Hallucinations During Sleep

Hallucinations during sleep are a phenomenon that can target any sensory perception, be it visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory or other. Hallucinations are often confused with both illusions and dreams. Hallucinations occur in the state between waking and sleeping (the person is considered to be technically asleep during these hallucinations though), as opposed to dreams or lucid dreams, which occur while asleep. Illusions occur while awake, and are classified as a sensory misrepresentation of an external stimulus, while hallucinations occur in the absence of any external stimuli. Hallucinations most often occur in the stages before or after sleep, explaining their connection as a sleep related phenomenon. Hallucinations can occur at any time, though this article will only look at hallucinations as they are connected to sleep. Hallucinations are common, most notably sleep related hallucinations, with over 10% of the population experiencing one at some point.

The two forms of sleep related hallucinations are called hypnogogic (hypnogogia) and hypnopompic (hypnopompia) hallucinations. Hypnogogic hallucinations occur just before sleep, and may be accompanied by sleep paralysis, a state in which the subject is physically immobile, but fully conscious. Hypnogogia and sleep paralysis often cause fear, moreso than in sleep paralysis during hypnopompia which is often considered as part a dream by the subject, as well as feelings of difficulty breathing and muscle tightness. Hypnopompia occurs upon waking, and may also be accompanied by sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is much more common in hypnopompia than in hypnogogia. Sleep paralysis is often confused by the person experiencing it as part of a lucid dream, which accounts for the high number of recalled dreams with elements of being frozen in place, or being unable to move. Common hypnopompic experiences include the sensation of falling and the feeling of a presence in the room.

Hallucinations can cause confusion, as they will often be indistinguishable from reality in your mind. In contrast, upon waking from a dream, most people will clearly recognize it was a dream they were experiencing, or may immediately forget about the dream entirely upon waking. Hallucinations may also cause fear, especially upon waking, as they may include clear and complex visual images, that may be distorted or make no sense realistic sense.

Sleep related hallucinations can occur in as many as 25% of people, as opposed to under 5% for non sleep related hallucinations. They are most commonly found in young adults and teens, and frequency of hallucinations seems to decrease with age. Females are more likely to experience them than are males.

Sleep related hallucinations may be a direct result of alcohol or drug use, or could be due to insomnia, anxiety, stress or other factors. People with narcolepsy have a high rate of sleep hallucination occurrence.

Sleep hallucinations may not need treatment, as they often occur infrequently and do not affect sleep quality. They may be a sign of mental stress though, or if coupled with daytime sleepiness, even narcolepsy. If the hallucinations are causing fear or anxiety, or to validate its causes, you may want to talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist.
When issues of mental stress are suspected, you may be advised to contact a therapist, or practice relaxation techniques before bedtime to help the mind shut down. It may also be advised to stay out of bed until feeling extremely tired, to avoid laying awake in bed and having the mind wander onto issues that may be causing you stress or anxiety. It has been shown in studies that the clearer a person’s mind is, the less likely they are to hallucinate, or even dream.

If the hallucinations are the result of medication, drug or alcohol use, it may be advised to refrain from their use, and you may need to change medications if this is the case.

Any suspected case of narcolepsy should be consulted with a sleep specialist, and an overnight sleep study performed to look into it further. Narcolepsy can be a debilitating disorder that can be treated.


Reviewed September, 2007

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10 thoughts on “Hallucinations During Sleep

  1. I experience sleep paralysis quite often & have for years. I actually feel like I’m going to die due to not being able to breathe. It always, always scares me so bad. It always happens before I go to sleep, not when I’m waking up. It doesn’t just happen once when it happens, it’ll happen at least 3 to 5 times in a row in the same night. What will happen is after I wake up & then go back to sleep after the first time, it’ll happen at least 2 more times if not more. I absolutely hate it & it terrifies me to the point I honestly think I’m going to die. After these “episodes” happen, I’ll have to get up, walk around or stay awake for at least 30 minutes & hope it doesn’t happen again.
    I also have vivid, detailed nightmares almost nightly. They’re truly awful & will make me hyperventilate, cry or scream out loud. I usually hate going to sleep, but as I’ve gotten older I don’t lay there & think about it, I simply say my prayers & close my eyes & go to sleep & pray I don’t have nightmares & pray that I wake up.
    I don’t know what to do to make my sleeping easier for me. I’m always tired during the day, don’t feel rested & sometimes the nightmares will stay on my mind for weeks. I haven’t had a decent full night’s rest in years. I wake up at least every 2 hours, but during that 2 hours I’m able to go into a deep sleep, which I couldn’t do years ago at which time I always felt like I was only lightly sleeping or pretty much awake but sleeping. It’s hard to explain. Anyway that was a long time ago.
    Thank you for your time. If you could give me some insight or helpful hints I’d greatly appreciate it.

    1. Go get a sleep study done…

      You are probably suffering from sleep apnea
      Not enough oxygen reaching the brain and not achieving true REM

      If you don’t want to dream talk to your doctor about amitriptyline hydrochloride

      Everyone is unique and have their own details that will give you the correct diagnosis

      Try sleep study and doctor for amitriptyline hydrochloride.

