False Awakening Dreams
Have you ever thought you have woken up and gone about your daily morning routine: getting up, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast and going to work, only to wake up “again” and realize that what just happened is just a dream? That sensation is referred to as a false awakening. A false awakening is a vivid and convincing dream about awakening from sleep, while the dreamer in reality continues to sleep. After a false awakening, subjects often dream they are performing daily morning rituals such as cooking, cleaning and eating.
Ever thought you were awake and going about your morning routine of getting up, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast and going to work only to wake up “again” and realize that was just a dream. That sensation is referred to as a false awakening.
False awakening dreams happen when you dream that you have woken up. This is a kind of dream that is not universal, but is very disconcerting to those to whom it happens. On the other hand, it is also oftentimes a gateway to lucid dreaming, if you can recognize the signs that you are not actually awake as such, instead of letting the nightmarish pseudo-reality continue.
False awakening dreams are often incredibly and bizarrely realistic, and you may dream of going through your entire morning routine, from going to the bathroom to eating breakfast. Certain details can usually be counted on not to be accurate in a false awakening. If you want to make sure of whether you are really awake or having a false awakening dream, here are some things you can do to test.
How to Prevent False Awakenings
False awakenings are dreams that seem like waking life… until you get out of bed and fall down a bottomless chasm. True story. False awakenings can be frustrating, terrifying, and may even begin to impact your daily life, especially when they occur 5 or more times in a row.
The good news is that false awakenings can be managed with a few cognitive tricks and practices. FAs are basically pre-lucid dreams, as the dreamer is questioning reality. In many cases though, the dreamer actually cannot figure out if she is dreaming or not. Until the world is revealed to be an illusion!
It is our ability to think clearly in a false awakening that causes us to assume we’re awake. We’re not awake, we’re aware. So dealing with false awakenings necessitates a crash course in lucid dreaming.
If you doubt it, you’re dreaming. If you don’t know if you’re dreaming or not, especially after getting out of bed, you’re probably dreaming. Usually, we’re pretty good at discerning this kind of thing. So if you catch yourself wondering “Is this a dream?”, the answer is yes.
Test your memory. Try to remember the address of your current location, or your cell phone number. If you can’t come up with these details, you’re probably dreaming. Long term memory activation in REM sleep makes these details hard to get to. Some people suggest doing a “reality check” in the dream by confirming that “everything is in order.” I find this unreliable. We often do not notice incongruities, and assume we’re awake when we are in a dream version of our bedroom. That’s how I fell down the bottomless chasm. Sometimes there are incongruities but sometimes not. The lucid dream world is just as real as waking life to the brain.
The threshold test. This is a caveat to the reality check method. Often, walking through a threshold can break the spell of a false awakening because the next room will turn out not to be the bathroom or the hallway, but another bizarre room or a place from your past.
How to Wake up From a False Awakening
Many people are alarmed when they realize they are dreaming. This fear can bring on the manifestation of whatever we think is the scariest thing in the world. So it’s good to have some methods for waking up from the dream. This works for waking up from nightmares too when you realize you’re dreaming and want to get out.
Try opening and closing your eyes repeatedly …. eventually your real eyes will crack open and break the dream.
Stare at one object with focus… it may morph and change, but usually the focus wakes up the part of the brain (the forebrain) that moves us into the waking state.
In the dream, lay down as if going to bed. Just lay on the floor, don’t start the search for “your” bed. Close your eyes, and then try to move your pinky finger (or toe, or whatever extremity you choose!) Just as in waking up from sleep paralysis, this can help synchronize the dream body and the physical body, allowing you to wake up.
Look at yourself in the mirror. Your reflection often appears distorted in the mirror if you are dreaming. Alternatively, you may look like someone else altogether. While you may not notice the change in your reflection if you do not know to look for it, accepting it as we often accept bizarre things in dreams, once you do know to pay attention, it is easy to tell a false awakening dream by details like this.
Notice how your breakfast tastes. It is common for food to taste different in dreams. For some people, nothing in a dream has any flavor. For others, the flavors are bolder and tastier, and for still others, the flavors meld into the other senses in a dream synesthesia. If you notice any of these things happening, you will know that you are dreaming, and that is the first step to lucid dreaming.
Try to read something. The part of our brain that handles written language is turned off while we are asleep. Pick up your morning paper and read the front page, or try to read the back of your cereal box. Try reading the same sentence twice. If the words change, you know you are dreaming. Some other dream signs connected to reading, which you may or may not experience, include the words you read being spoken aloud, or forming images that you can see.
