What is sleep hallucination?

Sleep hallucinations, also known as hypnagogic hallucinations, are imagined sensations that seem very real. They occur as a person is falling asleep. They are mainly visual. They may also involve your senses of sound, touch, taste and smell. They may even involve a sense of motion.

It is easy to confuse them with a state of dreaming. You may not be sure if you are awake or asleep. They may be similar to nightmares. But when you wake up from a nightmare, you are aware that it occurred while you were asleep. It is clearly recognized as a dream. It is not thought to be real.

The hallucination and the sleep paralysis may occur at the same time but on different nights. You may also have separate episodes of sleep talking or sleepwalking.

You may also have complex visual hallucinations in the form of stationary images of people or animals. These tend to occur just after you are suddenly awakened. You do not recall being in the middle of a dream when you wake up. You clearly know that you are awake. At first you are often afraid and think that the images are real. You may jump out of the bed in terror. This can cause you to injure yourself.

These images may be distorted in shape or size. They may remain present for many minutes. They tend to go away if a light is turned on. These episodes are much rarer. At times they may be caused by a migraine headache. In this case the head pain quickly follows the visual images.

How common is sleep hallucination?

Nearly 40 percent of adults experience sleep-related hallucinations, which are rare in children. These hallucinations are relatively common in teenagers and young adults. They occur equally in men and women. Sleep-related hallucinations often occur with other sleep disorders, including narcolepsy and sleep paralysis. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of sleep hallucination?

The common symptoms of sleep hallucination are vivid images of people, animals, or moving objects. These images can be quite complex and detailed, and may not make any sense.

During a hypnagogic hallucination, a person knows that they are awake. The images, sounds, or other sensations may last a number of minutes. They may prevent a person from falling asleep.

These hallucinations may happen at the same time as sleep paralysis.

Other related symptoms include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Narcolepsy
  • Fragmented sleep
  • Sleep paralysis

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Symptoms of narcolepsy: These include muscle weakness, being very sleepy during the day, and having a disturbed sleep at night.
  • Symptoms of schizophrenia: These include hearing voices, having confused thoughts, and experiencing changes in behavior.
  • Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease: These include slow movement, muscle stiffness, and shaking in the hands and other parts of the body.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes sleep hallucination?

Sleep-related hallucinations were once associated with mental illness, but researchers now know that these hallucinations can occur without any mental illness. However, people with anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder are twice as likely to experience sleep-related hallucinations.

Stress, sleep deprivation, insomnia, and alcohol use and certain medications make sleep-related hallucinations more likely.

Like narcolepsy, the risk of sleep-related hallucinations may be inherited.

People taking tricyclic antidepressants may be more likely to experience sleep-related hallucinations. Injuries to the brain may increase the risk of sleep-related hallucinations. Finally, people taking hallucinogenic drugs like LSD may experience hallucinations related to sleep.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for sleep hallucination?

There are many risk factors for sleep hallucination, such as:

  • Current drug use
  • Past alcohol use
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders
  • Insomnia

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is sleep hallucination diagnosed?

Because sleep-related hallucinations are sometimes linked to other sleep disorders, a sleep specialist will evaluate a patient’s health history and sleep patterns to determine if another disorder is present. A specialist may request a polysomnogram, an overnight sleep study that measures brain, heart and lung activity, to look for fragmented sleep patterns that might indicate an underlying disorder. In some cases, a doctor may request an MRI of the brain.

How is sleep hallucination treated?

Treatment for sleep-related hallucinations varies depending on their cause. When sleep-related hallucinations are brought on by using alcohol, drugs, or medications, discontinuing those substances may end the hallucations. Treating underlying sleep disorders like narcolepsy or insomnia can help resolve unwanted hallucinations.

If a person feels that they can live with their hypnagogic hallucinations, they may not need treatment. If there is no underlying medical condition, changes to lifestyle may lessen the frequency of hallucinations.


Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage sleep hallucination?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with sleep hallucination:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule
  • Avoid alcohol and certain drugs and medications

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: February 18, 2019 | Last Modified: February 18, 2019

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