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Hypnopompic Hallucinations: Causes, Types, & Treatment

Hypnopompic hallucinations refer to bizarre sensory experiences that occur during the transitory period between a sleeping state and wakefulness.  Imagine sensing that you are slowly transitioning from a sleeping state to being fully awake, when at some point during that transition, you begin seeing vivid geometric shapes, hearing sounds, or even sensing touch.

These sensations could be described as hypnopompic in that you aren’t fully asleep, yet simultaneously aren’t fully awake.  Although hypnopompic phenomena are often reported among those with various types of sleep disorders (e.g. narcolepsy), they are also reported by 6.6% of the general population.  In some cases, these hypnopompic hallucinations may be frightening and accompanied by an episode of sleep paralysis.

In other cases, they may be relatively benign (e.g. geometric shapes) or even pleasant (e.g. feeling as if you are floating).  Experiences of hypnopompic hallucinations are often a result of individual brain anatomy, neurochemistry, and cumulative subconscious material.  These differ from dreams in that they are perceived as occurring while you’re semi-conscious.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11166087

What are hypnopompic hallucinations? Definition.

The term “hypnopompic” was originally coined by Frederic Myers, a renowned psychial researcher of the mid 1800s.  It is important to understand that the term hypnopompic is not always associated with hallucinations.  Additionally, unusual sensory experiences that occur during the oppositional transition of wakefulness to sleep are referred to as “hypnagogic hallucinations.”

Hypnopompic: This term is comprised of Greek word derivatives “hypnos” which translates to “sleep” and “pompē” which translates to “sending away.”  Combining the two derivatives results in one term that signifies sending away or fading (pompē) sleep (hypnos).  Think of hypnopompic as the transition between sleep and waking – usually occurring in the morning.

Hallucinations: This is a term that signifies perceptual experiences with no basis in reality.  Hallucinations can be described as sensory experiences or perceptions, of phenomena that are not actually present.

Hypnopompic hallucinations: Augmenting the terms hypnopompic and hallucinations, we are left with “hypnopompic hallucinations” – which can be defined as perceptual experiences with no grounds in reality that occur during the transition between a sleeping state and wakefulness.  An example would be seeing geometric shapes floating across the room, while transitioning from sleep to being awake.

What causes hypnopompic hallucinations?

The exact causes of hypnopompic hallucinations are generally subject to significant individual variation.  In other words, one person may experience them as a result of a sleep disorder, while another may experience them as a result of ingesting a psychoactive drug prior to falling asleep.  Additionally what an individual sees may be related to unique collective subconscious material and how it’s perceived may be related to the person’s psychological state.

Brain activation: There is evidence that regional brain activation or deactivation of particular regions may be responsible for generating hypnopompic hallucinations.  Specifically, some researchers believe that the frontal lobe of the brain becomes depressed – leading to impairments in reaction time and short-term memory.  It is also surmised that activation of certain regions as a result of REM-like activity, seizure-like activity, or irritation to the cortex could produce these hypnopompic hallucinations.

Research has shown that direct brain stimulation of certain regions can lead to hallucinations, even among those who had never had a previous hallucinatory experience.  If you stimulate various visual centers, you can create simple or complex hallucinations.  If you stimulate auditory centers, a person may hear voices or other sounds.

If you stimulate both, you could end up with both visuals and sounds.  It is possible that bursts of REM-like activity stimulate certain regions in a hypnopompic state, resulting in hypnopompic hallucinations.  The duration and degree to which they become stimulated may predict the perceived length and complexity of the hallucinations.

Brain structure: Those with structural abnormalities of the brain may be more prone to hallucinations, particularly those that are visual (e.g. seeing things).  A person’s structure may be abnormal since birth, or may be abnormal as the result of some serious brain injury.  In many cases, it has been found that lesions to certain lobes of the brain can cause both sleep disturbances and sleep-related (e.g. hypopompic) hallucinations.

Brain waves: It is thought that brain waves are altered during hypnopompic hallucinations. The brainwave pattern may include a combination of theta waves and/or alpha waves, along with intermittent bursts of beta.  It is thought to be a predominantly slow wave state, but the concentrations of these waves may depend on the stage of the hypnopompic transition from sleep to wakefulness.

