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What Is False Awakening and Lucid Dreaming?


Have you ever woken up only to find that you are still dreaming? This is a common sleep event known as false awakening. 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.


Sleep scientists divide false awakenings into two types:1

Type 1 false awakening is a dream state in which nothing special happens. The dreamer may be 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.1

 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 dreaming2

Pre-lucid dreaming: When a dreamer starts to wonder if they are dreaming (even if they don't become fully lucid)2

Directed dreaming: When a person in a lucid dream takes control over what happens in the dream2

Looping: When a person keeps "waking up" again and again in a dream3

Non-realism: Such as when things that don't make sense in a dream (such as spaces with impossible proportions) or the dreamer cannot do things (like talk or scream)2

Dissociation: An out-of-body experience in which the dreamer perceives the dream as an outside observer3

Sleep paralysis: The temporary inability to move or speak after waking up4


Although false awakenings are very common, the symptoms can vary from one person to the next. The dream may be mundane or scary, realistic or non-realistic, or lucid or non-lucid,

 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 even if if the dreamer isn't aware of this. This is a form of sleep fragmentation, also known as divided sleep.3

It is thought that when REM sleep is disturbed, the person may be partially conscious even if they remain in a dream state.3

Causes of sleep fragmentation include:5

Insomnia: A common sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep

Sleep apnea: A disorder in which there are frequent and/or lengthy gaps in breathing during sleep

Periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS): The repetitive jerking, cramping, or twitching of the legs during sleep

Narcolepsy: A disorder in which a person will suddenly fall asleep

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.


False awakenings are thought to be caused by subtle breaks in REM sleep. Causes of fragmented sleep include insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and a noisy environment.

 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. But if a dream recurs and is very upsetting, it can lead to anxiety, depression, somniphobia (the fear of going to sleep), and sleep deprivation.

If this occurs, ask your doctor 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).6

The high blood pressure drug (Minipress) prazosin is also sometimes used to reduce nightmares in people with PTSD.6