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.

Video transcript:

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.