A false awakening is a vivid and convincing dream about awakening from sleep, while the dreamer in reality continues to sleep. After a false awakening, subjects often dream they are performing daily morning rituals such as cooking, cleaning and eating. A subset of false awakenings, namely those in which one dreams that one has awoken from sleep that featured dreams, take on aspects of a double dream or a dream within a dream.
A false awakening may occur following a dream or following a lucid dream (one in which the dreamer has been aware of dreaming). Particularly, if the false awakening follows a lucid dream, the false awakening may turn into a "pre-lucid dream", that is, one in which the dreamer may start to wonder if they are really awake and may or may not come to the correct conclusion. In a study by Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett, 2,000 dreams from 200 subjects were examined and it was found that false awakenings and lucidity were significantly more likely to occur within the same dream or within different dreams of the same night. False awakenings often preceded lucidity as a cue, but they could also follow the realization of lucidity, often losing it in the process.
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Another type of false awakening is a continuum. In a continuum, the subject falls asleep in real life, but in the dream following, the brain simulates the subject as though they were still awake. At times the individual can perform actions unknowingly. The movie A Nightmare on Elm Street popularized this phenomenon. This phenomenon can be related to that of sleep-walking or carrying out actions in a state of unconsciousness.
Symptoms of a false awakening
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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,) or, oddly, normal types of foods gone missing. In some experiences, the subject's senses are heightened, or changed.
Because the mind still dreams after a false awakening, there may be more than one false awakening in a single dream. Subjects may dream they wake up, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, and so on; suddenly awake again in bed (still in a dream), begin morning rituals again, awaken again, and so forth. The philosopher Bertrand Russell claimed to have experienced "about a hundred" false awakenings in succession while coming around from a general anesthetic.
Types of false awakening
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Type 1 is the more common, in which the dreamer seems to wake up, but not necessarily in realistic surroundings, that is, not in their own bedroom. A pre-lucid dream may ensue. More commonly, dreamers will believe they have awakened, and then either wake up for real in their own bed or "fall back asleep" in the dream.
A common false awakening is a "late for work" scenario. A person may "wake up" in a typical room, with most things looking normal, and realize he or she overslept and missed the start time at work or school. Clocks, if found in the dream, will show time indicating that fact. The resulting panic is often strong enough to jar the person awake for real (much like from a nightmare). Another common Type 1 example of false awakening can result in bedwetting. In this scenario the dreamer has false awakened and while in the state of dream has performed all the traditional behaviors that precede urinating, including arising from bed, while still asleep and in bed.
The type 2 false awakening seems to be considerably less common. Green 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 unwonted [unusual] 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.
Charles McCreery 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 that precedes 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.
McCreery suggests this phenomenological similarity is not coincidental, and results from the idea 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 that can lead to what Ian Oswald called "micro-sleeps" in waking life.
Subjects may also experience sleep paralysis.
In popular culture
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False awakenings are sometimes used as a device in literature, and especially films, to increase "shock" effects by inducing a feeling of calm in the viewer following something disturbing.
- Two Calvin and Hobbes Sunday cartoons feature Calvin experiencing false awakenings:
- The November 19, 1989, strip features Calvin waking up from a dream, getting dressed as usual, leaving his house, tripping over a rock, and falling off a cliff, screaming as he descends. He then wakes up, finds that he had been dreaming, gets dressed as usual, and steps through the door of his house, whereupon he falls screaming through the air again. Calvin then awakens yet again, this time to the sound of his mother asking whether he is getting out of bed. He clutches the blanket fearfully, reluctant to leave the bed at all, likely because the second fall occurred earlier on his route than the first one, leading him to worry that if the pattern continues, the bed itself may be a cliff. 
- The other one has Calvin waking up, getting out of bed, preparing for school, going to school, and hearing his name called in Miss Wormwood's class--at which point the dream 'pops' and he wakes up back in bed again.
- Near the end of the season 1 episode of The Big Bang Theory "The Nerdvana Annihilation", Sheldon finds himself being eaten alive by Morlocks after traveling through time. When he wakes up, he tells Leonard that he wants to get rid of their time machine replica, which he was sleeping in. Leonard agrees to the idea, and says he brought some people to help out, who turn out to be Morlocks in janitor uniforms. Sheldon then wakes up in his real bed, and the episode ends with him running to Leonard's room, presumably to demand the same thing.
- A twist at the end of the horror film Dead of Night (1945) is an early example of a re-occurring false awakening.
