Hypnagogic Hallucinations

Experiencing hallucinations is a pretty rare occurrence. Most people go through life without ever knowing what it feels like to hallucinate or have an altered perception. A large percentage of hallucinations can be tied to drug use or mental illness. However, people with sleeping disorders, such as narcolepsy, sometimes have hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations.

What the Heck is Hypnagogic?

Hypnagogic hallucinations typically happen as you fall to sleep whereas the hypnopompic occur during the waking phase. Both types are characterized by vivid dreams. Because you’re in that semi-awake stage, these perceptions seem extremely real, even with various sensations, such as auditory or touch. Oftentimes the hallucinations can be quite frightening. In fact, you may describe them as super “nightmare.”

For people regularly dealing with sleep disorders, these experiences can be both traumatic and exhausting.

Common Sleep Disorders with Hypnagogic Hallucinations

Over the years, medical researchers have found an association between sleep-related hallucinations and specific conditions.

• Sleep deprivation

When you don’t get enough sleep, your mental faculties can be negatively impacted. Your ability to process thoughts hits a speed bump because it becomes difficult to concentrate. Your judgment is also compromised because you’re not able to objectively assess the necessary situational input. Other complications include memory loss and learning difficulties.

Given this litany of side effects, it should make sense that you may become vulnerable to sleep-related hallucinations. When your body and mind cannot discern between daytime tiredness and nighttime sleep needs because it all blends into one prolonged period of tiredness, there’s a chance that the mind succumbs to hypnagogic hallucinations as you try to fall asleep.

• Stress

High levels of stress over an extended time can take a toll on you physically and emotionally. When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to keep your muscles contracted and that blocks efforts to relax. When your body is not relaxed, then your sleep is less restful, and that adds up with each stressful night.

• Narcolepsy

The main symptoms of this chronic condition is overwhelming daytime tiredness and sudden attacks of sleep. People with narcolepsy fall asleep unexpectedly or when triggered by something stressful or exciting (even sex). These sleeping bouts typically only last a few minutes, but they can happen at inopportune moments, such as driving. They also can involve sleep paralysis, which leaves people unable to move or speak both while entering an episode and coming out of one. Narcolepsy induces both hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. In fact, sometimes sufferers may act out these vivid perceptions.

Finding Relief

Diagnosing sleep-related hallucinations can be complicated, and treating them is equally challenging. Each case will have its own specific characteristics that must be taken into consideration; however, some of the care options include anticonvulsant, antidepressant or antipsychotic medications. In extreme cases, ear or brain surgery may be recommended. Additionally psychotherapy might help relieve stress so you sleep better.

Also, forming positive sleep habits couldn’t hurt. Remove electronic equipment from your bedroom—this means tablets, phones and televisions. Try to go to bed and awake around the same time every day. Avoid caffeine late in the day and save energetic exercise for the early hours. Instead, indulge in a relaxing routine before bedtime, such as shower or soak in a warm bath, mellow yoga poses with a focus on breathing, and even slipping into extra comfortable pajamas.

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