Someone that experiences a hypnopompic hallucination closer to the point of waking may be more conscious of the experience, but may endure only a very subtle hallucination.  Someone that is closer on the spectrum of hypnopompia to sleep may experience more vivid dream-like hallucinations, but be less conscious of the experience.  Brainwave signatures for hypnopompic hallucinations may also be influenced by REM or covert REM.

Consciousness: During the hypnopompic state of awareness, it is thought that we are in an emotional, dream-like state of consciousness.  During this dream-like state, our brain is attempting to make logical sense of the experience, resulting in our own subjective interpretations.  A hypnopompic hallucination may be related to something that’s been on your mind recently (conscious) or may be something that you had long-forgotten (subconscious).

Illicit drugs: Those that use illicit drugs may experience odd dreams as well as hypnagogic and/or hypnopompic hallucinations.  Among drug abusers, it is known that circuitry can be altered in the brain over time, potentially leading to damage and the death of brain cells.  The alterations in brain functioning from illicit drug usage or abuse may lead to sleep abnormalities and manifestations of hypnopompic hallucinations.

Individuals that experience drug-induced psychosis are known to exhibit abnormal neurotransmission and brain activation as a result of the drug.  It is possible for an individual to fall asleep following usage of the drug, only to transition from sleep to wakefulness with a hypnopompic hallucination.  These hallucinations may be an effect resulting from a combination of REM activity and the drug’s mechanism of action.

Meditation: Those that are advanced in the practice of meditation may report odd sensory experiences upon sleep-wakefulness transitions.  This is due to the fact that meditation changes the brain over time, generally for the better (Read: Scientific Benefits of Meditation).  Most types of meditation allow individuals to remain conscious during the emergence of slower brain waves (e.g. alpha and theta).

Someone who has been meditating for a long period of time may remain semi or fully conscious during the transitory (hypnopompic) phase, and be cognizant of any hallucinations that often occur as a result of REM (rapid-eye movement) or REM-like activity.  It should be noted that different types of meditation affect the brain in unique ways.  Some meditative practices may lead to an enhancement of hypnopompic hallucinations.

Neurotransmission: It is important to consider the role of neurotransmission in the occurrence of hypnopompic hallucinations.  When artificially increased (as a result of drugs or supplements), various neurotransmitters are capable of affecting sleep and/or causing hallucinations.  For example, it is known that increasing levels of serotonin can affect sleep.

Additionally increasing levels of dopamine could result in hallucinations.  Receptor densities for neurotransmitters may also play a role in influencing hypnopompic hallucinations.  If certain neurotransmitters aren’t adequately processed by receptors (e.g. dopamine receptor polymorphisms), it may lead to manifestation of hallucinations, some of which could occur during a hypnopompic state.

Pharmaceutical drugs: There is substantial evidence to support the idea that pharmaceutical drugs, particularly those that influence neurotransmission, could cause hypnopompic hallucinations.  A report published in 2000 documented cases of individuals experiencing hypnopompic hallucinations following the administration of Donpezil, a drug used to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The drug acts as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, thus increasing concentrations of acetylcholine in effort to enhance cognitive function.  Unfortunately this mechanism of action alters REM (rapid-eye movement) and increases likelihood of hypnopompic hallucinations.  Older reports from the 1980s have reported hypnopompic hallucinations among those taking tricyclic antidepressants.

The medication Amitriptyline is thought to alter sleep patterns and most patients taking the medication are able to realize that the hallucination is non-psychotic.  That said, doctors should still warn patients taking these medications so that they don’t panic or believe it’s a symptom of psychosis.  It should be speculated that a variety of psychiatric drugs may be capable of causing hypnopompic hallucinations.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11106313
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7468295

Psychodynamics: Some speculate that during hypnopompia, unconscious or subconscious material may be unveiled to the conscious, which may contribute to the hallucinations.  Some believe that the hallucinations are manifestations of cumulative unconscious and/or subconscious material. Others speculate that the hallucinations are primed as a result of repetitive conscious material (e.g. the Tetris effect).

