Hallucinations are false sensory experiences that appear to be very real. Such experiences could occur anytime. These could even be experienced at the onset of sleep or during the transition from sleep to wakefulness. Such sleep-related hallucinations are categorized into hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. While the former occur when a person is about to fall asleep, the latter occur when a person is about to wake up from sleep. Women are more likely to experience them. Although these experiences are mainly visual, these may sometimes involve false perceptual experiences involving the sense of touch, smell, or hearing.
Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Hallucinations
A hallucination is a perception of something that is not present in reality. Though it is a false sensory experience that is generated by the mind, it seems so vivid and real that it is difficult to differentiate it from reality. To add to that, intense fear may be felt when these experiences are accompanied by sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is a state in which the affected individual is unable to move or talk. This usually occurs when there is a shift from the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) to REM phase of sleep. This is a normal phenomena that prevents the affected individual from acting out his dreams in the phase of REM sleep.
While occasional episodes of sleep paralysis are normal, frequent episodes may be linked to stress, sleep deprivation, changes in sleep schedule, prolonged use of certain drugs, or substance abuse. Such sensory experiences or hallucinations could occur in event of REM intrusion into wakefulness. When such vivid sensory experiences occur while a person is partly awake, intense fear or heightened emotions may be felt if the affected individual is not able to move or talk due to sleep paralysis.
While occasional episodes may not be a cause of serious concern, recurring episodes could be a sign of certain medical conditions. The incidence of sleep paralysis is high in people affected by narcolepsy, which is a sleep disorder that is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, loss of muscle control, sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations, and disruptive sleep at night. This condition occurs when the brain is unable to regulate sleep-wake cycles in a normal manner. Hallucinations could also be triggered by intense fear, anxiety, or use of hallucinogens. These may be a symptom of certain mental illnesses or brain damage.
Medical assistance must be sought if a person often experiences perceptual experiences at the onset of sleep or during the transition from sleep to wakefulness. Since sleep-related hallucinations could be a symptom of narcolepsy, it would be best to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Disruptive sleep-related events are often experienced during the REM phase of sleep which is why drugs that suppress REM sleep may be recommended. Drug therapy and other treatment options may be suggested once the cause or the triggering factor has been ascertained. Once the underlying condition is treated, the issue of hallucinations may resolve on its own.
Making certain lifestyle-related changes would also help in tackling the issue of stress and sleep deprivation. Excessive consumption of caffeinated drinks must be avoided. As substance abuse could also trigger hallucinations, it would be best to refrain from use of hallucinogens or any other drug that may be inducing such perceptual experiences. Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation on a regular basis will certainly prove beneficial. Cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling are required when a mental illness is the underlying cause of such disruptive sleep-related events.
If hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations occur frequently, it would be best to consult a sleep specialist. An overnight sleep study may be conducted as a part of clinical evaluation. Drug therapy coupled with lifestyle-related modifications may help in lowering the incidence of hallucinations during sleep.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.