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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. Sleep 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

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 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 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.

View Comments (120)

  • for many years, My dad often fight with someone or dogs during sleep and he was yelling and punching anything he could reach and he hurt my mom often. later my mom has to put something between them in case my dad punch her again but my mom doesn't want to leave my dad sleep alone because she worry my dad could fall off bed. now my dad' memory start fading and sometimes he see people moving around in house though no one there. sad. don't know how to help.

  • i have thoughts or dreams during my sleep like the poeple in our neighbouring houses are climbing up the terrace of their house and awoman is falling down from it, and the other women in the house are shouting by seeing this..and i could here the sound of the girls mouring loudly at the women who committed suicide..i am hearing the mourning sound in my sleep and going to check whether the sound is true.wat is my problem.please do give a solution.

    • Have you overcome a problem, like an addiction of some sort? Or have you had a recent death in your family that has hurt you internally? A dream about suicide is one of the most positive dreams a person that is trying to overcome something can have. It means that the overcoming will be succesful.

  • I have been doi g this,the last couple nights and it really freaksme out. Hope i am not going crazy.

  • Sometimes, usually when I have a fever, I will wake up mid-dream and I will start feeling things that are not there. Would this be considered tactile, even though it´s only in my mind? I will also start screaming and crying really loud to the point where my sister and parents come into my room. When they try to wake me up I hear them and see them but i feel like they are too far away and I can move. Can someone please identify this? (I am also 11 years old)

    • try to ask a doctor about narcolepsy....it is not just tired in the day. many doctors don't seem to understand it, but this is one of the "symptoms". May or may not be the problem...still worth asking

  • I have noticed alot lately like lastnight i feel like im partially awake but my body is paralized and shaking because i look by the door way of my room and see a dark figure like a person is there. Im so terrified and start hyperventilating and cannot move. Last night i was sleeping and this happened but i thought i was awake and i had said to my bf that there was some one in the room by the door and he said just try not to breath in fear of this shadowy figure coming towards us and it seemed so surreal to me like there was actually an intruder in the house coming to kill us or something. it seemed like this went on all night but it didnt. Then my bf then hugged me and said relax its okay there is nobody in here with us your okay. But i was so scared and shaking and i started to cry. It was like it was real and it was very terrifying. This happens quit often to me and i dont know why or how to stop it from happening. Any advice would be great.

    • Same here I have this feelings alot when experiencing sleep paralysis, I feel like someone always coming after me or staring at me this is a scary experience and it happen to me alot of I be tired for work and don't even go back to bed anymore

  • About 4 years ago, my first strange event occurred as I was coming out of sleep early AM and felt something jump up onto the bed by my feet, then jump back down again. It was a bit terrifying, as I was alone in the house and there are no pets. Since then I've had numerous experiences including my covers being pulled , someone speaking to me, and loud clicking or buzzing such as an large insect by my ear. The most frequent is a movement on the bed as if someone has laid down behind me as I sleep on my side. These happen ONLY when I am in bed alone, and never when my husband is sleeping beside me. It helps to read the experiences of others and know I'm not alone in these strange events. But I'm not convinced that these are 'hallucinations' because they feel far too real and coincidental.

  • Finally, something that matches up. When I was younger (and on rare occassion now) I used to see images of thousands of black spiders crawling on my wall right before I went to bed. I always, always thought they were real, no matter how many times I went to turn on the light in my room and realize that they aren't actually there. Yet, every time I went to fall back asleep they would always appear again. I always went crying to my parents, who always reassured me there was nothing there. Had to sleep with a night light for years because of this. With very little light in the room, it made it easier for me to see the black spiders.
    No sleep paralysis, but it always bothered me and made me deathly afraid of spiders as I got older. I usually had to make sure to close my eyes before my lights got turned off completely so that I wouldn't run the risk of seeing them and giving myself anxiety over their appearance. I hardly ever see them now, which is a huge relief, but part of that might be that I'm taking amitriptyline to help with other issues (and helps me sleep better).
    I have to say though, there is a new strange hallucination that has been bothering me lately, and that is the feeling that something jumps on my bed during times when I am not totally asleep. These freak me out quite a bit, as I'll always get up and see that there's nothing there. This never happened when I was younger, and is only a more recent development (in the last year or so).
    I've seen a lot of people complaining about the large spider hallucination, so I'm glad (and very sympathetic) to see some people also experience the many small insect/spider hallucinations.

  • Sometimes when I go to bed I will feel this thing coming. I don’t know what it is but it’s the scariest thing you can imagine. Like a demon possessed person and it dances towards my bed in a really messed up twisted way. It always seems to come out of my bathroom. I’m paralyzed and can’t move. I can move my eyes around and see everything in my bedroom including my spouse laying beside me but I can’t holler or move my arm to get help. I think I’m going to die from the horror of it and my heart is pounding so hard. It says evil things to means laughs at me. When I think I can’t handle it anymore it goes away and then I can all of a sudden move and I reach over and wake my husband. I’m crying and scared and he doesn’t know what to say or do but gets up and turns the light on. There’s always a feeling that will come over me right before it comes. I’ve learned to bury my head in the pillow so I can’t see it but I can feel it beside me in the bed. Then when I feel it’s gone I look hoping it’s gone.

  • I know what y'all going through, I m so tired of it,it's men all the time,my bath room,is were it comes from, praying doesn't help,I can talk in my mind but can't move or scream, I loose my breath Alot, I be scared that I will die ,and I always can feel a feeling before I see it ,it's not a good one,I hear the voices ,but I can't understand them but the voices are women and men,and when I try to concentrate on what they say ,they get whispering real low then,and I tell them to go away leave me alone and walk in another room ,but I never seen a female figure but once,but I didn't feel scared, only male's be the one's,but when they go putting their hand's were they don't belong that's when I fight harder ,it has me paranoid in the day when I'm home alone ,no meds is helping,I just live day by day,and hope my kids will never go threw it,

  • I find that even if you feel a presence or see a figure in the room or around you it’s best to relax and listen or just give in to the feeling by not fighting the sensation. I used to fight to be free from these paralyzed states ( which got me know where but into another state of paralysis or another dream but gave in one day and It makes me feel like I have a better understanding of what’s happening at the time. Like I’m just calm and a witness & listen so I can understand.