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Hypnagogic Hallucinations: Causes, Types, & Treatment

Hypnagogic hallucinations refer to bizarre sensory perceptions (usually visual) that are perceived during a presomnal state, or upon the transition from pre-sleep wakefulness to sleep.  These bizarre perceptions may be psychologically disturbing and extremely vivid.  Perhaps you’ve seen odd shapes with vivid colors, or especially odd imagery prior to falling asleep. In this case, your brain may have generated a “hypnagogic hallucination.”

The phenomenon of hypnagogic hallucinations was first reported informally in 1664 by Isbrand Van Diemerbroeck, a Dutch physician.  He described a case of a 50-year old woman with sleep paralysis and comorbid hypnagogic hallucinations in which she believed she was being attacked by the devil.  Formalized reports of hypnagogic hallucinations began in the 1840s with a publication from Jules-Gabriel-Francois Baillarger, a French psychiatrist.

Experiencing hypnagogic hallucinations is relatively common among those with sleep disorders (e.g. narcolepsy), mental illnesses (e.g. schizophrenia), and generalized insomnia.  Even among the general population, it is estimated that approximately 37% of individuals will experience hypnagogic hallucinations on the brink of sleep onset.  Various altered states of consciousness such as those exhibited during: lucid dreaming, out-of-body experiences, and sleep paralysis – may be closely related to hypnagogic hallucinations.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18691361

What are hypnagogic hallucinations? Definition.

Hypnagogic: This is a term that is a combination of the Greek word “hypnos” which means “sleep” and the word “agōgos” which translates to “leading.”  Upon combining these words, we are left with a single term that signifies leading or preceding (agōgos) falling asleep (hypnos).  It was coined in the 1800s by Alfred Maury to define the state of consciousness upon sleep onset.

Hallucinations: This is a term that refers to perceptual experiences that have no basis in reality.  In other words, a hallucination is an apparent (sensory) perception of something that isn’t present.

Hypnagogic hallucinations: Combining the terms hypnagogic (immediately before falling asleep) and hallucinations (perceptions that have no basis in reality), allows for easy understanding of the term hypnagogic hallucinations.  Hypnagogic hallucinations refer to perceptual experiences with no basis in reality, that occur during the consciousness of sleep onset.

  • Note: It is important to distinguish hypnagogic hallucinations (occurring during the transitory period between wakefulness and sleep) from “hypnopompic hallucinations” (occurring  during the transitory period of sleep to wakefulness).

What causes hypnagogic hallucinations?

It is difficult to pinpoint a universal cause for hypnagogic hallucinations, as the cause may be subject to significant individual variation.  In many cases, the neural activation and/or changes that occur to elicit the specific hallucinatory experience are likely to differ based on the person.  Someone with greater activation in the auditory centers of the brain may claim to hear a voice, while someone with heightened activation in the visual centers may claim to see geometric shapes.

Autosymbolism: A process called “autosymbolism” has been described as a hallucinatory experience that automatically represents whatever a person is thinking at the time.  This process was noted by the Vietnamese psychoanalyst, Herbert Silberer.  The concept of autosymbolism would suggest that hypnagogic hallucinations are a result of momentary thoughts or ideas.

These thoughts or ideas then manifest as a succinct image, sound, or other hallucination upon sleep onset.  One prominent example of autosymbolism was the discovery that the “benzene ring” was a closed structure. August Kekulé made this discovery during a reported hypnagogic state – involving imagery of molecules morphing into snakes.  Among these snakes, one happened to bite its tail, thus “closing the ring.”

Brain activity: Research demonstrates that there’s a correlation between neural activation of certain regions and hypnagogic hallucinations.  EEG activity appears to be altered prior to sleep in that an individual is increasingly responsive to sound.  This idea comes from a book published in 1987 called “Hypnagogia” by Andreas Mavromatis.

During episodes of hypnagogic hallucinations, it is known that the brain waves (EEG activity) changes and certain brain regions shut down.  There is likely an interaction between brain waves, REM-like frequencies, and regional activity, particularly in the parahippocampal region – which may result in hypnagogic hallucinations.

Brain waves: During hypnagogic hallucinations, it is believed that brain waves transition from fast-paced, high frequency waves to slower-paced, low frequency waves.  In other words, a person is transitioning from beta waves to alpha waves.  Think of this as shifting from the fastest gear on a manual transmission (beta) to the next slowest gear (alpha).

Studies show that hypnagogic phenomena may be a result of alpha waves transitioning to a “spindling” EEG.  A spindling EEG is characterized as bursts of beta waves (lasting less than a second), with predominantly slow wave activity.  These spindles are generated from the thalamus region of the brain.

Other researchers found that hypnagogic imagery is most likely to occur during sleep onset stages 4 and 5 as defined by Hori.  Stage 4 is characterized by a flattening of the EEG, while Stage 5 consists of rippled theta waves.  There are various techniques that have been used to prolong hypnagogic states such as: brainwave entrainment and neurofeedback.  If a person wants to extend the hypnagogic hallucinatory state, they’ll typically increase theta frequencies.

  • Source: http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1965-13652-001
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17838964
  • Source: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/drm/5/2/75/

Consciousness: The hallucinations occurring during a hypnagogic period are thought to be a result of both conscious and subconscious processes.  Covert REM activity may trigger an image or graphic related to something that you’ve been thinking about (conscious) or something that you’ve long forgot about (subconscious).  Your hallucinatory experience could even be a blending of both conscious and subconscious material.

During the hypnagogic state, we become increasingly suggestible, are likely to think illogical thoughts, and we’re more receptive to subconscious stimuli.  Some believe that our ego-fueled thoughts stop and we may experience a more relaxed, empathetic state of consciousness.

  • Source: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2247720

Covert REM (Rapid Eye Movement):  It appears as though there’s a small (covert) emergence of REM (rapid-eye movement) that likely occurs during hypnagogic states.  Among some individuals, this rapid-eye movement may be the direct cause of their hypnagogic hallucinations, particularly those that claim to see vivid imagery.  Researchers found that REM-esque activity (from 1.5 to 3.0 Hz) in the parahippocampal region during presomnal states.

Upon sleep onset, the wakefulness promoting areas of the brain turn off, which may trigger the onset of the REM-esque activity in the parahippocampus.  This may then lead to an inhibition of the hippocampus, which could elicit hypnagogic phenomena like hallucinations.  Although a person isn’t considered to be in “REM,” the regional activity in the parahippocampus resembles a REM state, and the waves are within the “sawtooth” range.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15763184
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/778884
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18395615

Illicit drugs: One hypothesis to explain the appearance of hypnagogic hallucinations is that of a psychobiochemical disturbance (or abnormal neurotransmission).  This disturbance may be induced as a result of using an illicit drug – particularly one with hallucinogenic and/or stimulatory properties.  Those that abuse illicit drugs may exhibit various types of hallucinations during drug-induced psychosis.

Long-term usage or abuse of certain illicit substances may lead to structural, genetic, and neurotransmitter changes within the brain – increasing susceptibility to future hypnagogic hallucinations.  It should also be noted that during withdrawal from illicit drugs, a person’s brain and physiology may end up dealing with both acute and protracted adjustments in functionality, which could increase likelihood of hypnagogic phenomena.

Inconsistent sleep schedule: Those that work night shifts or have an inconsistent sleep schedule may be more prone to hypnagogic hallucinations prior to bed.  It is thought that neurotransmission, brain activity, hormones, and an array of other processes result from the body’s natural circadian rhythm.  When a person works a night shift and is constantly adjusting their sleep schedule, it results in neurophysiological chaos.

This is why many people end up with conditions like “shift work sleep disorder,” sleep paralysis, and inevitably hypnagogic hallucinations.  Those with highly variable or fluctuating sleep schedules may have a circadian rhythm disruption as a result of the inconsistency of sleep timing.  Adhering to a strict sleep schedule can reset the circadian rhythm and decrease likelihood of hypnagogic hallucinations.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22033666

Meditation: Those that frequently meditate may unexpectedly experience hypnagogic hallucinations.  While different types of meditation affect the brain leave unique neural imprints based on the specific practice, some researchers believe that meditation can prolong the hypnagogic state.  In other words, you could theoretically use a meditative practice to deliberately extend and/or explore hypnagogic states.

Similar practices such as neurofeedback, brainwave entrainment, and neural stimulation may allow an individual to prolong the hypnagogic state and/or increase likelihood of hallucinations.  Author James H. Austin believes that Zen meditation practitioners are capable of “freezing” hypnagogic states.  It is known that most types of meditation increase the strength of slower brain waves (e.g. alpha and theta), therefore it seems logical to think that hypnagogic hallucinations could be psychologically primed and/or prolonged.

