Being fooled by false awakenings

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One of the dream state phenomena that people sometimes confuse with lucid dreaming is false awakening. This is the experience of realizing you are dreaming and then waking up, or so you think, because after you thought you woke up you start to notice things aren’t right and are perhaps quite surreal. That’s when you realize you are still dreaming and then wake up for real…or did you? People can get stuck in this cycle of false awakenings, each time not really waking at all but continuing to dream until they realize it and have another false awakening, and so on. The experience can be quite disturbing because you may start to have a sense of panic that you can never really wake up.

It may seem that a dream in which you have a false awakening is a lucid dream, but not really, because in fact you are still dreaming and don’t know it, therefore you are not really lucid. To enter lucid dreaming state you need to have a mental trick you can reliably use as a reality test in case you have a false awakening. Such lucid dreaming techniques can be learned.

If you have frequent false awakenings you will want to learn how to become lucid so avoid the cycle of false awakenings that may happen repeatedly in the same night and cause you to become very tired and frightened.

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Is lucid dreaming addictive?

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The power of lucid dreaming is in the mental training it can provide to enable you to achieve power in waking life. After having trained to the point of being able to induce lucid dreams at will, a person may find it hard to resist the attraction of controlling their dreams just for fun. For them it may become a kind of safe drug or a sort of virtual reality system they can turn on and off at will. Some researches have cautioned that people with a tendency toward obsessive behavior may begin to overly indulge in lucid dreaming. It is easy to understand why, because lucid dreams are as vivid and realistic and real life experiences yet they are under the skilled dreamer’s control so they are able to experience fantastic things that they would unlikely experience in waking life. Lucid dreaming can become an escape from waking life and in that sense it can become a negative influence.

If you have trained yourself for lucid dreaming and reached the stage where you can induce them at will you may want to observe yourself some some signs of this addiction. If you find that you are spending more time asleep than actually needed, or that you are thinking more about lucid dreams than your real waking life then you may be falling into an addictive behavior.  However, much as with other behaviors, a stronger indication is if other parts of your life begin to suffer. If so then you should focus more on constructive use of lucid dreaming and less time spent manipulating your dreams for entertainment only.

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Lucid dreaming differs from other dream states

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There are a number of commonly described mental states that occur during dreaming, including out of body experiences (OBE) and false awakenings. These dream states are usually quite vivid and realistic but they are distinct from lucid dreams because the dreamer is not truly aware they are dreaming during the experience.

False awakening is a dream in which you dream you wake up when in fact you are still asleep and dreaming. Many people have disturbing or even amusing stories to tell of their own false awakenings. Even dream researchers have documented their experiences, like the French zoologist Yves Delage, writing in 1919, described how he had heard a knock at his door and a friend calling for his help. He jumped out of bed, went to wash quickly with cold water, and when that woke him up he realized he had been dreaming. The events in his dream happened four times before he finally actually woke up still in his bed.

A common false awakening dream is where the dreamer experiences a common arduous or stressful task, such as a difficult trek to work or tortuous daily routine, only to wake up and find out they were dreaming and have to go through the whole thing for real. Researchers have discovered that false awakenings can actually be used to induce out of body experiences. And for many people OBEs and lucid dreams are practically indistinguishable, meaning they are lucid and actually able to guide the direction of the dream. However, these cases are not actually lucid dreams because the dreamer actually believes the OBE is occuring rather than recognizing it is actually a dream state.

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Is lucid dreaming a unique physiological state?

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Dream researchers have long sought to determine if lucid dreaming is identifiable by a unique physiological state. Whereas normal dreaming is known to be accompanied by changes in breathing and eye movement, particularly REM or rapid eye movement, the question of whether lucid dreaming has a different set of observable physical changes. Results so far indicate that there is no such distinction just as there are no physical markers for other altered states such as out-of-body experiences and trances.

The onset of a lucid dream dream is marked by eye movement, pauses in breathing, brief changes in heart rate, and skin response changes, but there is no unique combination that allows the lucidity to be identified by an observer. It seems that with some regularity lucid dreaming can be predicted based on waking events and conditions such as heightened anxiety or stress.

