False awakening (FA) dreams are double dreams; sleepers dream about sleeping and waking up from the dream, while in reality they are still sleeping. This is a false belief that eventually leads to the realization that the prior wake was part of a dream1,2,3. During the period of the first dream, sleepers are aware that they are dreaming. This is owing to changes in their conscious state; they wake up and find out from the dream that they are still dreaming, all within the original dream itself4. This type of dreaming behavior is rather close to lucid dreaming.
Polyphasic sleeping experiences from multiple community members reported several incidents with this Inception-style dreaming. Whether the dream-inducing mechanism of polyphasic sleeping gives rise to more bizarre dreaming outcomes is under investigation. The human body can wake up on its own after a dreamy REM nap (before the alarm goes off) in many cases; this includes both those who are adapting and adapted to said polyphasic schedules, even though the nap only lasts for 20 minutes on many schedules.
- How does the human mind cope with intense dreaming via polyphasic sleeping?
- Is getting a lot of REM sleep during small naps a form of perpetual sleep deprivation (by mainstream science)?
- If this is true, how can certain polyphasic sleepers last for years on different schedules without showing signs of sleep deprivation?
There is definitely some motivation after the ability to experience the most otherworldly dreams from polyphasic sleeping; regardless, these questions need extensive future research to understand false awakening dreams in polyphasic sleeping.
An exemplary incident in the polyphasic community
“Damn, crazy dream I had just now. The events themselves are not that important though.
I basically had a layered dream like in Inception. Like, I dreamt and woke up from the dream; I dreamt that I laid in bed having woken up from the dream. This happened at least twice, with the end of the nap being the most illustrative example, I believe. I dreamt that I was feeling threatened by someone and about to engage in combat. I started growling more bestially than I could right now in real life.
Then I woke up, laying in bed, still growling. Then I actually woke up from that. While falling asleep, at one moment I felt the upper part of the headband I use to cover my eyes flapping like it was hit by a really strong gust of wind. Except that my room does not have such insulation. A bit later, I experienced a somewhat similar sensation, closest to perceiving a sound inside my head. It also felt like moving rapidly from one side to the other like a strong gust of wind.”
– Hackerman, a polyphasic sleeper who was adapting to E3-extended (5.5h total). Reported on February 25, 2020 from the Discord.
A brief analysis
Hackerman reported this incident upon his awakening from the 20 minute nap at 11:00 AM on his schedule. We know this is a beneficial time for REM sleep. This dreaming incident matches the description of an FA dream.
- Hackerman thought that he woke up from his nap, but that was still a dream. He did not actually wake up in reality.
- This sleeper also expressed astonishment upon awakening, prompting him to log it almost immediately.
- He sent the report ~13 minutes upon awakening, with a decently long text and detailed descriptions of the events.
- Considering that it took some time to log the encounter and finally send the message, such lucid-like experience did not seem to cause much brain fog or sleep inertia upon awakening; it rather caused him to snap out of the dream by the time the alarm went off. He would then become alert almost on the spot.
- With the details fresh on the mind, Hackerman reported that the experience was at least positive (despite its eeriness) with an entirely new dreaming exposure.
- Most remarkably, Hackerman was on Day 20 when he had this encounter (with very minor oversleeping up to this point). This suggests that he was on the borderline of Stage 3; this is when repartitioning occurs and REM naps become common. It is only reasonable that he was able to effectively nap by that time. He woke up from a REM nap and recalled vivid details of the dreams.
One relevant question is whether false awakening dreams always bring back positive or mind-blown experiences. A lot of polyphasic sleepers, whether beginner or veteran, have encountered false awakening dreams and shown great interest in lucid dreaming.
How to produce false awakening dreams
Sleep Disturbance & External Stimuli Simulation
One study suggested that to create FA dream instances, it is necessary to disturb sleepers in their sleep. For example, walking into the room of the sleeper, making some noises, touching them or prodding them to create a “suggestive” environment of FA5. Another note is that this whole simulation process should repeat at least intermittently, once every 30 minutes or 2 hours. This process resulted in 4 different possibilities:
- The sleeper wakes up (in reality, real awakening)
- Not awakened (in SWS/REM sleep, no response to external stimuli)
- Partially became conscious during SWS but went back to sleep (zombie mode)
- Partially became conscious during REM and returned to that state.
Among these 4 possibilities, option 4 has the highest chance to create an FA instance5. This procedure is a compelling approach because it takes advantage of REM sleep, where the most vivid dreaming occurs.
However, this is a human-assisted method to generate FA dreams. No known methods of dreaming to date are reliable enough to help polyphasic sleepers create FA encounters on their own. Theoretically, mastering lucid dreaming with practice can achieve the goal, but how much, and to what extent, is unknown.
Randomness of FA dreams?
Back to the previous case, Hackerman was a new polyphasic sleeper and had never been a lucid dreamer his whole life. The incident occurred randomly in one nap.
- One reason for the occurrence was because of sleep deprivation and intense REM pressure; this would help build up vivid dreaming and an FA dream happened.
- Besides Hackerman, other polyphasic sleepers also reported false awakening dreams. However, they were mostly on very extreme schedules, e.g, nap-only type or rigorous sleep reduction compared to monophasic baseline.