A third psychodynamic-related theory is that they’re a combination of both conscious and subconscious. It is also possible that the brain’s own wiring may produce hallucinations independent of all conscious and subconscious material.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2660156/

REM activity: It is possible that REM (rapid-eye movement) or REM-like bursts in certain regions of the brain lead to hypnopompic phenomena.  In the hypnopompic state, people are thought to be experiencing some rapid-eye movement (REM) activity, while simultaneously becoming semi-conscious.  During this REM state, people may report vivid imagery, that could be produced as a direct result of rapid-eye movement.

The imagery from the REM may temporarily linger, resulting in reports of hypnopompic visual hallucinations – the most common type.  It is important to also consider the fact that rapid-eye movement may lead to perceptions of sounds and other sensations (e.g. touch) in addition to solely visual phenomena.

Sensory deprivation: There is evidence that sensory deprivation can lead to hallucinations during both hypnagogic and hypnopompic states.  Should you engage in frequent sensory deprivation, your brain realizes that it’s not receiving either auditory, visual, or other input.  The brain is constantly scanning the environment for these major sensory inputs that are tied to human evolution and survival.

Since the brain isn’t able to find any environmental inputs, it fills in the gaps in sensory information by generating a hallucination.  This may be a sound, a sight, or a combination of both.  In the event that you engage in sensory deprivation prior to sleep, you may increase your odds of hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4354964/

Sleep deprivation: There is evidence that sleep deprivation and restriction could cause hypnopompic hallucinations.  Sleep deprivation changes brain activity, hormones, and neurotransmission – all factors that can influence hypnopompic phenomena.  Chronic sleep deprivation may increase likelihood for hallucinatory experiences upon waking from a sleeping state.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/

Conditions associated with hypnopompic hallucinations

There are many conditions associated with hypnopompic hallucinations.  In some cases the conditions may be a direct contributing cause to the hypnopompic hallucinations, while in other cases these conditions may indirectly contribute to the hallucinatory experiences.

Anxiety disorders: Those that experience frightening or nightmarish hypnopompic hallucinations are thought to have anxiety disorders.  Individuals with anxiety are thought to be at greater risk for experiencing “sleep paralysis,” which is characterized by an inability to move during a semi-conscious REM (rapid-eye movement) state.  Since sleep paralysis is commonly associated with hypnopompic hallucinations, and anxiety disorders are associated with sleep paralysis, it makes logical sense that anxiety could increase likelihood of hypnopompic hallucinations.

The exact mechanisms by which anxiety triggers these hallucinations may be unknown.  However, it could be due to the medication a person is taking to treat their disorder, it could be a result of neurochemical concentrations, poor sleep quality as a result of the anxiety, or overactivation of the fear centers (e.g. the amygdala).

Bipolar disorder: Those with bipolar disorder may be prone to hallucinations during hypnopompic states when manic or hypomanic.  These states are characterized by elevated moods, but also by decreased total sleep and increases in concentrations of various neurotransmitters such as dopamine.  Additionally brain activation and brain waves are thought to shift as an individual is in a state of mania or hypomania.

It should be thought that those with bipolar disorder may experience hallucinations during hypnopompic states as a result of altered brain activation.

Brain lesions: It is known that brain lesions can affect brain activity, decrease input, and inhibit cognitive function.  Lesions to areas of the brain involved in sensory processing (e.g. sight, sound, touch, etc.) may lead to hallucinations as a result of lesion-induced sensory deprivation.  When an area of the brain becomes damaged, it can restrict our ability to perceive certain senses.

This restriction over the long-term may result in our brain filling in the gaps with its own hallucinatory projections.  It is known that lesions are also capable of altering REM sleep, possibly increasing likelihood of experiencing hallucinations.

Depression: Those who are depressed may attempt a cocktail of medications to overcome their low mood.  These medications elicit powerful effects on concentrations of neurotransmitters, leading to both perceptual and mood alterations.  It is possible that the psychiatric drug or drugs a person is taking for their depression may cause hypnopompic hallucinations.

In addition, oversleeping and/or undersleeping are associated with depression.  Both of these habits influence brain activity during sleep.  Increased sensitivities to hypnopompic hallucinations may occur among those who are depressed, particularly cases of major depression with psychotic features.

