What are Hypnagogic Hallucinations?

Hypnagogic is the time period between a person's awakened state and when he/she is about to drift off to sleep or become drowsy. Hypnagogic state is referred to as "The Unique State of Consciousness Between Wakefulness and Sleep."

When a person is in a hypnagogic state, then he/she is only slightly aware of their surroundings and can even have dream-like thoughts. Hypnagogic hallucinations on the other hand are more vivid and life-like. A person experiencing Hypnagogic Hallucinations may see some other person who is not physically present in the room or hear a sound which does not exist. There are sensations which manifest in auditory, visual, tactile or olfactory forms when the person is about to drift off to sleep and which can be very disturbing to them. About 1 in 4 people experience hypnagogic hallucinations once in their lifetime. Hypnagogic hallucinations start in young adulthood and are rarely experienced by children.

What are Hypnagogic Hallucinations?

Hypnagogic hallucinations just like any other type of hallucinations are not real and should not be confused with a mental illness or disorder. There are certain mental states which can trigger hypnagogic hallucinations and this condition can also be caused by external factors.

Symptoms of Hypnagogic Hallucinations: How are Hypnagogic Hallucinations Manifested?

Hypnagogic hallucinations symptoms involve one of the sensory forms and visual hypnagogic hallucinations are the commonest. Hypnagogic hallucinations can last from a split second to some minutes.

  • Symptoms of Visual Hypnagogic Hallucinations: In Visual Hypnagogic Hallucinations, the person may see an image of another person or animal or some dots, shape or even a light force. All these images can be blurry or can be vivid.
  • Symptoms of Auditory Hypnagogic Hallucinations: The sounds heard in Auditory Hypnagogic Hallucinations can be soft or low, high or loud; or they can be a progressive range of noises. The person experiencing Hypnagogic Hallucinations can experience different types of sounds, such as footsteps, knock, television voices, music, animal noises, whistling, humming or even talking.
  • Symptoms of Tactile Hypnagogic Hallucinations: The person experiencing this form of Hypnagogic Hallucinations feels as if someone is touching them or something is touching them, which can be very alarming, especially if the said person is alone in bed. Tactile Hypnagogic Hallucinations consist of pain, rubbing, pressure, soft touch or a creepy-crawly feeling of bugs or spiders on you.
  • Symptoms of Olfactory Hypnagogic Hallucinations: Hallucinations involving the smell is one of the less common forms of hallucinations. In Olfactory Hypnagogic Hallucinations, the smell can be of delectable food; fresh, crisp air; smoke; or the horrible smell of human flesh burning.

What are the Causes of Hypnagogic Hallucinations?

It is difficult to isolate the causes of hypnagogic hallucinations, as each case is very unique and different. Other than this, many people are more finely attuned towards one form of the senses than others. Some of the common causes of Hypnagogic Hallucinations are:

  • Auto Symbolism: The idea behind this is that the hallucination is a form of ideas or thoughts of the patient which is then developed into a real life form or idea.
  • Rapid Eye Movement: It is thought that a state of mind, which is similar to REM, can develop the hypnagogic state resulting in the vivid hypnagogic hallucinations that are experienced by some people.
  • Consciousness: Conscious concentration on a recent thought can also cause hypnagogic hallucination. It could be a conscious thought or a subconscious thought or a combination of both.
  • Medications: There are certain medicines which can act on neurotransmitters of the brain and result in hypnagogic hallucination. These medicines include opioids, anti-depressants and sleeping pills.
  • Recreational Drugs: People who regularly use illegal drugs can experience hallucinations including hypnagogic hallucination with the use of these drugs or upon withdrawal from drugs.
  • Sleep Schedule: Having an irregular sleep schedule, such as seen in shift workers, alters brain activity and other processes of the body which can cause hypnagogic hallucinations.
  • Meditation: This type of relaxation method can be accomplished via multiple techniques. There are some methods where a person can imbed or save a particular image in his/her brain, which they can bring to life when in hypnagogic state.
  • Sleep Position: Hypnagogic hallucinations can occur depending on the position of the body in which the person is sleeping. Sleeping when lying on the back is a common position for those who experience terrifying hypnagogic hallucinations.
  • Memory: Hypnagogic hallucination can occur as a result of a memory which the brain has held on to for the short-term, immediate or long-term basis.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions can cause hypnagogic hallucinations and these include brain damage, severe stress or anxiety, trauma, learning disabilities, neurodegenerative diseases, sleep disorders, mental illness, narcolepsy and epilepsy.
  • Sensory Deprivation: Changes in one or more of the senses can cause a hypnagogic hallucination. A good example of this occurring is with the use of floatation tank or ear buds.

Treatment of Hypnagogic Hallucinations

Treatment of hypnagogic hallucinations depends on the severity of the hallucinations and whether they are interfering with daily activities of the affected person. Treatment of hypnagogic hallucinations also depends on the cause of the hallucinations. Medical consultation should be sought in cases where the hypnagogic hallucinations are caused by existing health conditions or prescribed medications. Melatonin and valerian root are natural sleep supplements which can help with maintaining a regular sleep schedule and keep hypnagogic hallucinations at bay. It is best to consult your physician to find out what is causing your hypnagogic hallucinations and how to treat them best.

Given below are some tips which will help in managing, alleviating or preventing hypnagogic hallucinations:

  • Limiting alcohol consumption.
  • Follow a regular sleep schedule.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Cut down on stress.
  • Drink lot of water and keep yourself hydrated.
  • Do breathing exercises when in bed.
  • Use a night light when sleeping.
  • Wear a sleeping mask.
  • Never ever use recreational drugs.
  • Maintain a sleep journal.
Hypnagogic Hallucinations: CONCLUSION

Hypnagogic hallucinations can be terrifying for the person experiencing them; however, it is important to remember that hypnagogic hallucinations are not real and are actually harmless. It is important to stay calm and not to panic when experiencing them. Some of you may have to learn to accept it as part of your thinking process. It is best to consult your medical advisor to come up with the best way to deal with these hallucinations.

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Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: August 28, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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