
spin until they were in a vivid dream scene, or awake. They were
instructed to repeat to themselves over and over while spinning,
"The next scene will be a dream."
B. Going with the Flow When subjects were in a
lucid dream and the dream began to fade, they were to persist in
doing whatever they were doing in the dream before it started to
fade, ignoring the fact that the dream was fading. Also, they
were to repeat to themselves while carrying on with their dream
activity, "The next scene will be a dream."
C. Rubbing Hands Together When subjects were in a
lucid dream and the dream began to fade, while they still felt
their dream body, they were to vigorously rub their (dream)
hands together. They were informed it was important to
experience a vivid sense of movement and friction. Participants
were to continue to rub their hands until they found themselves
in a vivid dream scene, or awaken completely. Also, they were to
repeat to themselves over and over while rubbing their hands,
"The next scene will be a dream."
Subjects were instructed to try the
above three techniques once each, in an order determined by the
first letter of their last name.
Several times each day, until their next lucid dream, subjects were
to rehearse the technique they were to try next. While awake and
pretending they were in a dream, they were to follow the
instructions for the technique. Subjects were to repeat to
themselves during the practice, as they would in the dream, "The
next scene will be a dream."
Next, they were to follow the
instructions for the respective technique:
SPINNING: Imagine you are in a lucid
dream and it is fading. Then actually spin around, as you will
in the dream.
GOING WITH THE FLOW: Imagine you are
in a lucid dream and it is fading. Then continue to do what you
are already doing while remaining aware that you are dreaming.
RUBBING YOUR HANDS: Imagine you are
in a lucid dream and it is fading. Then vigorously rub your
hands together, as you will in the dream.
In their next lucid dream, subjects were
to do whatever they wanted to do, but as soon as they noticed the
dream fading, attempt the technique they were scheduled to test.
They were cautioned not to wait until they were already awake, and
to be sure to persist with the technique until either they were in a
vivid dream or completely awake. When they believed they had
awakened, they were not to move, and to continue doing the technique
in their mind for about 60 seconds.
This step was recommended
because some people have reported returning to the dream state after
having fully awakened if they persisted with practicing the
technique in their imaginations. If at this point, subjects felt as
though actually awake, they were to be sure to use a reality test to
check carefully to make sure they were not still dreaming, to
prevent false awakenings.
When subjects actually awoke, they were to estimate how much time
passed (in seconds) from when they started the dream-prolonging
technique until they awakened or lost lucidity. Then, they were to
immediately answer the questions on the Report Form about their
experience and to write out complete reports of the lucid dreams.
Subjects also filled out a short questionnaire on their dream recall
and lucid dreaming ability which they sent in with the rest of their
reports after they completed all three conditions of the experiment.
Thirty-four subjects turned in data. However, not all subjects were
able to try all three conditions. 80% tried rubbing, 68%
spinning, and 65% going with the flow. Some subjects failed to turn
in lucid dream reports or otherwise failed to follow instructions.
Only eighteen subjects (53%) tried all three conditions of the
The lucid dream reports were scored by two independent judges. For
each report, judges evaluated whether or not the dream appeared to
be prolonged following the spin, flow, or rub technique. If a
subject had done more than one technique, the two or three reports
were ranked according to the judgeís estimate of the relative
effectiveness of the different techniques for each subject. Reports
which the two judges scored differently were scored by a third
judge, using a majority rule to resolve discrepancies.
Both the spinning and rubbing techniques were significantly more
likely to be judged as successful in prolonging the dream compared
with the going with the flow (control) technique. The same was true
of the rank ordering analysis. Only 33% of the flow technique lucid
dreams were prolonged, compared with 90% of the rubbing and 96% of
the spinning lucid dreams.
The following report illustrates a dream judged to have been
successfully prolonged by spinning:
... at that point, the oddness of
this super-calculator prompted me to say aloud, "I think this is
a dream!" And so it was. However the calculator started to fade
and de-materialize, and as it did, so did the dream environment.
Immediately I remembered to do the spinning-top experiment.
As everything around me turned to
blackness--no visual content whatsoever--I started to spin round and
say, "The next scene will be a dream" ... I was astonished to find a
hole of brightness opening up... the bright hole literally appeared
as a break in the black clouds around me, as if the sun were
breaking through. I could see the branches of a tree through the
hole. As I continued spinning (and itís strange that even though I
was spinning round, my sight of the hole was unbroken), I seemed to
pull myself towards and through the hole into the countryside of the
next lucid dream scene...
The following is an example of a dream judged to have been
successfully prolonged by hand rubbing:
I am walking through a beautiful
forest. Suddenly I realize I am dreaming. I guess the excitement
begins to wake me, so I remember its time for the rubbing hands
experiment. I drop a towel I hadnít realized I was carrying, and
began to vigorously rub my hands together. I feel my hands
rubbing together, experiencing warmth from the friction... My
dream stabilizes! I am so happy, I decide to keep walking and
explore my beautiful dream forest...
Overall, the odds in favor of continuing
the lucid dream were about 22 to 1 after spinning, 13 to 1 after
rubbing, and 1 to 2 after going with the flow.
That makes the
relative odds favoring spinning over going with the flow 48 to 1,
and for rubbing over going with the flow, 27 to 1.
The results of this experiment seem very clear: both the spinning
and rubbing techniques are effective means of prolonging lucid
dreams. The fact that the rubbing technique worked as well as it was
predicted to supports the theory behind the prediction: that
interaction and sensory experience in the dream inconsistent with
perception of the state of the body in bed will suppress awakening.
Although the spinning technique was somewhat more effective
(relative odds 1.8 to 1 favoring spinning over rubbing) than the
rubbing technique, the difference in effectiveness was not
statistically significant with this relatively small sample size.
Matters for future research to decide are whether spinning has any
of the special effectiveness beyond what is explained by the sensory
inconsistency theory and if so, whether it is explained by the
vestibular stimulation theory.
If there is in fact no difference in effectiveness between spinning
and rubbing, rubbing does possess a practical advantage: spinning
itself tends to destabilize the visual components of the dream,
while rubbing does not.
On the other hand, if one is using the
technique to change dream scenes, that "disadvantage" becomes an
 H. von Moers-Messmer, "Traume
mit der gleichzeitigen Erkenntnis des Traumzustandes," Archiv
Fuer Psychologie 102 (1938): 291-318.
 G. S. Sparrow, Lucid Dreaming, Dawning of the Clear Light
(Virginia Beach: A.R.E. Press, 1976).
 C. Castaneda,
Journey To Ixtlan (New York: Simon &
 Sparrow, op. cit., 43.
 A. Hobson, The Dreaming Brain (New York: Basic Books, 1988).