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.

What’s The Difference Between Illusions & Hallucinations

Sleep hallucination occur in the absence of external stimuli

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.

Hypnogogic, Hypnopompic Hallucinations & Sleep Paralysis

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.

Distinguishing Dreams From Sleep Hallucinations

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.

Known Causes & Treatment of Sleep Related Hallucinations

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.

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24 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. I feel like crying while reading these posts. While I have so much sympathy for all of you, it is comforting to know that maybe I am not crazy after all. We all seem to experience the same symptoms. I hate to go to bed after years of these things happening. I don’t drink, don’t take any drugs besides aspirin yet doctors and therapist always ask me about substance abuse. One told me the auditory hallucinations are called”exploding head syndrome ” and then said i needed antidepressants. I don’t know what we need…

  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.

    1. The way you described it made me feel like we’re the only two people in the world. I thought I was just crazy and alone in this.

  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.

    1. hello, i have had sleep paralysis for the past 12 years i think, and I have the same symptoms as you, especially the week before my period I have these terrifing hours of trying to sleep but as soon as the hallucinations and distorted voices start i know i won’t be sleeping that night, and if i do my mind feels like a horror movie and as soon as i fall asleep something starts haunting me. the best way i have found that it kind of works, if you absolutely can’t go to therapy, is to turn on the lights, of course, get up, no matter how sleepy and tired you are, drink some water, watch something funny on your phone, anything to get your mind off of it. i also drink some valerian or chamomile before sleep, but if you haven’t already, talk to your parents about it and make a plan, good luck!

  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.

    1. Be checked for Narcolepsy. I have it and my hallucinations are severe. Very scary and it’s starting to affect me even when I’m awake

  6. I grew up with a Christian mother. So I know and have heard about evil spirits. My mom always said that if I had bad dreams to always “proclama a dios” basically call out to god. When I was younger, like 14 I want to say, I experienced this feeling where I was asleep but awake. I couldn’t move and couldn’t speak. It feels so scary to me… That i automatically start calling out for god. Like that other person said… In Jesus name! Then it happened to me again when I was 22. I was asleep and I was awake.. My mouth would move because I was trying to scream. And then I suddenly felt like my daughter was in front of me saying Mami, Mami. .but when I woke up she want there. I went to checsleeping and she was sleeping.. Lastnight I experienced it again. My kids were all in the room with me. They were sleeping. I was falling to sleep. Idk for go long…but all of a sudden my eyes open… And Im trying to scream but nothing is coming out… And I couldn’t move I felt like I was frozen. I swear I saw a glowing shadow walk by my bedside then it was only in the corner of my eye…. I felt so scared that I tried to move my head to the side , because It really felt terrifying. Then I woke up. I was so scared that I texted my bf. . I love yo. .like I was barley waking up from it.. But that how scared I was. Im already a very scared person when it comes to scary things. I tried to ignore it for a while. But Lastnight scared the living shit out of me Im not going to lie. I can still hear myself trying to say Jesus lord Jesus! Im 25. It gives me anxiety. I was still traumatized from my 2nd experience. It almost feels like your taking your last breaths. My son has autism and gigs sleeping pattern isn’t get normal. I didn’t have him at age 14 though. I was 23 so it can’t be due to his sleeping patterns interrupting mine.

