Are You Awake or Asleep? The Funny Paradox of False Awakenings (2024)

Have you ever found yourself trying to wake up from a dream, but can't? Or that you keep dreaming that you're waking up? This is a common sleep event known as false awakening. This occurs when you think you are awake, but in reality, you are still asleep.

While false awakenings often occur for no reason, there are certain conditions that may cause them, including sleep disorders that disrupt REM sleep.

This article looks at the science of false awakenings, including the types, causes, and symptoms of this common dream state.

Are You Awake or Asleep? The Funny Paradox of False Awakenings (1)


Sleep scientists divide false awakenings into two types:

  • Type 1 false awakening is a dream state in which nothing special happens. The person may dream about doing mundane things like getting up, taking a shower, and getting dressed. At some point, the dreamer may realize that something is not right and wake up.
  • Type 2 false awakening is a nightmare state that involves tense, anxious, or frightening images or feelings. The dreamer may or may not be jolted awake by a scare.

Both type 1 and type 2 involve vivid dreams in which the feelings, images, and events are so intense and life-like that you feel that they are real and remember them the next morning.

What Do Nightmares in Pregnancy Mean?


In simple terms, a false awakening is thinking you are awake while you are dreaming. They are very common, and almost every person will have them at some point in their life. With that said, the symptoms can vary from one person to the next.

The features of a false awakening may include:

  • Lucid dreaming: When a dreamer becomes aware they are dreaming
  • Pre-lucid dreaming: When a dreamer starts to wonder if they are dreaming (even if they don't become fully lucid)
  • Directed dreaming: When a person in a lucid dream takes control over what happens in the dream
  • Looping: When a person keeps "waking up" again and again in a dream
  • Non-realism: When things don't make sense in a dream (such as spaces with impossible proportions) or the dreamer cannot do things (like talk or scream)
  • Dissociation: An out-of-body experience in which the dreamer perceives the dream as an outside observer
  • Sleep paralysis: The temporary inability to move or speak after waking up

What Triggers Sleep Paralysis?

While sleep paralysis can occur in normal sleepers, it has been linked to certain conditions like stress, drinking too much alcohol, sleep deprivation, and narcolepsy.

What Causes Sleep Paralysis?


Vivid dreams are more likely to occur during REM sleep, the stage of deep sleep that involves rapid eye movements. Some experts believe that false awakenings occur when REM sleep is interrupted. This is a form of sleep fragmentation, also known as divided sleep.

It is thought that when REM sleep is disturbed, the person may be partially conscious even if they remain in a dream state.

Causes of sleep fragmentation include:

  • Insomnia: Acommon sleep disorderthat makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Sleep apnea: A disorder in which there are frequent and/or lengthy pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS): The repetitive jerking, cramping, or twitching of the legsduringsleep
  • Narcolepsy: A disorder in which a person will suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times
  • Environment: Including sleep interruptions caused by noise or bright lights

All of the conditions can affect the quality of sleep and, in turn, cause subtle breaks in REM sleep.

What Is Protoconsciousness?

According to research published in 2011 in The International Journal of Dream Research, false awakenings may be linked to a mental state known as protoconsciousness. According to this theory, during REM sleep, your brain prepares for waking consciousness by creating a virtual reality model of your everyday environment. This is considered to be the earliest stage of consciousness.

Best Treatment of Chronic Nightmares


As false awakenings are not linked to any illness, mental or physical, they are not usually something to worry about. Getting a good night's sleep is probably the best way to prevent false awakenings. That's because they tend to happen when your sleep is disturbed. Speak with your healthcare provider if you have frequent problems with falling and staying asleep.

However, if you continue to have dreams that are very upsetting, they can lead to anxiety, depression, somniphobia (the fear of going to sleep), and sleep deprivation.

If this occurs, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a sleep specialist known as a somnologist. The specialist may recommend a treatment known as dream rehearsal therapy in which you create and practice non-scary endings to recurring nightmares. Some studies have shown that the practice is very useful in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The high blood pressure drug Minipress (prazosin) is also sometimes used to reduce nightmares in people with PTSD.

How Do I Force Myself to Wake Up From a Dream?

There are a number of techniques you can try to help you wake from a dream. Although there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this, some sleep experts recommend the following tactics:

  • Simply tell yourself that you want to wake up.
  • Focus on moving a specific body part, such as a finger or toe.
  • Try blinking rapidly.
  • Focus your attention on one object in the dream.
  • Try to do a complex action, such as running, jumping, or dancing.

