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.
- 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.
So I know I’m in a false awakening dream. Now what? 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.