Introduction: The Dream Machine Or, How to Be More Awake While You Sleep

About: "I work on starships, not alien machines!" ---Isaac Clarke

This is an inexpensive, DIY, Arduino-powered oneironautics device that allows users to alert themselves when they are in a deep dreamstate, without waking up. In other words, this machine will tell you when you are dreaming, while you are dreaming. Why is this such a big deal? Because, this is the first step to achieving a lucid dream where you are in control and can dream whatever you want.

Q: Is this the machine from Inception? Can I share other people's dreams with it?

A: Now, everyone I explain this to gets this same impression, so I'll put it up front: This is not the machine from Inception! But without sci-fi military-level technology, I'd say it's the next best thing.

Q: Well then what good is it? What does it actually do if not provide the whole setting for Inception?

A: Quite a bit actually! Here's some lists:


Allow you to be more aware while dreaming

Allow you to have more vivid and/or memorable dreams

Motivate you to get and maintain a good sleep schedule

Understand more how dreams and thoughts behave and interact


Allow you to control your dreams whenever you want

Allow you to share someone else's dreams

Allow you to have a dream within a dream (as far as I know)

Q: So I just wear this thing while I sleep and then I have these weird half-awake dreams?

A: Not exactly. This machine doesn't work on it's own; in order for it to be particularly effective, it requires some mental exercises and practices as well as a bit of a time investment; however, you can be asleep for most of that time and (hopefully) you were going to be doing that anyways. I've done quite a bit of research and practice into this project before building this device, but in the end it still depends on the user to operate it effectively.

Q: Sounds like a joke/scam/hoax/conspiracy. Does this actually work?

A: I haven't been able to train myself into it lately due to the ever-changing time constraints of college, so it's been awhile since I've had it working personally. I will say, though, that when I've gotten it to work (a year or so ago) it was pretty awesome - but it does take a bit of commitment. Also, these devices were for sale awhile ago, but for $200 or so on eBay I figured I could build one myself for less.

Yes, I am aware this isn't the most professional-looking device, but at the time it was a proof-of-concept idea and I haven't had a chance lately to design it to use less duct tape. Still, the electronics are the main components, and fortunately they aren't made of tape.

It's worth mentioning that lucid dreaming generally does not detract from your quality of sleep, so you don't need to worry about exhausting yourself in a dream and then waking up tired from it. Relief!

I'll also point out that this device is not required to achieve lucid dreams; it simply makes it easier than trying to do it yourself (which can be frustratingly difficult). So if you'd rather not spend the ~$30 for the parts, or just want to try it on your own first, you can still follow the guide and get similar results.

Lastly, most of this background comes from and a bit from Wikipedia. The Lucidity Institute has more information there (they're the ones who used to sell these), along with scientific reports and studies.

Now for the science!

Step 1: Building the Machine

The device itself is quite simple and easy to make; the physical calibration is the hardest part.


Ski Goggles - Make sure they're comfortable (ideally enough to sleep in).

Arduino - I used an Uno since I couldn't get my Chinese Nano to work, but a smaller board might be preferable.

Battery and adapter - A 9V works quite well.

2 Yellow LEDs - Yes, they should be yellow or at least orange; maybe green, but not blue. There's a reason for this that I'll explain later.

PIR Sensor - If you can get one without an internal LED it would be much more effective.

Toggle switch - Optional, makes it easier to turn the device on/off

Small breadboard - Optional, makes wiring a bit easier

Small pushbutton switch - Optional, for Reality Tester

Buzzer/Speaker - Optional, for Reality Tester

Small resistor - Optional (if you don't like LEDs connected straight to the Arduino)

Several wires - Ooh, didn't see that one coming...

Duct Tape - Hey, duct tape can fix anything, and it makes the construction fast and easy.

Foam - I used some packing material from an Arduino box, but this can be anything that doesn't feel too irritating to the touch.


Attach the Arduino, battery and breadboard to the outside of the lens. Wire up the LED, buzzer (if used), resistor and pushbutton in series on the breadboard from 5V to GND, and try to keep the wires away from the button. Connect the battery to VIN and GND on the Arduino (+ and - respectively) and the toggle switch in series with it (if applicable).