Epilepsy: It is known that there’s a symbiotic relationship between epilepsy and sleep; each affects the other.  There have been reports of “hypnopompic seizures” as a result of abnormal brain activity resulting from epilepsy.  In some cases, individuals may report unusual sensory phenomena such as seeing strange shapes or hearing odd sounds as a result of the seizures.

In some cases, it is thought that epileptic seizures can influence whether a person experiences hallucinations during the onset of sleep (hypnagogic) or onset of wakefulness (hypnopompic).  Many speculate that hypnopompic seizures during sleep may be so subtle, that they may remain undetected and/or go unreported.  For this reason, it is important to carefully review electroencephalogram activity to detect these seizures.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21030341

Schizophrenia: In many cases, those with narcolepsy are mistaken as having schizophrenia as a result of hypnopompic hallucinations.  That said, it is possible that someone with schizophrenia may exhibit hypnopompic hallucinations as a result of faulty dopaminergic neurotransmission, brain activation, and/or even the result of taking a certain medication.

Those with schizophrenia are thought to have abnormally high levels of dopamine with chaotic firing in certain regions of the brain.  In theory, it is possible for the brain of an individual with schizophrenia to generate a hallucinatory experience prior to waking as a direct byproduct of the mental illness.

Sleep disorders: Those who have preexisting sleep disorders (e.g. narcolepsy) are more likely than average to report hypnopompic hallucinations.  In fact, many consider hypnopompic phenomena as being extremely common among individuals with narcolepsy.  In the past, those exhibiting hypnopompic hallucinations as a result of a sleep disorder were often misdiagnosed as having a mental illness.

These days doctors realize that the hypnopompic phenomena are abnormal sensory experiences that result directly from the sleep disorder.  In addition to narcolepsy, individuals with other forms of REM dysfunction are likely to experience hypnopompic hallucinations.  During reports of hypnopompic hallucinations among those with REM dysfunction, a polysomnogram is capable of pinpointing when they occurred.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9628155
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15009814

Sleep paralysis: Those that experience episodes of sleep paralysis, (feeling fully or semi-conscious but being unable to move the body as a result of REM atonia), are at increased risk for experiencing hypnopompic hallucinations.  In many cases, these hypnopompic phenomena may be reported as supernatural or paranormal.  In this case a person’s hypnopompic hallucination may be generated as a result of beta wave bursts during a dream-like state (REM).

There are many sensory experiences that are reported during sleep paralysis, some of which may correlate with your hypnopompic hallucination.  For example, if you experience a demonic attack during sleep paralysis, you may perceive demonic entities during the hypnopompic state.  In the event that you have an out-of-body perception during sleep paralysis, you may report vestibular-motor sensations (e.g. feeling as if you’re floating) as a hypnopompic hallucination.

Stress: Those with abnormally high levels of stress often report sleep problems.  Chronic stress can lead to insomnia, which can lead to reductions of sleep quantity and quality.  Over time, the entire circadian rhythm gets thrown off-kilter and problems with the sleep cycle are exacerbated.

If you’ve experienced a nervous breakdown or are in constant “fight-or-flight” mode from sympathetic nervous system stimulation, your entire neurochemistry will have been altered.  In other words, your neurotransmitters, receptors, regional activation, and brain waves will have all changed from the stress – all of which may increase likelihood of experiencing hypnopompic hallucinations.

Supplements: People that experiment with various supplements, particularly those that affect neurotransmitter concentrations may be increasingly susceptible to hypnopompic hallucinations.  Altering neurotransmitter and/or receptor activity is known to affect sleep.  If you’re taking a supplement like 5-HTP (to increase serotonin) or L-Tyrosine (to increase dopamine), you may find that your sleep changes.

During supplementation, you may notice changes to your sleep, and at some point you may even notice a hypnopompic hallucination.  If you start experiencing these hypnopompic hallucinations, it’s important to realize that the supplement or “stack” that you’re taking is altering your brain activity during sleep.

Trauma: Those that have endured traumatic experiences (PTSD) are more likely to experience sleep-related problems.  Someone with a history of trauma may be unable to tone down their sympathetic nervous system to fall asleep at a reasonable time.  They may be sleep deprived or victim to chronic sleep restriction as a result of their inability to relax.