  • Source: http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/zen-and-brain

Memory: Research comparing fully-formed images with fleeting images during hypnagogic states found neural distinctions based on the type of image perceived.  It is thought that external stimuli, preceding thoughts, and imagery-related memories play a role in influencing what a person sees.  Additionally, various types of memory including: immediate, short-term, medium-term, and long-term are all thought to influence imagery formation during hypnagogic states.

Semantic memory: During the hypnagogic state, it is thought that individuals are increasingly prone to forgetfulness.  The hippocampus becomes impaired, leading to poorer autobiographical and episodic memory.  However, despite impaired hippocampal functioning, semantic memory is still processed.

Semantic memory is considered a portion of long-term memory related to processing of concepts and ideas that are distinct from individual experiences.  Without access to autobiographical and episodic forms of memory, but an access to semantic memory, we may see things that are common: knowledge, colors, sounds, or other “facts” we’ve accumulated throughout our lifetime.

Neurotransmitters & receptors: It should be considered that among those who frequently experience hypnagogic hallucinations may differ in terms of neurotransmission, neurotransmitter levels, and receptor densities – possibly in the entire brain or specific regions.  It is highly likely that among those with specific mental illnesses, neurological conditions, or substance abusers – the altered neurotransmission may be responsible for causing the hypnagogic hallucinations.

It is known that those with abnormal neurotransmission of dopamine and glutamate are more prone to certain conditions like schizophrenia which are commonly associated with hallucinations.  There may be an increased likelihood for those with mental illnesses (particularly those in which hallucinations are a common symptom) to exhibit hypnagogic hallucinations.

It is thought that among those who abuse substances, neurotransmitter levels may be subject to sensitivity and depletion.  Furthermore, hypnagogic phenomena may occur as a drug-induced side effect, as an acute withdrawal symptom, or they may manifest as long-term effects.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12505794

Pharmaceutical drugs: If you are taking any pharmaceutical drug that affects neurotransmission, you may experience hypnagogic hallucinations as a result.  Some common examples of drugs that could provoke hypnagogic hallucinations include: antidepressants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, opioids, psychostimulants (ADHD medications), sleeping pills (Z-drugs).  The degree of vividness and specific type of hallucination may be related to the particular drug’s mechanism of action and/or the dosage.

Obviously if you’re taking more than one pharmaceutical drug that could affect brain activity, there may be an increased chance of experiencing drug-induced hypnagogic hallucinations.  Several cases of those using the drug Amitriptyline (a highly-popularized tricyclic antidepressant) have noted hypnagogic hallucinations.  In all cases, the individuals reported visual hallucinations and recognized that they were not real.

In particular, drugs that carry anticholinergic properties may increase odds of experiencing complex visual hypnagogic hallucinations.  It is believed that imbalances between serotonin and acetylcholine processes may also be responsible for triggering hypnagogic hallucinations.  Specifically, hyperactivity of serotonin systems with simultaneous hypoactivation of cholinergic processes could be what produces this effect.

It should be noted that if you are taking an antidepressant, hypnagogic hallucinations may ensue as a result of hyperactive serotonin systems or high serotonin levels.  Many drugs elicit secondary and tertiary effects as well, resulting in a possible cascade effect, which alters an individual’s entire neurochemistry.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7468295
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15495200

Pineal DMT: Due to the fact that hypnagogic hallucinations have been associated with paranormal phenomena, some have speculated that the brain releases DMT (dimethyltryptamine) via the pineal gland.  It is known that drugs triggering the release of DMT are associated with dream-like, hallucinogenic phenomena.  In his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Rick Strassman highlights the administration of DMT to a girl experiencing sleep paralysis with hypnagogic hallucinations.

Sensory deprivation: If you engage in sensory deprivation, you may increase your likelihood of experiencing hypnagogic phenomena, including hallucinations.  Those that use floatation tanks or restrict all senses – especially sight and sound – may temporarily alter brain functioning or produce an altered state of consciousness.  When senses are restricted, the brain is thought to fill in the gaps of deficient visual or auditory stimuli with hallucinations – such as seeing shapes, colors, or hearing sounds.

In particular, if you engage in sensory deprivation prior to sleep onset, you may notice hypnagogic hallucinations.  Just realize that it’s your brain’s way of compensating for a lack of stimuli or “filling in the sensory gaps.”

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13780969

Sleep deprivation: Those that are sleep deprived may experience hypnagogic hallucinations throughout the day.  When a person hasn’t gotten enough sleep, a person naturally becomes tired, brain activity shifts, and neurotransmitter concentrations change.  Chronic sleep deprivation or restriction makes a person prone to fall asleep at randomized times throughout the day.

Hypnagogic hallucinations may be reported prior to a nap or even unexpectedly as a person falls asleep.  Chronic sleep restriction or excess deprivation can impact the circadian rhythm, and result in a variety of sleep problems and phenomena, including hallucinatory hypnagogia.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3564638/

Sleep position: Those that sleep in the “supine position” (on their backs) may be more likely to experience hypnagogic hallucinations than those sleeping in other positions.  Multiple studies analyzing individuals with narcolepsy discovered that nearly 80% of all reported hallucinatory experiences during sleep occurred in the supine position.  Researchers believe that various brain functions are directly related to sleep posture.

Among those experiencing nightmarish sleep paralysis hallucinations, sleeping in the back position can be a contributing factor.  Should a person want to stop sleep paralysis and possibly prevent hypnagogic hallucinations, altering sleep position from the “supine” posture to sleeping on the side (or even the stomach) may be recommended.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18691361

Supplements: Any supplements that alter your neurotransmission (e.g. 5-HTP to enhance serotonin) may result in hypnagogic hallucinations prior to bed.  If you’re taking a supplement and notice you’re seeing odd visuals before bed and/or hearing weird sounds right before you fall asleep, it may be a result of your supplementation.  Even sleep supplements like melatonin could result in hypnagogic hallucinations.

Conditions that may cause hypnagogic hallucinations

There are many conditions that are thought to provoke hypnagogic hallucinations.  In each of these conditions, the underlying neural mechanisms responsible for the hypnagogic phenomenon may be subject to variation.  Those abusing certain drugs may experience the hallucinations as a result of neurotransmission alterations, while those who have seizures may experience them as a result of specific electrical activity (EEG).

Brain damage: Individuals that have endured various forms of brain damage are thought to be increasingly prone to hallucinations.  Brain damage may result in connectivity deficits between regions involved in sensory processing, leading a person to hallucinate.  Reports of brain lesions have highlighted the fact that inflicted damage can result in various types of hallucinations since the 1980s.

It seems as though the specific area as well as size of the lesion influence the corresponding hallucinations.  In the case of brain damage in the form of lesions, the brain may exhibit different activity during the transition from wakefulness to sleep, leading to hallucinations.  One theory is that lesions to certain parts of the brain allow dream mechanisms (geniculo-occipital spikes system) to break free from control of raphe nuceli (in the brainstem), resulting in hypnagogic hallucinations.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3629075

Epilepsy: There have been case reports of individuals experiencing hypnagogic hallucinations as a result of psychomotor seizures.  One particular case involved a woman who endured an automobile accident in her late 20s, followed by a head injury months after the event.  That said, she had no history of any psychiatric conditions.

As a 72 year old, she began complaining of seeing “black and white” visions prior to falling asleep.  These visions were recurrent in that they were reported between 5 and 6 nights each week.  In this particular case, the visions only lasted seconds and didn’t involve any other senses.  Upon careful analysis of this patient, doctors determined that she was diagnosed with psychomotor seizures in the past.

Her seizures were responsible for producing the hypnagogic hallucinations, which were viewed as a form of “epileptic discharge.”  This case demonstrates that among those that experience seizures and/or have been diagnosed with epilepsy, hypnagogic hallucinations may occur as a result.  The hypnagogic phenomena as produced by seizures tend to subside with proper medication for epilepsy.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1296002/

Learning disabilities: One study discovered that children with learning disabilities experience hypnagogic hallucinations at a greater rate than those of normal learning abilities. A study consisting of 180 children between ages 6 and 12 years found that approximately 35% of those with learning disabilities experienced hypnagogic hallucinations, whereas only 4% of those without learning disabilities experienced them.  This suggests that brain anatomy, activation, and brainwave patterns may be responsible.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12717648

Mental illness: Individuals with a mental illness such as schizophrenia, depression with psychotic features, bipolar disorder, etc. – may experience hypnagogic hallucinations more than usual.  Since many cases of hypnagogic hallucinations are likely a result of neurochemical alterations within the brain, those with mental illnesses may be increasingly susceptible to these phenomena.  Additionally how the hypnagogic hallucinations are interpreted (e.g. positive, neutral, or negative) may be related to the psychological state as induced by the specific disease.

