Dream hacking


I was watching the Nova episode called What Are Dreams the other day, and I was particularly interested in one bit of information from the show: if you practice enough, you can tell your brain what to dream about. There are some caveats, in that it only works about 50% of the time, and that you’re still not in total control of what happens.

I tend to remember a lot of my dreams, so I thought I’d give it a go. For the past three nights, as I close my eyes, I’ve thought this:

“I’m going to help Sherlock Holmes* solve a mystery. I’m going to help Sherlock Holmes solve a mystery!”

Two nights, and nothing (that I could remember, anyway). But then last night, something seemed to happen! Ryan came to bed after working late, and I woke up enough to say “Shh! I’m dreaming about Holmes!” before I passed back out again. This morning, I actually could recall several dream sequences in which I was in a Holmes mystery-solving situation of some kind. My problem is that I fall asleep almost the moment I hit the pillow, so I don’t usually get enough time to try and convince my brain to dream the way I want it to. It’s more like “I’m going to…” and then I’m out cold.

But hey, it was pretty cool! Dreams are important for helping our brain work through issues and problems from our waking life (and I’m not just talking murder mysteries), but if you can program it to work like your own personal holodeck, how entertaining would that be?

Anyway, give it a shot sometime. This isn’t some kind of weird self-help thing (Learn to ski with your dreams! Come up with your million-dollar idea in your sleep!), it’s just an interesting way to explore what your mind can do.

*I’m going through a Sherlock Holmes phase. It started with reading The Beekeepers Apprentice, then the complete Arthur Conan Doyle collection, and will culminate with the viewing of the movie this Christmas. So, a little obsessed.

44 thoughts on “Dream hacking

  1. I tend to have dreams that are so realistic that I sometimes think I already did something because I’d dreamt it. It’s gotten me in trouble many times. And it’s not like I’m going to blame it on a dream.

    I think it’s because I tend to go to sleep while trying to work out a problem, and then I go through a dream sequence and don’t wake up until something bizarre happens and I realize it isn’t reality. Is that weird?

  2. There are glasses you can buy which you wear to bed and will detect REM sleep. They will then flash a red light in your eyes that you can train yourself to realize means you’re asleep – at that point you can control your dream. I wonder if that’s a restless sleep though!

    And Dream Hacking is a way better name than Lucid Dreaming.

  3. I have incredibly vivid dreams. I can only remember them for about 5 minutes after I wake up. I found out that’s natural. The memory of the dream fades very quickly.

  4. I used to solve complex coding problems in my sleep. I would wake up having thought of an inventive solution to a difficult problem I had at work with some web programming. When I put the solution to the test, it usually worked!

  5. Yeah dreams are very interesting, i get weird ones, but the fun ones are when my family members are in it. so I feel safe in the dream. I also dreamed of surfing the internet, because i was away from my computer.

  6. dream hacking is super fun. i often feel like it’s another life i’m living since often my dreams are very long and typically quite mundane. fun part is lucid dreaming and manipulating the action. of course i run the risk of not getting enough rest if i’ve spent the night lucid dreaming.

    i can also eat cheese or ice cream later in the evening to help create more vivid/crazy dreams. not sure what it is about dairy but it does it every time. try some nice brie before bed and see what happens to your dreams.

  7. I totally died in a dream once. I was on camel back, riding into battle, with Homer Simpson sitting behind me. I think it was in World War II, and we were in North Africa about to take on Rommell.

    Got shot in the head. Everything went the red-black you see when you close your eyes, and I literally remember a hella intense pain, then I woke up. A dream of death.

  8. When I went through my “dreams are cool” phase, I found that keeping a notebook by the bed and writing the dreams down as soon as I woke up helped a lot for remembering my dreams. I got a lot of interesting results, but lost interest after a couple of months.

  9. I used to be a stage manager. In the week leading up to Opening Night, I would rehearse my cues in my sleep. Very useful!!!

  10. Wow, I love this post. I always thought sleeping was boring and tended to sleep little becuase of it, I’m going to try this, lol. I’ll start by watching what you watched.

  11. Cool I’m going to try this. It seems an easy way to start Lucid Dreaming. If you want to take it further they say that in your dream you should try to look at your hands. I’ve managed to see my hands once, but I wasn’t doing it consciously.

  12. I saw that same Nova episode and thought that was really cool. Haven’t tried it yet. Also thought it was fascinating your brain paralyzes your body during REM so you don’t hurt yourself. And that funny YouTube clip where the dog is running in his sleep turned out to be doctors turning off that part of the brain so the dog was freely acting out his dreams. Amazing.

  13. I write down my dreams in the hope that one day they might make sense to me. (It’s also incredibly amusing to read them back a year later once you’ve forgotten how crazy they were.)

    I had sleep paralysis once (it can happen when you come out of a lucid dream, apparently), and holy crap it was terrifying! I was awake, couldn’t move, and really felt like there was something behind me.

  14. I’m something of a Holmes fan myself. I’d strongly recommend that you Netflix any of the excellent episodes and one-offs of the late 80s Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett. Of all the interpretations fo the original works, and all the actors that have taken a stab at a proper portrayal, I find Brett was hands down the best at striking that perfect balance of condescending genius, noble hero, and broken addict.

  15. Don’t forget to watch the two Sherlock Holmes episodes of TNG: “Elementary, Dear Data” and “Ship in a Bottle” (though Moriarty is really the focus of these).

  16. if you take some lsd about 30 minutes before you go to bed you will have even weirder dreams. or you can try drinking half a gallon of orange juice just before you go to sleep, the vitamin c will really enhance your brain activity.

