As the consciousness becomes purified through regular practice of Yoga, one finds that sleep becomes more active and more real. Dreams no longer seem to be phantasmagoric illusions but resemble what they actually are – excursions into the occult worlds. We possess one unbroken stream of consciousness, which during the day dwells in the physical world and at night interacts with the occult worlds and consequently, the experiences we have in dreams are inextricably tied to the events in the physical world. In this article, we explore a few ways to become more conscious in sleep.
The nature of sleep
The sleep of most worldly men and women is an uncurbed plunge into the depths of the lawless subconscious. There is a wide variety of dreams one may have in this type of “animal sleep”. Some may just snore and wake up without knowing what went on in their sleep. Others, especially those who are sick, may have deliriums because the thought process inside the brain refuses to die down.
There are cases where we may rise above the subconscious world and ascend into the vital worlds. In this situation, we may have nightmares of being chased and attacked by some unknown person or animal and waking up with the relief of having survived. Such dreams occur because our lusts and cravings are transparently visible to the hostile entities of these worlds, who exploit them to trick and possess us for their own nefarious purposes. Sometimes we may also have dreams of falling from great heights and suddenly waking up. This occurs because conscious control over sleep is lacking.
If the consciousness in sleep were to rise up into the higher mental worlds, we might even awaken with fresh new ideas for problems that we couldn’t solve during the waking state. This is a common occurrence which surprisingly often goes unnoticed. We go to sleep thinking about a difficult problem and wake up with a vague idea of having solved it in the dream, and after little more thinking we actually settle on the right solution. Consider the following anecdote by a co-founder of Google, Larry Page.
You know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid dream? And you know how, if you don’t have a pencil and pad by the bed to write it down, it will be completely gone the next morning?
Well, I had one of those dreams when I was 23. When I suddenly woke up, I was thinking: what if we could download the whole web, and just keep the links and… I grabbed a pen and started writing! Sometimes it is important to wake up and stop dreaming. I spent the middle of that night scribbling out the details and convincing myself it would work. Soon after, I told my advisor, Terry Winograd, it would take a couple of weeks to download the web — he nodded knowingly, fully aware it would take much longer but wise enough to not tell me. The optimism of youth is often underrated! Amazingly, I had no thought of building a search engine. The idea wasn’t even on the radar. But, much later we happened upon a better way of ranking webpages to make a really great search engine, and Google was born. When a really great dream shows up, grab it! 
There are also situations when one may wake up invigorated, as if one has been away for a long time, or as if one has awakened into a verdant new world brimming with refreshing possibilities. This effect occurs when one has touched the highest layer of consciousness called Existence (Sat in Sanskrit, which is one of the triune Sachchidananda or Existence-Consciousness-Bliss – the highest plane of consciousness). Sleep has a restorative effect only due to those brief moments of time when our consciousness resonates at the highest level of world-consciousness . If you wake up exhausted, it is probably because you did not reach the highest level. Sleep again!
The more purified our consciousness becomes, the higher we ascend into the strata of consciousness. The acme of this development is seen in those who gain Enlightenment. They need very little sleep and remain active even when they are supposedly asleep, meeting and helping other people through their subtle bodies, as can be adduced from the following letter the Mother Mirra Alfassa wrote to someone.
(3 July 1927)… It is true that for a long time I have not slept in the usual sense of the word. That is to say, at no time do I fall back into the inconscience which is the sign of ordinary sleep. But I give my body the rest it needs, that is, two or three hours of lying down in an absolute immobility, but in which the whole being, mental, psychic, vital and physical, enters into a complete rest made of perfect peace, absolute silence and total immobility, while the consciousness remains completely awake; or else I enter into an internal activity of one or more states of the being, an activity which constitutes the occult work and which, needless to say, is also perfectly conscious. So I can say, in all truth, that I never lose consciousness throughout the twenty-four hours which thus form an unbroken sequence, and that I no longer experience ordinary sleep, while yet giving my body the rest that it needs. 
Making sleep more conscious
Now we will discuss some steps, apart from the daily practice of meditation, which can be undertaken to make sleep more conscious. It requires a great degree of granular control over one’s daily life to successfully open up and navigate the world of dreams.