Additionally the brain may be so fixated on the trauma, that the regions responsible for maintaining vigilance stay “on” while a person is asleep. This may lead to not only poor sleep quality, but abnormal EEG activity during sleep, which may lead to hypnopompic hallucinations.  These hallucinations may be related to the trauma, may be fear-inducing, or may serve to further interfere with sleep quality and duration.

Variable sleep schedule: Someone with a sleep schedule that is inconsistent may be increasingly prone to hypnopompic hallucinations.  Constantly altering when you go to sleep as well as when you wake up means that you may not be aligned with your natural circadian rhythm.  Being unaligned with the circadian rhythm may lead to altered brain activation and neurochemicals.

This alteration as a result of a highly varied sleep schedule could lead to increased likelihood of a sleep disorder and/or hypnopompic hallucinations.  A common example would be those who engage in “shift work” – requiring frequent adaptation to varying sleep-wake cycles.  Those with greater variation in sleep times tend to have a decreased quality of sleep and are more likely to report hypnopompic phenomena.

Types of Hypnopompic Hallucinations

There are various types of hypnopompic hallucinations that you may experience.  Perhaps the most common is that of seeing visual images such as objects, people, light fragments, etc.  Another common type of hypnopompic hallucination is auditory or hearing sounds that aren’t based in reality, but are being perceived by the brain.

Visual (Imagery)

Some researchers believe that visual hallucinations are the byproduct of the following factors: brain anatomy, neurotransmission, and psychodynamics.  In other words, the combination of your brain anatomy, neurotransmitter activity, and cumulative unconscious and conscious processes serve to influence these visual hallucinations occurring during the hypnopompic state.

Although the precise neural mechanisms are difficult to pinpoint, there may be commonalities within the brains of those experiencing visual hallucinations during hypnopompic states.  One proposed mechanism is that irritation or minor seizure-esque activity is exhibited within visual processing areas of the cortex.  If this irritation occurs on the primary visual cortex, simple visuals are seen (e.g. shapes).

If the irritation is experienced within both the primary visual cortex, and other visual areas, more complex hallucinations may be seen.  EEG readings can confirm certain aspects of this hypothesis as well as experimental studies involving brain stimulation of these regions.  Should these visual areas become disrupted during a sleep-wakefulness transition, hypnopompic hallucinations may result.

Examples

  • Complex figures
  • Geometric shapes
  • Figures
  • Lines
  • Morphing shapes
  • People
  • Shadows

Visual hallucinations are most commonly reported among those who are feeling drowsy.  This drowsiness may be characterized by certain brain waves and the fact that a person is still partially in a sleep state, despite being semi-conscious.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2660156/

Auditory (Sounds)

The second most common type of hypnopompic hallucination is that of perceiving sounds or voices.  These sounds may be subtle and occur for several minutes, or they may be loud and may only occur for seconds.  Auditory hallucinations may be perceived as alarming (such as that of something loud) or in some cases pleasant.

It has been thought that these auditory hallucinations may be related to REM (rapid-eye movement) with a simultaneous degree of waking consciousness.  That said, these sounds may be generated by abnormal brain activation of the auditory cortex.  The greater the activation, possibly the more complex the sounds.

Examples

  • Animals
  • Banging
  • Buzzing
  • Music
  • Talking
  • Television
  • Whistling
  • Wind

You may also hear sounds related to something that you were thinking about (psychological priming), REM-based dream activity, or a random sound stored in your subconscious.  In some cases, both visual and auditory hallucinations occur in a hypnopompic state.  When both occur, the sounds may be distinct from the visuals or directly related to the visual content.

Tactile (Touch)

While tactile sensations are less common than visual and auditory hallucinations during hypnopompic states, they still occur.  Tactile hallucinations are relatively common in cases of sleep paralysis.  Those that experience a sleep paralysis hallucination may feel as if they are being held down with pressure or report varying degrees of muscular pain.

The tactile sensations may be a result of REM-induced atonia, in which a person is incapable of moving their muscles during rapid-eye movement.  Should you experience REM during a hypnopompic state, you may become semi-conscious and notice that you feel pressure on your chest or pain within your muscles.  The cause of pain may be a result of resistance, panic, or trying to get out of the REM state.