Inside the lens, attach the other LED to the surface so that when you are wearing the mask it is just in front of one of your eyes. Make sure it isn't sticking up off the lens too far to avoid poking an eye out. On the other side attach the PIR sensor in a similar fashion, but position it such that it is directly in front of the top of your eye when you're wearing the mask. The sensor should be as close to your eye as comfortably possible. Wire the LED and PIR sensor to the Arduino according to the diagram, and upload the code to the Arduino.

Attach foam to the mask however you need to make it comfortable enough to wear and sleep in. In particular you will probably want to put some on the edge around the PIR sensor, since pressure on the mask can cause it to push on your eye.


To test the device, you should be able to trigger the PIR sensor by looking around inside the mask while you're wearing it, specifically with your eyes closed. The sensor I used has an LED inside the lens that turns on whenever it is activated, which gets really annoying when you're trying to sleep and move your head around; a sensor without that LED would be much more effective. If everything is working properly you should see the LED inside the mask flash several times after moving your eyes around repeatedly for a short time. If it's too difficult to activate or it activates too often, try moving the sensor around inside the lens to a better position.

Now for the next big question: how does it work?

Step 2: Background of Oneironautics

Oneironautics ("dream exploration") is based on lucid dreams, which are defined as dreams in which the dreamer is aware of the fact that he or she is dreaming. The level of lucidity ranges from the more common dreamstate in which a dreamer has an increased sense of general awareness (or prelucidity, i.e., asking yourself "Am I dreaming?") to a much rarer state in which a dreamer is fully aware of their subconscious situation and can control and reshape it (i.e., flying in a dream because you can). In most cases lucidity occurs randomly, but even in those cases it is often caused by an element of a dream that causes the dreamer to ask the above question. With practice, these elements can become easier to recognize in dreams, making it easier to achieve a lucid dream.

Unfortunately, during a dream everything seems to make sense even if it is perfectly nonsensical, which you only realize upon waking up - I'm sure everyone has experienced this at some point. This is where Reality Tests come in. Certain actions, when performed in a dream, will produce different outcomes than when performed in real life. Practicing these actions while awake increases the chances that they'll be repeated subconsciously while dreaming, giving you a chance to attain at least a prelucid dream and go from there.

Lucid dreaming usually takes place during REM sleep, the lightest phase of a typical sleep cycle and the phase in which the brain is most active. In fact, the Rapid Eye Movements present during this phase actually correlate to the movement of your eyes according to the direction you're looking in your dream - this has been used in scientific tests to communicate from the real world with subjects who are dreaming. Since this is the lightest phase, it is also the easiest to wake up from, which can be frustrating or relieving, depending on the dream. For this reason the LEDs used in the Dream Machine should be yellow: Yellow light corresponds to the sleeping time of your body clock, and blue light corresponds to the waking time. Being exposed to the opposite light color can negatively impact your sleep cycle, which is why using computers at night makes it harder to sleep afterwards.

Lucid dreams will often end in awakening right after the dreamer becomes aware of their dream because of the fragility of REM sleep; this is why it is important to stabilize a lucid dream quickly. There are many ways to do this, but they all involve keeping oneself integrated into the dreamstate while maintaining awareness.

It's worth mentioning that there is a fair amount of pseudoscience present in this field, especially along the lines of psychics, etc. For this Instructable I am sticking solely to scientifically determined and experimental(ly verifiable) data and facts, so to quote Benji Dunn, "That is all we are going to say about that."

Step 3: How to Become More Aware While Dreaming

To start attempting a lucid dream, there are a few things to consider before going to sleep:

  • You should be tired and not overly awake mentally; this just makes it harder to get to sleep in the first place.
  • Remember the reality tests you're going to use in your dreams (read on for details!).
  • If you're using the device, try not to move around too much unless you've toned down the sensitivity or have a better sensor.
  • Practicing some of the dream recall methods discussed in this guide or elsewhere will increase your chances of a lucid dream.

As you're starting to fall asleep, repeat to yourself some of the tips and tricks that you'll need to look for in the dream. It is sometimes effective to start thinking out what you'd like to dream about as you're falling asleep; usually whatever you're thinking about at this point is easier to remember later, which can be useful when dreaming.

Once you're dreaming there's really not much that can be done until a trigger appears; you're usually just along for the ride. A trigger can be anything that makes you wonder if you just might be dreaming - usually this is some sensory image that is confusing or particularly familiar, such as a strange sight or familiar music. Once you see or hear a trigger, you just need to consider the possibility that you may be dreaming. Often this consideration will be enough to enter lucidity, but sometimes you'll need to do another test to overcome your skepticism.