Furthermore, it should be noted that many individuals with mental illnesses use illicit substances and/or take pharmaceutical drugs as a therapeutic means of treating their condition.  In any regard, these physiologically-foreign substances significantly alter neural processes, chemical concentrations, etc. – potentially resulting in hypnagogic hallucinations.

Neurodegenerative diseases: Those with neurodegenerative diseases are known to experience alterations in brain anatomy, receptor density, and neurotransmitter concentrations as a result of both their condition and possible medications that they may be taking.  Various conditions like Parkinson’s may be medicated with dopaminergic agents, resulting in hallucinatory experiences, some of which may occur during hypnagogic states.

It should be considered that hypnagogic hallucinations may be directly related to abnormalities in the brain or possibly be a mere reaction to the pharmaceutical agent that they take on a daily basis.

Sleep disorders: If you have a sleep disorder, you are significantly more likely to experience hypnagogic hallucinations.  Specifically, it has been found that among those diagnosed with narcolepsy, hypnagogic hallucinations are relatively common.  That said, it is believed that hypnopompic hallucinations (those experienced between states of sleep and wakefulness) are more common among those with narcolepsy.

In many cases, those with sleep disorders are falsely misdiagnosed with psychotic symptoms, when in reality they’re experiencing hypnagogic hallucinations.  For this reason, it is important to conduct a thorough evaluation to prevent misdiagnosing sleep disordered individuals with psychosis.  The hypnagogic hallucinations can be distinguished from psychotic halucinations based on their features.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12956834
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8894197

Stress: Prolonged stress of any kind may increase susceptibility of experiencing hypnagogic hallucinations.  Stress, particularly over an extended period leads to alterations in our hormones, neurotransmitters, and the way our brain works.  In many cases, stress also disrupts the circadian rhythm, and increases likelihood of experiencing insomnia.

Research has shown that adults with high stress have a greater likelihood of “general sleep-related experiences” (GREs).  These GREs include the following: nightmares, falling dreams, and hypnagogic hallucinations.  In some cases, decreasing stress levels by increasing parasympathetic activation may lead to less GREs, including hypnagogic hallucinations.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21443286

Trauma: Those that have endured a traumatic experience are naturally less likely to get quality sleep.  Trauma is typically associated with prolonged stress, an increase in sympathetic nervous system activation (fight-or-flight), and the endogenous production of stimulatory agents like cortisol, norepinephrine, and dopamine.  A combination of stress, poor sleep quality, and neurochemical changes as a result of the trauma or unresolved PTSD could induce hypnagogic hallucinations.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11086154

Note: For some people it may be that one specific factor causes hypnagogic hallucinations, while for others it may be a combination of several factor such as: sleep deprivation, chronic stress, and illicit drug abuse.

Types of Hypnagogic Hallucinations

During the transitory phase from wakefulness to sleep, a variety of hypnagogic phenomena have been reported.  Hallucinations experience during a hypnagogic state are most often visual, but may be auditory, tactile, or even olfactory.  In most reports of hypnagogic hallucinations, the duration may be short (a few seconds) or modest (a few minutes).

Visual (Imagery)

The most common type of hypnagogic hallucination is that of visuals or imagery.  This imagery may be related to something that you’ve been working on or thinking about for a prolonged period of time (e.g. the Tetris-effect), or it may be totally unpredictable drivel shuttled forth by your subconscious.  There are many hypotheses that attempt to explain the mechanisms that produce visual hypnagogic hallucinations.

  • Brain structure: Some experts believe that they may be caused by a disturbance or abnormality of brain structure.
  • Neurotransmitters: Others suggest that neurotransmission becomes temporarily disturbed, and produces hypnagogic hallucinations.
  • Psychodynamics: Another theory is that material from the unconscious or subconscious gets pushed into consciousness.
  • Combination: It has also been thought that a combination or interplay between structure, neurotransmission, and unconscious material may influence these hallucinations.

Visual hallucinations may be difficult to perceive as subtle images, or they may be extremely vivid.  The most common type of visual hypnagogic hallucination is including phosphenes, or the perception of light, despite no actual light source.  These little pseudo light particles may appear as geometrical shapes, specks, lines, outlines, dots, or a combination of several.  Additionally, they may appear completely flat, colored, moving, or 3-D.


  • Blurred images
  • Dots
  • Geometrical shapes
  • Outlines
  • People
  • Specks of light
  • Symbols

Some people have reported experiences during which they claim to perceive a “tunnel of light.”  In this case, it seems as if their entire visual field is like a train moving through a completely lit tunnel.  It should be noted that most reports of visual hypnagogic hallucinations are subject to significant individual variation, and may be rapidly changing in terms of shape, size, color, and dimension.

In some cases a phenomenon known as the “Tetris effect” may influence the hypnagogic visuals.  This refers to individuals engaged in a repetitive visual activity prior to sleep that dominates their brain’s visual processing centers.  When the person gets drowsy, they may claim to see the same visuals of the repetitive visual activity (e.g. playing Tetris) as a hypnagogic hallucination (e.g. colored blocks from the game that appear to be moving).

Auditory (Sounds)

Perhaps the second most common type of hypnagogic hallucination is that of hearing sounds.  These sounds may be perceived as extremely faint, moderate, or loud to the point that they’re considered disturbing.  Some people may report hearing voices, animal sounds, a knock on the door, someone walking, or loud “booms” or “bangs.”  In the book “Hypnagogia” by Andreas Mavromatis, it is suggested that imagined speech is common in the form of fragments or speech related to the individual’s thoughts.

So if you were to hear a voice prior to falling asleep, there’s a chance that it could be reading your thoughts aloud.  In many cases the auditory hallucinations make no conscious or logical sense.  In some cases, a person may claim to hear music or the television playing, even after it has been turned off.


  • Animal sounds
  • Buzzing
  • Humming
  • Loud noises
  • Music
  • Television
  • Voices
  • Walking
  • Whistling

Some have theorized that certain sounds such as animal sounds, buzzing, or humming may be directly related to the condition known as sleep paralysis.  This is characterized by REM (rapid-eye movement) occurring while a person is semi or fully conscious.  This leads to conscious perceptions of dream-related material.  The aforementioned “Tetris effect” may elicit an auditory effect for some individuals.

Tactile (Touch)

Perhaps the third most common type of hypnagogic hallucination is that of touch.  Many people claim to feel spiders crawling on their body prior to sleep, a soothing massage, pressure, or even painful sensations.  Tactile hypnagogic hallucinations may be a result of REM-induced atonia (lack of voluntary muscle control), or they may be a result of tactile stimuli experienced earlier in the day.


  • Bodily pressure
  • Crawling sensations
  • Pain sensations
  • Rubbing
  • Tapping
  • Tickling

Olfactory (Smells)

While less common, some people report hallucinatory smells during hypnagogic states.  These smells may be pleasant, such as delicious foods, or may be unpleasant, such as rotten flesh.  In some cases the smell may be completely neutral such as that of fresh air.


  • Delicious food
  • Fresh air
  • Rotten flesh
  • Smoke

Other hypnagogic hallucinations

Other examples of hypnagogic phenomena include: vestibular-motor or proprioceptive hallucinations, and gustatory (taste) hallucinations.

  • Vestibular-motor: Some people may experience proprioceptive hallucinations during a hypnagogic state.  They may feel as if their body is falling, rocking back and forth, floating, or moving at a fast pace.  These sensations are commonly associated with both sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences.
  • Gustatory: A relatively uncommon hypnagogic hallucination is that of taste.  Some people may claim to experience a flash of taste such as that of a food or even something odd like a metallic item or leather.

Note: A person may experience one particular type of hypnagogic hallucination or multiple types (e.g. auditory and visual). The most common types are thought to be: visual, auditory, and tactile – in that order.  Additionally, secondary proprioceptive effects are thought to occur on occasion.

Hypnagogic Hallucinations Treatment

Although for many people hypnagogic hallucinations occur on an infrequent basis and aren’t bothersome, for others they may be disturbing.  In fact, they may be disturbing enough to interfere with both sleep quality and quantity.  Due to the sheer variation in potential causes for hypnagogic hallucinations, the treatment for one person’s hypnagogic hallucinations may differ significantly from that of another.

