It might be disturbing to think about, but have you ever been afraid that you couldn’t tell the difference between being awake and dreaming? The sensation usually comes along when you’re just coming awake or when you’re starting to fall asleep. These two periods are transitional, and when you experience any sort of hallucination or dream during this time, then they’re called hypnagogia episodes.
Hypnagogia usually happens when a person is on the verge of consciousness but is still experiencing things they’d usually only ever see in dreams. These hallucinations can be visual, auditory, tactile, or other sensory, and no matter their level of severity, they can make telling the difference between dream and reality very difficult.
One of the main types of hallucination that you see with hypnagogia has to do with sound. Very often, when you’re falling asleep, you may hear the sound of the doorbell, or a knock on the door. This will usually cause an individual to come completely awake whether they wanted to or not. Others may hear their name being called. A child crying, the rumble of a familiar voice, or the sound of a phone ringing; as long as the noise has the power to drag you away from the power of a decent sleep, then there’s a good chance that it’s the product of hypnagogia.
Another well-known aspect of hypnagogia is known as the Tetris effect. The Tetris effect occurs when a person has engaged in some sort of repetitive movement before they go to sleep. For instance, for someone who was on a boat or a roller coaster for most of the day, the sensation of going up and down, of falling, or of spinning in circles is going to make an appearance just as the individual is going to sleep. Rock climbers and skiers have often said that they still felt the sensation of rocks or snow against their skin as they lost consciousness, while frequent game players will often hear the noises from the game they played that day or see the colors and characters as they drift off.
Formication and paresthesia are also parts of hypnagogia. Formication is the technical term for the times when you feel as if bugs are crawling on or beneath your skin. Feeling as if insects are all over you can be a sign of other things as well, but often we see it in hypnagogia cases. Paresthesia, on the other hand, is the term for when you feel as if pins or needles are stabbing or pricking you. It’s a sort of tingling sensation, and while it isn’t painful for the most part, it can become distracting. In the case of formication, the bug sensation can actually become dangerous since the feeling sometimes forces people to scratch or push the bugs off their bodies to stop the sensation. If the sensation doesn’t stop, the scratching usually continues and then you’re getting into dangerous territory.
Visuals also play a big role in hypnagogia cases. People say that they see colors, shapes, and long tunnels with bright lights shining at the end of them. Right after the visuals, the symptoms of sleep paralysis seem to be the prevailing sensations behind most cases of hypnagogia.
Sleep paralysis and hypnagogia don’t mix well, and when they do come together at all they produce some pretty interesting results. Sleep paralysis and hypnagogia is often responsible for the occurrence of OOBE. OOBE stands for out-of-body experience, and even if you believe that it’s nothing more than the mind playing tricks on a reluctant sleeper, there are many who believe strongly in it.
I then felt like my spirit wanted to shoot out of my body. I kept telling myself to keep it together, that I was creating all the fear I was experiencing. I literally felt myself wanting to leave my body, and that all I had to do was give the okay. The feeling was similar to traveling in your car at a high rate of speed, sticking your hand out the window, creating a cupping shape with your hand. You would feel intense wind pressure against your hand, making you use the strength in your arm to keep your hand upright. At some point there would be too much pressure against your hand. That was how I felt-like I was literally keeping myself inside my body, that all I had to do was to let go, and I would have been released. At that point, it felt more natural to leave my body than to stay in it
– James Blanchard Cisneros, You Have Chosen to Remember: A Journey From Perception to Knowledge, Peace of Mind and Joy, p. 267
As I’ve said before, any sort of hallucination, whether it’s barely perceptible or extremely vivid, can be a powerful experience when you’re just waking up or just falling asleep. In that state, not only are you much more vulnerable to the things that your mind and body may throw at you, you’re also a lot more likely to take them seriously. Especially since you’ll know instinctively that you aren’t fully asleep yet and so whatever is happening must be more real’ than a dream.
The confusion to the senses should be enough of an incentive for you to want to learn how to tell when you’re awake, when you’re asleep, and when you’re just experiencing a case of hypnagogic hallucination.
The first test that you should run on yourself is the doubt test. Sort of like if you wonder if your girl/boyfriend is cheating on you, then they probably are. If you’re wondering if you’re dreaming, then the answer is probably a yes. Humans usually have a pretty strong sense about certain things so if you doubt something as basic as whether you’re awake then you should probably give your situation a closer look.