Step 4: The Reality Tests and Stability

If you've reached a prelucid dream and are still wondering what sort of state you're in, perform a Reality Test. These are actions whose outcomes generally change depending on whether or not you're dreaming. The most common (and flawed) test is pinching yourself; this isn't always effective because it is still possible to feel pain in a dream. Better options are:

  • Lightswitches: This is one of the more effective tests and is the premise upon which the Dream Machine operates. In the majority of cases, light levels do not change on their own during dreams, meaning that a lightswitch will probably do nothing if you are really dreaming. Of course, a common excuse for this is that the switch is simply broken...
  • Mirrors: This method is not as universal as the lightswitch but is quite effective if successful. Around half of the time, mirrors do not reflect properly in dreams. You might see yourself but with distorted features, like in a curved mirror, or with strange differences in appearance. Rarely, you might not see anything in the mirror at all. Most interestingly, it is sometimes possible to pass through a mirror to a different environment, which should probably be fairly convincing proof that you're in a dream.
  • Clocks: Generally clocks do not function in dreams, analog or digital. However, this can be rendered ineffective if you simply dismiss it as a broken clock. For example, in one dream when asked the time, I noticed the digits on my watch were randomly changing faster than I could read; I quickly responded that my watch was broken.
  • Paintings/Art: Often wall-hanging objects appear as distorted images instead of what they look like in reality. Personally, however, I tend to write off all distorted-looking paintings as "modern art" and so it's not very convincing.
  • More extreme options, like jumping off a building to see if you can fly, are not a good idea since they can't be practiced in real life. However, sometimes in a dream trying to fly can be an effective reality test.
  • The Dream Machine: The button on the front of the device is connected to an LED (and possibly a buzzer if you included one), which, if wired correctly, will produce light when the button is pressed. However, as mentioned with the lightswitches, when you're dreaming, light levels rarely change, so if the LED fails to light, you might be dreaming.

At this point you'll hopefully recognize that you are dreaming. (This is my favorite part! It's so exciting!) But, you'll also probably need to QUICKLY stabilize your dream to keep from waking up right away - this is extremely frustrating at least for me, after trying enough times to get this far. If you don't stabilize, you might not even have time to realize what's going on because you'll wake up too fast, or sometimes just immediately forget that you're dreaming. Stabilization is accomplished in a relatively simple way: By focusing on a fixed point or object in the dreamscape, the rest of the environment becomes more stable. The easiest fixed points to find are the horizon, the ground, or (possibly a better choice for upcoming reasons) your hands. After focusing on a fixed point for a short time the dream should become noticeably more vivid, and it should now be stabilized.

Step 5: How to Stay Aware While Dreaming

Great! You achieved a lucid state! But not right now, of course, since you're awake. Anyways, once you reach the stable state at the end of the last step you're probably going to want to maintain your lucid dream, so there are some additional steps to stay in this state. But first, some physiology background:

When you're asleep your body becomes paralyzed to keep from acting out your dreams as you sleep. This is perfectly normal and healthy (though it can be a bit scary if you wake up wrong - more on that later). However, this paralysis contradicts your brain's sense of dream kinesthetics; basically it's confusing for your brain to be running in a dream and lying in bed asleep at the same time. To avoid waking up because of this, you need to override your real-world sensations with dream ones. The easiest way to do this is by rubbing your hands together (like an evil genius!... or when you're cold): the motion of your hands conflicts with/is more relevant than their feeling and lack of motion in the real world, and your brain pays less attention to the latter. Other motions will work as well, with the partial exception of lying or falling down - these motions will generally wake you up, since your dream sensations match up with your real-life ones. This makes lying down a useful escape method, whereas falling is discussed later and has some unusual effects (keep reading!).

The most effective way to accomplish this override is by spinning: this engages all of your body in your dream, making it harder for your real-world kinesthetics to take over and wake you up. However, spinning produces another, rather unexpected effect that can limit its utility (next step!).

Step 6: How to Control* Your Dream

Naturally you'll probably want to exercise your newfound oneironautical powers once you've achieved a lucid dream. There are a few actions to be aware of that have certain results in dreams that can help you maneuver through and control your dream.