It seems that once the brain is sufficiently aroused it is possible to use critical thought to become aware that it is a dream and hence become lucid. But no unique cortical events have been identified during sleep that would mark lucid dreams as different than regular dreams.


Origin of the term lucid dream

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The term lucid dreaming was coined by Dutch author and psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in his 1913 article “A Study of Dreams”. His paper was not viewed as particularly well founded in scientific method. Nonetheless the term stuck and came into regular use after some time even though other perhaps more accurate terms have been used to name this dreaming phenomenon. Clear dreaming and vivid dreaming are two alternate labels that have been used. The term conscious dreaming has also been applied. But as van Eeden applied lucid dreaming to mean the dreamer experienced some insight during the lucid interval it took a broader meaning that could perhaps imply therapeutic results for people suffering some types of psychoses.

Overcoming fear of flying with lucid dreams

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Some surprising results come from the ability to experience lucid dreams. One person tells his story of how he overcame his fear of flying as the result of experiencing lucid dreams.

As a child I had a recurring theme in many dreams. It was a feeling of weightlessness, usually as a result of falling from a high place in the dreams. It was always frightening and I thought naturally so because, after all, falling from a high place is dangerous and frightening.

As an adult I started to travel for business and that involved flying. My first time boarding an aircraft I gave little thought to what the experience would be like. But during descent and landing there are moments of slight weightlessness and I had a pretty bad reaction, near panic. Future trips became a harrowing experience knowing that I would have that same falling sensation near the end of each flight, or maybe even during the flight if there were sudden changes in altitude. Of course I knew it was irrational but that never seems to make a difference when a person has a phobia of some kind.

I didn’t seek help for this although it was pretty distressing. But I did start to connect my dream experiences as a child with this fear of that falling sensation. I don’t recall any specific event in real life as a child that would have given rise to those bad dreams. Maybe it was just a scene in a movie or TV show; I don’t know. Since it was causing me so much stress in my adult life it naturally was on my mind a lot. And apparently that led to a lucid dreaming experience in which for the first time I realized I was dreaming when I was having one of those falling nightmares. It was still frightening but because I was lucid I was able to stay with it by acknowledging it was only a bad dream.

Knowing nothing about lucid dreaming I didn’t think much about that first experience except that it was quite odd. And not having any training or technique for inducing lucid dreams I was unable to reproduce it again. The experience did, however, occur now and then and I found I became more and more comfortable with the sensation of falling in my dreams. And without realizing it at first I was becoming less stressed about the falling sensation during flying.

If I had had a technique for lucid dream induction and had known the benefits sooner I could have saved myself a great deal of suffering during my first years of business travel.

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Lucid dreaming as treatment for nightmares

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People who are plagued by disturbing nightmares can learn to control and greatly diminish their effect by developing lucid dreaming skills. A scientific study performed in 2006 showed that lucid dreaming could be used to reduce the frequency of nightmares, resulting in improved sleep for patients. Successful treatment came from training in lucidity skills and mnemonic lucid dream initiation, the technique in which a person resolves to have lucid dreams while awake. Then by becoming lucid during the dream a patient was much less frightened and traumatized by the nightmare. Greater continuity of restful sleep and a reduction in number of nightmares were achieved.

In some cases frequent and extreme nightmares are an indication of, or accompanied by, other serious issues. Lucid dreaming was shown to have an overall beneficial effect for patients of Australian psychologist Milan Colic who were suffering from depression, self-mutilation, and other problems in waking life. He found that experiences and understandings gained in lucid dreams could be invoked in waking life to help them deal with difficult situations and achieve success in their preferred lifes’ direction. The key is to develop lucid dreaming skills that you can apply yourself.

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3 ways lucid dreams are initiated

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Lucid dreams can begin in three different ways.

1. While involved in a normal dream you may come to realize that you are actually dreaming.

2. You may transition directly from wake state into lucid dream state without feeling that you have fallen asleep or experienced any lapse in consciousness.

3. If you have trained to do so you may simply decide that you will become lucid when you go to sleep and then have lucid dreams.

Initiation of lucid dreams at will provides you with a powerful mind training technique.

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