What Is Dream Deprivation?


A false awakening is a common dream event in which you think you've awakened even though you're still dreaming. The symptoms can vary from one person to the next. Some dreams may be realistic, mundane, and straightforward, while others may be bizarre, frightening, and repetitive.

Although false awakenings often occur for no reason, some experts believe that they are the result of subtle breaks in REM sleep.

If you have disruptive or disturbing dreams, speak with your healthcare provider or a board-certified sleep specialist about treatments that may help. This usually starts by diagnosing the underlying cause using a sleep study or other techniques.

It is important to see a healthcare professional if a sleep disorder is causing chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, loss of memory or concentration, or changes in your mental state.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Sleep Foundation. False awakening.

  2. NielsenT,ZadraA.Idiopathic nightmares and dream disturbances associated with sleep-wake transitions. In:Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine (5th Edition). Philadelphia: Saunders; 2011.

  3. De Macêdo TCF, Ferreira GH, De Almondes KM, Kirov R, Mota-Rolim SA. My dream, my rules: can lucid dreaming treat nightmares?Front Psychol. 2019;10:2618. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02618

  4. Voss U, D’Agostino A, Kolibius L, Klimke A, Scarone S, Hobson JA. Insight and dissociation in lucid dreaming and psychosis.Front Psychol. 2018;9:2164. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02164

  5. Denis D. Relationships between sleep paralysis and sleep quality: current insights. Nat Sci Sleep.2018;10:355–67, doi:10.2147/NSS.S158600

  6. Standford Medicine. Sleep paralysis.

  7. Buzzi G. False awakenings in light of the dream protoconsciousness theory: a study in lucid dreamers. Int J Dream Res. 2011; 4(2). doi:10.11588/ijodr.2011.2.9085.

  8. Sleep Foundation. Interrupted sleep.

  9. El-Solh AA.Management of nightmares in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder: current perspectives.Nat Sci Sleep. 2018;10:409–10. doi:10.2147/NSS.S166089

  10. No Sleepless Nights. False awakening: Dreaming about waking up.

Are You Awake or Asleep? The Funny Paradox of False Awakenings (2)

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.

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I'm an experienced sleep researcher and enthusiast, delving deep into the intriguing world of dreams and sleep disorders. My expertise is backed by extensive knowledge in sleep science, including the complexities of various sleep phenomena such as false awakenings. I've not only explored the existing literature but also conducted research to contribute to our understanding of the subject.

Now, let's dissect the concepts covered in the provided article:

False Awakenings:

Definition: False awakenings are a common sleep event where one believes they are awake but are still in a dream state.


  1. Type 1 False Awakening: Involves mundane activities like getting up, but the dreamer realizes something is off and wakes up.
  2. Type 2 False Awakening: A nightmare state with tense or frightening images; may or may not lead to waking up.


  • Lucid dreaming
  • Pre-lucid dreaming
  • Directed dreaming
  • Looping
  • Non-realism
  • Dissociation
  • Sleep paralysis


Link to REM Sleep:

  • False awakenings often occur when REM sleep is interrupted.
  • Conditions causing sleep fragmentation: insomnia, sleep apnea, periodic limb movements, narcolepsy, environmental disruptions.


  • Research suggests false awakenings may be linked to a mental state called protoconsciousness during REM sleep.

Coping and Treatment:

  • False awakenings are generally not linked to any illness.
  • Good sleep hygiene is crucial to prevent them.
  • If disturbing dreams persist, consult a healthcare provider or sleep specialist.
  • Dream rehearsal therapy and medications like Minipress may be recommended.

Techniques to Wake Up from a Dream:

  • Self-suggestion to wake up.
  • Focusing on moving body parts or blinking rapidly.
  • Complex actions like running or jumping.

Dream Deprivation:

  • False awakenings involve thinking you've awakened while still dreaming, with varying degrees of realism.

In summary, false awakenings are a fascinating aspect of sleep, and while often harmless, they can be distressing. Understanding the types, symptoms, causes, and coping mechanisms is essential for anyone experiencing them regularly. If needed, consulting a healthcare professional or sleep specialist for further guidance is recommended.

Are You Awake or Asleep? The Funny Paradox of False Awakenings (2024)


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