Kris from Reality Shifter has posted a thought provoking article about false awakenings and lucid dreams.
She describes the false awakening as occurring:
when you”re dreaming and believe you”ve woken up when in actuality you are still dreaming and only dreamed of waking up. You “wake up” and begin to go about your daily routine ” visit the bathroom, brush your teeth, get dressed, etc. ” until eventually you realize you”re still dreaming.
At that point, you may slip into a completely new dream or you may wake up from the dream for real this time. Or, even more intriguingly, you may have another false awakening and believe you”ve woken up when instead you”re still dreaming and once again only dreamed of waking up.
This phenomenon can be pretty scary because you”re not expecting it. I remember one false awakening I had in which I sat up in my bed, stood up and then fell through the floor into a bottomless cavern. Guess that was a dream after all…
If you”re interested in reading more about this bizarre feature of dreaming life, be sure to check out Keith Hearne and David Melbourne’s classic article, as well as Hearne’s method of inducing these experiences on purpose. Both of these resources are over twenty years old but since this field is so marginalized, little is still known about this state’s properties and possibilities.
I’m really interested as well in the state where you believe you’re awake, even though you’re not (at least not in any conventional sense), and it even seems real looking back on it. As far as I know – from experience and reading – this is really just the state connected to the “hag-ridden” nightmare type described in David Hufford’s book The Terror That Comes in the Night. Paralysis, malign presence in the room, etc. I’ve actually had experiences like this that vary from the classic model, but the distinguishing factor (in relation to “dreaming that you’re awake”), is that you would swear the experience was a waking one even after waking up “properly”. False awakenings are often vividly convincing in the experience, but seem to be easily identifiable in retrospect as dreaming. But some of my experiences related to the hag-ridden type experience only have the odd content to flag them as non-waking, even in retrospect. (The paralysis is often convincingly rationalized, like, “I’ll keep really still!)
Gyrus, I’m also very interested in the state you mentioned. When I was a teenager, I had frequent experiences of sleep paralysis without dreams (wide awake but with eyes closed and completely unable to move). I didn’t sense a malign presence in the room or experience other nightmare-like events, but the experience was a bit frightening simply because I was completely alert yet couldn’t move. It only occurred in the morning around the time I would usually wake up, so I always assumed it was just the result of my mind coming to full alertness a moment before my body did. The experiences didn’t have any odd content and instead typically had content I could verify as real events, such as my mother coming into my room to tell me I should get up or else I’d be late for school, which I could verify later by asking her if she had actually done it or if it had been part of a dream. I guess I’m lucky I’ve never had that kind of nightmare/hag-ridden experience. Even without the nightmarish content, it was a spooky experience. Now, after studying lucid dreaming and also meditating regularly for several years, I’m more accustomed to the “body asleep, mind awake” state and that sort of sleep paralyis experience doesn’t spook me quite like it did when I was a kid.
like Kris, i too have had my share of terrifying sleep paralysis experiences… the first as a child with no knowledge of the state so of course i thought i was being haunted by various devils.
Gyrus is right that what these two experiences (false awakenings and sleep paralysis) have in common is the very “real” – apodictic – quality about them in the moment. both these states illustrate well how our “reality” is less fixed than our beliefs about it….
Dungan: In my experience the quality of reality is different between the two (false awakening / sleep paralysis). Both seem very real at the time, but in retrospect false awakenings are obviously dreams, but sleep paralysis – even though it can be seen as a “non-ordinary” thing, still feels as though it was “real”, i.e. involved real-time perception of the physical world where your body was. Just my experience.
Something else along these lines is my experience of, apparently “dreaming with open eyes”. I had a dream once where after drifting off I “flipped” out of my body. I wasn’t really lucid, but I decided to walk out of the house to see what I could see. In the garden was an odd white house with something coloured on it. It looked really familiar, and gradually, gradually I realized it was just like the coloured poster on my white bedside set of drawers – only on its side.
Without any break, it became clear that I was actually staring at the poster next to my bed on the drawers. I was awake, with my eyes open, and the whole thing was “on its side” because I was, lying in bed! I’ve had a few of these.
