Hypnagogia

Last updated: May 31, 2019

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Hypnagogia or hypnogogic hallucinations are imaginary sensations. These sensations may seem very real to the person experiencing them. They often occur while a person is falling asleep. Another term for hypnagogia is sleep hallucinations.

Hypnopompic is a word that describes the period when a person wakes up. Hypnagogic is a term for the period when a person falls asleep. A hallucination is – obviously – something imaginary; though it may seem real to a person experiencing it. There are illusions that a person can smell, see, taste, or hear. This is even if they only occur in the patient’s mind. These are sensations that only one person can experience. Someone else in the same room will not be able to experience the same illusion.

What causes hypnagogia?

Hypnagogic hallucinations are more common in teens and young adults. The number of hallucinations that a person experiences often decreases as the patient ages. This condition is more likely to occur in females than in males.

Researchers have not yet discovered what exactly causes hypnagogia. There are some risk factors though that can increase the likelihood of experiencing this parasomnia. Risk factors include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Narcolepsy
  • Mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder
  • Parkinson’s disease

It is also possible to experience hypnagogic hallucinations due to epileptic seizures. If the hallucinations are a result of epileptic seizures the patient will experience illusions that appear as short visual fragments.

What are the symptoms of hypnagogia?

Visual hallucinations

This is the most common kind of hypnagogic hallucination. During an episode a person may see images of people, animals, or moving objects. Most of the time these images are complex and they may have intricate details. It is also possible for a person to see images that don’t make any sense.

The person experiencing these illusions might be aware that he or she is awake. When a person experiences such illusions the sounds, images, or smell may last for a few minutes. Oftentimes these images prevent a person from falling asleep. There are also instances when these hallucinations occur together with sleep paralysis.

Is it different from dreaming?

A dream and a hypnagogic hallucination are not the same thing. A hallucination will feel very real for the person who is experiencing it. Hallucinations can be frightening or confusing. For the person experiencing them, he or she feels sure that what he or she is experiencing is real.

On the other hand, when a person dreams, that person usually knows that he is dreaming.

When is it time to consult a doctor?

Generally speaking, hypnagogic hallucinations are harmless. A patient should seek medical attention if the hallucinations are already causing anxiety. The same goes for people whose sleep patterns got disturbed because of frequent illusions.

Hypnagogic hallucinations might also be a symptom of narcolepsy. It is easy to check if the illusions are because of narcolepsy. One sign is that a the affected person may experience muscle weakness. When a person is narcoleptic, that person feels very sleepy during the day while experiencing disturbed sleep during the night.

Hypnagogia can also be the result of schizophrenia. When a person has schizophrenia they hear voices. It is also normal for a person suffering from schizophrenia to have confused thoughts. Schizophrenia can also lead to a change in behavior.

These hallucinations might also be a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease results in slow movements and muscle stiffness. A person afflicted with Parkinson’s disease also experiences shaking in the hands as well as on other parts of the body.

Can hypnagogia lead to complications?

Yes, hypnagogia – especially when severe – can result in injuries. A person who is experiencing a hypnagogic hallucination may jump out of bed. This can result in injuries. The type of hallucination can also cause a person to inflict harm to himself. A person may experience a hallucination that insects are crawling on their skin. This will prompt the patient to scratch himself and cause injuries.

Is there a treatment for hypnagogia?

As with other sleep disorders, the treatment for hypnagogic hallucinations relies on the treatment of underlying conditions that may be causing this disorder. Treating the underlying disorder can help decrease the frequency of hallucinations.

Getting enough sleep every night can also help reduce the possibility of experiencing hypnagogia.

Let’s say that the patient’s hypnagogic hallucinations are a result of anxiety.  This means that treatment will focus on anxiety. There are several ways of treating anxiety such as talk therapy. It is also possible to reduce the number of hallucinations through meditation and medication.

If the patient also has narcolepsy, the doctor will prescribe medication for narcolepsy.

It is a bit harder if the hypnagogic hallucinations are due to Parkinson’s disease. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. It is possible to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease though. Medications for Parkinson’s disease help reduce problems with walking, movements, and tremors. These are medications that can help increase dopamine. It is also possible for a medication to act as a substitute for dopamine. This is important because a person afflicted with Parkinson’s disease has low brain dopamine concentrations.

If the hallucinations are accompanied by narcolepsy, the treatment should focus on treating narcolepsy.

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