Leah is a hypnotherapist and wellbeing writer. She also runs courses teaching people how to have lucid dreams, and workshops in poetry therapy and writing for wellbeing: www.themoonlab.net.

Leah Larwood writes an exclusive piece for Female First

Leah Larwood writes an exclusive piece for Female First

As your head hits the pillow each night, do you ever give any thought as to what kind of dream you might like to have? Believe it or not, it is actually it possible to weave a little magic before bedtime each night and ask for a particular kind of dream – perhaps a dream that will reveal something beneficial or else a dream that will give you some much-needed escapism to a far-flung tropical island.

After all, our unconscious dreaming mind contains a wealth of wisdom and the answers to everyday problems, all of which can be untapped - with the right tools. Dream incubation, as it is known, is simply a way to sow seeds before you sleep. Many great minds, artists, scientists and scholars have used pre-sleep suggestions successfully to inspire or improve their work, including Salvador Dali, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.

Anyone can do it, it is basically a thought technique, which aims for a specific dream topic to occur either for recreation purposes or to attempt to solve a problem. It works by simply focusing your attention on a specific issue when going to sleep. In a study Dream Incubation for Problem Solving at Harvard Medical School (1993), Dr. Deirdre Barrett asked her students to focus on a problem such as an unsolved homework assignment or another objective problem before going to sleep each night for a week.

She observed that it was possible to come up with original solutions in dreams that were both satisfactory to the dreamer and rated as objectively solving the problem by an outside observer. Her participants reported giving themselves successful pre-sleep suggestions for everything from seeing finished artwork in their dreams to developing plots and characters for a novel to asking dreams to solve computing and mechanical design problems.

Many others have used dream incubation as a way to explore a specific topic, problem or question they would like to ask. Things you could ask might include: What is holding me back with my career? What is the next step I should take with my studies? What do I need to know or understand about my new relationship? How can I find happiness? Or you could offer up an open-ended question and see what comes back. Something like: show me something important or show me what is holding me back.

Seven steps: Try your hand at dream incubation

1) Settle: Make sure you’re settled for bed. Avoid alcohol or caffeine before bed and ensure you turn down at a reasonable hour.

2) Decide: Before you turn your light off, briefly describe the problem you’re seeking help with in your dream journal. Then, summarise the problem in one question – the thing you want to understand more fully. Write it 10 times in your journal.

3) Relax: Turn your light off and listen to your breathing. Relax your body from your feet to your head, using a body scan approach. One way to do this is to listen to a guided relaxation session. Or simply just allow yourself to feel relaxed and at ease as you drift off.

4) Repetition: Repeat your question in your mind as many times as you can, as you drift off to sleep.

5) Imagine: Picture yourself entering the wisest part of your mind. Imagine walking down a path or entering a door and asking your question. Now imagine walking to the end of your path or walking through the door, and allow the adventure to unfold.

6) The result? You should either have a dream that starts to unravel one of these questions or else the answer may start to unfold in your waking life.

7) Keep going: Repeat the process, asking the same question or statement you are working with for seven consecutive nights.

What if dream incubation doesn't work?

Your unconscious mind might not always respond to your dream incubation requests. You see, it has its own agenda and set of priorities for us that may be entirely different to those we hold consciously. Remember, that our unconscious holds a storehouse of valuable information and has our best interests at heart. Other times, dream incubation can bring exactly the wisdom we need.

If after a week or more of attempts you still haven’t had ‘the dream’, never fear, it might just be that your unconscious has more important things you need to tend to and it will guide you intuitively. If this happens, you might like to try some journaling, which is another way to access your unconscious. Simply write the question at the top of your page and just start writing, unedited, without stopping or reading back for 10 minutes.


The Committee of Sleep: A Study of Dream Incubation for Problem Solving (1993) Deirdre Barrett – Harvard Medical School.


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