Waking up in VR

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Waking up in virtual reality (VR) refers to the experience of waking up in a virtual world after falling asleep while still wearing a head-mounted display (HMD) with a VR application running. This can occur by chance or willingly. Virtual reality headset manufacturers do not recommend spending more than a few hours in VR at a time, with regular breaks included. [1]

Users of VR have been waking up in VR for years; some of them have been sleeping and waking up in a virtual environment to test the limits of VR as an experience and see the effects it can have to those that immerse themselves in it. Others have fallen asleep by chance, probably due to fatigue, boredom, or because they are in a relaxing virtual environment. [1]

In general, users report sleeping and waking up in VR as a ‘bizarre experience’ and that “when you wake up with a VR world around you, your brain doesn’t really question its surroundings.” Some compared it to waking up in a strange hotel room; not necessarily recognizing the surroundings immediately but assuming its reality. There is a sense of confusion in the first seconds after awakening, where users try to understand where they are and do a reality check. Jason Macnaughton, who took a nap wearing his VR headset, wrote that his first thoughts upon waking up were, “did I get really drunk last night? Where the hell am I? How did I get here? Is this a dream.” He experimented waking up in different virtual environments for some months: different locations around the world, the planet Mars, a website, and even waking up in 360-degree recordings of moments of his life. According to the author, these experiments resulted in “confusing life with memories.” [1] [2]

From these experiments, users report that the more senses are used when entering into the virtual environments, the more intense the transition experiences are. With current technology, this means engaging the visual, audio, and haptic senses. It was also noted that, after repeatedly experimenting with waking up in VR, when waking on normal reality the brain took a few seconds longer to understand where the person was, and if it was indeed real. Some have also noted an increase in their visualization ability. [2]

The experience of waking up inside a virtual reality can also be profound. A reddit user reported that “I just awoke sitting in a spaceship looking at Saturn, and I didn't know what was going on. My body melted into the avatar in-game. I felt this weird feeling wash over me, and everything in-game felt 10000 times more real - like a heightened reality. I felt like I could feel the cold space, or the heat of the sun, or the zero gravity lifting me up. My brain started to finally process and I began realizing I still had the Rift attached to me and this was a game. The feeling lasted for another minute or so until I began realizing everything. Even without that "feeling" the game still felt amazing because of how good the rift is, but for that brief moment of waking up in the rift, I could feel the actual reality of the virtual world.” Another one, fell asleep while playing ETS2 and woke up in a ditch with a crashed car in front of him. He thought that he “actually had a massive crash at the wheel of a truck. Crazy feeling.” [3] [4]

As VR technology evolves, it is expected that immersion will increase to a level that could be indistinguishable from reality. This could mean that, in the future, the user could have difficulties in distinguishing the virtual from the real when waking up, prolonging the time until he realizes that he is, in fact, inside a simulation. It is possible that future VR HMDs will have safety features that shut off the VR apps when it detects that the user has fallen asleep. [2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Martindale, J. (2017). 48 hours in virtual reality is not as bad as you might think. Retrieved from https://www.digitaltrends.com/virtual-reality/living-in-vr-48-hours/
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Macnaughton, J. (2016). Where am I? Waking up in virtual reality. Retrieved from https://vrtodaymagazine.com/experimentswithvr/
  3. Reddit (2014). So, I fell asleep wearing the rift...and woke up to a crazy experience. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/oculus/comments/1oe33h/so_i_fell_asleep_wearing_the_riftand_woke_up_to_a/
  4. Reddit (2016). Where Am I? Waking Up in virtual reality. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/oculus/comments/55iz6o/where_am_i_waking_up_in_virtual_reality/

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