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What Causes Hypnopompic Hallucinations?

Hypnopompic hallucinations are aural illusions that are experienced while waking.
The use of certain drugs can contribute to slowing down brain function.
Depression and other mood conditions may cause hypnopompic hallucinations.
Hypnopompic hallucinations are generally attributed to impaired function in the frontal lobe.
Chronic insomnia may cause hypnopompic hallucinations.
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  • Written By: Marco Sumayao
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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Hypnopompic hallucinations, in which an individual perceives visual or aural illusions upon waking, are generally attributed to impaired function in the frontal lobe. The phenomenon, often referred to as a manifestation of "sleep inertia," occurs when the brain is unable to quickly readjust an individual's dreaming state to an awake one. As a result, images and sounds from dreams can be carried over into a person's conscious perception. Insomnia has been identified as the primary cause for the impaired mental function associated with these types of hallucinations, although other possible causes include drug abuse, depression, and physiological disorders.

Individuals suffering from insomnia are the most likely to experience hypnopompic hallucinations. Sleep deprivation can severely slow mental function down, resulting in the frontal lobe's inability to quickly distinguish vivid dreams from reality. In addition, insomniacs often suffer from microsleeps, extremely brief periods of unintended sleep. The rapid rate of sleeping can immediately plunge an individual into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the level of sleep most associated with dreaming. A microsleeping individual usually wakes several seconds after reaching the state, accelerating through the stages of sleep and consciousness too quickly for the brain to process.

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The use of certain drugs can also contribute to slowing down brain function. This is most apparent with sedatives, such as diazepam. Those under heavy sedative medication usually report sluggish mental function, which, in turn, can lead to hallucinations upon waking from sleep. Hallucinogenic drugs like opium, on the other hand, contribute to the development of these illusions by impairing the user's ability to distinguish fantasy from reality. It is possible that this effect can carry over after the drug's effects have worn off.

Mental disorders that involve the shutting down of certain mental processes can have hallucinogenic effects after waking. Depressive disorders, such as major depressive disorder (MDD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), are possible causes of hypnopompic hallucinations. These conditions are often associated with bouts of insomnia and a loss of mental acuity, two major contributing factors to sleep-related hallucinations.

In the case of MDD, there is a large possibility that hallucinations might result from biological problems in the brain. This disorder can be the result of a physiological inability to produce or maintain adequate levels of serotonin, for instance. This leads to impaired frontal lobe activity and the hallucinations as a result. Some individuals might have weakened frontal lobe function as a result of physical damage or congenital disorders, making them more likely to experience hypnopompic hallucinations when waking.

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anon346767
Post 5

I am under a lot of stress and I do have sleep apnea. I first began waking up to see huge spiders on ceiling and climbing down.

Lately, I wake up thinking I see a big hole on the wall or ceiling. The hole is about 5 inches in diameter and is just as deep. I can actually see the layers of sheet rock and 2x4's. This hole moves as my eyes move. What the heck can this be? Am I losing my mind? Has anyone else experienced this? I am aware of the medical term Hypnopompic hallucinations, but a hole in the wall?

bear78
Post 4

@turkay1-- It might be a hypnagogic hallucinaion or a hypnopompic hallucination. They're similar but not exactly the same.

Hypnagogic hallucinations take place right before falling asleep or right before waking up. Hypnopompic hallucinations happen after being fully awake.

They are both associated with vivid dreams and involve visuals or auditory experiences. The difference is that during hypnagogic hallucinations, you are still sleeping and the hallucination will disappear after waking up. Hypnopompic hallucinations mean that visuals or sounds from the dream are continued to be experienced after waking up.

candyquilt
Post 3

I'm not sure what I'm experiencing exactly but I have hallucinations sometimes right before I wake up. They may not be hallucinations, it's more like I continue to dream while I'm awake. My eyes aren't open, and I feel that I'm almost awake, but I continue to experience my dreams. At the same time, I also hear and feel what's actually happening in the room.

For example, my mother lives with me and sometimes I can hear and feel my mom doing things in my room, but I also continue to dream. It's a very frustrating feeling because I want to wake up but I can't. It's almost painful and the sensations, the sounds and visuals from the dream continue to affect me after I've woken up.

What is this?

turquoise
Post 2

Is there a treatment for this condition?

StarJo
Post 1

I hallucinated like this once! I thought I was awake, but I was still partially asleep, and I saw a shadow come running down the hallway and into my room.

The shadow jumped on top of me, and I tried to bite it. I then woke up and saw that I was biting the quilt.

However, my environment was exactly the same as in the dream, except the shadow was missing. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life!

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