  • Antipsychotics: If a person has a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or depression with psychotic features, they may benefit from an antipsychotic to control the neurotransmission of dopamine.  It is possible that among these individuals, chaotic firing of dopamine may contribute to and/or enhance various hypnagogic hallucinations.  While psychotic hallucinations tend to differ from standard hypnagogic hallucinations, there may be some overlap in patients diagnosed with mental illnesses.
  • Avoid drugs & alcohol: If you’re a heavy drinker or are using drugs on a frequent basis, chances are that they may interfere with your sleep quality and/or brain’s ability to transition into a sleeping state.  Common examples of substances that you may want to avoid include: nicotine, alcohol, and even caffeine – especially in the afternoon.  If you’re a substance abuser and know that the drugs cause these hypnagogic hallucinations – stop using and remain abstinent.
  • Brainwave alterations: In some cases, an intervention using targeted neurofeedback or brainwave entrainment may promote a healthier transition from wakefulness to sleep, resulting in less overall hypnagogic hallucinations.  If you work with sleep experts, they should be able to pinpoint specific brainwave changes on an EEG that are contributing to these phenomena.  Through a targeted brainwave training protocol, you may be able to reduce the occurrence of hallucinatory hypnagogia.
  • Drug discontinuation: Obviously if you’re using certain pharmaceutical drugs that you believe may be directly causing your hypnagogic hallucinations, you may want to consider discontinuation and/or a dosage alteration.  It is known that certain medications, particularly tricyclic antidepressants (e.g. Amitriptyline) can cause hypnagogic hallucinations.  If these become disturbing, report them to your doctor and pursue alternatives.
  • Improve sleep (quality + quantity): The best thing a person can do for themselves to stop hypnagogic hallucinations is to improve both sleep quality and quantity.  This means setting a strict sleep schedule, sleeping in accordance with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, and getting enough total sleep for restorative effects.  Improving your sleep takes time and should eventually counteract the effects of sleep deprivation.
  • Sleep disorder treatment: If you have a sleep disorder or suspect that you have a sleep disorder, seek professional treatment from a sleep expert.  Various sleep disorders like narcolepsy are increasingly prone to experience these hypnagogic hallucinations.  With proper treatment for sleep disorders, a normative sleep cycle can be restored and hypnagogic phenomena tend to subside.
  • Stress reduction: If you are highly stressed or have suffered from some sort of trauma, you may need to reduce your stress.  This means taking time for a relaxing activity for at least 5, 10, or 15 minutes per day.  The goal should be to increase activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and tone down the sympathetic dominance.  Those that experience hypnagogic hallucinations as a result of stress may want to consider using a tool called the emWave2.
  • Supplements: If you want, you could experiment with supplements to determine whether they improve your sleep quality.  Examples of some common supplements people take to help with sleep include: melatonin, valerian root, and 5-HTP.  Keep in mind though that some supplements for sleep (e.g. 5-HTP) may increase incidences of hypnagogic hallucinations for some people.
  • Treat underlying medical conditions: If you have an underlying medical condition, especially one that is neurological, it is important to seek proper treatment.  Treating various conditions like neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Parkinson’s), epilepsy, bipolar disorder, tumors, etc. – should help reduce hypnagogic hallucinations.  Without proper treatment, brain processes may stay altered, resulting in continuous or increasingly problematic hypnagogic hallucinations.

Coping with hypnagogic hallucinations

If you experience hypnagogic hallucinations it’s important to avoid panicking, as panic can provoke a fear-response.  It may be natural to freak out if you hear someone’s voice or see a weird shape, especially if you’re somewhat of a hypochondriac, but panic may further hamper your sleep quality.

Acceptance: Many people see hypnagogic phenomena and try to resist whatever they’re seeing.  If they see shapes or hear sounds, they may be cognizant of the fact that those shapes or sounds are hallucinatory, but they may not like the experience and try to resist it.  Resistance may enhance the hypnagogia, but in most cases, it’ll just send you into a state of further anxiety and panic related to sleep.

Try to accept whatever you experience and realize that it’s nothing more than your brain chemistry transitioning into sleep, during which you happened to see an odd shape.  Realize that the hypnagogic hallucinations aren’t considered dangerous or harmful.

Realization: It is also important to realize that hypnagogic hallucinations aren’t based in reality.  They aren’t real, rather they’re a sign that potentially abnormal activity is being generated within your brain.  Although they aren’t generally considered harmful, many people fail to realize this and panic – thinking that something is severely wrong with them.

Sleep journal: Another common sense thing to do is to keep a sleep journal.  Make note of how you felt before going to bed, after waking up, and any hypnagogic hallucinations that you experienced.  You may want to note how much sleep you got, whether you went to bed at a reasonable time, and track any other variables that may have caused or improved your hypnagogic hallucinations.

Therapy: If you aren’t able to cope with the hypnagogic hallucinations and want some professional advice, you may want to seek out the help of an experienced therapist.  There are many different types of therapy that you may benefit from, including psychoanalytic therapy, which focuses on unconscious processes that may manifest during the wakefulness to sleep transition.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are a few common questions associated with hypnagogic hallucinations.  If you have another question that you’d like answered, feel free to post it in the comments section below.

How long do hypnagogic hallucinations last?

In most cases, hypnagogic hallucinations may last anywhere from milliseconds to a few minutes.  For a majority of people they’ll last seconds or be a brief “flash in the pan” – whereas for others they may persist for awhile longer.  The ones that tend to last several minutes may be a result of the Tetris effect, substance usage, or psychiatric conditions (e.g. schizophrenia).  It is possible to experience even longer hypnagogic hallucinations than several minutes – but these aren’t commonly reported.

Do the hypnagogic hallucinations have a special meaning?

The hypnagogic hallucinations have whatever meaning you assign to them.  They aren’t special messages from a deity, spirits, or other souls – rather they are a result of your brain activity.  You may find that they are related to a particular activity that you had been engaged in during the previous day or a topic that your brain had been fixated upon for awhile prior to sleep.

Some people do interpret these hypnagogic hallucinations as being spiritual visions, prophecies, premonitions, apparitions, and other forms of inspiration.  Let’s realize that some discoveries (e.g. benzene molecule shape) have been made as a result of hypnagogic hallucinations.  Therefore in some cases, it may be your brain’s way of regurgitating, processing, and projecting information (or a problem) that you’ve been pondering.

Are hynpagogic hallucinations good or bad?

From a scientific perspective, these hallucinations shouldn’t be considered “good” or “bad” – they are a neutral phenomena.  However, for some individuals, they may be interpreted as a positive sign (good), or a detrimental omen (bad).  Usually interpretations are related to the content of the particular hallucination as well as the psychological state of the individual.

For example, if the hallucinatory content is a sense of tactile pain and the sight of a devilish figure – it will likely be interpreted as bad.  If the hallucinatory content is the smell of fresh muffins – it may be interpreted as good.  Additionally if the content is of a colorful geometric floating shape, it may be interpreted as neither good nor bad.

Have you ever experienced hypnagogic hallucinations?

If you’ve ever experienced hypnagogic hallucinations or had a hallucinatory experience immediately preceding the onset of sleep, feel free to share it in the comments section below.  To help others better understand your experience, mention the hallucinatory subtype(s) that you experienced (e.g. audio, visual, a combination) and whether you enjoyed the experience.  For some people the hypnagogic hallucinations are terrifying, for others they are pleasant, and for another group of people they are completely neutral.

You may also want to include what you believe caused the hypnagogic hallucinations such as a medical condition, drug, supplement, or poor sleep hygiene.  Understand that although they are most common among those with sleep disorders like narcolepsy, some research has reported that over 1/3 of the general population will experience them throughout their lifetime.

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{ 37 comments… add one }
  • Zoloft is bad August 25, 2018, 12:48 am

    I have suffered these every day/night for the last 6 months due to severe Zoloft (sertraline) withdrawal syndrome.

  • Noel July 7, 2018, 11:33 am

    It was quite an – if you forgive the phrase – awakening and a relief for me when I discovered this phenomenon described in literature. Franz Kafka refers to it several times in his diaries, and it’s even alluded to on the very first page of Proust’s great three-part opus.

    It’s good to be in such distinguished company! I have experienced hypnagogic hallucinations since my early childhood, and it has unfortunately become more intense as the years went by. I am a person of nervous disposition, at times suffer even from morbid depression and my head is constantly buzzing with discursive – conversational – thoughts and impressions.

    When I was a child, I noted that after I had been playing out on the street shortly before going to bed, I would hear something like echoes of the voices of my friends – brief phrases, words and snippets of sentences – when falling asleep. I also noticed another strange thing: while the voices were those I had just been hearing at play, the phrases etc were never things that had actually been said, but always things that could have been said, things that fitted exactly into the context of where I had just been (in this case, playing on the street).

