Dreams Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other staff.


Is one able to set up something to dream about before they fall asleep by continually thinking about a subject, so they can dream about something pleasant?


The simple answer is "yes", but having this work consistently, just the way you want and all the time is highly unlikely. I don't recommend experimenting with your sleep habits unless you talk to your physician, but some general statements can be made.

There are two basic levels of approach on this. The first includes a wide variety of pre-sleep suggestions and intentions that can carry over into dream time. Research focusing on pre-sleep stimuli was popular in the 19th Century and the results were thoroughly reviewed by Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and more recently by G. V. Ramsey in Studies of dreaming (1953), psychological Bulletin, 50, 432-455. The observations are interesting, but lack the systematic controls now required in experiments.

Modern studies have exposed dreamers to movies, studying, exercise, hypnosis and a wide range of daytime activities, food, stimulations and deprivations to see the effects on dreaming. Some of the general results that may be helpful here include:

a. If you deprive yourself of something during the day you are used to, there is a slightly increased chance of your dreaming about it that night.
b. Repetitive activities and words also have a higher chance of being dreamt about, especially if the work is salient, such as your name.
c. Pre-sleep hypnotic suggestions tend to increase the chance of the suggestion being incorporated into a dream.

Given this data, it is reasonable to suggest that if I keep myself during the day from having something I like and take regularly, such as sugar in my coffee, then create an intention of dreaming about this before going to sleep, repeating the request quite often, I will increase the chances of dreaming about something sweet in my dream. In fact, this has been called "dream incubation" and used for thousands of years by dreamers to dream about various topics.

The Second level of approach is to take control of the dream material *while* you are dreaming. This is usually done by learning how to become aware that you are dreaming *while* you are dreaming -- without waking up. It's called lucid dreaming and is now a very popular and sought after technique made popular by Stephen Laberge, Patricia Garefield, Jayne Gackenbach and others. There are many books on this, but basically it is requires having strong and practiced intentions of becoming lucid before going to sleep. Once lucid, the dreamer has some control over the development of the dream.

There are now groups you can join that are dedicated to the practice of making dreaming fun. The most active group is the Fly-by-Night club, a group that especially like to teach people to fly in their dreams and to meet others in pre-designated places dreamtime. For more on the Fly-by-Night Club, see there on-line site in our dream resources and links section.

Book suggestions on Lucid dreaming are also available on the resources page.


Richard Wilkerson is general editor for The Internet Dream E-zine, Electric Dreams, and director of DreamGate, the Internet Communications and Dream Education Center. He writes the Cyberphile column for the Association for the Study of Dreams Newsletter.


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