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20 April, 2012

In a sense, everyone hallucinates.  The difference is that when hallucinations occur during sleep they’re called dreams. There are, however, two types of actual hallucinations that occur in association with certain stages of sleep:  Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations.


These are hallucinations that manifest themselves in the transition phase from wakefulness to sleep.  Perhaps the most common one in survivors is hearing a loud sound, variously described as being like the slamming shut of a huge dungeon door or an explosion.  The hallucination invariably startles survivors back to full wakefulness just as they are about to sink into actual sleep.  It’s speculation on my part, but I consider this particular one to be a defense against dreaming.  Though the psychodynamics are a bit more complicated to explain, it’s as if the mind knows there are going to be nightmares that night and interferes with going to sleep. To use an analogy, there are memory monsters in the basement. A guard sits by the basement door off of the kitchen. If she nods off, the monsters can get out. The loud sound wakes up the guard.


Dreams are, in essence, hallucinations – but are not considered as such when one is sleeping.  For sufferers of hypnopompic hallucinations, dreams continue to play out as they rise out of sleep into wakefulness … often a terrifying experience.  This isn’t unique to survivors; there are other people who, for whatever reason, have this experience whether the dream is a nightmare or not.  (I vividly recall one I had as a child. The family was staying with another family member and I was sleeping on the floor. I awoke to see my mother looking at me in miniature through the spindles of a chair in the room, as if she were imprisoned though actually she was in the hospital having a younger brother. No doubt the dream reflected my fears for her as I was too young to grasp what was actually going on.)

The dream continues for anywhere from a relatively few seconds to a rather prolonged experience. It is the content of the hallucinations that is telling. I have no statistics but my bet would be that, should someone actually do a study, survivors are more prone to hypnopompic hallucinations than the general population.

Usually, dreams and their associated feelings simply melt away upon waking but sometimes the emotional state persists quite powerfully for at least a few seconds even after the image is gone.  If the dream was terribly sad, for instance, the dreamer may, even in full wakefulness, feel terribly sad for a bit after waking.  Since there are no actual organs of sense implied in emotions, it would be pushing it to call the experience a hallucination but I believe it at least related to hypnopompic phenomena.

Share your hypnagogic or hypnopompic experiences by leaving a comment.

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