Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Sleep Hallucinations – Overview & Facts

Sleep related hallucinations are a parasomnia. A parasomnia involves undesired events that come along with sleep. Sleep related hallucinations are imagined events that seem very real. 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.

They generally occur at one of the two following times:
  • As you are about to fall asleep (hypnagogic)
  • As you are just waking up (hypnopompic)
If they occur during the day, then they may be sign of narcolepsy. People with narcolepsy may have daytime episodes of the following:
  • Sleep attacks
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations
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. 
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