Have you ever experienced that strange sensation of waking up in a dream – perhaps even going about your daily routine – before waking up in reality? It’s often a highly confusing experience, as you’re convinced that you’re in the physical world until something strange happens and you’re proved wrong. These false awakenings show just how delicate our perception of the world is and how easily we can be fooled by our own brains.
Lucid dreaming is the ability to recognise you’re in a dream and then manipulate it to your liking. There are many methods available to assist you in becoming a lucid dreamer, but it should be warned that doing so can sometimes lead to distress. It’s not always the best idea to play with your unconscious imagination.
False awakenings can occur for both lucid and non-lucid dreamers, but they’re definitely a more frequent occurrence for those who often lucid dream. It is thought that in order to lucid dream you must have a high level of self-awareness, as this shows how consciously connected you are with your current reality. This is why it is so difficult to lucid dream, and why so many false awakenings go unrecognised, because supposedly many people aren’t self-aware at all. A false awakening will often appear so authentic that it doesn’t even enter the dreamer’s brain to question it.
Repetition is also common in a false awakening; many report experiencing multiple false awakenings in succession, as if the unconscious mind will just keep reusing the same information if it is not woken. This is curious as even though the repetition should be a tell-tale sign that the dream isn’t veridical, people only ever realise they were completing the same mundane tasks over and over again when they wake up.
No exact cause of false awakenings has yet been found, but different theories do circulate as to how to predict them. It is proposed by some that they seem to occur most frequently when sleep disturbance is expected. How often have you dreamt of an event you were anxiously expecting or nervously anticipating? The sleeping mind may become fixated on the event of waking up and so copes with this fixation the only way it knows how – through replication. Keith Hearne suggests that we can actually trigger false awakenings by feeling a sense of high anticipation, as expectation often produces strong effects in psychological situations (as demonstrated by the famous placebo effect). This theory is the strongest thus far, but as there have been little to none experiments on the subject and so there is little evidence to back it up. More research is definitely needed before we can settle on a conclusive cause of false awakenings – what do you believe is the reason for them? Why are they so alarmingly close to reality?