Lesson #268: False Awakenings

Once in a while — every six months or so — I have false awakenings. Mostly, this will happen if I’m taking a nap rather than in the middle of a full night’s sleep.

I didn’t actually know what this was called until today, when I was trying to explain it to a friend of mine who has never experienced it. She referenced the movie Inception, which isn’t altogether inaccurate because there is that kick when your brain goes “oh…I’m not actually awake” and kicks you into consciousness. Or into another iteration.

The reason it came up today is because I had an episode of false awakening this morning. I had gotten up early to let the guy coming to deal with my screens in and when he didn’t show, given that I’m a night owl and had had about four hours of sleep, I went back to bed for a quick snooze before actually starting my day. Now, I  experience multiple false awakenings. There are anywhere from two to four iterations of the awakening before I really actually wake up. I very rarely wake up after the first iteration, though the more iterations, the more likely that I am aware of the fact that I’m still asleep and trying to find a way to wake myself up — this usually involves trying to do a more complex task that requires far more brainpower than is accessible while one is asleep. Honestly, those iterations are the worst because you know you’re asleep and you want to wake up and you can’t. Psychologists love this sort of stuff because apparently it allows for a conscious examination of the subconscious. For me, there’s a very conscious feeling of being trapped and a panic that starts to creep in. It’s not fun. I don’t want to explore my subconscious, I want to wake up.

If you’ve never experienced a false awakening, it’s incredibly disconcerting. Essentially what’s happening is that your brain suddenly thinks it’s awake and that you’re going about your normal routine. But there’s always something that’s not right. Not something major, but something just a bit off. I’ll use today’s iterations as an example.

Iteration 1: I woke up, reached for my glasses, went to the bathroom, went downstairs and got a glass of milk and noticed that one of the books on the bookshelf next to the stairs was upside down. This prompted my brain to kick and send me into…

Iteration 2: I woke up, reached for my glasses, went to the bathroom, went downstairs and got a glass of milk, played some Beethoven on the piano, — a piece I know from memory, so there was no actual reading required — heard the mailman knock on the door, but couldn’t open it. This prompted my brain kick again, sending me into…

Iteration 3: This is where it gets hinky because this is where my brain went and changed it up. I woke up, reached for my glasses, messed with the curtains and then heard someone’s keys jingling in the lock.* I’m not expecting anyone, so I go to investigate and get to the top of the stairs and my dad is standing there.

My dad’s presence in the dream is what finally kicked me into consciousness. Because a. my dad doesn’t have the key to my house (because he lives nowhere near me) and b. he would never just show up here without telling me he was coming.

When I do finally wake up, it’s always a jolt. There’s a rush of adrenaline and in the instances in which I’ve been aware within the dream that I was asleep and unable to wake up, a sense of relief.

There’s not a lot of good literature about false awakenings online, so I can’t really offer up any reading in good faith. It’s a lot of people writing about how to wire your brain to do it and how much fun it is. I don’t enjoy it so much as I find that it completely throws off my day. I suspect this is because it happens so infrequently and it’s almost never just the one iteration; I have to do it over and over again before I can get myself out of it.

Perhaps I need to invest in a small top…

*This in itself is odd, but not impossible — two of my friends have a key to my place.

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