It’s weird enough where you’re almost “zombiefied” in sleep paralysis and are hallucinating or having a perception of your actual surroundings. To transition from a deep dream experience to being awake with open eyes – what’s going on there?! (Kind of a rhetorical question, but interesting pointers might be cool 🙂 )
i agree about the different qualities to the states – sleep paralysis truly is “in between” because you can open your eyes or sense external conditions. i wasn’t trying to lump them together by any means…
and i can definitely say i’ve experienced the eyes open/dreaming too. this to me really highlights how important interpretation is to our visual processing. these light sleep states are very close to waking consciousness in terms of biorhythms so it’s easy to slip back and forth. so dreaming isn’t so far from waking as it seems (compared to true deep sleep). hypnagogia is one of my favorite “in between” states personally. amazing visuals, sound hallucinations, textures and feelings of falling and drifting…. it’s a regular bizarro world in there.
in a three month period on the year of 2008, i had two dreams i remember of a false awakening, in the first one i was completely unaware i was dreaming but the second i assumed after a while it was a dream. nothing was abnormal or impossible in the one a food otem clarified it had been a dream, in the dream a roommate had eaten what still existed when i really awoke, i felt as if i were floating but in the midst of demonic spirits, it was my normal environment around me, but the feeling of darkness, a few months before my 1st false awakening i dreamed the earth fell from space sucked into a sink hole this was december 12, 2006, i had known nothing about the doomsday of the mayans, but in my dream the world did not end but much catastophe oocured, i have many nightmares but theae three dreams were very different, the feeling and alertness were diferent, maybe im just crazy but the realness so intense they stick to me
bluelace, you’re not crazy – many people have noted the difference in feeling tone and clarity in false awakening type dreams and the average spontaneous nightmare. for this reason, it may be advantageous to view false awakenings as more related to OBEs, alien abductions, and spirit visitations than dreams. Lucidity, stability of setting, and a certain archetypal character to the other dream/vision figures lends to this recategorization. These encounters are psychologically real and the closes thing we have to structurally intact vision sequences in modern western culture.
I have had this experience many times, and im already use to it, cuz one time i thought i was awake, but then i realized that when i was about to eat breakfast, all of the sudden i was back in bed, also another thing that creeped me out, was when i was lying in bed floating from it a little, and then this clock in front of me on the wall, it had jesus on it, and he was moving, he lifted up his hands like he was telling me something, then something crazy happened he was juggling balls like a circus, just very weird and they i woke up, and the clock in front of me was still and didn’t move at all, very awkward and mystifying.
I think the difference between these two states is easily explained by some terminology: Sleep paralysis happens in a hypnagogic (on the verge of sleep) or hypnapompic (on the verge of waking) state, while false awakenings are a lucid experience that occurs during normal REM cycles.
I have experience numerous false awakenings, sometimes 6 or 7 to one nights sleep. I found that these were most reccurent and vivid around the age of 14 or 15. I had main reccuring dream around this age in which I woke up 5 or 6 times in my bed at my parents house and then (whilst still in the dream)would try to get back to sleep, I’d usually hear music and at first I’d enjoy it then think “Hang on, I didn’t put any music on” and realise I must be dreaming try to force myself awake. I did this by physically jerking my head off the pillow, a really really strange feeling, very very slow and heavy feeling but also quick and panicky, like trying to pull your head out of a vat of treacle or something. Anyway sometimes this would work, but usually I’d find myself in another vivd false wakening and when it did eventually work I’d be quite freaked out as I’d already woken up in a dream 5 or 6 times. The most vivd of these dreams I remember started off in the same way, waking up in the dream in my bed at my parents house, then the music, then waking up and then progressively on each new false waking I’d notice something was wrong with my room, at first it would be something small like a book was there I didn’t recognise then after each waking it would get bigger, a wall would be a different colour, then two, then they all would stated changing colours infront of my eyes, untill eventually the whole room was changing round. At this point (in the dream) I ran into my parents room andd told then I thought I was going mad, but I couldn’t speak at all and it was very hard to move my mouth, then I fainted and in slow motion saw my mum have the most vivd and horrendous breakdown but could do nothing, all I could hear was a drumbeat in my ears. Finally I woke up for real but ould move for what seemed liek an age, My heart was racing and I could hear it resonating throughout my whole head, After what was probably only 20 seconds or so, I was awake could move and felt pretty normal but a little freaked out. It still happens now, but not as much and generally only when I am very very tired I am usually aware that I am dreaming now when it happens and can wake myself up by forcing myself to jerk my head of the pillow, still get that pulling my head out of treacle feeling though, strange.
Sorry this was quite a long post, just thought I’d share.
Hi Sophie, i have had many many experiences of false awakenings like the ones you described. In fact, i had one just last night. you somehow realize in your dream that you are dreaming so you now try to jerk your head off the pillow ( i do exactly the same thing to try to wake myself up) to wake yourself up. I sometimes have to gather energy and count to 3 and then try to jerk my extremely “heavy” head to wake myself up. sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You just have this feelings in your head like you have been heavily drugged or something like that. Sometimes i ended up falling right back into sleep and into another false awakening after jerking myself awake and i experience sleep paralysis and/or hallucinations on top of the false awakening. i think the fact that I am aware that I am dreaming but actually can’t wake myself up is the most frightening aspect of all. sometimes i feel like i could be trapped in my dreams forever and not being able to ever wake up. I can hear my boyfriend in the room asking if i am having a nightmare but i couldn’t say anything or sometimes i thought i said something to him but in reality, i didn’t. When i finally woke up, i confirmed with him what i heard during my false awakening and it was real. he did ask if i was having a nightmare. It is so bizzare.!!! I guess part of my brain is actually concious and awake while part of it is still dreaming. I am sure you can relate. i am not sure if there is anything out there that can help eliminate or reduce the frequency of this aweful experience. If anyone has any ideas, please kindly share! i hate to suffer so frequently from this weird, horrifying, exhausting and “in between sleep and awake” experience.
