How to Do Reality Tests for Lucid Dreaming
I have a question for you: how do you know you're not dreaming right now? Seriously, think about it! Many people say, “well of course I'm not dreaming, everything feels just as real as waking life!” Well, the thing is, dreams also often feel just as real as waking life. So just because it feels real to you, doesn't mean that you're not dreaming. We often just assume that we're awake, and that's fine when we actually are. But when we're dreaming, it's not very helpful. This is why we need a reliable way to tell the difference between being in a dream and being awake. This is where reality testing comes in.
This is a free video from Week 1 of my Lucid Dreaming Training Video Course. You can get the accompanying Week 1 Coursebook by subscribing to my eNewsletter.
How does reality testing work?
Reality testing, also known as critical state testing and reality checking, is one of the most widely practiced lucid dreaming techniques, and also one of the most widely studied. The most common explanation for how this technique works, is that by making a habit of doing reality tests many times during the day, you will eventually start doing them in your dreams as well. This is for the simple reason that we often dream about the things that we do during the day, and when you do a reality test in a non-lucid dream, you will realise that you are dreaming and become lucid.
Now, this sounds fine in theory, but in my scientific research I find that most of the time when people become lucid after doing reality tests during the day, they actually become lucid first and then they do the reality test after.
For this reason, I don't believe that reality testing works in the commonly believed way described above. I think there are two reasons why you should do reality tests.
First of all, it can be a little bit hard to think clearly in your dreams. Not always, but sometimes, and so it's good to make a habit of doing reality tests during the day anytime you think you might be dreaming. That way, when you're in a dream, you'll just do it automatically and easily without having to think about it.
Reality testing also helps you to turn what are called pre-lucid dreams, where you think you might be dreaming, into full lucid dreams where you know that you're dreaming for sure. If you don't do a reality test in between these two points, it's actually very common to convince yourself that you're awake. In fact, dream characters will often even try to convince you of this.
The other main reason why reality testing is so important is that it makes you become more mindful. We know from many studies that general mindfulness is associated with lucid dreaming, but what is mindfulness? There are many definitions, and one of the simplest ones is simply “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment”. It's when you're really aware of what's happening around you and what's happening inside of you.
Every time you do a reality test, it is an opportunity to become a little bit more mindful. In fact, the best way to think about this is that reality testing is a special mindfulness practice specifically designed to help you have lucid dreams.
How do you know if you’re dreaming or awake?
Now, I'm going to teach you a few different ways that you can do reality tests, and then after that I'll show you how to build this into a daily practice. So how do we know if we're dreaming or awake?
You've probably heard of the commonly described “pinch test”, where you try to pinch your own skin. You see this in a lot of movies and books and things like that, but ironically, when you pinch yourself in a dream it usually just feels like you're actually pinching yourself! Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to feel mild discomfort and mild pain in your dreams. It's very rare to have anything more than mild pain, but pinching is a pretty mild sensation, so it usually just feels like you're actually pinching yourself.
Fortunately, there are some other tests that are a lot more reliable that we can use. I'm going to tell you about three of them, and then you can try them for yourself and decide which one you like the most.
The hands reality test
First of all, we have the “hands test”. The hands test is very simple; you just look at your hands and see if there's anything unusual going on. This is the way that it's most commonly practiced and sometimes in a dream you'll see there's maybe an extra finger, or the colouring looks strange, or maybe it looks a little bit two-dimensional or something like that. However, some people like to take this a step further, and that's what I recommend.
I recommend that as well as looking at your hands, you try to push the fingers of your dominant hand through the palm of your other hand. Notice that I spent about three to five seconds on that. Same as all of the tests that I'm going to teach you.
When you do this while you're awake, obviously nothing's going to happen, or if it does please pause the video and go straight to the hospital because that is not normal! Assuming that your finger hasn't gone through your hands, this means you're awake. However, when you're dreaming, usually your fingers will just slide straight through with no resistance at all. Don't worry it won't hurt, it'll just go straight through. So, this is how we can tell if we're awake or we’re in the dream.
It's important to use firm pressure, but don’t be excessive. You don't want to strain yourself, but you also don't want to just do it half-heartedly. So, three to five seconds of firm pressure, and as you do it, try to visualise that your hands are going to slide right through. Really expect it might happen. And the other thing: anytime you do a reality test, you need to always seriously consider the possibility that you might be dreaming, every time, because you want to carry that over into your dreams when you do it then as well.
The inhalation reality test
The next test that I'll show you is the “inhalation test”. This one is also very simple. All you do, is try to inhale with your lips tightly sealed, like this. Now, when you're awake, you're not going to be able to inhale. However, in a dream you're going to have a contradictory sensation of feeling like your lips are tightly closed, but at the same time, it’ll feel like air is moving through them.
It's a very interesting sensation and the reason why this happens is that your physical body is paralysed during your dreams. So, even though your “dream lips” are closed, your actual lips in real life are still open – there's going to be no obstruction to your breathing when you do this in your dreams, so you'll feel air flowing even though it feels like your lips are closed.
The written text reality test
The final test is the written text test. Now, for this one it's a bit different because you're not using your body. Instead, you need to find a little bit of written text somewhere in the environment around you. For example, I can see the words “reality testing” on a piece of paper here. So, what you do, is you read the writing. You look away. And then you look back again. Up to a sentence is fine, it doesn't need to be any more than that.
Now, when you're awake, obviously the text is going to stay the same regardless of how many times I look away. This is because there is a stable source of sensory input of light bouncing off the paper into my eyes that's going to be there no matter how many times I look away. However, in a dream there isn't any external source of sensory input – it's all being generated within your own mind, and for this reason when you look away and when you look back things will often be different.