      If don’t work no harm no foul

  2. This sounds like narcolepsy. I don’t experience the difficulty breathing but I do have the excessive day time sleepiness with vivid nightmares almost every night. If I take a nap they are worse. They will be reoccurring dreams that I can’t wake up from and when I finally do wake up, I’m terrified and disoriented and have been profusely sweating on occasion I’ll wake up briefly and be paralyzed. I also hear rock music playing at night when I first lay down. When I lift my head the music stops and when I lay my head back down it starts again. I’ve woken in the middle of the night to loud banging on the door and jump out of bed to see no one is there and my dogs aren’t barking. It’s apparently all in my head but it seems as real as anything else in life. I’m experiencing short term memory loss. I have been having automatic behaviors a lot. I’ll know something needs done and when I go to do it, it’s already been done. But I have no memory of doing it. I lose about 15 minutes or so every morning while getting ready for work. I’m guessing that I must be dozing off and not realizing it. I feel like I’m awake the whole time though only noticeable event is the time lapse of about 15 minutes. Ask your doctor for a sleep study.

  3. Hello, I’m a weirdo. In my lifetime I have pushed the envelope of sleep related phenomena’s. Meaning I have encountered parasomnia’s repeatedly and consistently in the past. They were side-effects of the lifestyle I used to live. Some episodes were scary, others just strange but all still fascinated me. I know how to trigger terrifying hypnogogic sleep paralysis. Terrifying because they involve an “electrifying buzzing sensation” up and down my back’s nervous system at the same time my body feels paralyzed and accompanied by the scary sensation of a presence in the room. I can somehow see the room I am in but not the presence yet I know I am asleep. I know it because I am trying to move while also trying to yell out the words, “In Jesus Name” because the presence feels evil. I have read in ghost hunting books and websites that say to beware of feeling electrical sensations in your body while being somewhere haunted because this is how possessions feel like. Remember the sound that was made when a ghost possessed a human body in the movie Ghost? The not so funny thing is this effect can be predictably brought on when it is finally time to rest after being wired awake for days from substance-induced all night vigils. Here is some more arcane knowledge. With another substance I figured out how to cause hypnopompic hallucinations where the sensed presence in the room actually takes a form. I call it the shape shifter. Usually I see myself in the same environment that I am actually physically asleep in. Sometimes the dreamscape/hallucination I find myself in is slightly different in some ways but overall the location I am in resembles the physical place I am asleep at. I am not aware I am asleep until I wake up looking for the shape shifter. At most I have probably encountered variations of the shape shifting presence about a dozen times. In my encounters the forms the sensed presence has taken has been familiar figures in my life like my mother, my oldest daughter or my step-mother. A time or two I could not make out who it was but I remember trying to interact with it. The experiences were not fearful events nor do I recall sleep paralysis of the type where I feel trapped inside myself.

  4. I’m 16 and I believe I have sleep paralysis. I have had it for as long as I can remember, and I can recall the exact things I’ve been seeing since I was 8. When I’m trying to go to bed I’ll see things. I can feel things around me and I hear sounds that aren’t there. I’ll see anything from people coming towards me to ghosts in the corner of my room to flying monsters outside my window. I always have the feeling that something is behind me, even when I’m laying on my back. The shadows turn into the most random horrifying things and they come at me and make my heart skip beats and i panicky really bad. It feels so real. All this makes me sweat and I’m paralyzed in bed. Because I still live at home I have to scream to wake up my dad (when it gets really bad) to come help me and calm me down (which i hate doing because he thinks I’m crazy). I have to sleep with all doors and windows closed and all (3) of my lights on. Even then sometimes I will have episodes. I’ve gone to therapy but the therapists never know what I’m feeling. Nobody can relate to me and it sucks. It’s hard only getting two hours of sleep a night when you’re in high school. If anybody has what I have or can give me tips , please do. I’m desperate.

  5. When I was younger I used to have the sleep paralysis I couldn’t move but I would be awake I could look around the room, I was to terrified to move, I felt there was someone there to kill me my sceams would only come out as air. Now it’s different I see things at night it will often pleg me for months then suddenly stop. It usually some thing tickles my nose or face until I wake then things will be flotting above me I can rarly remember by morning what they were. So for the longest time I thought they were vivid strange dreams until one night my husband woke at the same time as they woke me. This time it was a cobra black (they are always black) I was asking him “if he could see it” he said “no” just then It struck at my face as I sceemed in terror it disappeared. There’s other thing that I see and hear at night some scary some not. On top of that I have horrible dreams that are scary or sad but always bad or very strange I don’t think iv ever had a good dream in my life. I just want to know if I’m the only one who has this, people I tell don’t understand that even if it’s in my mind it’s real at the time for me. Every time I say something people look at me like I’m cazy or lying. I just want to sleep in peace. If there is something I could do to stop it that would be great. I have tryed all the common sense things no help.

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