    1. Hi, I have had very bad hypnopompic and hypnogogic hallucinations for the last six to seven months. I have had them since I was 12 but now they are way worse. I used to take ambiem which helped a lot, but am off it now. If I stay up for more than 17-18 hours I have terrible hallucinations. They often last hours. I remember most of it when I wake up minus some of the specific details. I am also autistic. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s but now apparently they don’t know how to classify it according to the dsm 5. I have dealt with every sleep issue you can imagine in my life. Many times over. I am a Christian but for a while I lost my way. In some ways this could and many times is spiritual, but it doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong. Demons hate us and trust me I have seen the damage they can cause. Even to believers. They attack us when we are asleep because we cannot call on Jesus, especially if we cannot move or speak. I once suffered from sleep paralysis, until I battled a spirit and defeated it by saying Jesus name. If you cant talk, say it in your mind, until you regain your ability to speak. That was 5 or more years ago, have not had sleep paralysis since. Now I fight another battle. I also believe some of it is physiological, but in my experience meds can be very hit or miss. Even with the ambien I still had them, just way less and not with the intensity I have them now. If you want to lessen them, don’t stay up more than 16 hours or so if you can help it. Being fatigued has always made it worse not better. Hope this helps someone. Good luck and God bless.

  7. I am diagnosed with mixed sleep apnea. However, today I had my CPAP 2-month trial check in w/ my sleep specialist. BTW, I suppose I should mention that I have just been diagnosed w/ sleep apnea, round-a-bout late September, and had a titration study for CPAP machine in mid-October. Ok, so today I saw my sleep doc. The update wasn’t good. I told him that my sleep is still poor, meaning frequent arousals, STILL! Feeling tired, despite the CPAP machine, is still a daily struggle, esp. at work, which is a BIG DEAL…w/o saying I’ll tell you this, if I were to fall asleep during certain times at work, I could potentially harm a helpless person.

    Moving on, he said that it sounded like I had Narcoleptic symptoms, not just sleep apnea. That comment blew me away. I had NEVER even entertained the idea. – OK, I’m getting ahead of myself. So, he mentions the narcolepsy comment, goes on to say that it’s time we try a mild stimulant. Considering the CPAP may be helping, it’s obviously not the entire solution. So, now he’s Rx’d Provigil (modafinil). Said to start low and in a month’s time, if I need to increase from once daily, we can try it two times a day. On the other, hand if it’s too strong, just take half.

    Now, when I got home I spent a lot of time reading the professional monograph on modafinil and what drugs to be careful of because of the pharmacokinetics of modafinil itself. I am medically educated, so this is something I always do and everyone should. The patient hand out is not enough information, so I nerd out and pull up my monographs. HAHA!

    Sorry sidetracked mind on board here. Back to Narcolepsy and this “Hallucinatory dream state”, which I have NEVER heard of, hypnogogic (hypnogogia) and hypnopompic (hypnopompia) hallucinations.

    When I read this I almost fainted. Mid 2016 I experienced what I was told to be a Serotonin Storm followed and/or preceded by Serotonin Syndrome. This was due to Rx medication mixed with an OTC nutritional supplement. The “storm” portion involved vomiting, diahhrhea, urinating (all at the same time). Sleeping for hours and hours. Not eating a single bite and barely drinking a thing. Other “fun” stuff too, but here is the revelation.

    I kept having, over 3 days of sleeping constantly, says for bathroom breaks, these dreams that were SO REAL I could only describe them as hallucinatory in nature. IN FACT, when I snapped out of this week long serotonin nightmare (thanks to a forced hospital visit), I kept trying to tell everyone that I was having dreams that felt like waking hallucinations. It was too hard to describe to everyone. I LITERALLY could not distinguish the, oh let’s say the consequences, of the dreaminations from real life. For instance, I had an episode where I was somehow the catalyst for my mom and stepmother’s divorce. When I woke up, as it were, I called my dad and said that I was so sorry and was everything ok with him and mom? He replied, yeah…as far as I know, why? I said something like, I had a dream, but it felt so real, etc.

    In the end, I had at least 5 more of these dreaminations. I had to ask family/friends or whoever was involved if they really happened, but in the end, they all said, “no”. However, I knew somehow I was dreaming them, but I also knew I was hallucinating. Yet, they felt so real, my peace of mind caused me to check on the ones that involved people I had hurt during the episodes.