    I was as if what I was now hearing in bed was a kind of anticipation of what could have been said outside. Now as a mature (well…) adult, I suffer from this every night and every morning. I can never fall asleep as other people do, i.e. just lying into bed and daydreaming until sleep overcomes you.

    If I do no more than that, I will be awake for hours, get more and more feverish thoughts and even more nervous headaches. Instead, I try relaxation exercises, concentrating on my breathing and relaxing my body limb for limb. If this works*, if I can focus my concentration for even for half a minute, I find my mind immediately being taken over by these hallucinations that are so intense they jerk me back into full wakefulness and I have to start all over again.

    They are like “the advance messenger of sleep” and “dreams exploding into wakefulness”, as Kafka described them. The kind of thing that in a normal healthy person are a brief prelude to sleep, a welcome advance notice that sleep is on the way.

    But with my nervous mind, they are just part of a twilight zone that goes on for hours, with these sudden and bizarre impressions irritating you into alertness, before tiredness once again drags you down below the skin of sleep, only in turn to be startled back into a wakeful state once more, and so on.

    Usually now what I experience are visual images, very often people walking or running on the street, someone turning to smile, or a shape, or just a feeling. While the images are usually in themselves benign, my mind is usually so nervous that it’s disturbed by these illogical intruders.

    Very often it’s just a vague feeling of horror and doom. I often find myself getting up and splashing cold water onto my face, just to get rid of these impressions and regain control of my mind. It’s terrible and I see no hope of improvement.

    I don’t take drugs or medicine, almost never drink alcohol. Any time I went to a psychiatrist, he just gave me sleeping pills that simply make me more sleepy but don’t diminish at all the nervous impressions – the result is just mental torture and each time I vow never to take them again.

    *I almost always have to lie down in the afternoon, and then very often this kind of relaxation does actually work and I fall straight into a deep sleep. The dreams in this daytime sleep are then extremely realistic, emotional and intense, but when I wake up I am relaxed and my mind is free and the feeling is so sweet that I often have to weep with envy and self-pity when I think normal people wake up like that every morning.

  • Vanna Taimani January 26, 2018, 4:22 pm

    It’s currently 5am. I have been trying to explain what has been happening to me for years into google… Every time I experience this type of hallucinations or “my thing” that’s what my family and myself call it I end up on google trying to find help! This is the best one I’ve found ever! A lot of things make sense! I hope that this it what it is because I’m so tired :(…

    When I have “my thing” it normally starts off with myself waking up then I realise that I’m not awake I’m half way between awake and falling sleep, when this happens it’s normally violence related.. and I have no idea why! I hate it! Because once it’s all over I’m too terrified to fall back sleep, I experience this at LEAST TWO TIMES A WEEK, AND MANY TIMES MORE THAN FOUR TIMES IN ONE NIGHT! So I end up staying awake till I see the sun, then I can sleep. It really stresses me out.

    When it happens, I hear very loud, and I mean loud buzzing or some sort of static noises. Once I hear them I know oh here we go.. then I feel as if my body wants to float upwards.. I know it sounds crazy but I have always tired to wake myself when it gets to this stage, I have tried focusing on a person, object and also my hands. But nothing seems to get me out of it. I have had many occasions when I’ve had the normal sleep paralysis, but sometimes I am able to slightly move me hand enough for who ever is next to me to wake up, so they can wake me up.

    I’ve tried everything to fight it but I have gotten no where. It’s to the point where I don’t even want to sleep because I’m so scared, the hallucinations are so vivid. I see bright lights, as well as the noises and I’m always were ever I am sleeping, no matter which room in my house or who’s house. Everything is always where it should be, expected the clock when I look it’s gone, I try my hardest to wake up and just when I think I’ve done it I feel my eyes get heavy and shut again, it feels like I can be trying for at least 10 mins trying to open my eyes to have then only close back again.

    When this does happen, I pull myself down with everything in my body so I don’t “float” away. Tonight when it happened I though I would just see what would happen after many years never trying and being to afraid. So I did and I felt my body drifting to the bathroom next door, which totally shocked me so I tried to wake back up and ended back on bed, from there I tried my hardest to sit myself up and go to the bathroom because the light was on, I thought I was wake and as I was walking to the bathroom I opened the door and BANG immediately feel like I was being choked from behind.

    As I was trying to scream but obviously not making any sound, I could see a reflection through the shower door of a figure, as I was sleeping I could feel my breathing hard picked up and I was breaking very fast, so I bit my thumb as hard as I could and I woke up, covered in sweat, full of tears, breathing heavily and with a sore thumb. This so far has been one of the most realistic hallucinations yet. I’ve never seen or spoke to any medical advisor, I think it’s time, I’m only 19 and I barely get enough sleep as it is… am I crazy!!??

  • melissa January 16, 2018, 10:18 pm

    I have just started to have these hallucinations. This summer was my first experience with these. They started out in the same corner of my living room I could see from my bedroom turned into scenes. Construction sites, a Garage, stables, campgrounds. This went on for months then stopped. Then the hallucinations took place in my bedroom once I started closing the door so I could not see into the living room.

    My first was believing the black, flying shadow in my room was a bat. It was so real that I snuck out my door to the garage to get a tennis racket. I texted my mom and my daughter both for advice on what to do. This happened 2 nights in a row. My second bout was a giant spider web and even bigger spider that was quickly coming toward me. I knew this one was not real and reasoned through it.

    The next night again the spider. This time however I felt rem when I closed my eyes and as I opened them I saw red and then the color green enveloping the spider. I left my closet light on all night the next night, I did not see anything but woke myself up several times to check it out. I am fairly certain these are a byproduct of medication. Looking forward to getting things straightened out soon.

  • mtreille December 22, 2017, 11:24 pm

    I had hypnagogic “hallucinations” (I simply called them episodes…) regularly during my teen years, up until I turned 18-19 years old, when I was put on antidepressants and their ilk for major depression and anxiety due to bipolar II.

    I’ve also always been a vivid dreamer (seriously, I could fill books and books with my dreams, worthy of science-fiction dramas etc…) and a regular lucid dreamer. From the age of twenty, I noticed I didn’t get hypnagogic phenomena anymore, and was quite disappointed. I am one of those who actually likes and enjoys what I consider to be a gift from my brain and spirit. I put it down to age.

    But in the past few months I’ve managed to come off both of my antidepressants (I still have two meds but am VERY happy with the reduction) and have noticed my hypnagogia has come back!!! So these damned pills were blocking my brain’s natural abilities, as well as blunting my emotions…

    Having read that antidepressants dampen psychedelic substances’ effects, this doesn’t actually surprise me. It makes a lot of sense. It would seem the drugs blocked altered states of consciousness in me. Being spiritual, this gives me hope and encouragement to try meditation and other forms of expanded awareness.

    In the past, hypnagogic episodes almost always led to lucid dreams, which was awesome quite frankly. But I won’t deny I also got scared a couple of times, because I heard voices. Interestingly I discovered that what was happening was hypnagogia on a forum about… spirituality and mystical/psychedelic experiences. They’ve also had pretty strong sexual associations, but from what I know about brain function and altered states of consciousness, this doesn’t surprise me either.

    Last time I had an episode – I think it was three or four days ago, I almost morphed into a wolf. I tried to, but the transformation was incomplete, and I ended up as a wolf-shaped entity made of light. Being interested in shamanism as well, for healing and spiritual growth, this makes me very happy.

    I know hope to learn and find ways to exert more control over the process. *I am really sorry to hear about all the people here who suffer from these experiences… I wish they could be as beneficial to you as I find them to be for me!

  • Patrick January 18, 2017, 6:33 pm

    I get these usually once or twice a month, I’ve associated it to poor sleep scheduling. I get the auditory hallucinations generally. Last night I didn’t but in the past I’ve heard up to at least a full songs worth of music from the hallucination. The most common thing in this process starts with an intense feeling in my head which, I can only assume after reading this, is the transition from beta to alpha waves which then triggers the auditory hallucinations and then I lucid dream. I’m aware for a while until I fall into a deeper sleep. Which after, I generally remember key details about the dreams.

  • hypno person December 24, 2016, 8:07 am

    I read about a technique to stop repeat upsetting hypnogogia. I’ve used it and it works for me. All you do is, after you notice that you’re having 2 of these wake you up, don’t try to fall back asleep again, it’ll just repeat again.

    Instead after getting it twice, get of bed for about a half hour. This will let the brain calm and stop it from repeating. Then go back to bed. Now it won’t repeat itself. I’m awake now because I just had this happen to me. I’ve used this tip many times and it’s always worked, as I said.