When it comes to text, common changes include the writing changing to different words or a different language. Maybe it's a different colour or the letters are all scrambled. Maybe it's dripping off the page, or it might just not even be there at all. Whatever happens, if it's different, this indicates that you're in a dream.
Choosing the right test for you
I recommend that you pause this video and take a moment to try out all three of these tests. Do this for at least a minute or so and see which one feels most comfortable for you. Then, we'll come back and think about how to build this into a daily practice.
Okay how did you go? Hopefully you actually did press the pause button and give this a shot! And if you didn't, it's not too late – you can still press that pause button!
Did you prefer the hands test, or the breathing test? Or maybe the text test? I personally prefer the breathing test. One reason for this, is that it's a little bit more discrete. If you go around in public doing the hands test all the time, some people are probably going to start asking questions! However, on the plus side you might make some new friends when you tell them you're learning how to have lucid dreams.
I also prefer the inhalation test over the text test because there are some cases where text isn't available straight away. For example, if you are dreaming about flying through the sky or swimming underwater, you might not be able to see any text. However, having said that, usually as soon as you start looking for some text, something will quickly appear.
One thing to keep in mind with the breathing test is that if you have any kind of breathing problems, like if you have asthma or something like that, then it might feel a bit uncomfortable. If that applies to you, you might consider doing one of the other tests instead.
How reliable are reality tests?
Whichever one you choose, be assured that all of them are highly reliable. They usually produce the right response in about 80 to 90% of the times that you do them in your dreams. One thing to keep in mind with those few cases where they don't, is that sometimes you might need to do a reality test twice just to really confirm if you're dreaming or awake.
Another thing you can do, is do a second kind of test as a backup. I personally have the hands test as my backup, so if I do the breathing test and I'm still not sure, I'll just do the hands test straight away. You don't need to worry about this too much now if you haven't done a reality test in a dream before, but later on down the track once you gain some experience, it's something that you should keep in mind.
Creating a daily reality testing practice
Now, let's talk about how to build this into a daily practice. Reality testing is more than just doing the test itself. First of all, every time you think to do a reality test, the first thing you should do is question whether you're in a dream. Always seriously considered the fact that you might be dreaming. Have a look around and ask yourself, “am I dreaming?” You can voice this in your own mind, or you can just do it without voicing it and simply adopt a questioning attitude. Either way is fine.
The next thing to do is to have a careful look at your environment for about two or three seconds. See if there's anything out of place. Is there anything unusual going on?
Then you can do the test.
So, you ask “am I dreaming?”, you have a look around, and then you do the test.
Finally, I recommend that you take a deep breath, and just as you exhale, let go of any tension in your shoulders. Let your back relax, and just really ground yourself in the present moment. You can see this is part of the mindfulness component of the reality testing practice.
Are you dreaming?
If you're serious about learning how to do reality tests properly, then you're definitely going to want to pay close attention to this bit. After this video ends, we’ll go to the location we talked about and then do the secret handshake with the guy in the lab coat. When you hold hands like this, you need to gaze lovingly into his eyes for 60 seconds.
Now I'm talking, like, long-lost childhood sweetheart level of loving eye-gazing here!
While you're doing this, whatever you do don't blink, because if you blink then he'll just… well, just don't blink!
After 60 seconds, he's going to tell you that everything I just said was actually a test to see if you would think to do a reality test!
So, did you do a reality test? If you did, fantastic! But if you didn't don't worry, because most people don't. In fact, in my workshops I normally do this directly after teaching reality testing. You can imagine there’s fifty to a hundred people in front of me, and I just suddenly start spouting some ridiculous nonsense, and surprisingly only a few people will normally think to do a reality!
This goes to show that we usually coast through our day without being very conscious of what's happening around us. So, take this as a reminder that anytime something strange happens, remember to do a reality test straight away.
Remembering to do reality tests throughout the day
It's best if you can remember to do reality tests just by yourself, but if you're finding it hard to meet that target of 10 reality tests per day, then there's a few things you can do to help. One thing you can do is wear a special bracelet or item of jewellery, and every time you see it, it serves as a reminder to do a reality test.
Another thing you can do is put up a sign somewhere in your home or your workplace, or even on your phone screen or your computer screen that says something like “Are you dreaming?” If you go with this option, you might want to change it up every now and again so that you don't get too used to it.
Another thing you can do is download an app on your phone that will give you alerts during the day at random times to remind you to do a test every time you hear it. There's a suggestion for apps that you can download in your course book.
If you're very diligent and very motivated, you might find yourself doing a lot of reality test during the day. However, even if you do 50 of them per day, when you think about it, at ten seconds per time it's only a little bit more than eight minutes out of your day. It's not a lot of time, and when you think about the benefits of the practice it's really a very valuable thing to do.
If you're able to continue your reality testing practice over the course of the next six weeks and do a minimum of 10 per day, not only will it help you to have lucid dreams, it's also going to help you become more mindful, more present, and more relaxed.
If you've enjoyed this video and if you're interested in learning how to have lucid dreams, then I invite you to check out my Lucid Dreaming Training Course. My course is based on the latest scientific research, including my own International Lucid Dream Induction Study. The course is also based on my experience of teaching people all over the world how to have lucid dreams one-on-one via Skype. I’ll teach you my best tips and tricks for learning lucid dreaming, and at the end of the course I'll show you how to make your own personalised lucid dreaming training program based on the techniques that were most effective for you. If you'd like to find out more about the course, simply visit:
Thank you for watching!