    Here is my real question…FINALLY! HA! – OK, do you think this was somehow part of the Serotonin Syndrome, OR was this because of some Narcoleptic episode? I am now going to spend all night, thanks to this website and the stories I read of yall’s experiences, researching the subject matter and the condition of Narcolepsy vs. mixed Apnea. —– Oh lord, this is my world.

  8. I have suffered with sleep paralysis in the past. it took me years to realise what it was and was very scary but realise it was because I was under severe stress. As I closed my eyes I could feel like there was a presence in the room (felt like being abducted by aliens!)and then all of a sudden I would feel this pressure down on my chest and I couldn’t breath – I was paralysed but my mind was awake. I couldn’t lift my head or my arms off the bed no matter how hard I tried. I had this awful ringing in my ears too. Thankfully that hasn’t happened lately but I think I am hallucinating mainly in my dreams – smell of fumes/petrol, burnt toast and feeling that I am being strangled.

  9. Been living this… Forever.
    Had a sleep study without anything showing up (because I didn’t sleep much, so nothing really happened). I had the test done for sleep apnea and it was negative. I hallucinate at night. I ear voices, I feel people in the room. I feel touched (often sexually), I feel watched. I will sometimes feel physical pain. Sometimes I smell chemicals. My skin will burn. So I basically have all the different kind of hallucinations. I will shout, swear at ”people”. I will open the light and everything stops. But as soon as I go back to bed it starts again. It always starts 30 minutes after falling asleep and stops around 2h am. I always remember the next day. And during the night I know it doesn’t make sense, I will even tell myself out loud, but it doesn’t stop it. And it’s always violent or scary, often sexual (being touched by stressor). My doctor has no idea what is going on. Not sleep paralysis, not apnea, no mental issues during the day, not just bad dreams, etc. I am at loss. Female, 36 year old, anxiety and body image issue s. Anyone relating ? Any idea???

  10. Get the hypnogogic type occasionally (while falling asleep). I can feel my body going dormant, but my brain is still awake. I can hear and feel and see but can’t move. While I can hear, what I hear is usually amplified or hallucinatory. I try to yell or speak and a weak grunt might come out. Eventually I can rouse myself fully awake if I struggle enough….never tried just sitting there to see if I go unconscious, because it’s too weird. Once wife heard me struggling to talk and thought I was dreaming, but I told her I was conscious and paralyzed…trying to wake up! Asked her to shake me if she’s ever aware of me making weird grunting noises.

    Another recent episode…I started to shut down, then heard someone counting down from 10. Got to about 6 and I was able to rouse myself awake. Auditory hallucinations. Didn’t scare me for some reason, but was definitely weird.

    I remember episodes of this as a child, but don’t remember many occurrences in adult life until it came back in the last few years around age 40. I have (always) had anxiety and social phobia problems. Used to use sleep aids and now I don’t, because I don’t have any way to access a doctor to get any. I attribute these episodes to lack of something to just knock me out, plus stress.

    Similar to what the first poster said, it always occurs about 3-5 times for me before sleep actually sets in properly. I always know it’s happening, and have to fight to stop it….and the only way to fix it is to awaken fully before trying to sleep again.

  11. My husband,who will be 70 this June, has started to have hallucinations during the night. This is particularly devastating to me because he thinks I am satisfying myself sexual during the night. He usually wakes me, wants to check the bed, gets an aggressive and accusation tone with me. He says he smells things, hears things, and even feels the bed move. (that is impossible because we have one of those high dollar mattresses). Nothing I can say or do can make him see that it is not happening. I am losing sleep, not to mention it is terrifying and heartbreaking for me. He is not taking any medications, he does have a breathing machine for sleep but usually takes it off during the night, I’m guessing in his sleep because he does not remember taking it off. I am at wits end! He is retired, I still hold a fulltime job. I just don’t know what to do.

