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Sleep-Related Laughter (Hypnogely): Causes, Phenomenon & Insights

Laughing while Asleep: An Overview

Laughing during sleep, often referred to as sleep-related or sleep-induced laughing, is a phenomenon that happens across all age groups. Classified under parasomnias — unwanted behaviors or experiences during sleep — this spontaneous laughter can vary from gentle giggling to pronounced laughter. It frequently leaves observers and the person experiencing it curious. The underlying causes of this phenomenon offer a deeper understanding of the human brain during sleep.

Is it Normal to Laugh While Being Asleep?

Is it Normal to Laugh While Being Asleep?

Known as hypnogely, laughing during sleep is common and is particularly delightful when observed in babies. While typically harmless, in certain instances, it might suggest an underlying neurological concern. (1,2)

The majority of sleep laughter episodes relate to dream experiences, especially during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, where vivid dreaming occurs. This REM stage is marked by muscle atonia, which prevents movement in response to dreams. Sleep laughing is more prevalent in the latter hours of the night and can sometimes rouse the individual. Research, despite challenges with underreporting, indicates its commonality. For example, a study noted that 33% to 44% of middle school students had experienced it within a recent six-month period. Moreover, 73% of undergraduates knew of at least one such event in a year. (1)

While usually harmless, certain cases might necessitate a deeper look to decipher the root causes. This behavior enhances our understanding of sleep and dreaming, highlighting the intricate nature of human sleep patterns.

What are the Causes and Triggers of Sleep-related Laughter?

What are the Causes and Triggers of Sleep-related Laughter?

Laughing in sleep is primarily triggered by dream experiences during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. During REM sleep, the brain is highly active, and dreams can be vivid, emotional, and sometimes bizarre or surreal. When something amusing or funny occurs in a dream, the brain may elicit a physical response, leading to laughter. (3,4)

As mentioned above, it is important to note that during REM sleep, the body experiences muscle atonia, a state of paralysis that prevents physical movements during dreams. This means that while the brain may react to the dream content by laughing, the body remains immobile.

Laughing in sleep can also be linked to non-REM sleep arousal parasomnias, where individuals experience a state that is akin to being half-asleep and half-awake. (5) These parasomnias include sleepwalking and sleep terrors, characterized by episodes that are relatively short, typically lasting less than an hour. While more prevalent in children, these parasomnias can also occur in adults. Certain factors may increase the risk of experiencing parasomnia, such as genetics, the use of sedatives, sleep deprivation, alterations in sleep schedule, and elevated stress levels. (6,7)

In most cases, sleep laughing is harmless and normal. However, certain factors may contribute to an increased likelihood of experiencing sleep laughter:

  1. Sleep Habits: Irregular sleep patterns, sleep deprivation, or disrupted sleep can affect REM sleep and potentially increase the occurrence of sleep laughing.
  2. Stress and Emotions: High levels of stress, anxiety, or strong emotions can influence dream content and potentially lead to laughter during sleep.
  3. Medications and Substances: Certain medications or substances, such as antidepressants or alcohol, may impact dream experiences and contribute to sleep laughing.
  4. Sleep Disorders: Some sleep disorders, such as REM sleep behavior disorder, narcolepsy, or sleep-related epilepsy, may be associated with increased episodes of sleep laughing.

While sleep laughing is usually harmless, it can be a sign of an underlying issue in rare cases. If sleep laughing is frequent, disruptive, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional or a sleep specialist to determine the cause and ensure overall sleep health.

Why Do Babies Laugh In Their Sleep?

Why Do Babies Laugh In Their Sleep?

It has been observed that babies often laugh in their sleep more commonly than adults. The exact cause of a baby laughing in their sleep is not fully understood. While it is uncertain whether babies dream, they do experience a sleep stage similar to REM sleep, known as active sleep.

