False awakening

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Overview

A false awakening is an event in which someone dreams they have awakened from sleep. This illusion of having awakened is very convincing to the person. After a false awakening, people will usually dream of performing daily morning rituals, believing they have truly awakened. A dream in which a false awakening takes place is sometimes colloquially referred to as a "double dream", or a "dream within a dream".

Relationship to lucidity

A false awakening may occur either following an ordinary dream or following a lucid dream (one in which the dreamer has been aware that he or she is dreaming). Particularly if the false awakening follows a lucid dream, the false awakening may turn into a ‘pre-lucid dream' (Green, 1968), that is, one in which the dreamer may start to wonder if he or she is really awake and may or may not come to the correct conclusion. More commonly, dreamers will believe they are awake.

Relationship to simulated reality

A false awakening has significance to the simulation hypothesis which states that what we perceive as "true" reality is in truth an illusion as evidenced by our minds' inability to distinguish between reality and dreams. Therefore, advocates of the simulation hypothesis argue that the probability of our "true" reality being a simulated reality is affected by the prevalence of false awakenings.

Realism and unrealism

Certain aspects of life may be dramatized, or out of place in false awakenings. Things may seem wrong: details, like the painting on a wall, not being able to talk or difficulty reading (purportedly reading in lucid dreams is often difficult or impossible; see Green and McCreery, 1994, Ch. 10, for a discussion of this topic). In some experiences, the human senses are heightened, or changed. For instance, one may be able to see things in greater detail, or lesser detail, or one may feel an intense burst of fear and anxiety, or possibly pleasure.

Repetition

Because the dreamer is still dreaming after a false awakening, it is possible for there to be more than one false awakening in a single dream. Often, dreamers will seem to have awakened, begin eating breakfast, brushing teeth, and so on and then find themselves back in bed, begin daily morning rituals, believe that they have awakened, and so forth. The French psychologist Yves Delage (1919) reported an experience of his own of this kind, in which he experienced four successive false awakenings. The philosopher Bertrand Russell even claimed to have experienced ‘about a hundred’ false awakenings in succession while coming round from a general anaesthetic (Russell, 1948, p.186).

Types of false awakenings

Celia Green (1968) suggested a distinction should be made between two types of false awakening:

Type 1

Type 1 may be thought of as the ‘common-or-garden’ sort, in which the dreamer seems to wake up, but not necessarily in realistic surroundings, that is, not necessarily in his or her own bedroom. A pre-lucid dream may ensue. More commonly, dreamers will believe they have awakened and then ‘fall back asleep’ in the dream.

Type 2

The Type 2 false awakening seems to be considerably less common. Green (1968) characterized it as follows: ‘[…]the subject appears to wake up in a realistic manner, but to an atmosphere of suspense[…]His surroundings may at first appear normal, and he may gradually become aware of something uncanny in the atmosphere, and perhaps of unwanted sounds and movements. Or he may “awake” immediately to a “stressed” and “stormy” atmosphere. In either case, the end result would appear to be characterized by feelings of suspense, excitement or apprehension.’ (Green, 1968, p.121)

Charles McCreery (1997) drew attention to the similarity between this description and the description by the German psychopathologist Karl Jaspers (1923) of the so-called ‘primary delusionary experience’ (a general feeling which precedes any more specific delusory belief). Jaspers wrote: ‘Patients feel uncanny and that there is something suspicious afoot. Everything gets a new meaning. The environment is somehow different – not to a gross degree – perception is unaltered in itself but there is some change which envelops everything with a subtle, pervasive and strangely uncertain light[…]Something seems in the air which the patient cannot account for, a distrustful, uncomfortable, uncanny tension invades him[…].’ (Jaspers, 1923, p.98)

McCreery suggests that this phenomenological similarity is not accidental, and results from the fact that both phenomena, the Type 2 false awakening and the primary delusionary experience, are phenomena of sleep. He suggests that the primary delusionary experience, like other phenomena of psychosis such as hallucinations and secondary or specific delusions, represents an intrusion into waking consciousness of processes associated with Stage 1 sleep. It is suggested that the reason for these intrusions is that the psychotic subject is in a state of hyper-arousal, a state which can lead to what Ian Oswald (1962) called ‘micro-sleeps’ in waking life.

See also

References

  • Delage, Y. (1919). Le Rêve. Paris: Les Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Green, C. (1968). Lucid Dreams. London: Hamish Hamilton.
  • Green, C., and McCreery, C. (1994). Lucid Dreaming: the Paradox of Consciousness During Sleep. London: Routledge.
  • Jaspers, K. (1923). General Psychopathology (translated by J. Hoenig and M.W. Hamilton). Manchester: Manchester University Press. (First published in Germany, 1923, as Algemeine pathologie.)
  • McCreery, C. (1997).‘Hallucinations and arousability: pointers to a theory of psychosis’. In Claridge, G. (ed.): Schizotypy, Implications for Illness and Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Oswald, I. (1962). Sleeping and Waking: physiology and psychology. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  • Russell, B. (1948). Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits. London: Allen and Unwin.

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