Dreams vs Reality: How Do You Know Which Is Which?

The email read, “My dreams are so real I often do not know if I am really dreaming or in another dimension. How can I tell?”

Have you ever hear the saying, “Pinch yourself awake” or “Pinch yourself to see if you are awake?” or that old cliché, “pinch me, I must be dreaming.” There is a reason for that. Pain is the answer. Some studies indicate that it is rare and that it may be beyond the representational capability of dreaming. An example is this excerpt taken from The Neurocritic Blogspot.

Once I dreamed I was lying on my stomach, getting a tattoo on my calf against my will. Because it was a particularly malevolent tattoo studio, I cried out in the dream. When I woke up, I felt no pain at all.

The pain in the dream woke the dreamer, but in the waking world, the pain was nonexistent.

Dreams can be as vivid as reality while you are in the dream state, and that is why one of the types of dreams we can have are known as Waking Dreams.  We think we have awakened, are preparing for work or school as we do on a daily basis, and then see when the bus doors open that the driver is Harry Potter. Ding-ding! We wake up and have to pinch ourselves to be sure it was a dream and that now we really are awake.

Pain is reality.

Pain can wake us up from a dream to remind us that we were dreaming. We may dream of pain but not feel the pain. For example, we may dream that our hand is on fire. We may watch as the blazes engulf our hand, yet feel no pain. We may even comment to ourselves in the dream that the fire is quite beautiful. However, if our hand begins to feel hot or uncomfortable, it will usually wake us from the dream.

Reality has validation.

In most cases, reality can be validated in the waking world. There are real-life consequences. If you drop a raw egg on a hard kitchen floor, you can guess consequence. Just the thought may make you cringe. In a dream, the floor might suddenly open up and swallow the egg, or the egg could bounce, grow wings and fly away, all of which would not cause the dreamer to even bat an eye. It is this, Alice in Wonderland  Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, that makes these dreams so amusing.

However, you can have a Precognitive Dream that is validated in reality, such as a medical report confirming that a diagnostic dream you had was an early warning sign for a disease.  Your vivid Lucid Dream that is validated during your waking like is part of your reality. Many examples of this type of validated dreaming grounded in reality are in the book Dreams That Can Save Your Life: Early Warning Signs of Cancer and Other Diseases and is based on the Breast Cancer Research that was performed on eighteen women whose precognitive and diagnostic dreams diagnosed their breast cancer that was later validated by pathology reports. The research was done by Duke University Radiologist Dr. Larry Burk and has been published in a number of medical journals.

Reality is grounded.

An example of how reality is grounded would be not flying through the air with just our bodies when we are awake. This is an extension of the rule explaining how reality has validation.

According to Psychology Today, flying may represent a sense of freedom from reality. A flying dream can serve as a sort of escape from the pressures of the waking world which is represented by the ground. This is an example of the play-on-words often represented in dreams. In reality, a plane is grounded when weather conditions do not permit flight. In a dream, we may be grounded when life becomes too burdensome to allow us freedom. Or, in a dream, much like a bird, we may take flight from a disturbing situation. Just because we can be free as a bird and fly away does not mean we can do so in the reality of our waking world.

Reality can be relative to the environment in which it is experienced.

And that brings us back to the first statement in this article, a dream to the dreamer may feel as real during that reality as our waking life feels to us during our daily reality. I hope these explanations help to answer your question concerning dreams vs. reality and how to know the difference.

Article Resources:
The Phenomenology Of Pain During Rem Sleep – Blogger
Abstract-Sleep. 1993 Aug;16(5):490-8.Pain in dreams.Nielsen TA1, McGregor DL, Zadra A, Ilnicki D, Ouellet L.-
Pain In Dreams. – National Center For Biotechnology ..,
Dreams That Can Save Your Life-


Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kathleen (Kat) O’Keefe-Kanavos is the award-winning author of Surviving Cancerland, and co-author of Dreams That Can Save Your Life. She’s a three-time cancer survivor, and co-publisher/editor of WEBE Books Publishing. Her dreams diagnosed her illness as seen on Dr. Oz, Doctors, NBC News, American Express Open, in Newspapers and magazines. She’s a Contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul, TV/Radio Host/Producer- Dreaming Healing on DV7Radio/TV Network, Wicked Housewives On Cape Cod™, Kat Kanavos Show, Internationally Syndicated Columnist in BIZCATALYST 360°, Dream Columnist in Positive Tribe Magazine, and Desert Health Magazine, Keynote Speaker, Performance Coach who taught Special Ed & Psychology @USF, and Lecturer who promotes patient advocacy and Spiritual guidance. She is co-author to the inspiring books; Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change and Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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