An essential part of the emerging lucid dreamers’ toolkit is reality testing. Often called “reality checking”, the term is meant literally - you are testing if your current setting is a dream state or not. This seems silly to those unfamiliar with the notion of lucid dreaming, because as far as they know, if they have the mindset to ask, they must be awake, right? Well, there’d be little point in this practice if that were the case. 

The purpose of reality testing is to get the idea in your mind that you can’t always assume you are in waking reality. By doing reality tests when you are likely awake, the habit of doing these tests will start to be something you might do while in a dream environment and not lucid. When you reality test in a non-lucid dream, the test may fail and you will become lucid (and ideally remain lucidly in your current dream, as opposed to having a real or false awakening). 

There are various reality tests you can use, such as the following:

  • Counting your fingers (many times when dreaming you will have more or fewer than five per hand).
  • Attempting to put your finger through a solid object, such as your other palm (if you can, the reality test failed).
  • Rereading text (text is inconsistent in dreams and changes between glances at and away from the text). I did this in the following dream:

I am reading an interesting newspaper article, but am irritated that the text gets blurry between paragraphs. I glance away and then back at the newspaper, and realize that I am in a dream when the article is now about an unrelated subject, and contains a black-and-white image that hadn’t originally been in the article.

  • Checking the time on a digital clock (in my experience, digital clocks often display impossible times in dreams, such as 47:92. Analog clocks cannot do this - the clock must be digital). An example from my dream journal of this reality test:

I am in a classroom that resembles my middle school science classroom. It seems to be after school as I am alone in the room. I check the time on the large digital clock on the wall, which reads 36:75. This seems a bit weird, so I check it again and the time has radically changed, to 94:68, before the numbers blur. This leads to the conclusion that I must be dreaming.

(This is also an example of doing multiple reality tests sequentially, a tactic mentioned later).

  • If you have a tattoo and/or scar on your body, look at your body to check whether the tattoo or scar is in the correct location. 
  • Turning a light switch on or off (the reality test has failed if the lighting in the room only gets slightly dimmer or brighter, or doesn’t change at all).

Reality tests must be done sincerely! If you do them half-heartedly when supposedly awake, you will do the same in your dreams! Never assume that the test will be successful. This is because lucid dreams take place in a thought-responsive environment, so if you assume the reality test will be successful, it will be, whether or not you are in a dream at the time. This is why some lucid dreamers do multiple reality tests sequentially, as I mention in my lucid dream example involving the science classroom. 

When and how often should you do a reality test?

Some lucid dreamers have alarms on their watch or smartphone to remind them to reality test every hour or half hour. The dream journal smartphone app I use (Lucidity for iPhone and Android) has an alarm function within it specifically for this purpose. More frequent reality tests may trigger your dreaming self to start reality testing sooner in your dreams. However, the emphasis should be on quality as well as quantity. As previously mentioned, quality of a reality test is essential to properly reality testing in your dreams. I personally prefer not to use the alarm system because I have no records in my dream journal of having my smartphone in a dream state and very few records of even having particular common modern technology like an Internet browser available. Therefore, the reliable reminder I would have had in the waking state would be missing in the dream state and I would not remember to do a reality test without it. Making reality testing a frequent habit is more important than how you choose to make it a habit.

Use this text for a reality test right now. Did the text change when you looked back at it? If so, you’ve achieved lucidity! What to do when you get lucid is up to you, but it’s highly recommended to have a goal in mind when you do a reality test in the case of your reality test failing. 

This article was released in issue from

March 2021

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