Examples

  • Bodily pressure
  • Chest pressure
  • Massage
  • Pain
  • Pins or needles
  • Tickling

Vestibular-Motor (Movement)

Another type of hallucinatory experience that people report during hypnopompic states is that of vestibular motor or movement hallucinations.  Since the hypnopompic state is generally associated with less pleasant experiences than hypnagogic states, these perceived sensations of movement may be unpleasant and related to another hallucination.  Those that report getting abducted by aliens or demons may feel as if they are being picked up and moved.

Examples

  • Floating
  • Flying
  • Jolted
  • Rocking
  • Shaking

In other cases, the hypnopompic movement hallucinations may be more pleasant or neutral.  Some people report out-of-body experiences, sensations of floating, feeling as if they are flying, falling, or traveling at an extremely fast speed as hypnopompic hallucinations.

Other Types (Less Common)

In addition to hallucinating visuals, sounds, and touch during a state of hypnopompia, several other hallucinatory subtypes may be experienced.  These include olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste).  Usually when these hallucinatory subtypes are reported, they occur in conjunction with one of the aforementioned (more common) subtypes (e.g. visual, auditory, etc.).

  • Olfactory (Smell): Certain individuals may report smelling things that weren’t actually present in their hypnopompic state.  While smells may be related to foods, in other cases they may be neutral smells such as fresh air.  In extreme cases, some people may claim to smell blood, rotten flesh, or noxious odors such as gasses.  Realize that hallucinating smells during a hypnopompic state isn’t considered the norm, but may occur.
  • Gustatory (Taste): Some people claim to have tasted pleasurable, neutral, and unpleasant items as a hypnopompic hallucination.  If you experienced a gustatory hallucination during hypnopompia, it may be related to foods that you’ve been thinking about, a food that you’ve always liked, or possibly something extremely unpleasant related to a nightmare that you experienced.  For most individuals, hypnopompic gustatory hallucinations remain uncommon.

Hypnopompic Hallucinations Treatment

There are various treatment options available that may help reduce the likelihood and/or intensity of hypnopompic hallucinations.  Keep in mind that certain protocols may prove to be more beneficial for certain individuals, while other protocols may be better suited for others.

Brainwave modifications: If you wish to improve sleep quality and decrease abnormal brainwave activity, you may want to consider neurofeedback, brainwave entrainment, or some sort of neural stimulation.  There are many types of brainwave entrainment for example, that alter your brainwave state prior to falling asleep.  The idea is that by altering your brain waves, your brain will create different neurotransmitters and have an easier time transitioning between sleep phases, reducing the likelihood of hypnopompic hallucinations.

Cut alcohol and/or drugs: If you use alcohol, nicotine, stimulants, or other substances that affect perception and brain activity, try cutting them from your consumption for awhile and determine whether your sleep improves.  If you don’t want to cut them completely, you’ll never know if they were contributing to your hypnopompic hallucinations.  For those that don’t want to immediately quit their habit, try reducing consumption and determine whether that helps.

Pharmaceutical drugs: In some cases, a person may benefit from a medication such as an antipsychotic, antidepressant, or even a sleeping pill to improve their sleep quality.  Specifically, those with underlying mental illnesses and/or neurological conditions may actually improve their sleep by taking certain pharmaceutical agents.  On the other hand, it is important to realize that various pharmaceutical drugs are known to cause hypnopompic hallucinations.

If you suspect that the drug you’re taking is contributing to the hypnopompic hallucinations, you may want to talk to your doctor about possible dosing adjustments, treatment restructuring (e.g. time of day that it’s taken), discontinuation, and/or switching to a different drug.  Many people don’t realize that sleep oddities like hypnopompic hallucinations can be a direct result of pharmaceutical agents.

Improve sleep (quality + quantity): Another method for preventing or reducing the occurrence of hypnopompic hallucinations is by making a conscious effort to improve your sleep quality and quantity.  Since many sleep abnormalities (including hypnopompic hallucinations) are a result of poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation, correcting these two facets and maintaining healthy sleep hygiene may reduce their occurrence.  This means going to bed at a reasonable time, and waking up after you’ve gotten sufficient sleep.

