A dream within a dream can be a very confusing sensation.
If you’ve ever had the experience that you get up as usual, maybe go to shower, have breakfast or start getting dressed, only to notice something is not quite right – maybe all the towels in the bathroom have changed colours, there are only spare car parts in the pantry or you mysteriously seem to have forgotten how to do up your buttons, then you may have had a “false awakening.” Dreaming that you’re awake while sleeping may also be known as “nested dreams.”
Also known as “a dream within a dream,” false awakenings are characterised by a belief that you have woken up and started your day, only to realise that you are in fact dreaming. It is not unusual to have multiple false awakenings in one session.
Although they can be confusing and frustrating, false awakenings can provide a useful trigger to understand how we change consciousness throughout sleeping and dreaming. False awakenings give us the opportunity to question how we know dreams from waking life, how we define reality and what assumptions we make about the nature of consciousness. Some people use false awakenings to become “lucid” or aware in their dreams. Other people believe from this state they can astral travel. Whatever your belief or approach, false awakenings do at the very least show that sometimes at least, our own mind is able to fool us quite convincingly!
If you find your self in a situation where you aren’t sure if you are dreaming or not, look at a digital clock (like a clock radio beside the bed) or a digital watch, then look away, then look back. If you find the numbers have moved in a surprising way, you can be pretty sure you are dreaming. Another good test is to try and read something. For some reason that no-one yet seems to be able to explain, it appears that reading continually and accurately in a dream is very rare and difficult. If the letters sneak around and change into fanciful shapes and movements, you can rest assured you are in a dream. (By the way, if anyone knows more about the the reason you can’t read in dreams, please let me know!) Other cues, such as trying to taste food, looking at your hands, or doing a complex task like tying shoelaces can also help reveal whether you in a dream within a dream.
I have been unable to find a scientific reason for why false awakenings occur, although reports do seem to indicate there may be a relationship with lucid dreaming and potentially sleep paralysis. On a symbolic level, a dream within a dream may occur when you feel “stuck in life and unable to move on from a situation that you wish you could. Or these dreams may be insisting that you have some unfinished business, and you must address whatever it is before you will be able to move forward.
If you do have a false awakening (or many), you can look at it as an opportunity to examine your preconceptions, to engage with your dreams in a new interesting manner, and maybe even find new clues as to how your subconscious engages with your conscious mind. If you are lucky, you may even stay aware in your dream long enough to enjoy it! And it may be the start of a fabulous journey of lucid dreaming…