- A scene in the "Lisa's Rival" episode of The Simpsons sees Lisa faint after a Saxophone battle for First Chair with her rival. She awakens and is informed she "made it", believing she made First Chair, in which Mr Largo responds with "No, you regained consciousness. Alison got First Chair." Lisa wakes up a second time, concluding the former experience was a dream, and the same events as the dream follow, in addition with "and believe me, this is not a dream!"
- In Stephen King's 2013 novel "Dr. Sleep", Danny Torrence experiences false awakening.
- The film Vanilla Sky begins with the main character having a Type 2 false awakening, achieved cinematically with "empty city" effects[how?].
- The Twilight Zone episode "Shadow Play" involved a man having a dream in which he is sentenced to die, with the various roles (judge, jury foreman, attorney, fellow inmates, etc.) being played by people from his past. At the moment he is executed, the dream restarts, with the characters shuffled. The episode was part of the original series, and re-made as part of the 1985–89 revival.
- In the first volume of Neil Gaiman's graphic novel Sandman, the newly freed Morpheus, lord of Dreams, punishes his captor, Alexander Burgess, with endless false awakening nightmares.
- In Joan Baez's "The Dream Song", the lyrics discuss a dream-within-a-dream resulting from her apparent awakening. The lyrics end "When I really woke I was frozen in between; I didn't know who I was, it was a dream inside a dream; It's all a dream."
- In the opening scene of the film Star Trek: First Contact, U.S.S. Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard has a nightmare where he relives his horrifying experience of being forcefully assimilated against his will by the film's main alien antagonists: The Borg. Picard "awakens" when the Borg are about the pierce his eye with a sharp device. Later, as Picard is washing his face, he looks into a mirror for a moment just as a metallic Borg device suddenly forms and erupts through his face, continuing the nightmarish theme of the previous dream sequence. Picard gasps in horror, and then truly awakens from his nightmare. 
- In the film Inception the central plot is about a man who goes into dreams to steal information, as the movie progresses it becomes a chain of false awakenings. The end is also made in a way to confuse the audience as to whether the central character was awake or in a stuck in a form of false awakening, as his spinning top (a "totem" to indicate whether he is dreaming or not) is shown not to topple over as the credits appear.
- The plot of the South Park episode "City on the Edge of Forever" is revealed to be a dream within a dream for Stan Marsh; he undergoes a false awakening as Cartman within his own dream.
- In Hugo the main character has a nightmare involving a train accident that he caused. When he awakens he finds that the key is still in its place; however, he has become a machine like all the clocks around him. Reality sets back in when he finally awakens to the real world.[how?]
- In The Matrix after the main character Neo is bugged, he wakes up in his bed, as if it were only a dream, while in truth his mind is still trapped in the Matrix.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice", the series' main characters are stuck in two vivid dreams that they switch back and forth from, believing that whichever dream they're in is the real one at the time, until they switch back over to the other. This continues for the entire episode until they realize that they are both dreams and kill themselves in the dreams in order to wake up.
- In iCarly, Sam is having dreams about monsters eating her soup and Spencer is asleep and "wakes up" to see the monster sitting by him over and over.
- In an episode of Smallville (S3E4), Clark experienced this when a girl in a coma, named Sarah, was psychically trying to communicate with Clark about being drugged by her Uncle to keep her in a coma.
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- Green, C. (1968). Lucid Dreams. London: Hamish Hamilton.
- Barrett, Deirdre. Flying dreams, false awakenings, and lucidity: An empirical study of their relationship. Dreaming: Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams. Vol 1(2) p. 129–134, Jun 1991.
- see Green, C., and McCreery, C. (1994). Lucid Dreaming: the Paradox of Consciousness During Sleep. London: Routledge, Ch. 10, for a discussion of this topic
- Russell, B. (1948). Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits. London: Allen and Unwin.
- Green, C. (1968). Lucid Dreams. London: Hamish Hamilton, p. 121.
- 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.
- Jaspers, K. (1923). General Psychopathology (translated by J. Hoenig and M.W. Hamilton). Manchester: Manchester University Press (first published in Germany, 1923, as Allgemeine Psychopathologie), p. 98.
- McCreery, C. (2008).  "Dreams and psychosis: a new look at an old hypothesis."] Psychological Paper No. 2008-1. Oxford: Oxford Forum.
- Oswald, I. (1962). Sleeping and Waking: physiology and psychology. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- http://www.reemst.com/calvin_and_hobbes/stripsearch?details=1463; see also Scientific Progress Goes "Boink" p. 31 and The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes p. 159.
- "Star Trek - First Contact (1996)".