You may have wondered at some point in your life whether you were dreaming or not. In certain situations reality can become difficult to distinguish from the imagination, especially during very vivid dreams or in altered mental states .
The tips we will describe in this article can be very useful if you ever find yourself in this type of circumstance. These methods for detecting whether we are awake or asleep are known as “reality tests.
When are reality tests useful?
In general, the difficulty in distinguishing between dreams and reality is not very common. However, any person can ask themselves this question if they are in a highly stressful situation, such as when traumatic or very strange events occur , or under the effects of the consumption of drugs and other psychoactive substances.
Injuries and bruises also make it easier for feelings of unreality to appear. For example, loss of contact with reality can occur after a traffic accident that causes a head injury.
Confusion about this issue is more likely to arise in childhood, since familiarity with the perception of reality is lower. Something similar happens in cases of psychotic disorders, which can cause vivid hallucinations that are difficult to distinguish from dreamlike experiences.
On the other hand, people who try to have lucid dreams and control them can find themselves in realistic dreams, particularly in false awakening loops that can be very anxious. Onironautes can especially benefit from the reality tests described below.
How do I know if I’m dreaming?
When used as a tool to control lucid dreams, reality tests are practiced in real life until they become a habit, so that they appear naturally during sleep; this makes the person realize that he or she is dreaming, the first step in managing dream life.
Similar strategies can be useful in case of confusing reality and dream for any of the reasons we have seen in the previous section. You will also be interested in these reality tests if you simply want to know more about the “rules” of the dream world. The effectiveness of each test may vary from person to person.
1. Ask yourself if you are dreaming
Although it seems obvious, within dreams asking if one is dreaming is a key step in detecting it. The effectiveness of the other reality tests increases if we ask ourselves this question while performing them. This advice is less applicable if the confusion is not due to the practice of lucid dreams, realistic nightmares, etc.
2. Observe your environment
When you are not sure whether you are awake or dreaming, look around and look for typical dream signs, especially inconsistencies in your surroundings. For example, you may realise that you are in a place you have never been to before or that the people you are with have already died or are fictional characters.
A useful sign for people with vision problems is to check if you can see perfectly even without glasses. Sometimes this effect can be confusing because of the blurred sensation that many people experience in their dream world.
3. Look at your hands and face
In dreams the image we see of ourselves tends to be distorted. Looking at and touching your hands is a particularly useful method to check this: if you have more than five fingers or can put a finger across your palm, you are most likely dreaming.
Looking in a mirror is another effective reality test ; you may notice that you have an unrecognizable haircut, that your reflection does not correspond to the image you have of yourself or does not remain stable, or that you are of a different age than the real one.
4. Breathe with a blocked nose
This reality test is less well known than others we have listed but it is one of the most effective. In dreams we can almost always breathe even if our nose is blocked, we are in the water, or any other circumstance that should prevent us from breathing in properly.
5. Compare with everyday life
Check if your actions are consistent with what you do on a daily basis and if the environment responds as you would expect it to. Are you wearing clothes that are appropriate for the context in which you are? Do you remember how you got here? Does this situation usually occur in your daily life? Do the switches work properly?
6. Try reading or looking at a clock
In dreams, when we read a text, we avert our eyes and look at it again. The same happens with clocks, which can also help us if we evaluate the possibility that the time they indicate is correct.
7. Check if you have “powers”
The world of dreams can be modified at will; obviously real life does not work from the same world. Try levitating, moving objects with your mind , teleporting to another place, making a flame appear in the palm of your hand or invoking a person or imaginary creature. If you succeed, enjoy your powers, if only until you wake up.