  • Mark December 20, 2016, 6:18 am

    I’ve been having hypnopompic auditory hallucinations and some (but fewer) visual hallucinations. They started around 2013, when I got sick and also had an in-grown toenail (I had to get it cut out and it was the worst pain of my life!). I was extremely religious back then (I no longer am, I left my faith last year at end of 2015) and felt like these were omens or signs for some of the things that were deemed ‘sinful’ such as having casual sex and masturbating.

    I then had a breakup with a GF who lived in Montana and the auditory hallucinations continued. I’ve been having them again recently after getting sick with a chest respiratory infection (I’m seeing a trend here with getting sick and having these), which I believe were caused by Rhinitis / Hay Fever Allergies. I was at the gym around the start of August 2016, and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath after each set of lifting.

    I went home and haven’t been back to the gym since (it’s now December 2016). I was having trouble breathing just walking up a flight of stairs, and it was a daily nightmare until I started looking into ways to help solve my issues (which I’ll get into in a minute). I also don’t have a great sleep schedule from working late night shifts, so I’m typically always sleep deprived.

    Then on top of all that, I was lifting weights 2 times a week (full body workouts) doing H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) a couple times a week in the morning, and working night shifts. On top of all that, my dad died last year (October 3, 2015) and within a week afterwards around October 10th, I ended up with appendicitis so I had to get the appendectomy surgery to get my appendix removed. A few weeks later, I walked away from my faith (not due to emotional reasons, but due to extensive research, which was already in the process starting at the beginning of 2015).

    I’m 33 years old, so still somewhat young, but I think I was pushing my body to the limit, and it’s been affecting my brain chemistry. Not only that, but recently found out that I’m gluten intolerant / Celiac / Coeliac, so I’ve stopped eating gluten (and dairy) products. I also have done a few sessions of AAT (Advanced Allergy Therapy), by a doctor named Dr. Jill Cohn in the San Francisco / Berkeley / Oakland Bay Area.

    You don’t even have to be there in person for her to treat you, she does it all online through a conference call on a site similar to Skype. You can watch testimonials on YouTube as well, and I’m here to tell you that her system did cure me of Ragweed allergies. I now understand that because I was pushing my body to the limit as well as trying to stay 500 calories below maintenance (to cut and get shredded), that my body wasn’t getting the proper nutrients and vitamins. This could be some of the problems you all are facing as well.

    At that point, your body is so run down, that it will start attacking ‘harmless’ invaders, such as ragweed pollen, pet dander or even just simple dust particles, which causes inflammation, hence the reason I was having trouble breathing (it developed exercise induced / allergy induced asthma in my system). Not only that, but when your body is so run down and not getting the proper nutrition, it can cause psychosis and schizophrenic symptoms as well! I started taking a ton of supplements and they’ve helped tremendously.

    Here are a few to get you started. Try these and eat a balanced diet for a couple months. I’ll bet you start to feel better and the hallucinations diminish.

    1. Vitamin D3 (Jarrow Brand – 5,000IU – take two to four per day) – This is especially necessary if you live above the 37 degree parallel (latitude) in the Fall and Winter (typically from September to March). The sun only produces Vitamin D3 in our body when it is 50 degrees (altitude not temp.) above the horizon and even during the Spring and Summer, this only occurs from around 10AM in the morning to 2-3PM in the afternoon. Outside of that, your body is not producing any Vitamin D3 whatsoever, which is why around 75 to 80% of people in the world are D3 deficient! A good source of information on this is Dr. John Cannell. Go research how vital and important D3 is for us! You want your ng/ml (nano-grams per milliliter of blood) to be from 50 to 100 (or even slightly over 100 is fine too!).

    2. Magnesium (CALM BRAND) – Magnesium is the driver for Vitamin D3. It’s very important and we don’t get enough of it in our diet on average.

    3. Vitamin C (take around 2,000mg per day) – Look up Dr. Thomas Levy and Dr. Linus Pauling for good information on this. The Liposomal type of Vitamin C is the best kind!

    4. Vitamin K2 (different from Vitamin K1 – Get the Jarrow Brand called Vitamin K-Right) – Millions of people take calcium supplements to maintain healthy bone. Yet few patients or physicians realize that optimizing bone integrity involves more than taking a single mineral supplement. A critical additional component for bone and cardiovascular health is vitamin K2. Recent research has revealed that, without vitamin K2, calcium regulation is disrupted. In fact, low levels of vitamin K2 are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis.

    5. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – it’s a substance similar to a vitamin. It is found in every cell of the body. Your body makes CoQ10, and your cells use it to produce energy your body needs for cell growth and maintenance. It also functions as an antioxidant, which protects the body from damage caused by harmful molecules. (Get the Jarrow Brand – no I don’t work for them, but I’ve heard they are the best in all of these, and it’s what I take).

    6. Vitamin B-Right (Jarrow) which has all of the B vitamins in it.

    7. Oxylent (which is one of the best tasting and best multi-vitamins out there in my opinion). It’s got most of all you need in there when included with what I mentioned above.

    Within a month of taking all this (I started on November 2nd, 2016), I’m now feeling about 95% back to my normal self. The other 5% is caused by my poor sleeping habits still. I now realize that these were all subconscious from the heavy religious indoctrination. If I had never been introduced to these religious ideas, I’m sure I’d not have these particular hypnopompic and hypnagogic hallucinations that deal with ‘spirituality.’

    When it first started, I was seeing visuals such as numbers and objects floating in the air upon waking up. They’d disappear within a few seconds. I’m pretty sure I have some sort of religious trauma after leaving my faith and also, after my dad dying within the last year. They actually have a name for this type of PTSD and it’s RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome).

    You can find some good material through Dr. Marlene Winell online if you suffer from the religious form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Anyways, I hope all of this helps someone else who may be going through similar! Just know you’re not alone and it’s more than likely happening because of nutrient deficiency and/or a traumatic experience you suffered. These aren’t devils, demons, goblins or ghouls harassing you, this is all natural phenomena and it can be cured with the right supplements and proper sleep!

  • Alicia December 12, 2016, 8:47 am

    I have this. If I am exhausted or haven’t been sleeping well, I usually hear people talking or loud sounds. Usually it’s just disorientating, but I have had terrible hallucinations of something with malicious intent in the room with me.

  • Stephen September 30, 2016, 1:55 am

    I wrote a book on dream control, I see energy in a circle expanding and floating upward then restarting, like pulses. Also a faces and cartons. I can know change the colors and the faces at will. I can expand the energy circle till the black is gone and it is a totally different color then the dream will open up and I can lucid dream. I love it people thought my dreams were powers from the devil and jinn, I thought they were just to lazy to dream. It’s nice to have a term in science to shut them up.

  • Anonymous September 23, 2016, 8:40 pm

    I’ve been hearing people talking before falling sleep my entire life. Almost every night. They don’t talk to me, and the stuff they say doesn’t make any sense, so it never bothered me (unless I’m sleep deprived – then the voices are much much louder and it’s kinda bothersome, but this happens once every few years).

    If that day I talked a lot with someone or a group or people, the voices I hear are theirs (including the accent and every language quirk), but the stuff they say still doesn’t make any sense. They say things like “I just painted mine”, “was this the second time?”, “I have some left”. There is no content – just short, syntactically correct phrases. It doesn’t bother or worry me at all. It’s like dreaming just before falling asleep.

    Please forgive my poor English.

  • Kara September 10, 2016, 6:58 pm

    I’m a 41 year old woman with temporal lobe epilepsy. About two nights a week on average, right as I am falling asleep I have a hallucination that there is a giant insect on the ceiling above my bed. It’s usually a mosquito type thing with long dangling legs. Then I will usually yell or gasp and sit up in bed, and then calm back down as I realize it isn’t real.

  • Walter September 8, 2016, 8:09 pm

    Hi, Two nights before my son died in a car accident I was woken by my mother; She had passed away eight years earlier. I did not see her and I did not hear her but her presence was completely frightening and awesome; a feeling of utter foreboding. I sleep with the window blinds open and when I turned to face in that direction I saw a red/black circular light; not too bright but intense; so much so that it held my attention for an indefinite time; and still the feeling of utter foreboding and my mothers presence.

    It was so extreme that I told my wife next morning about it; it had never happened before or since. My son died two days later in a tragic accident. This experience was more real than “reality.” As a very pragmatic and logical person who was once an agnostic I am now very much a believer in some other existence which is, and probably will remain, a mystery to us.

