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Hearing Voices in my Head: Hypnagogic Hallucinations

Updated on April 19, 2013
Schizophrenia | Source

Experiencing Hypnagogic Hallucinations

For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from sleep paralysis, never realizing that I have also experienced its cousin, hypnagogic hallucinations, once or twice as well. When I was much younger, before I ever experienced sleep paralysis, I used to commonly have dreams in which I was falling, only to wake with a sudden jerk with my heart racing.

I never knew that these dreams had any kind of special name attached to them. I'd dream I was walking somewhere, only to trip on something, or that I was pushed from a cliff or building by an unseen enemy and when I told anyone about it almost everyone said they'd had the same sort of experience happen to them as well. They never did more than provide an unwelcome adrenaline rush in the middle of the night so I was never concerned.

More recently, I've been informed that my boyfriend will commonly hear voices just before waking. Just like my experience, they are never terrifying and, even though his dreams are not anything like mine, they are still connected under that same term: hypnagogic hallucinations. Lucky for us, our experience with these hynagogic hallucinations have never been frightening, however, for many out there, they can just just as unnerving as my own experience with sleep paralysis, or worse.

Causes for Hypnagogic Hallucinations

There are many different potential causes for hypnagogic hallucinations. For the most part, anything that effects the brain such as an injury, like a pinched nerve, medications, or psychological disorders can cause them, although the most common cause comes from sleeping disorders. Here is a list of other basic causes:

  • Prescription medications (sometimes even over the counter ones)
  • Drug addiction
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Head or back injuries
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion

What are Hypnagogic Hallucinations?

Hypnagogic hallucinations, like sleep paralysis, occur while you are stuck in that place between being asleep and waking up. Many people hear voices in their head, feel like they're falling, or even sense a presence in the room that is not actually there. It can be a terrifying experience, not only because of the sensations experienced, but also because of how very real it seems, sometimes even after you are fully awake.

Almost everyone experiences a hypnagogic hallucination at some point in their lifetime. They are especially common for young children or people on certain prescription medication. You should only be concerned if it occurs on a regular basis and/or effects our sleep as it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed.

The Hypnagogic State

Hypnagogic is a term that was first created in the 19th century by French psychologist Louis Ferdinand Alfred Maury. It comes from two Greek terms: hypno, meaning "sleep," and agogeus, meaning "guide." Some believe that this state of mind is a way of clearing out unwanted junk while others believe that it can be guided, like lucid dreams, and interpreted as a gateway to the unconscious mind.

The Hypnagogic State is something that many dreamers strive for. It is a difficult task, much like learning to lucid dream. One of the main goals is to learn to control the imagery that you are confronted with during hypnagogic hallucinations. This is done either so that the person can do their own interpretations of their experiences or so that they can gain control over them, which is an especially essential skill if the hallucinations are terrifying for you.

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Hearing Voices Movement

Founded by Marius Romme and Sandra Escher in 1987, the Hearing Voices Movement advocates techniques in negotiating with, accepting, and coping with the voices one hears in their head. They believe that just because one hears voices does not mean they are mentally ill but that it is often related to problems in the person's personal history. Therefore, the movement believes that if the voices cause the hearer distress, that that person can learn how to confront them and cope with the voices by examining their past, which is the underlying cause of the voices.

Auditory Hallucinations

Auditory hallucinations are most commonly described as hearing voices that are not actually there, like my boyfriend with his experiences. However, these hallucinations can also involve hearing other sounds beyond just non-existent people. Some have even reported hearing loud exploding type sounds that cause them to wake suddenly, which is known as exploding head syndrome.

When someone claims that they are "hearing voices in my head," one may immediately assume they must have some form of schizophrenia, but this is not always the case. At least 10% of the population has some form of auditory hallucinations in their lifetime, all of which can come from a wide variety of causes. Some other causes of auditory hallucinations are as follows:

  • Excessive drug use (especially crack, amphetamines, and cocaine)
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Some forms of epilepsy
  • Illnesses that result in dementia or high fever
  • Certain forms of poisoning
  • Severe depression

Treatment for Hypnagogic Hallucinations

For the most part, people have hypnagogic hallucinations without really giving it much though except to consider it a bad dream. When your hynagogic hallucinations have become too much to handle, it's best to consult a doctor to find out what is the best treatment option for you. Treatment can vary from going through therapy to even having to undergo brain or ear surgery.

Some more simple solutions that you can try include:

  1. Sleep: Try to regulate your sleep and provide yourself with an adequate amount of sleep each night. Sometimes these hallucinations can be caused by sleep deprivation so getting enough of it can really help.
  2. De-stress: Stress is another major cause of hynagogic hallucinations so try doing things to help with your stress. Exercise is a great option, as it can help with stress and sleep deprivation.
  3. Seek Help: Of course, seeking help from a professional is the absolute best way to try and treat this if it has become a major issue. Perhaps they're being caused by the medications you are taking or you have an underlying disorder you aren't aware of. Talk to a doctor or other professional to find out what's going on so you can address it and get rid of these terrifying experiences once and for all.

© 2012 Lisa


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    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      8 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Very interesting hub. I was not aware that so many people were hearing voices. That was a new statistic for me.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      8 years ago from UK

      I often "fall" and sometimes "trip over" (they do feel different). I also start my day off and get as far as breakfast or even work and realise that I am in fact still in bed asleep.

      Interesting hub - glad I now know the name for my sleep-falling!

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      8 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Wow - I send my sincerest of thank you's for having shared this. I have suffered from the "falling" part my entire life, never realizing others suffered from it or that there was a name for it.


    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 

      8 years ago from San Antonio, FL

      Interesting hub. When I was a child I used to wake up from a dream about a forest fire (probably from watching the movie Bambi) and actually see the fire and animals running through the woods on the bedroom wall. That was probably a hypnogagic hallucination. Voted up and interesting!


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