Sleep disorder treatment: Since a majority of individuals with hypnopompic hallucinations have an underlying sleep disorder, it is important to treat that particular condition before expecting the hallucinations to subside.  This may mean working with a sleep expert, keeping a sleep journal, maintaining a strict sleep schedule, and considering medication (if necessary) to regulate your sleep.  If you suspect that you have a sleep disorder, seek a thorough evaluation from a medical expert to investigate your suspicion.

Sleep position adjustment: You may want to consider making adjustments in your sleep position to stop hypnopompic hallucinations from occurring.  It has been suggested that the “supine position” or sleeping on your back will increase the likelihood that you’ll end up with hypnopompic hallucinations.  Try shifting your sleep position to sleeping on your left side, right side, or even your stomach to determine whether it helps.  The tactic of adjusting sleep position is effective for stopping sleep paralysis – a condition associated with hypnopompic hallucinations.

Stress reduction: Those with high levels of stress are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to getting quality sleep.  Their brains are producing stimulatory neurotransmitters, their hormones are imbalanced (heavily skewed towards cortisol), and they are constantly in fight-or-flight mode.  By counteracting the stress via a relaxation-inducing activity (at least once per day for 5 to 15 minutes), you will improve sleep quality and reduce the likelihood of hypnopompic hallucinations.

Supplements: Certain supplements may help reduce the likelihood of hypnopompic phenomena, while others may increase it.  It may take some self-experimentation to find what works best for your individual biology and neurochemistry to enhance your sleep quality, and decrease sleep oddities such as hypnopompic hallucinations.  Examples of supplements you may want to consider include: melatonin, 5-HTP, L-Tryptophan, and valerian root.

Target underlying medical conditions: Any underlying medical conditions that you may have could be causing abnormal brain activation or improper transitions between phases of sleep, which then lead to hypnopompic hallucinations.  It is important to get medically evaluated to rule out various things that may be causing sleep abnormalities and hallucinatory experiences.  Should you have an underlying medical condition, particularly one that affects your brain, treating it may correct or reduce the occurrence of hypnopompic hallucinations.

Coping with hypnopompic hallucinations

There are several ways in which you can learn to cope with hypnopompic hallucinations.  These coping techniques may be especially helpful if you find yourself resisting the hallucinations or find them disturbing.

Acceptance: The easiest way to cope with hallucinations during a hypnopompic state is by accepting them.  In other words, when they occur, don’t panic and realize that they are being generated by an altered state of consciousness or abnormal brain activity.  Rather than freaking out thinking they are a bad sign, just accept them as a normal sensory experience as a result of sleep.

It may take time to accept them, but by accepting them, you aren’t letting them activate your fight-or-flight response (sympathetic nervous system) or further impair your sleep.  Even if they are fear-provoking hallucinations, accepting them should reduce their intensity.

Realization: The next thing you’ll want to do is consciously remind yourself that they aren’t real – they are false perceptions that have no grounds in reality.  Remind yourself of this, especially if you are on the verge of panicking.  If you are experiencing a visual hallucination, remind yourself that your brain is generating some abnormal activity in the visual cortex.

Sleep journal: I highly recommend keeping a sleep journal, especially if you have sleep problems and/or are frequently experiencing hypnopompic hallucinations.  A sleep journal will help you track your sleeping habits and factors that may have contributed to sleep problems (e.g. drugs, drinking, etc.).  By using a sleep journal to track your sleep, sleep-related experiences, and factors that may have influenced your sleep – you may be able to come up with ways in which you can prevent hypnopompic hallucinations from occurring in the future.

Therapy: In some cases, you may want to seek out the help of a therapist, possibly one that specializes in sleep to help you correct your sleeping habits.  A therapist may also suggest some ways in which you can cope with your hypnopompic hallucinations should you experience them in the future.  Additionally, certain therapists may help you try to make sense of these hallucinations if you believe that they have some sort of personal meaning.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are some frequently asked questions directly pertaining to hypnopompic hallucinations.  If you have any other questions, feel free to submit them in the comments section below.

How long do hypnopompic hallucinations last?