  17. Be carefull. One of the finalising factors to closing mk80 chemical research was a seperate branch of the research that dug into dream research and electronic signals artificialy induced synapses. Try and remember this… within the next week you will dream about me. When you do, it was NOT with the assitance of your mobile signal. I dont beleive in artificial stimulation. You might say, I beleive in staring at goats. Simular to what is happening to the software industry, the NSA, CIA, FBI, have been going through a transition that invites abuse. Where a programmer wants people to see his work, and get paid, the company wants the rootkit, spyware, and espionage… unofficially ofcourse. Back to your subject, the monarch programming was “unreliable” with artificial tools but very successfull when using “the old ways”, dream couching. So when you have that dream I mentioned, remember Queensriche and Silent Lucidity.

  18. That is pretty awesome. I will give this a try. It’s also worth noting that it’s possible to affect other people’s dreams (though it doesn’t work every time) by talking in their ear while they’re asleep.
    Once I repeatedly said things like “look out for the dinosaurs” and “there’s dinosaurs over there” to my brother while he was asleep, then the next day I asked him what he dreamed about. His answer: dinosaurs.

  19. That’s weird that no one had done this before, I’ve done it subconsciously for years, ever since I can remember really. I didn’t even think to not do it. I still remember most of my dreams pretty fully when I awake. It really is fun when you control your dreams and make them about something you are really interested in the time. It’s really easy once you do it, but you have to be in a light enough sleep to realize your dreaming.

  20. One time in a dream, I realized I was dreaming because I saw a magnolia tree with a strange kind of flower.
    I tried to force something in the dream, I do not remember exactly what, because I was told that you can control lucid dreams. I was happy of having one.
    However then I “woke up” in my dream. I dreamed about the bed, the bedroom, and the house, but couldn’t realize I was still sleeping in reality.. hahahaha, until I really woke up.

  21. Pingback: Dream Hacking | Muhammad Panji

  22. There was i time when i could actually control my dreams… Then, i became a DJ and musician, and never had a complete goodnight sleep ever since… :-(

    <3 u V.


  23. The Sherlock Holmes trailer is fun. Looks like a great mix of action and humor. Robert Downey is a very fine actor, too. The scene with him naked and handcuffed to the bed with only a pillow on his lap and the key to the cuffs under the pillow. Who is going to get the key for him? Looks like fun.

  24. I have noticed that in an instant, I can have a dream that has a past, present, and future that far surpasses the time possible to construct it. I have had a hard time trying to comprehend this until I saw “What the Bleep Do We Know?” and the bubles with parallel “observers” was the best representation of this. I tried for years to control where I went, which bubble to choose, it was not visual mind you but more like essences (still have a hard time trying to represent this( it’s like a smell on the wind that brings back a childhood memory long thought forgotten or emotionaly intense deja-vu)). Veronica, Have you had a deja-vu so intense that you paused because you feel like you forgot something that you needed to do differently?

  25. Funny Veronica, you mention ice cream = nightmares, and with me it’s pickles – somebody pregnant? Seriously, if I eat one pickle and go to bed my sigoth always has to wake me from some frightmare. Recently I jolted awake and swung a punch at some dream intruder and nearly hit her. (And no, we really do get along great.) I tend to have recurring items of focus in my dreams so I have a iPhone check list and just check off that night’s dream objects when I wake and remember them. Pretty cool to watch patterns emerge…

  26. Hi,
    I just discovered you, interesting post.
    I came across this subject of “Lucid dreams” 4 years ago, don’t remember how. But there is a site on the subject called Lucid dreams for all.
    The site has probably developed a bit since then. But it’s interesting reading and very handy tips and tricks. The trick is to be able to recognize when you dream and not. Best is to write down your dreams every morning and soon, you’ll be able to tell in your sleep when you are dreaming. This way you can, fly, have an affair with the guy at the office (it’s possible to get off!), prepare for nervous meetings, ask yourself for advice or (as professional ahtletes do) test new techniques. They do improve this way! Good luck! /Sweden

  27. I dream regularly. Most of my dreams have either exotic/alien worlds or I find myself in a thrilling situation or I find closure. After I wake up I wonder if I could recreate the world I was in my dreams using 3D animation. Too bad, I only have developer skills.

    Sometimes, the dreams I get are so interesting that after I wake up I make a log of the dream in a document file.

    Also, dream hacking to some extent works and I can tell you that from my personal experience.

  28. I had a dream last night where I figured out that Pac Man should really be called the Ghosts of Star Wars. The theory was that the ghosts are the souls of the R2 astromech droids whom were destroyed in the attack of the death star (the first one). They are trying to find their way out of the maze of corridors in the destroyed death star which is orbiting Yavin. Pac Man is a pan-dimensional being that devours souls, he is scouring the corridors for portals (the large dots) so that he can cross over to a different dimension and eat the R2 souls.

  29. Back when I used to drink heavily, the following morning, I would fade into and out of sleep. I would remember what my (usually very crazy) dream was about, think of some ideas to take back into the dream. It was really fun. One example is that aliens had attacked and occupied. They hadn’t caught me or some other rebels yet. I woke up and thought that I had seen a movie that used high frequencies to kill aliens. I went back into the dream and tried that. Unfortunately it only killed the giant turtles they were riding on.

  30. Have you seen the movie “The Good Night”? If not, you might find it interesting. I don’t like spoiling movies for people, but I will say that a major part of the plot involves “lucid dreaming”.

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  32. i love it when i dream about computers… normally i can manipulate the image displayed on a screen just by thinking about it… sometimes i can think up a complicated interface/desktop environment and marvel in its glory once it’s been displayed

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