False Awakenings in Lucid Dreamers
From dreams of waking up to waking up in your dreams.
Posted December 29, 2019 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
False awakenings occur when someone believes they have woken up, only to realize later that they are still in a dream. These experiences have sometimes been called a ‘hybrid state,’ a mix between sleeping and waking. Lucid dreams and sleep paralysis are also called hybrid states. In lucid dreams, although you remain asleep, you realize that you are dreaming and have a fairly wake-like consciousness (see my prior post on lucid dreams). In sleep paralysis, although your mind awakes from sleep, your body remains paralysed and asleep for a minute or two (see my previous post on sleep paralysis).
False awakenings then are similarly a mix between sleep and waking. You wake up, get out of bed, and go about your normal routine, and then suddenly you realize you are dreaming and then awake again (into the real world or into another false awakening). Sometimes, there is a foreboding atmosphere to the experience, as the dreamer becomes suspicious that something is off, or something is not right. They have an eerie sense that this is not normal waking life.
In a recent survey study, subjects responded to a questionnaire regarding lucid dreaming and false awakening experiences, defined as “sleep-related experiences in which the subjects erroneously believe that they have woken up, only to discover subsequently that the apparent awakening was part of a dream.".
The survey asked how often participants experienced false awakenings and lucid dreams. Ninety participants (75 males, age range 14-75 years) responded who had experienced both false awakenings and lucid dreams, and there was a positive correlation between the two kinds of experience, although the frequency of lucid dreams was higher than that of false awakenings. Thirty-seven subjects (41%) experienced false awakenings at least monthly.
The survey then queried how false awakenings began and ended, to see whether false awakenings were often preceded or followed by other hybrid states like lucidity or sleep paralysis. Further, the survey asked, "During False Awakenings, do you try to determine if you are awake somehow?” and “Do you typically notice any anomaly or bizarre situation during False Awakenings?”
Fifty-six subjects (62%) reported that they noticed anomalies or bizarre situations during False Awakenings — for example, details out of place or devices not working properly (e.g., light switches or digital clocks).
“Usually (my False Awakenings) start with me waking up in bed. I get up and go check on my children to see if they are sleeping. I may go into the living room or back into the bedroom ... then I go back to sleep and when I wake up for real I realize that some things were out place and that I had yet another false awakening”
Sixty-eight subjects (76%) actively tested the dream to confirm whether they were awake or asleep, and 45 claimed that they used false awakenings as a bridge to lucidity:
“...a good way of inducing lucid dreams as I often perform reality checks during False Awakening.s”
“...hold my nose and breathe through it (you can if you’re dreaming).”
“...turn something on; if it’s a dream it usually comes with mechanical failure.”
The relation between false awakenings and lucidity seems to stretch further, in that some elements of dream control can characterize false awakenings. When lucid, dreamers can exert varying degrees of control over their dream, namely two kinds: “One type involves magical manipulation of the dream environment or of dream characters other than the dream actor .... The other ... is self-control, exercised over one’s own actions and reactions to events occurring in the lucid dream." False awakenings seem to be characterized by some level of self-control, but less magical manipulation than lucid dreams.
Overall, the study provides new information about false awakenings which are relatively understudied hybrid-state experiences. False awakenings seem to co-occur quite frequently in lucid dreamers, and can occur either at the end of a lucid dream or can, through reality checks, lead to lucid dreams.
Buzzi, G. (2019). False awakenings in lucid dreamers: How they relate with lucid dreams, and how lucid dreamers relate with them. Dreaming, 29(4), 323.