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Hallucinations During Sleep

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Hallucinations during sleep are a phenomenon that can target any sensory perception, be it visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or other. Sleep hallucinations are often confused with both illusions and dreams. They occur in the state between waking and sleeping, although the person is considered to be technically asleep during these hallucinations. This is in contrast to dreams or lucid dreams, which occur while the person is asleep.

What’s the Difference Between Illusions and Hallucinations?

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 percent of the population experiencing one at some point in their life.

Hypnagogic Hallucinations, Hypnopompic Hallucinations, and Sleep Paralysis

The two forms of sleep related hallucinations are called hypnagogic (hypnagogia) and hypnopompic (hypnopompia) hallucinations. Hypnagogic hallucinations occur just before sleep, and may be accompanied by sleep paralysis, a state in which the subject is physically immobile but fully conscious. Hypnopompia, which is often considered as part of a dream by the subject, also involves 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 hypnagogia. 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

Sleep hallucinations can cause confusion, as they will often be indistinguishable from reality in your mind. In contrast, upon waking from a dream during REM sleep, 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 are distorted or make no sense.

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

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Known Causes and 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 occurrences.

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 lying 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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172 comments on “Hallucinations During Sleep”

  1. This happened to me when I was younger, never thought much of it until now. The spider I saw was fairly big and it was on my wall inches from my face. I was only young so I screamed and my dad had to look for it. Obviously he couldn't find any spider but I remember waking up for no reason to see it run off behind a drawer. I think it's to do with waking up suddenly, it's like my imagination from dreaming carried over into real life. Waking up suddenly could also be a random fear response, humans are wired to wake up if we sense danger, even if nothing's actually there. This only happened to my once so I hope that's the same for you.

  2. I’ve dealt with this since I was younger I always wake up about 30 minutes to an hour after I fall asleep and panic thinking someone is in my closet, bathroom, or hallway or sometimes it’s spiders. Crazy thing is for the longest time I didn’t realize I was doing it until my husband recorded me. Sometimes I remember and other times I don’t. Last night it was someone in my closet and I jumped out of bed and turned the lights on and of course no one was there. My heart was beating so fast!! Luckily my husband is use to it now but when we first got married I did it one night and when I came to he was storming the house with a gun looking for an intruder and I didn’t remember saying someone was breaking in! Uhg it’s very frustrating I wish there was something I could do to stop it! I don’t drink and I’m not really stressed!!

  3. Well, after reading all of the comments, it looks like there are literally thousands of people that experience the same hynopompic auditory and visual hallucinations during the night. And since I've never found a solution I guess for all of us it's just gonna be "Suck it up and deal with it.

  4. It first started with tinnutis in 1995. Not much later I started hearing music (musical ear syndrome). Somewhere in 2009 and up till now, I experience all of the aforementioned, plus hynopomic auditory and visual hallucinations. In general the auditory and visual hallucinations are frightening always, never pleasant, and happen every single night. I believe the reason is that I am on the highest dose of prozac (80 mg) for well over 20 years, plus the addition of clonazapam (.5mg) at night for insomnia off and on for 6 years. I have just read that increased serotonin can cause hynopomic auditory and visual hallucinations. I intend to speak to my psychiatrist about changing that medication around. My previous psychiatrist was so happy that my severe depression lessened considerably, that he did not want to change me to another SSRI. I have come off of clonazepam a few times, only to return to it because my psychiatrist says, if I don't sleep I'll really be in trouble so this is the lesser of the two evils. I'm at my witts end. If I take the .5 mg of clonazepam I go to sleep pretty quickly only to wake up a couple hours later with all these hynopompic auditory and visual hallucinations. I always turn on the light and they go away. I'm concerned about the auditory hallucinations which I believe are more related to tinnutis/musical ear syndrome. Except, within the last 2 years, these auditory hallucinations have become far worse and are hynogogic as well as hynopomic. I continually hear either a baritone male singer, singing very loudly, to the point I cannot go to sleep and then when I awake to the hypnopomic hallucinations, the auditory male voice comes back. If I've taken a clonazepam, I can fall back to sleep, thank GOD. Otherwise I would get no sleep. These hypnopompic auditory and visual hallucinations wake me several times a night, every night. This causes me to sleep a lot, in order to work the sleep in around the hallucinations! I am miserable. Any comments,advice would be welcomed since so far my psychiatrists have "poo-pooed" all of it, including that a maximum dose of prozac and .5mg of clonezapam are the causes.

  5. I have been reading these and they all sound so terrifying my god... Anyways, this is my first time looking this up because I am so confused about what’s happening. Last night was the 3rd time. I think I woke up in the middle of the night and there were like a bunch of spiders in my bed so I raced out of bed and went to my living room couch. I sat there and I think slept for a little bit then I thought I was dreaming or something and I just wanted to go back to bed so I gathered up the courage and just went back to my bed. Like I said, this was the third time- the first time was around mid 2019 and it was a long white snake, second time was maybe a couple weeks ago and wasn’t as many spiders... It’s very terrifying and if it happens again I’ll try to do something about it. Has this happened to anyone else?

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