What you should know about sleep-related hallucinations

Have you ever woken up from your sleep thinking you were still dreaming? Hallucinations are common after falling asleep or waking up.

Most of these hallucinations are visual, but there are many ways to experience them.

This article explains how sleep-related hallucinations are often associated with sleep transitions (when someone falls asleep or wakes up). It also describes complex nocturnal hallucinations.

visual dominance illusion

When people report hallucinations, they usually describe visual experiences, see things that aren’t there, or misinterpret something in the environment (called hallucinations). For example, you might see bugs crawling on the ceiling, or misinterpret a desk lamp as a shadowy figure standing in the room.

While visual experience predominates, some hallucinations may involve hearing. These auditory hallucinations can range from voices to loud voices. It’s also possible to feel something through tactile hallucinations, or even a sense of movement through hallucinations of motion (or movement).

hallucinations that occur while falling asleep hypnotic hallucinations. The most common cause of these is the sudden onset of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Some estimates suggest that up to 70% of the general population experience sleep hallucinations.

The 4 stages of sleep (NREM and REM sleep cycles)

coexistence behavior

Hallucinations may be associated with other symptoms, such as sleep paralysis. Affected individuals may become startled and jump out of bed or engage in other sleep-related behaviors, including sleepwalking and sleep talking. Hallucinations can also occur independently during the day.

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Many sleep talkers mutter to themselves

Sleep talking is parasomnia or “abnormal behavior” during sleep. But there is nothing unusual about its popularity. Research shows that nearly 70% of adults will talk in their sleep at some point in their lives. If you are one of them, you may be relieved that even if you divulge secrets, it may be difficult for anyone to hear them. Many sleep talkers can be incomprehensible because sleep talkers tend to mumble or just move their lips without making any sound.

complex hallucinations

More complex visual hallucinations that occur at night can represent a unique experience. They involve “vivid, dramatic, intricate visual hallucinations that occur when falling asleep or waking up during the night, usually lasting a few minutes at most, and disappearing as light levels increase.”

Affected individuals may experience hallucinations of complex and vivid visual scenes after abrupt awakenings without recollection of the relevant dream. This may include people or animals that are distorted in size or shape.

When the light was turned on, the hallucination disappeared. These complex hallucinations appear to have unique causes and may be linked to a disease — from eye conditions like cataracts or macular degeneration to epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease. However, hallucinations also occur in people without this condition.

How to wake up in the morning and rest


Hallucinations associated with sleep transitions occur at least occasionally in most of the general population. It may simply represent the imagery of the dream persisting into the waking state. This leads to overlapping states, which may be prolonged in sleep-deprived people.

While this may be normal for the sleep-wake transition, it can also be seen in some people with other medical conditions. These hallucinations often occur in narcolepsy. The condition is associated with fragmented sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep paralysis, and, often, cataplexywhich is sudden muscle weakness.

Complex sleep hallucinations are somewhat rare and may indicate a possible neurological disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia with Lewy bodies. At the same time, visual impairment can cause complex hallucinations. This condition is called Charles Bonnie Syndrome (CBS). It is named after an 18th-century scientist who was the first to suggest that people may experience hallucinations (one or both eyes) following sudden vision loss.

If the hallucinations are persistent and bothersome, it’s important to rule out other potential causes. Medical conditions such as seizures and migraines should be excluded. The effects of drug or substance use should be considered. Any mental problem should be identified and treated.

Here’s how to deal with narcolepsy.

When to seek help

Hallucinations are usually harmless, but if they make you feel uneasy, stressed, or anxious, you should consider seeing a sleep specialist. If you feel unusually sleepy during the day, you should seek help right away, as you may have narcolepsy. Expect answers to the following questions:

  • When did your hallucinations start?
  • How often do they happen?
  • How long do hallucinations last?
  • Do you have other sleep problems, such as insomnia?
  • Are you sleepy during the day? If so, does this happen daily or occasionally?


People who deal with sleep-related hallucinations often describe visual experiences, see things that aren’t there, or misinterpret something in their environment (called hallucinations). While visual experience predominates, some hallucinations may involve hearing. These hallucinations are likely to occur when someone falls asleep or wakes up (called sleep transitions).

There are more complex visual hallucinations, which occur after abrupt awakenings during the night. Without recollection of the relevant dream, affected individuals may experience hallucinations of complex and vivid visual scenes.

Hallucinations often occur in narcolepsy, while complex sleep hallucinations may indicate neurological or visual disturbances.

VigorTip words

Regular, productive sleep should be a top priority for everyone, including bedroom partners, roommates, or family members of those dealing with sleep-related hallucinations. The truth is, their sleep may have been disrupted as well. They struggle with sleep deprivation symptoms during the day. To minimize distractions, the Sleep Foundation recommends these night warriors:

  • Wear earplugs or headphones.
  • Plug in a white noise machine or fan.
  • Sleep in a different room until the disturbance subsides or disappears.