By Peter A. Luber © 2014
As lucid dreamers, we all recognize the importance of REM sleep to dreaming and we try to join it as precisely as we can during our lucid dreaming attempts, so that we can enjoy a lucid dream that lasts as long as the REM period itself. That‘s all good, but what about the rest of the night? What about the periods of non-REM (NREM) sleep we all experience every night? Can we be lucid then as well? If so, is it worth the effort? I believe the answer to those last two questions is a resounding yes
First, what is Delta sleep? Named for the long, slow brain waves produced during some NREM periods of the sleep cycle, Delta is the period of deep, quiet sleep that precedes each REM period. Though Delta repeats throughout a normal night‘s sleep as the sleeping body cycles through the stages of sleep, it lasts longest in its first occurrence of the night, often for as long as an hour. Delta occurs between REM periods for shorter amounts of time as the night wears on, down to just a moment if you manage more than 10 hours of sleep.
In the lucid dreaming universe, Delta is traditionally considered an obstacle to lucidity. It is that oft dreaded long period of emptiness that makes Wake Initiated Lucid Dreams (WILDs) almost impossible to do right at bedtime. But I have found that there may be great value in Delta sleep exploration. So too have many other dreamers and consciousness explorers, especially practitioners of sleep yoga.
If you have a high level of self-awareness and memory during Delta, then its quiet emptiness, with a thorough lack of active unconscious input, can afford you with unique opportunities. These include: relaxing in perfect nothingness, deeply exploring your Self, tapping your still-dormant dreaming mind in a manner unfettered by existing dreams, exploring transcendental states, and perhaps connecting your awareness to the supernatural-plane-type things we all get excited about, like dream-sharing and Astral Projection. In Delta, all of this can be attempted without the distraction and misinformation of your brain‘s REM dream engine.
My lucid experiences in Delta go way back. When I first became interested in dreaming, back in the preinternet dark ages of the 1970‘s, I usually attempted to stay awake straight into my dreams when I went to bed at night. Stephen LaBerge‘s crowd hadn‘t even invented the term ‘WILD’ yet, and I was still a teenager with no knowledge of dream physiology, so I didn‘t know that trying to WILD at night is a nono.
Needless to say, I failed almost every attempt, although I experienced lots of Dream Initiated Lucid Dreams (DILDs) thanks to my strong intentions and waking-life preparation. However, occasionally I would succeed, and find myself drifting in this weird non-space that I would later learn is Delta sleep.
At first, I did little more than pay attention to the nothingness, and in time I noticed it wasn‘t necessarily all nothing. I could hear distant voices if I listened carefully: conversations that were audible, but with words that were not quite comprehensible. I could ‘add’ small things like shapes, lights, and tangible thoughts to the nothingness with some effort. Although I knew it wasn‘t actual dreaming, I sensed potential.
But two things happened that stalled further exploration of Delta. First, I discovered that trying to have a WILD (I still didn‘t use that term) works better after many hours of sleep. Second, I went to college, where I had an opportunity to formally study the stages of sleep. I ‘learned’ that, for my purposes, Delta sleep didn‘t matter and could be ignored. So ignore it I did, and I began simply going to sleep at night and reserving any active lucid dreaming efforts for the next morning.
Some twenty years later, my lucid dreaming practice was taking me to self-imposed places devoid of all things and all input. These were places of singular stillness, of real peace, of blank slates set for real creation and unique dives into the ocean of my unconscious. At the same time, I heard about sleep yoga and discovered that it was what I had been doing all along—except that sleep yogis don‘t just stay aware in REM, they stay aware in Delta as well. I realized that it might be time to look at Delta again, if only because it seemed a lot easier to remove everything from my dreams if there was nothing there in the first place.
Since then, I have enjoyed several dozen excursions into Delta that I can honestly say happened, and were not just hypnagogic imagery or false lucids. The experiences varied from moments of undisturbed oddly linear thoughts, to several occasions of non-dual blissful emptiness, to seriously transcendental mind-blowers. Essentially, I had returned to a place I had chanced upon over 30 years ago, and used my time-tested lucid dreaming tools to make that place both interesting and spiritually valuable.
So how can you tell you are in Delta? I’m guessing the answer to that is different for each person who consciously experiences the state, but there is a baseline experience that we all share. If you are familiar with WILDs, you will know that there is a “pause,” a brief moment of absolute stillness, between the last vestiges of waking life and the first moments of dreaming life.