The next thing that you can do to determine whether or not you’re sleeping is to check your long-term memory. Long-term memories are difficult to get to when you’re still in dream mode so if you try to remember something you should know only to find that it won’t come to you, you’re still dreaming. Things like your full name, how many kids you have, your address, or the name of your first fish. If the answers to these don’t come, then that should tell you a lot right there.
If all else fails, there’s still one more thing that you can check to assure yourself that you’re awake or simply going through hypnagogia. Do a threshold test. Try to cross over something, into the next room or over the side of your bed. Either the scene will change to something bizarre instead of familiar or you’ll knock yourself on the head hard enough to wake up.
And, just like that, your problem is solved.
If you’re trying to shake sleep paralysis or wake up from hypnagogic hallucinations, then there are a few things that can be done. The simplest thing that you can do when switching from paralyzed to non paralyzed is to synthesize your body with your mind. You can do this by trying to move an extremity like your toes or fingers. Your mind is so used to sending out signals to your various body parts to give them orders that it will come as second nature to do the same thing even if you happen to be asleep at the time. If you find that your body won’t respond, keep trying until you get a reaction. By that time, your mind and your body should have reconnected enough that you can tell what’s real and what isn’t.
Another tip for getting out of hypnagogia is to practice focusing. Focus on a single thing in the hallucination. No matter what it is and how it changes, only pay attention to that single aspect. The act of focusing will wake up your forebrain and that should start you down the path of wakefulness.
You can also open and close your eyes a lot. The rapid blinking will eventually becoming so irritating and repetitive that you’ll actually force your real eyes to blink and wake yourself up.
There are a number of other tests that you can run that will tell you whether you’re still dreaming or not, just as there are a number of other ways to force yourself into a specific state of consciousness. There are different solutions for different people and what may work for your next door neighbor or sister may actually make the situation worse for you. The best thing to do at that point is to experiment with different solutions until you find what’s best for you. And you may never know. There may come a time where you actually anticipate going through hypnagogia. There are people who learn a lot about themselves and their world through practicing out-of-body experiences. There are even those who take the hallucinations experienced during hypnagogia to be a way to predict the future, read minds, and find the secrets of the universe. In the end, how you handle hypnagogia all depends on what you believe and how you let it handle you.
- Astral projection: Out-of-body experience, Near death experience, Soul travel, Soul retrieval, Shamanism, Subtle body, Metaphysics, Esotericism, Hypnagogia, … paralysis, Tattva vision, Teleportation (ISBN 9786130223250): Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, John McBrewster
- False awakening: Dream, Dream argument, Wakefulness, DĂ©jĂ vu, Hallucinations in the sane, Hypnagogia, Lucid dream, Nightmare, Simulated reality, Sleep paralysis, Waking Life, Sleep (ISBN 9786130289065): Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, John McBrewster
- Hypnagogia: False awakening, Hag, Hypnic jerk, Lucid dream, Meditation, Nightmare, Segmented sleep, Sleep disorder, Sleep paralysis, Tetris effect, Threshold … Hypnopompic, Yoga Nidra, Dream yoga (ISBN 9786130223335): Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, John McBrewster
- Hypnagogia: The Unique State of Consciousness Between Wakefulness and Sleep (ISBN 9780955305214): Andreas Mavromatis
- Lucid Dreams: Lucid Dream, Vanilla Sky, Out-Of-Body Experience, Hypnagogia, Waking Life, False Awakening, Open Your Eyes, Allan Hobson (ISBN 9781155460901) LLC
- Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions and Visitors of the Night (ISBN 9780984223916): Ryan Hurd
- Tetris Effect: Thought, Mental Image, Tetromino, Hallucination, Hypnagogia, Kinesthesis (ISBN 9786130473617): Lambert M. Surhone, Miriam T. Timpledon, Susan F. Marseken
- The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream (ISBN 9780465070695): Andrea Rock
- The Secret History of Dreaming (ISBN 9781577319016): Robert Moss
- Trance: Trance. Consciousness, Self-hypnosis, Hallucinations in the sane, Transpersonal psychology, Hypnosis, Hypnagogia, Meditation, Mysticism, Religious experience (ISBN 9786130051549): Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, John McBrewster
- When Hypnagogia Crosses the Line between Dreaming and Hallucinating