  12. My hypnopompic hallucinations used to never be scary, however, they’ve seemed to have changed to the point where I think I need to see a therapist. During my hallucinations I can move, talk, and I know that I’m awake. The majority of my hallucinations don’t bring on anxiety and fear, but more and more have been. One of my latest ones was that I saw a spider crawling on my wall; I jumped out of bed and woke up my boyfriend and the second he turned on the light the spider vanished out of thin air and I realised that I had finally woke up. My boyfriend helped me look for the spider, but it was never real. In addition I have jumped out of bed and ran out of my room from “monsters” and didn’t stop hallucinating until I was out in the middle of my hallway. These hallucinations are always visionary, but can be accompanied by sound or touch. I don’t take any drugs and I have always had these hallucinations since I was a child, but it seems that they’ve turned frightening since I’ve started college. My biggest fear is that I’m afraid I might accidentally hurt myself or my boyfriend while hallucinating.

    1. My previous post didn’t seem clear enough that these hallucinations only happen when I’m in the inbetween state of sleep and waking up.

      1. I too experience hypnopompic spider hallucinations. I had them every night for three weeks straight. When I read that my brain is between a state of sleep and wakefulness, I decided I would try to use the “awake” part of my brain to control the images and make them less scary. I simply told the hallucination that it would morph into something less scary. It did! But then a scarier image appeared on the other side of the bed, like a cosmic joke. So, instead of trying to change the images, a friend recommended that before I go to sleep, I tell myself I won’t be afraid of anything I encounter during the night. This worked really well but my sleep was still disturbed by the images (although I wasn’t scared of them). In the end, the approach that has worked the best for me is to wear an eye mask I bought online. That way when I “wake” during the night, the hallucinations aren’t staring me in the face and I can more quickly go back to sleep. It’s really interesting to me that these images are literally projections outside your head, which is why they’re called hallucinations and not dreams, I suppose. So the mask actually works. My “awake” brain can decide to go back to sleep and not look. Sometimes though I wonder if the hallucinations are my subconscious mind trying to tell me something and I’m literally putting blinders on to information I need. But I also need my sleep so for now I’ll keep the blinders on.

  13. Ive always had problems with anxiety. But lately my anxiety has been at its highest peak more than ever. Ive been struggling with sleep for the past four days. Having nightmares out of this world, back to back. I wake up screaming and crying. Started hallucinating two days ago and hearing voices as well. Im scared to go to sleep now just due to the nature of the dreams. My boy friend is scared to death of me sleeping, only because I wake up multiple times in one night screaming or grabbing him calling his name in my sleep. He told me to google sleep deprivation with anxiety and thank you everybody, I also know I am not crazy. Its definitely a struggle and I wish all of you guys the best with this struggle. You are not alone

  14. I am so glad I found this site. Last night was only my fourth episode of hallucinating. It started abruptly about 2 weeks ago and I have no idea why. I just quit a stressful job and I have no undue stress or anxiety at this point in my life. I too feel as if this is evil and I end up praying fervently as I attempt sleep again. I also hear foot steps and feel someone bumping my bed- my husband hears, feels or sees nothing. I am embarrassed by this and I really do not want to see my doctor for this. I am 48. Again, thank you all for sharing. At least now I know I am not crazy or alone.

  15. It’s after 3am right now and I have just woken up from this, I’ve only had this a few times in my life. In my sleep paralysis I could hear the voice of a girl I grew up with in high school, she was shouting my name and the shouts turned into sort of Witch like cackles. I’ve found myself trying to force myself up from my bed but could not get up as it felt like something was restraining my arms. I was also smelling a sort of burnt toast smell as others have said which is strange. I’m 24 years old, I think I know why this is happening to me. On Friday just passed I was out with my buddy and sometimes we are prone to using drugs and alcohol. I was up all night into Saturday and ended up calling an end to the nonscence on Saturday night into Sunday morning with no sleep. Now I’ve been stressed out due to work etc and think it’s all came together. I feel sorry for people that have this as a regular occurrence as it’s very frightening. I hope you all find some way to cut it out

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