Luckily I don’t get them that frequently anymore, but yeah it can be really disorientating, disturbing and definately exhausting when it happens. The last time it happened was just before christmas but before that at least a good six months ago. It’s interesting that your boyfriend has talked to you when its happening aswell, I’d be quite keen to know whether I really am jerking my head off the pillow in quite such an aggresive way as it feels. As far as I know no one has ever witnessed it as yet, mainly when it happens though I feel I am very aware of my surroundings other people are usually asleep or I am on my own. As for my boyfriend, he is either a very heavy sleeper, sleep talking or wandering around the bedroom in his sleep. We must make for quite a funny sight! As for how to stop or reduce it I’m not sure. I know I get it far less frequently than I did in my teens and perhaps this may be down to a more routined sleeping pattern these days. I find now that it most likely happens when I am very very tired or have had a very irregular sleeping pattern for a while, maybe this would be down to going out or drinking too much (most likely why it happened at christmas.)
Other than that I’m stumped but glad to hear that other people know that wierd fuzzy heavy head jerk.
Sophie and Phoenix:
I am so glad I found this site. For the past 2 years I have been, what I do not lightly call “suffering”, from these so called type 2 false awakenings. I am a 21 year old female and am at my wits end on how to stop this sleep pattern as it has become a disturbance in my life. I have been experiencing really similar sleep disturbances to what both of you have described, almost 4 times a week for about 2 years.
My false awakenings are very similar to both of your experiences. Upon realising I am dreaming after I have “woken up”, I get out of my bed to turn on my bedroom light, which is broken. Panic then sets in. I feel a really doomed presence in the room, like something either demonic or frightening is coming for me. Sometimes I see a shadowy presence. I can feel myself start sweating, my heart rate increases. In the dream I run through the house to look for my mum for help but I can not talk or scream, no matter how hard I try and the fatigue of trying to get help and wake up forces me back into another false awakening. I think I am actually calling out? I can hear my strangled voice in the dream. I try to wake myself up like you guys have, with the head jerk off the pillow, but only to have another false awakening. This will happen 5 or 6 times during a night and I have often woken up screaming.. which immediately feels stupid when I know I am awake for certain! Just the other night after about 3 false awakenings I was determined to get out of my bed to reach the light, but I was so fatigued and groggy that I fell out of the bed onto my stomach. I could feel the carpet give me carpet burn on my chin and stomach and I could smell the dust from under my bed. It is so vivid and frightening, I wonder if I am sleepwalking?
I find the frequency of this scary type of false awakening occurs way more often when I have had an afternoon nap that day. I read on wiki that lucid dreaming occurs during the deepest REM cycle at around 5-7 hours after stage one of sleep, and this is definitely when these are happening as I have realised when I actually am awake and check the clock.
These dreams have sent me to a psychologist.I have anxiety and I thought that these were panic attacks, and they are so frightening sometimes that I can’t get back to sleep. To reduce the severity or onset of a panic attack, those with anxiety are instructed to meditate or carry out breathing exercises before sleep in order to control breathing and in turn, mediate the physiological symptoms associated with anxiety or a panic attack (i.e. controlling breathing indirectly controls heart rate, BP etc). However, wiki advises people attempting to successfully enter lucid states of sleep to do these very exercises before heading to bed. I’m in a bit of a pickle.. the preventor appears to be a cause.
I’m at a total loss. I’m tired and avoiding sleep. Phoenix like you have said; the thought is at the back of my mind that I may never wake up!
The counsellor I am seeing has suggested that instead of trying to wake up, that I just give up and submit to the dream; similar to what people with anxiety do when experiencing a panic attack. Its a pretty hard thing to do when you know you’re asleep and in a state of hypervigilance which causes you to percieve ( albeit incorrectly) that you’re in some kind of danger.
If anyone has anymore thoughts on this I’d really appreciate hearing from you.
Ryan Hurd says
I’m so appreciative of everyone who has shared a story on this thread – thanks! We really can learn from each other in this way.