If you are engaging your WILDs in the conventionally taught manner and making your attempts in the morning after several hours of sleep, that pause may be brief, but you are likely experiencing it. You may have ignored it, failed to notice it, or noticed it and just didn’t care in previous attempts, simply waiting for it to pass in anticipation of things to come, but it was there.
At night, if you attempt a WILD when you first go to sleep, that pause can seem very long. If you are able to pay enough attention to it, you will find it is less empty than it initially appears. Thoughts still stream, but far more slowly and palely than usual.
If you listen carefully, you might hear sounds or voices that always stay just out of range. You might also experience something else altogether, since we all approach these things with our own collection of thoughts, expectations, and perceptions. Still, when your self-awareness enters Delta intact, you will recognize the pause for what it is.
If you are able to maintain self-awareness through the entire initial Delta period, you will know that you are there, and there will be no confusing it with hypnagogic imagery or other pre-REM WILD phenomena. Keep in mind that it is possible to dream that you are in Delta when you are actually not, but once you experience the real thing, you will be able to tell the difference. To build your faith in ‘knowing,’ let me give you three examples from the distinct categories into which Delta experiences seem to fall.
First, there is a state I’ve often been in, during that long wait for REM, where I am alone in darkness. I‘m bodiless, with a fading and distant awareness of my physical form. Almost invariably in that state I will hear voices having quiet conversations—voices I hear quite clearly, but I can never make out the words. At first, this was frustrating because I thought the voices carried meaning and ought to be heard, but in time I accepted the incoherence, and the ‘unheard’ voices now provide me with an odd sort of comfort.
Something else that regularly happens in Delta is a subtle shift away from the thoughts that normally (even in my dreams) flutter chaotically about my head like a thick swarm of tireless, annoying butterflies. In Delta, that swarm is reduced to a quiet cluster of distant psychic flickers. The few lingering local thoughts that remain seem to slow down and stretch out, becoming strangely tangible, as if entities unto themselves. It is difficult to describe, but perhaps these thoughts are the little brothers to the thoughts that become “reality” in dreams.
Now the ironic bit: Clear and slow-moving as these thoughts may be, I can remember absolutely no specifics about any of them—it‘s as if they never happened. Yet, I can still feel their pressure and presence, as if their energy were more significant than their content.
There are also rarer experiences in Delta. On several occasions I held onto my self-awareness long enough to attempt to do something during the pause, with the occasional success. At first, I tried the things I wanted to do in my dreams, like constructing the places or situations I wanted to visit, but I quickly knew that it wouldn‘t work.
Each attempt left me with either more ‘nothing’ or a loss of self-awareness and surrender to normal sleep and dream (though a DILD usually followed). So, taking the hint from those quiet voices and tangible yet unheard thoughts, I decided to be subtle. Initially, I summoned geometric shapes in primary colors with some success.
I even managed to visit a few strange places, though these places were always very dim, very gray, and oddly immersed in the wind of my physical body‘s distant breath. Other things occurred, some of them fun and novel, but image-making in this state is a limited process. Perhaps this is due to a disconnect with the physical mechanisms that create dreams during REM. (Oh, and pretty much all of my perceived out of-body experiences started from this state, though I haven‘t thought much of this fact.)
Beyond these examples are the precious few transcendental moments when I could command my self-awareness with enough gusto to try the big stuff—like taking a metaphoric dive into the ocean of my unconscious to see how deep I could go, what or who I might be swimming with, and whether I could pour that ocean into a spiritual cup and take it home with me.
Those were amazing dives, but I have trouble describing them because my memory of where I went is fraught with things I cannot describe even to myself, and because I cannot say whether these things truly happened during Delta, or if they occurred later in REM. It is all too vague.
Suffice it to say that some very excellent stuff was initiated by my interest and conscious presence in Delta. So next time you are doing a WILD, or simply going to sleep at night, and you find yourself in that deep luxurious pause that is Delta, have a look around; you will find the effort deeply rewarding!
Peter A. Luber is a lifetime oneironaut.
Peter began his journey in the 1970‘s, developing his lucid dreaming skills on his own. Over the decades, he has honed his skills with the help of many thousands of lucid dreams. For the past few years, he has focused primarily on using lucid dreaming as a tool for expanding consciousness and transcendental adventures. He has published three books to date, all of them focused on dreams, with content drawn primarily from his own experiences. Peter was a moderator for the Lucidity Institute Forum in 2001 and 2002, and posts frequently on the website Dreamviews.com, under the moniker of Sageous. Peter is currently semi-retired, focusing his labors on his dreams and his artwork.