- Interestingly, very few cases of FA dreams were after the adaptation phase. Additionally, all these FA dreams appear to be harmless. However, the exact data is unknown. It is impossible to draw any correlations regarding FA dream frequency between during and after the adaptation phase.
Can false awakening dreams get ugly?
Although normal FA dreams are mild, some can be very disturbing when sleepers become conscious. Because of conflicting reports of different FA dreams, FA dreams contain 2 different types. Type 1 is very casual and common, while and type 2 is more unpleasant3.
Type 1: The sleeper dreams that they wake up from their sleep. They however continue their habitual routines to start the day (using monophasic sleep as an example). No imagery from this layered dream appears to be disgusting or nightmare-fueled materials. Finally, the sleeper rises from their slumber without feeling tense or fearful.
Type 2: Similar start as type 1. This is except that the atmosphere is tense, horrifying and potentially suffocating. For example, waking up in a demonic dimension with the appearance of ghostly beings or monsters. This in a way resembles sleep paralysis experiences.
Both types result in a change in consciousness, as the dreamer becomes aware that they are dreaming. Furthermore, these experiences closely resemble Out-of-Body Experiences.
False awakening loops
FA dreams can also result in a loop; this is a brief period of “wake” in a dream that can result in another sequence of FA dreams5. This scenario is often terrifying anecdotally, especially if the loop appears to be endless or repeat after themselves on a regular basis.
- The methods to end the loop or get out of these FA dreams rely on the dreamer’s ability to manipulate their own dreams (the ability to control lucid dreams)5. For example, “willing” themselves to be in a different room, checking the accuracy of the surroundings around themselves, attempting to slightly move their body, trying to fly up or sink through the bed (probably to slip into the familiar dimension), and several others.
- More research on FA dreams is important to precisely determine ways to reliably end scary FA dreams.
So far, very few polyphasic sleepers in the community have ever reported to be trapped in an extended FA loop.
- The loop mostly lasts for 2-3 cycles at most.
- They also do not encounter FA dreams on a regular basis.
- No polyphasic sleepers have ever stated any reasons to avoid or stop polyphasic sleeping because of FA dreams. This does not matter if they have encountered these dreams or only heard about them.
- Some are even genuinely fond of these dreams.
Another question is that if intense REM naps are always present on extreme polyphasic schedules, is it truly a healthy and efficient way to sleep? The body has to cut out light sleep to accommodate for REM sleep.
FA dreams showcase interesting experiences for polyphasic dreamers, especially those who have been familiar with lucid dreaming. However, FA dreams’ mechanisms still need more research to answer in the context of polyphasic sleeping.
Despite being more popular than sleep paralysis, FA dreams usually pose no threats to polyphasic sleepers. Therefore, certain negative experiences with FA dreams should not be a reason to avoid polyphasic sleeping.
Main author: GeneralNguyen
Page last updated: 28 December 2020
- Buzzi, Giorgio. “False Awakenings in Light of the Dream Protoconsciousness Theory: A Study in Lucid Dreamers.” International Journal of Dream Research, 31 Oct. 2011, pp. 110–116, journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/IJoDR/article/view/9085, 10.11588/ijodr.2011.2.9085. Accessed 3 Mar. 2020.
- Tholey, P. (1983). Techniques for Inducing and Manipulating Lucid Dreams. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 57(1), 79–90. doi:10.2466/pms.19126.96.36.199.
- Nielsen, Tore A., and Antonio Zadra. “Nightmares and Other Common Dream Disturbances.” Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, pp. 926–935, www.academia.edu/17104927/Nightmares_and_Other_Common_Dream_Disturbances. Accessed 3 Mar. 2020.
- Krippner, S., & Faith, L. (2001). Exotic dreams: A cross-cultural study. Dreaming, 11(2), 73–82. doi:10.1023/a:1009480404011.
- Hearne, Keith. “A Suggested Experimental Method of Producing False—Awakenings with Possible Resulting Lucidity on O.B.E.——The ‘Fast” (False— Awakening with State Testing) Technique.” Lucidity Letter, vol. 1, no. 4, 1982, journals.macewan.ca/lucidity/article/view/577. Accessed 3 Mar. 2020.
One thought on “False Awakening Dreams: Inception Style”
I had a disturbing dream yesterday. First I have consistently had vivid dreams and many nightmares since childhood and my parents even took me to the doctor at a young age for my continuous nightmares and diagnosed night terrors. Into adulthood I have continued to experience vivid dreams, a high percentage of nightmares and chronic insomnia. As a defense mechanism I became a lucid dreamer as many of my dreams become so frightfully uncomfortable that I have learned to identify them and change the story line to relieve the tension. However, yesterday I had a nightmare where I was being attacked by some entity and acknowledging this I tried to fight it and change the dream only to discover I could not move (in the dream) so then I tried to wake myself up. I experienced several false awakenings only to fall into the same dream (slightly different). This happened at least 5-8 times before I was able to control the dream enough to move and fight back against the person or entity harming me. However even then I would falsely awaken only to realize I was once again dreaming and once again struggling to move and fight. I was very aware these were dreams but believed each time I did wake up only to realize I was dreaming once again. This happened another 5-7 times before I truly woke up because my phone rang. I typically can direct my dreams once they become too intense but I have experienced an inability to wake a few times before, but not like this where I actually felt trapped in a continued loop of false awakenings. I am wondering if this is common or what could cause this?