Lulux, I responded to your comment on one of the SP articles, but after reading your in-depth account here, I really think your counsellor is giving solid advice. facing fears and “accepting” or “submitting” to the situation is one of the hardest things to do in the moment. I have had many, many lucid nightmares too and know how it feels on the inside to work yourself up into a frenzy. in your other comment, I recommended my lucid nightmare advice post – but I really recommend you read the whole series (five articles in total) starting here.
Also, if you haven’t already, download my free ebook on “enhancing your dreamlife” because it contains many little ways you can create a safe place in your bedroom before going to bed. I also will cover this material and a lot more in the upcoming sleep paralysis ebook.
do keep in touch! Feel free to contact me through the about page.
To all of you…thanks for sharing. If I can I’ll share my experience with you.
I’m a twenty year old female and started experiences sleep paralysis when I was around sixteen. When I first told my parents what happened (being completely awake and yet completely paralyzed, also feeling as if I am going to suffocate) they didn’t believe me at all and told me I was simply dreaming. Well it happened about three more times before I finally found out that it was a real phenomena that is simply NOT just a dream. Since then I still get the sleep paralysis but not as often. Unfortunately I have been experiencing very ghoulish hallucinations during the sleep paralysis that I do get. It’s often the “bad presence” which I am so afraid to even acknowledge because I am helpless and paralyzed and cannot get away from. I also dream that I have gotten up from the paralysis but am still partially paralyzed, and can only open my eyes partially and can’t really keep my balance or talk so I sort of fall all over.
Tonight was the worst and strangest session of sleep paralysis I’ve ever had. I dreamed that there was the bad presence, I couldn’t move, and then ‘woke up’. My roommate had awoken me and I was trying to get ready for the day but I could not pull myself completely out of the paralysis. I realized this was yet another dream, and immediately the ‘bad presence’ returned, however this time I found that it was in fact myself? A fact about myself that I had another personality which was evil and I could not control. This frightened me so deeply within the dream (the first false awakening). I ‘woke up’ once again, in my bed, everything exactly as it normally would be, but this time the ‘bad presence’ was there immediately and while I ran around the apartment in the dark blindly I couldn’t get away from it and away from the fear of my second personality. I caught glimpses of my second personality having something to do with satanic ritual, which scared me even further, and finally ‘woke up’ once again. This time I realized that the pills (antibiotics) that I’d been taking were actually other anti depressants and were contradicting with the ones I was already taking, and why I was having the nightmares. In the final dream I began to convulse as I realized the medication problem, and I thought this had something to do with my second personality so I ran into my roommate’s bedroom crying because of the dreams, and as I crawled into her bed and she began to awake I woke up again, this time for real. I felt very sluggish the way I do when I am fighting to come out of sleep paralysis.
This nightmare was so twisted and strange and I felt as if I were completely trapped in it, I didn’t know if it had ended or not. Sleep paralysis is scary enough to me, but this was ten times worse. I am absolutely exhausted right now but don’t want to go back to sleep for fear of this happening again.
Last night I had about 6 false awakenings, after or in between my sleep paralysis.
I have hallucinations, vibrations, and very loud noises that make me feel my ears will pop, already, so this was not a welcome addition.
It kepr repeating itself again and again, to the point where i wasn’t sure if i was dreaming anymore.
I had tried to levitate myself out of my body during the sleep paralysis, and maybe that’s what caused it.
I felt like it was a never ending cycle and i briefly thought that I could be stuck like this forever or for what would seem to me like an eternity, but not be noticed in the real world.
Very scary. Don’t wish to repeat it.
I am glad that I have found other people experiencing the same things I have. For awhile I felt dumb telling my wife about these occurences because it almost sounded like a ghost story and I felt that she would just kind of shrug it off. I have been having these “type 2 false awakenings” lately and they have affected both my sleep and the times I am awake. Some nights they won’t be as severe, and others its just straight frightening. I will wake up and it is ALWAYS in my bedroom with everything exactly as it was when i fall asleep only I IMMEDIATLY get a feeling of Dread….something heavy and not right. I will look at my wife sleeping next to me almost assuring that I am awake but random stuff will always happen. Her head will be upside down or there will be just random shadows in the room….sometimes I will see parts of my body where they actually aren’t. 2 nights ago I looked over too my right and it looked like my arm (still attached to me) was being held up by something and then i would notice i was laying on my arm and it would just dissappear. I would swear i was awake and even remember going back to sleep after it, so for awhile i thought i was just hallucinating that it def wasn’t a dream. Sometimes they only last seconds and other times it can last minutes. I am a 23 year old male and I am very logical and don’t get easily frightened but some of the things i see during these are down right terrifying. I sometimes actually wake up and can feel that dread throughout my day. I am just happy that there are others that i can relate to now and that I at least know whats going on.
Usually you have a link when you feature Hearne’s method of inducing these experiences on purpose. After much hunting on the web, not sure what your referring to. Could you provide a link so I can research this?