  • Spinning & Falling: As explained in the last step, these behaviors mess with your brain's perception of your real-world body and kinesthetics. Additionally, though, spinning will usually change the environment of your dream to something different. Falling down often has a similar effect, if you manage to be moving fast enough. This can be helpful at times: if you focus on what you want to do or where you want to be in the next "scene" of your dream and then spin around, there's a good chance that's where you'll end up when you stop. However, often spinning will produce a random new scene unrelated to the last one. This can be frustrating if you are unsuccessfully trying to stabilize a dream by rubbing your hands together; spinning will stabilize your dreamstate, but it will often change the scene you're in, which isn't always what you want.
  • Flying & Movement: Yes, you can usually fly in lucid dreams! Often it's as simple as just "doing it." Interestingly in some dreams it is also possible to walk through walls while in others they're just as solid as the real ones. As mentioned earlier mirrors sometimes provide routes into other dream environments as well as being effective reality tests.
  • Direct control: Often it is possible to simply "will" something to happen in dreams. Notice the asterisk: Sometimes there are situations in your dreams that just won't change regardless of what you want to happen and you'll have to actively participate in the dream to get the desired result.

Step 7: Waking Up

Sooner or later, you'll have to come back to reality - literally. Eventually, of course, you'll just wake up on your own, but if you want to wake up sooner (not all dreams are good ones) there are some tricks that help.

  • Lying down: By matching up your dream perceptions with your real-world kinesthetics, your brain can make more sense (no pun intended) of its inputs, and you'll generally wake up shortly after. Attempting to fall asleep in a dream has the same effect.
  • Passive behavior: If you try to "zone out" from the dream or just not participate in any way (including mentally), you'll usually wake up quickly as a result.

There are several things to be aware of (again, no pun intended) when waking up. While uncommon, it's still good to have some knowledge of the possibilities and know what to do should they occur:

  • RARELY, if waking up too quickly, your body will remain paralyzed as it normally is while asleep. This can be quite frightening, and sometimes problematic, especially if you happen to be face-down on your pillow when you wake up. If this happens, just go back to sleep as quickly as you can; upon waking normally you'll be able to move again.
  • If you happen to be having a particularly nasty dream and escape by lying down or falling and staying down, you may wake up with real-world responses such as screaming and/or sweating. This is sometimes connected to sleep paralysis (above), and generally will only bother everyone else in the building besides you.
  • Even more rarely, for some unknown reason, you may experience a bright flash of light and loud popping sound that sounds like it's coming from inside your head. This Exploding Head Syndrome (I'm not making the name up, Google it if you don't believe me) is totally harmless and very rare, but I just thought I'd mention it just in case.

Step 8: Getting Back In

To increase the frequency of lucid dreams, there are some real-world behaviors and habits that can make it easier to recognize the triggers in dreams that can lead to lucidity:

  • Keep a "Dream Journal": By recording your dreams you'll gain a better understanding of how your subconscious behaves when forming and interacting with dreamstates, and you'll be better able to recognize elements that seem out of place.
  • Practice Reality Tests: Things as simple as making a note of a working lightswitch or a properly functioning mirror can help you remember to perform reality tests when dreaming.
  • Maintain a Good Sleep Schedule: Along with all the other benefits that good sleep habits provide, a good sleep schedule gives you a more consistent sleep phase sequence, meaning you may be able to enter REM more consistently for more chances at a lucid dream.
  • Make a Musical Trigger: Music can also act as a lucidity trigger (just like in Inception, yes): if it's a track you recognize as part of your oneironautics endeavors you might recall that you're supposed to do a reality test when you hear it. By setting a timer or loop such that the right music plays when you're in REM sleep, at a volume high enough to hear but not too loud to wake you up, you can remind yourself of what you're trying to do. Pick something that's memorable but that you don't hear all the time - I would suggest these as good places to start:

Step 9: Closing Notes/Thoughts

Dreams still are a mysterious behavior of the brain, and are not and likely never will be completely understood. You've probably noticed I've used words like "probably", "sometimes" and "usually" a lot. While this is all based on scientific studies, the results vary from one person to another, so I can't guarantee you'll be able to achieve a lucid dream by following this guide. However, if you do, I hope this Instructable helps you make the most of it. If you have any questions feel free to comment and I'll try to explain anything that needs clarification.

Thanks for reading!

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