Aspire for peaceful sleep of atleast eight hours: First and foremost, one must aspire to a peaceful sleep undisturbed by dream disturbances. This naturally occurs when one has calmed the turmoil of daily life by curbing, among other things, one’s eating, talking and socializing habits . As Carlos Castaneda also noted in one of his books, “Looking at it in retrospect, it had become evident to me that I had succeeded (in dreaming consciously) only after I had gained a degree of control over the world of my everyday life.” 
Relax before sleep: Listen to serene music or a powerful Mantra. Read inspirational books rather than cheap thrillers.
Recapitulation before sleep: Before falling asleep, take a few minutes to review the events of the day. Sit quietly in a meditative posture and visualize the events of the day. Watch the emotional attachments (anger, fear, etc) that developed during your interactions and release these emotions. This was the advice Mother Mirra Alfassa gave to a disciple:
…as an initial help to set you on the path, I can tell you: (1) that on getting up, before starting the day, it is good to make an offering of this day to the Divine, an offering of all that one thinks, all that one is, all that one will do; (2) and at night, before going to sleep, it is good to review the day, taking note of all the times one has forgotten or neglected to make an offering of one’s self or one’s action, and to aspire or pray that these lapses do not recur. 
Eat light food at dinner: If the stomach becomes heavy, the brain is unable to think and the consciousness sinks into the subconscious.
Stop using the alarm clock: It is possible to train oneself to arise at a certain hour by imposing one’s will on the subconscious. This may not happen immediately but with patient work and as sleep becomes peaceful, it does work.
Sleep before midnight:
Question: Why are the hours before midnight better for sleep than the hours after it?
Mother Mirra: Because, symbolically, during the hours before midnight the sun is setting, while from the first hour after midnight it begins to rise.
Question: How is it better to go to bed early and to get up early?
Mother Mirra: When the sun sets, a kind of peace descends upon the earth and this peace is helpful for sleep. When the sun rises, a vigorous energy descends upon the earth and this energy is helpful for work. When you go to bed late and get up late, you contradict the forces of Nature and that is not very wise. 
After waking up, stay still for a few moments: When you wake up, do not jump all excited. Stay still and try to remember the tail of the last dream you had. Wait patiently to see if anything flashes through the mind. Gradually, this exercise helps to bridge the gap in consciousness which exists between the day and the night.
Don’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed: Just kidding on that one… !
An exercise in sleep: There is an exercise of “finding one’s hands during sleep” which is noted in one of Carlos Castaneda’s books. I haven’t tried it but it seems worth mentioning at this point.
Don Juan’s praxis of dreaming was an exercise that consisted of finding one’s hands in a dream. In other words, one had to deliberately dream that one was looking for and could find one’s hands in a dream by simply dreaming that one lifted one’s hands to the level of the eyes. After years of unsuccessful attempts I had finally accomplished the task. 
Stages of development
One can discern about four general stages in the progress towards more conscious sleep.
Unconscious sleep: This is the normal state for all mortals. When you fall asleep, you experience incoherent dreams and possibly a brief state of bliss. When you wake up, you remember little but feel refreshed or groggy.
Passive sleep: After some progress in Yoga, the subtle center known as Ajna Chakra in the middle of the eyebrows slightly opens and one might see subtle visions but as yet there is no conscious control over the dream.
Active sleep: When the subtle body becomes independently active, one gains conscious control over sleep. Some may notice a change in the quality of light, others may feel a higher quality of liveliness in dreams as if it were no different from the physical world. Now one is able to wake up in the so-called “dream” and interact with other people as well as ward off attacks from hostile entities of the occult worlds.
Turiya (i.e. “the fourth state”): This is the state reached by Enlightened Beings. One is awake in the day as well at night. There is little need to sleep because the mind experiences no psychological fatigue. When the Buddha was asked, “Who are you“, he replied, “I am awake!“.
- Sleep and Dreams page has further references on this topic
- Stages in the spiritual journey (as per Anandamayi Ma)
- How does a Guru act?
- How to awaken the soul (psychic being)
- Jnana Yoga : the ego blocks that have to be dissolved
- Ill-effects of television on Yoga
- Conversation : Self-control over speech
- Interplay of faith and doubt in Yoga
- Liminality or negative capability required in Yoga
- Larry Page. University of Michigan Commencement Address
- Collected Works of the Mother, vol 16, p 4.
- Collected Works of the Mother, vol 16, page 317.
- Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power, p 18.
- Collected Works of the Mother, vol 12, p 160
- Mother’s Agenda. Oct 30. 1962.