Walk one step at a time. Dream time passes according to your thoughts, and it is common in dreams to find yourself in places simply by thinking about going there. For some people, it is very difficult to literally take a dream step by step, noticing each step as you take it. If you find yourself floating from place to place, or simply appearing somewhere, you can know that you are dreaming, and from there you can begin to control the dream.
Turn the lights on and off. There is usually some sort of ambient light in our dreams. However, this light source often does not change, even if you flip a light switch. Many people are not able to turn a light off and then walk into the dark room in their dreams; they are still able to see things. Conversely, if you dream that you are in the dark, it may be very difficult for you to turn the light on. Most of us get up early in the morning and get ready in the dark, at least part of the year. If you cannot turn the lights on or off, this should be a clue to you that you are in a dream.
Come up with your own reality check. A reality check is something you train yourself to do in waking life in hopes that you will remember to do it in your dreams as well, thus leading to lucidity. You may have an item that you handle a lot in waking life, similar to a totem in Inception. However, the best reality checks are things that you always have with you, such as your hands. One common reality check is trying to press two fingers of one hand through the palm of the other. Obviously, if you are awake, your fingers will not be able to go through your hand. Another reality check is to try to push your hand through a closed door or wall.
When making your own reality check, you must train yourself to do your reality check frequently in your waking life as well. It does not work if you plan on only doing it in your dreams, because you will inevitably forget. Ask yourself frequently throughout the day, “Am I dreaming?” Then do your reality check, really expecting your fingers to go through your palm or your hand to go through the wall. Accept the possibility that you might be dreaming, and do not assume that you know you are awake. Really consider the fact that dreams feel like waking life as well, and then ask yourself the question, “Am I dreaming?” If you get into the habit of asking the question flippantly and expecting the reality check to work, then you will either forget to ask it when you are asleep, or the reality check will behave like reality in your sleep as well. If you get into the habit of doing reality checks and considering the possibility that you may be dreaming during the day, then you will be more likely to think about it during your dreams and realize that you are still asleep.
Once you have realized that you are in a false awakening dream, you have the ability to lucid dream. You can do anything you want – fly, teleport, or turn your hair blue. What you should not do is try to wake up. You are in REM sleep, and you are not in control of your body right now. Your body is completely paralyzed, and will continue to be so until you wake up spontaneously. If you try to wake up at this point, you are likely to get stuck in a disturbing out-of-body or sleep paralysis experience.
Prevent More False Awakenings
Exercise. Get out of bed and do 10 minutes of light to moderate exercise. Yoga, stretches, calisthenics, stair master… whatever is easy. Warning: for some, exercise may make it difficult to get back to sleep. However, this is better than a 100% chance of not getting back to sleep because you’re too emotionally exhausted and scared.
The Nap Snack. Have a small crab-heavy snack before going back to bed. Warm milk still does the trick too. But don’t have a nightcap; alcohol disrupts sleep patterns and can lead to more weird sleep occurrences.
Relax before going to bed. False awakenings seem to be related to hyper-vigilance. So do what you need to do to feel safe and emotionally secure while falling asleep. We all have our little rituals. Time to bring out the teddy bear.
Stop partying so hard. In general, refrain from alcohol before bed, and stay away from caffeine anytime after lunch. If you’re prone to FAs, these substances affect your REM sleep more than others. Also, getting good sleep at regular intervals will help. This is why FAs are common with college students and those who work night-shifts, swing-shifts or don’t sleep much in general.
Turn False Awakenings into a Lucid Dream
Of course, if you are feeling adventurous, you can use the false awakening as a chance to explore the dream world consciously. Instead of scrabbling to wake up, take a look around. Explore the house.
Walk through a wall and see what’s on the other side. Spin around and marvel at what happens next. In this way, false awakenings can be blessings in disguise.
If you’re having multiple false awakenings, this is a good move psychologically too. Sometimes, these spontaneous lucid dreams may be caused by some emotional material that wants to be confronted. So confront it.
I’ve noticed that, at first, my false awakening dreams are devoid of other characters. But if I wait around, or walk into the next room, often I’ll find some one who wants to interact. Often, there’s drama involved. Usually, though, an angry dream figure is looking for a chance to say some peace, to be heard. Most of a nightmare’s energy is the resistance to whatever needs to be expressed. That’s what makes a nightmare scary — the fact that are being faced with something we don’t want to see. Once you face it, with bravery and with love in your heart, the nightmare figure usually transforms and becomes more communicative. It may never come back, taking those false awakenings with them.