For a majority of individuals, the hypnopompic hallucinations are extremely short.  They may last anywhere from a fraction of a second to seconds, or from seconds to a couple minutes.  For most, the longest you’ll likely experience a hypnopompic hallucination is a few minutes.

That said, if you’re taking a certain drug or supplement, there’s a chance that hypnopompic hallucinations can be prolonged.  Those taking psychoactive or brain-altering substances may perceived hallucinations that persist for substantially longer than several minutes during a hypnopompic state.

Do hypnopompic hallucinations have a secret meaning or significance?

Generally hypnopompic hallucinations have no secretive meaning or substantial significance.  Think of them as bizarre sensory experiences as a result of altered or abnormal brain activity.  While many people may assign them meaning such as a hidden message from a deity, they are really nothing more than odd regurgitations from the brain.

You are free to interpret them however you want and/or assign them special meaning, but they shouldn’t be considered hidden esoteric messages from the universe. In some cases, they may be related to a particular problem that you’ve been consciously working on or trying to figure out and may provide you with insight or a new way of perceiving that problem, but this isn’t as common.

Are hypnopompic hallucinations good or bad?

Hallucinations that occur during a hypnopompic state may be perceived as good, bad, or neutral.  From an objective perspective, they should be considered neutral in that they are nothing more than bizarre sensory experiences stemming from alterations of brain activity.  That said, if they provoke feelings of fear, they may be subjectively perceived as “bad,” whereas if they’re pleasant, they may be perceived as “good.”

Have you ever experienced hypnopompic hallucinations?

If you’ve experienced hypnopompic hallucinations, or hallucinations during the transitory period from sleeping to wakefulness, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.  Discuss the specific hallucination, including whether it was visual, auditory, tactile, or a combination of multiple senses.  Also be sure to mention whether you believe there was a specific root cause of your hypnopompic hallucination (e.g. sleep deprivation) or whether it was just a normal, bizarre occurrence.

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  • Tina September 25, 2018, 3:56 pm

    I have woke to the swirly designs in my ceiling all began to move into complete circles. I saw 3 character type people peering in my bedroom door, laughing at me. They all looked different like the ghosts in The Casper The Ghost Movie. I’ve also seen the trees outside my window turn into dragons.

    Last night a woman was standing at my bed side yelling at me, except I could t hear her voice. I could only see her mouth moving. I kept trying to close my eyes but each time I opened them, she was still there. I turned the light on and she was gone.

    I also heard a news radio playing in the other room. I only hear the talking when my fan is on. Sometimes when I wake up, everything has orange paint splotches all over. It’s soooo weird, I’m so glad I found this article!!

  • Susan August 24, 2018, 8:04 am

    My experiences started when I was in the hospital recovering from a “heart event”. It was like 2 small frames of view coming together to form a focused view of whatever was happening to my left. Kind of like a video. In the following weeks at home I saw lines of red boxes to my right, like small check boxes.

    And next were lines of orange octagon shapes. Since then I have seen scalloped decorations on the wall, small spiders on the couch, black hieroglyphics in the air, and colored scribbles on the couch. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that sometimes my vision is colored like a color filter on a camera.

    I fell asleep watching TV and woke to find everything orange. Falling asleep in the bath, I woke to find the wall before me was green with little hearts spread over the wall. This, of course all fades with seconds of taking note.

  • Michelle August 13, 2018, 2:58 pm

    I have also had very similar experiences to those expressed here and I am very glad to finally be able to put a name to it. My nighttime hallucinations started as a teenager (I am now 46) and interestingly it was quite often spiders I saw that weren’t really there, similar again to others’ experiences.

    I would wake up in a panic thinking there was a large spider on my pillow or dangling in front of me. It very quickly progressed to people though, sometimes only shadows, but other times very detailed and distinct people, young, old, male, female, there never seems to be a particular type of person.

    A few nights ago I was staying in a hotel in London and woke in the early hours of the morning to see the figure of a small red-headed woman in a long sleeved red/pink dress peering over me. I jumped up and shouted out and she disappeared.

    I went back to sleep but saw her two more times during the night. It was only when I asked my partner to switch sides with me that I was able to get an uninterrupted night’s sleep. I even asked the receptionist in the morning at the hotel if my room was haunted (it wasn’t)!

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