  • Vic September 7, 2016, 7:11 pm

    I frequently have visual hallucinations of this sort. I find them disturbing because they usually feature little men like trolls with hideously ugly faces. I have never experienced any pleasant or neutral hypnagogic hallucinations.

  • Faith August 25, 2016, 4:38 am

    I’ve been looking for this for a long time! I’ve had several of these hallucinations, in fact I just woke up from one 30 minutes ago. I cannot stand them and I want them to stop. They are deeply disturbing.

  • Nick June 29, 2016, 2:49 pm

    If hypnagogic hallucinations are caused by brain hypoxia caused by sleep apnea (they were by definition in my old textbooks) no one who had such a hallucination that lasted for more than a few seconds would be telling their tale. Both the article and the responses seem to cover a mix of all kinds of things, including just dreams, very few of which seem truly hypnagogic hallucinations of the incubus type caused by sleep apnea.

    People who wake up in another room etc, were not under sleep paralysis, and for sure their brain was not hypoxic, if they could walk around or if they were hallucinating for several hours. Jill, July 27, 2015 reports a good example of the kind of thing that would have lasted a few seconds, was frightening, she was paralyzed and it woke her up.

  • Jane June 9, 2016, 3:47 am

    I have had a couple of auditory hallucinations over the past few weeks, right before falling asleep. The first one, I remember thinking/dreaming, the phrase, “the fun is over”, when I heard this very clear, deep, mans voice speaking into my ear, saying; “The fun hasn’t even begun yet”, in a very threatening way. I was scared half to death, and flew out of bed, adrenaline pumping, expecting to find someone in my room.

    The second one was very similar; someone speaking in the room, commenting on my thought/dream. This was a more friendly womans voice, and it didn’t scare me at all. The voice was also very clear, as if someone was actually talking to me, but not directly into my ear – more like from across the room. I don’t remember what was said, but it was in context to whatever I was thinking/dreaming, and made perfect sense.

    I was a bit worried, but after reading about it here, I am reassured – I am not going completely crazy. I don’t hear voices in general. It’s the first time I have ever experienced anything like this. I have been suffering from depression since childhood, but lately I have been having a lot of paranoid thoughts, and my depression is at its worst.

  • Joe June 8, 2016, 6:59 pm

    I’ve had this very problem since I was a small child; kind of like night terrors. It continued well in adulthood and as I’m reaching middle age I still suffer from it. It honestly pretty freak and usually result in showing me my worst fears. As a child it was spider the size of my bed crawling toward me; now it more like black wispy shadows.

    The funny thing is it isn’t alway so bad, sometime it allows me to deconstruct things that gave me trouble and help me solve it (odd). The only thing that seem to keep the visual displays at bay is Xanax; which has it’s own set of problems, but going 10 years averaging 4 to 5 hours a night was having some serious repercussions… well anyways that my 2 cents on this issue.

  • Tori Jillings May 17, 2016, 9:53 am

    Last night was the WORST night of my life! I suffered hallucinations all night long so got no sleep. It was like the longest movie ever made! Lots of people interacting with each other and the environment around them with audio! ALL of them chatting in my head. Having visual and audio was hell and has scared me, so much I don’t want to go back to sleep.

    The cause for me is simple, I am a recovering alcohol dependent and bulimic of which I am in therapy for. Last week I feel off the wagon (back on it now thankfully) but the withdrawn was shocking. I didn’t sleep all that night and it went on into the next day (Sunday). I believe it is this and the stress of therapy that has brought this on. I just closed my eyes now and straight away the images came. Terrifying as they are intense and the voices loud.

    • Tori Jillings May 17, 2016, 9:56 am

      You mention that longer hallucinations aren’t often reported, well I just did. Try seven hours and still there.

  • Tristin Johnson May 15, 2016, 8:26 pm

    I’m a 32 year old woman, and I think I’very been experiencing this for about a year. Since February it has become more frequent. I’ll have an episode at least 3 times a week. I have a history of epilepsy, but my seizures are under control. Thanks to a left temporal lobectomy, I haven’t had a seizure in 5 years.

    I saw my neurologist last week. She mentioned hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, but wrote the diagnosis at parasomnia. She also mentioned REM sleep behavior disorder but said those episodes are usually violent and experienced by old men. She suggested that I see a sleep specialist but didn’t refer me to one because we’re about to move to another state.

    My dreams are always in-the-moment. For example, I will dream there are spiders in my bed, and when I wake up, I am actively trying to swat spiders out of my bed or pull the covers back. I dreamed my pillowcase was soaking wet. When I became conscious, I was in the process of trying to take my pillowcase off. Last night I was startled from sleep by a loud knocking noise.

    It sounded like someone banging on the door or walls. Very scary. I know this wasn’t real because if it had been real, my dog would have gone nuts. He was sound asleep by my side. I thought about getting out of bed and investigating, but I knew that would trigger unbearable anxiety or panic. I’ve also dreamed that the bedroom ceiling was falling in.

    When I woke up, I was standing outside of my bedroom with the lights turned on. Another time, I dreamed water was pouring into my bedroom through the walls and ceiling. When I became conscious, I was feeling around on the floor and walls for moisture. A frequently occurring episode is that the TV turns on by itself.

    The picture on the TV is a shadowy silhouette of a man (think Freddy Krueger). I’ve come to know instantly that this one isn’t real, but I do have to open and close my eyes a few times to make the picture go away. Very strange but interesting.

    • Tania June 16, 2016, 2:12 pm

      I have exactly the same hallucinations as you. I wake up and am swatting the animal in the bed away or find myself standing in the hallway with lights on having escaped from a situation or person in the bedroom. I hate them, I’m scared to go to sleep as I don’t know what I will see. Mine started when I took beta blockers to stop migraines about 15 years ago.

      They are much worse if I take an antidepressant. Think they’re related to stress and anxiety but sometimes there is seemingly no real cause. Thought was going mad or developing schizophrenia initially. Mine are mainly visual sometimes auditory and usually very threatening. Never pleasant!

  • Marie P. May 9, 2016, 7:56 pm

    I always thought this was normal until recently. This happens to me pretty much every night before I fall asleep. I see images sometimes it’s like I’m watching a movie, creatures, scenery, faces that morph into something else, there’s no pattern or story line just random images and videos, they pass quickly one after another, or one leading to another. I have no control over it, I just deal with it until I fall asleep.

    Other times I hear people talking and I can’t make out anything that they are saying, sometimes it sounds like a television or radio is playing, other times it’s music, random music – but it always sounds muffled. This has been with me all my life and I thought it’s just what happens before you fall asleep. I don’t use drugs, or take any prescription medication for anything other than daily vitamins.

    I drink occasionally and don’t smoke. It’s a little comforting to know I’m not the only one out there that this happens to, but I can’t say I like it.

  • Claire Thomas April 17, 2016, 9:28 pm

    I have experienced these since I can remember. I have had depression and anxiety since childhood and have very vivid and more often than not nightmares every night. I still get the odd night terror and I’m 34. I thought these, along with hypnagogic jerks were just a normal part of falling asleep. Mine have never been frightening, just extremely bizarre, and I almost find them comforting as I know that they are just my brain firing away as I go off to sleep, and I can tell I am going to sleep when they come.

    I get them every time I do drop off, and when putting my toddler to bed, which involves laying next to him and pretending to be asleep. I get so relaxed and sleepy that I might experience them a dozen or so times as I flit from going to sleep to ‘bloody hell I’d better wake up I have loads to do’ once said toddler does go to sleep!

    Mine are always visual and auditory, like a scene is taking place, but so odd that I can recognize them as being hallucinatory in nature. I’ve been on antidepressants for a long time so couldn’t judge if they are more frequent than before, but I can remember having them at about age four frequently.

  • Brian April 11, 2016, 12:53 pm

    I’ve been experiencing this type of hallucination on and off for a few years, and put it down to side effects from antiepileptic medication. Recently I withdrew all together with support from my GP as I thought I was wrongly diagnosed initially. The frequency, intensity and duration in the last 2 weeks has been terrifying, with today being the worst. It began at 7am, and continued periodically until 1pm.

    I’m seeing abstract faces which change shape; the whole time I’m smelling something I know to be unpleasant but can’t describe. I drink alcohol nightly which I know won’t help but believe honestly that things would be worse if I didn’t. Need a solution because I understand that deep down they’re not real, but still think they’ll make me ill.

  • Jack April 6, 2016, 6:30 am

    I have had some experiences of Hypnagogic hallucinations and they usually last a few minutes and are very vivid and usually consist of people I know and places I know and I can usually remember almost exactly what happened months after. I also experience hypnic jerks when falling asleep to and it can be very difficult to fall asleep. My recent episode about 30 minutes ago I was in some empty casino type place and I was sitting in a corner where a mirror was facing me.