When babies go through active sleep, their bodies may make involuntary movements, which can include smiling and laughter. Therefore, when babies laugh in their sleep, it is often considered a reflex rather than a response to a dream. (8)

However, it is essential to be aware of rare instances of gelastic seizures in infants, which can cause uncontrolled giggling during sleep. These seizures are short and can start around 10 months of age. If you observe frequent episodes of uncontrolled giggling, especially accompanied by a vacant stare or unusual bodily movements, it’s crucial to consult a pediatrician for evaluation and appropriate medical advice. (9,10)

Can Hypnogely Indicate a Neurological Disorder?

Can Hypnogely Indicate a Neurological Disorder?

In rare instances, sleep laughing can be linked to certain neurological conditions. For example, individuals with conditions like Parkinson’s disease have a higher likelihood of experiencing REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which can lead to laughing while asleep. (11)

Another neurological condition, known as hypothalamic hamartoma (HH), can cause gelastic seizures characterized by episodes of uncontrolled laughter or giggling. HH is a congenital condition, meaning individuals are born with it, and it typically emerges around 10 months of age. (12)

It is important to recognize these conditions to provide appropriate medical attention and support to individuals experiencing these rare and specific neurological phenomena.


Laughing during sleep, often referenced as sleep-related laughing or hypnogely, captivates us with its occurrence mainly during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep. While the precise reasons behind this laughter remain somewhat enigmatic, it’s predominantly seen as a reflex rather than a reaction to dream content. This spontaneous nocturnal laughter is largely benign, deeply connected to the intricate activities of the brain during dream states.

However, it’s essential to note that sporadic uncontrolled giggling in infants could indicate gelastic seizures, necessitating medical evaluation. As we delve deeper into understanding sleep’s mysteries, phenomena like sleep-related laughter continue to intrigue researchers, offering profound insights into the multifaceted realm of human sleep.


  1. Trajanovic, N.N., Shapiro, C.M. and Milovanovic, S., 2013. Sleep-laughing–Hypnogely. Canadian journal of neurological sciences, 40(4), pp.536-539.
  2. Nivendkar, M., Bhurawala, H., Troedson, C. and Liu, A., 2020. Hypnogely: A case report. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 57(9), pp.1498-1499.
  3. Peever, J. and Fuller, P.M., 2017. The biology of REM sleep. Current biology, 27(22), pp.R1237-R1248.
  4. Blumberg, M.S., Lesku, J.A., Libourel, P.A., Schmidt, M.H. and Rattenborg, N.C., 2020. What is REM sleep?. Current biology, 30(1), pp.R38-R49.
  5. Mahowald, M.W. and Bornemann, M.A.C., 2010. Non-REM arousal parasomnias. In Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine: Fifth Edition (pp. 1075-1082). Elsevier Inc..
  6. Wills, L. and Garcia, J., 2002. Parasomnias: epidemiology and management. CNS drugs, 16, pp.803-810.
  7. Irfan, M., Schenck, C.H. and Howell, M.J., 2017. Non–rapid eye movement sleep and overlap parasomnias. CONTINUUM: Lifelong Learning in Neurology, 23(4), pp.1035-1050.
  8. El Shakankiry, H.M., 2011. Sleep physiology and sleep disorders in childhood. Nature and science of sleep, pp.101-114.
  9. Téllez-Zenteno, J.F., Serrano-Almeida, C. and Moien-Afshari, F., 2008. Gelastic seizures associated with hypothalamic hamartomas. An update in the clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 4(6), pp.1021-1031.
  10. Shahar, E., Goldsher, D., Genizi, J., Ravid, S. and Keidar, Z., 2008. Intractable gelastic seizures during infancy: ictal positron emission tomography (PET) demonstrating epileptiform activity within the hypothalamic hamartoma. Journal of child neurology, 23(2), pp.235-239.
  11. Ratnasa, P.P.S., BaHammamb, A.S. and Shapiroc, C.M., 2014. Clinical Diagnosis and Evaluation.
  12. Nabizadeh, F., Pseudobulbar affect.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 1, 2023

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