    I notice a person I never seen before staring at me through the mirror for no reason so I slip a pocket knife in my hand that he cant see. I turn around and notice another person with him and asked what his problem is. They both then pull out pocket knifes and try to rob me so we get in a knife fight. I remember getting stabbed in the calf and in the neck and even stabbing them a few times.

    I notice a worker person in a locked glass room and try telling her too help. Eventually a cop runs in while I’m still fighting these two people and the cop shoots them. After that I don’t remember what happened but I’ve had other similar episodes in where my life is threatened. I have used drugs before but even after months of not taking any they still occur. The first time I remember one occurring is where I had been taking oxycodone frequently and this was a few years ago.

    I remember in the episode that a older type of car was trying to run me over in my neighborhood but I can see that no one was actually driving the car. They usually don’t happen too often maybe 1-5 times in a month but the hypnic jerks are a lot more frequent and only happen when I try falling asleep during the day then my whole leg or arm twitches and wakes me up immediately.

  • Dee March 27, 2016, 10:52 pm

    I have experienced several episodes of hearing voices on prior to falling asleep which doesn’t bother me too much. However I sometimes have several nights in a row where I close my eyes and see illuminous colours and strange shapes. I find this disturbing and then it makes it harder to drop off to sleep. Strangely since starting 20 mg of Prozac a day I sleep better and experience this less. I’m wondering if sleep deprivation was in fact the cause.

  • Joan February 26, 2016, 4:49 pm

    My ‘visions’ of swirling back lines started after I took up drawing again. I had also been on nortriptyline for a health issue. They always came on when I woke up in the middle of the night. I stopped the antidepressant and have been working on improving my sleep quality. I rarely get these hallucinations anymore. One thing I missed in all the reading I’ve done on this is do people get these with their eyes open or shut? Mine only come on with my eyes closed.

  • Crystal January 27, 2016, 2:01 pm

    This has been happening to me for as long as I can remember. I am 31. I have both types and they can be quite scary at times. I hear voices as I fall asleep almost every night, but the hypnopompic aren’t as frequent but are much more unsettling. I’ve woken up to hear glass shattering, doors opening or closing, footsteps running down the hall, voices singing scary things, robotic noises, knocking. When I was younger I would wake up hearing music or what sounded like the TV.

  • gale January 14, 2016, 3:31 am

    This happened to me even though I am very much awake which is very weird. I was sitting on the couch and closed my eyes for 30 secs and then I had this hallucination. My friend came in and I was aware that she did come in, but I was still in the middle of the daydream. I don’t know, is that normal?

  • Sandra January 4, 2016, 1:31 pm

    I started experiencing hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations the day my mother entered a nursing home. At first they were auditory, and not threatening or scary…as her illness progressed so did my stress level and of course my mental anguish. By the time she was admitted to Hospice 5 months later these hallucinations became horrifying and constant. They were auditory, but mostly visual, and would last 2-5 minutes after waking.

    I was very sleep deprived from sitting with her, and anytime I would doze off, day or night I would have very sinister and threatening visions. I also would experience what I’m assuming was sleep paralysis, where I’d wake up gasping for breath and unable to move, heart racing and the feeling of a vibration all over my body. I would sometimes have a strange metallic taste in my mouth, or smell something burning. I really assumed I was having a psychotic break of some kind.

    When I did research and found information on this subject I was relieved, but still tortured by the occurrences daily. When she finally passed the problem hung on, but got less terrifying over time. That’s been almost two years ago and I still have the experiences but to a lesser degree, and more in times of stress. However they are very benign now. Just colors, geometric shapes, etc. I have had a history of depression and anxiety most of my life, and was addicted to pain meds for most of my adult life.

    However I had been sober four yrs when this started, and was not on any antidepressants, or other meds . But maybe my brain chemistry was affected by these things and made me more susceptible? Who knows. But my conclusion is this: I was extremely close to my mom and the trauma of watching her life end was what brought this on. I’m still trying to come to grips with it, and it didn’t help that my father died a year later.

    It has been a huge adjustments in life, and not a very pleasant time. I’m holding out hope that maybe someday it will get better, and I can start having a normal nights sleep. I hope this helps someone.

  • Stan Turner August 30, 2015, 11:21 am

    Early one morning I thought I had woken up. I was lying on my stomach, when I became aware that someone had opened my bedroom door, and come in. I tried to turn my head, but was unable to; in fact I couldn’t move at all. Then I felt the surface of the bed being depressed, as though someone was crawling over it, and my fear turned to terror. I tried again to turn my head, but to no avail.

    I put my face in the pillow, and surrendered. I woke later to find myself alive, the room empty and my door still shut. A couple of weeks later, I saw a program on Nat. Geo., channel, that detailed sleep paralysis, with hypnagogic phenomena, occurring in many of the world’s cultures. Indeed, a number of people had a very similar experience to mine. I wondered if this was a genetic trait passed down through millennia.

    In the times before humans could control fire, it must have been terrifying to spend moonless nights, sleeping on the open veld, or in dark caves. One of the protective methods the brain would have used was, fear paralysis, like the rabbit in headlights. I realized that fear was at the basis of my experience, and I wondered if the brain was sending a message.

    As strange as it sounds, I wondered if my ’emotional part’, was giving me a physical demonstration of what was going on inside. I realized that fear, in different forms, was controlling my life. I decided to face my fears, one by one, over the next couple of years. I am much more peaceful now, and have no recurrence of the sleep paralysis.

  • Ashley Smith August 14, 2015, 5:02 am

    I have been researching what is wrong with me for months and I finally found this. I have it entirely. I wake up every 3-4 hours when it is bad and it feels like I haven’t slept a wink. I have visions but I am not distracted from reality when it happens I know what is real and what isn’t. I feel body sensations when it happens and lose bladder control sometimes. (I wake up smelling maple syrup so strongly it makes me throw up sometimes. I want to talk to someone who understands this.

    My biological father is schizophrenic but he is the only one in the family with it. (I’m adopted). The doctors put me on adderall at a young age and I was very dependent upon it for years. I have extreme anxiety and prescriptions do not work. Xanax makes me black out when I take it. I have been working with natural medicine and herbs and since taking things that are cholinergic, I have not had the issues as badly. I have been taking Chinese club moss also known as huperzine and it has seemed to help a lot.

    • Sandra January 4, 2016, 1:51 pm

      Ashley Smith: I understand completely. Several things you said I can really relate to…the frequency of ur hallucinations, and how they exhaust you, (I do the same) and also your anxiety and experience with xanax. I have had depression / anxiety all my life, and got addicted to xanax because of it, and it would cause me to black out. I’ve been sober a long time, but the illness, then death of my mom brought on this horrible night time hallucination experience.

      I’ve been having them now for two years, and they have gotten less sinister, but still annoying. I feel sure that stress is a huge factor, as I’m sure you do too. I also am trying a more natural and holistic approach to mental and physical well being BC antidepressants and sleeping pills are not worth the side effects to me. I hope this helps you. Good luck with your night time struggles.

  • Jill July 27, 2015, 10:46 pm

    This has happened occasionally my whole life, so terrifying! It happened again 2 nights ago. I am 32 weeks pregnant was experiencing insomnia. I woke up at 1:30 and the last time I looked at the clock it was 4:40. I finally thought I fell asleep, but awoke with sleep paralysis and a hypnagogic hallucination. There was a toddler shadow standing next to the closet door next to my bed.

    I thought it was my 2.5 year old son. I tried calling his name to tell him to get back in bed, but I couldn’t speak. The shadow fidgeted as I struggled to move. Then the shadow flew through the air and into my body through my chest and down to my womb. I was terrified for my unborn daughter. I woke up screaming at 5am.

  • AJ May 16, 2015, 11:27 pm

    Wellbutrin absolutely caused them for me. I had to switch from the regular release in the morning and afternoon to XL in the mornings only, and even then I’d get them occasionally. It’s been about a year on Wellbutrin now and I almost never have them anymore, but for the first few months it was almost every night. Once I knew what was going on, they got easier to tolerate, but it can still be really frightening at first.

    • Victoria July 1, 2015, 9:40 am

      I’m glad you commented, as I am in the process of discontinuing Wellbutrin for exactly the same reason. I don’t know why all of sudden it is causing this problem, but for months I have been having hypnagogic hallucinations with sleep paralysis every night, and I am exhausted. I am hoping that when I come off Wellbutrin completely, they will stop.

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