Hypnopompic hallucinations are hallucinations that occur in the morning as you’re waking up. They are very similar to hypnagogic hallucinations, or hallucinations that occur at night as you’re falling asleep. When you experience these hallucinations, you see, hear, or feel things that aren’t actually there. Sometimes these hallucinations occur alone, and other times they occur in conjunction with sleep paralysis.
For most people, hypnopompic hallucinations are considered normal and are not cause for concern. They generally don’t indicate an underlying mental or physical illness, though they may be more common in people with certain sleep disorders. Learn more about what hypnopompic hallucinations are, how they differ from other types of hallucinations, and what you should do if you experience them.
Generally, hallucinations are sensory experiences that don’t correspond to what’s happening in reality. Hallucinations may include seeing, hearing, feeling, or even smelling things that feel real but are not. Hypnopompic hallucinations, in particular, are hallucinations that occur as you are waking up in the morning and in a state that falls somewhere between dreaming and being fully awake.
Hypnopompic hallucinations are relatively common, occurring in over 12% of people. They aren’t as common as hypnagogic hallucinations, however. Hypnagogic hallucinations are similar to hypnopompic hallucinations, but they occur as you’re falling asleep. Up to 37% of people experience these nighttime hallucinations. Together, hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are referred to as hypnagogia. They both likely originate during an early, non-REM sleep stage.
If you’ve recently experienced hypnopompic hallucinations for the first time, you might wonder if they are a cause for concern. For most people, they are not. These hallucinations differ from nightmares and hallucinations associated with mental health disorders.
A variety of types of hallucinations exist, and different hallucinations result from different causes. Hypnopompic hallucinations share some similarities with hallucinations arising from mental illness, but their effect is quite different. Experiencing hypnopompic hallucinations does not suggest you have a mental health disorder.
The nature of hypnopompic hallucinations differs from hallucinations arising from mental illness. A primary difference is that hypnopompic hallucinations only occur as a person is waking up. Schizophrenic hallucinations can occur at any time, and commonly occur in the daytime while a person is fully awake. Also, 86% of hypnopompic hallucinations have a visual component, while only 30% of schizophrenic hallucinations do. Hallucinations in schizophrenia are auditory 75% of the time, while hypnopompic hallucinations are only auditory in 8% to 34% of cases.
Usually, people experiencing hypnopompic hallucinations recognize that what they see or hear is not real. When people experience hallucinations due to schizophrenia they tend to believe that what they heard or saw was indeed real. This difficulty distinguishing between reality and hallucination can cause problems and feed into delusional or paranoid beliefs. Hypnopompic hallucinations tend to be vivid but relatively short and straightforward. Schizophrenia-related hallucinations might be more detailed and consistent, such as repeatedly hearing the same voice speaking.
Sometimes, people experiencing mental health disorders other than schizophrenia have hallucinations. Hallucinations might occur in those experiencing severe depression, postpartum psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder. People who have hypnopompic hallucinations and don’t experience other mental health symptoms have no reason to think they’re experiencing mental illness, however.
Hypnopompic hallucinations differ from nightmares in that they happen as you’re waking up in the morning, while nightmares tend to occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Also, hypnopompic hallucinations usually consist of simple images, sounds, or sensations. Nightmares, on the other hand, tend to be more complex dreams with storylines.
Nightmares are dreams that the sleeper finds frightening. Hypnopompic hallucinations can occasionally be alarming, but they don’t normally provoke strong emotions. Instead, their content is usually rather benign. For example, a hypnopompic hallucination might involve images that look similar to what you’d see in a kaleidoscope, or background sounds like a ringing phone or doorbell. While the frightening feeling of nightmares might linger, people usually forget about hypnopompic hallucinations quickly.
Sometimes hypnopompic hallucinations occur at the same time as sleep paralysis. In these instances, they might feel frightening and similar to a nightmare. Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which a person feels awake but cannot move their body. Sometimes sleep paralysis is accompanied by tactile hallucinations, such as the sensation that another person is in the room, or that a person or object is putting pressure on your chest.
An experience called “the incubus phenomenon” occurs in up to 30% of people, is associated with hypnopompic hallucinations, and feels nightmarish. In the incubus phenomenon, a person experiences sleep paralysis and a hypnopompic hallucination at once. The hallucination is in vivid detail and feels frightening. Often, it involves the hallucinated presence of a person in the room who wants to assault the sleeper. The presence may also be interpreted as a supernatural being. Some people view these experiences as actual metaphysical events or out-of-body experiences.
Hypnopompic hallucinations are similar to hypnagogic hallucinations — together called hypnagogia. Both are hallucinations that involve sensing things that aren’t actually there while in a mental state between dreaming and waking. The hallucinations can be visual, auditory, or tactile. Hypnopompic hallucinations occur while a person is waking up, and hypnagogic hallucinations occur while falling asleep.
In 86% of cases, hypnopompic hallucinations are visual. They often involve seeing moving shapes and colors, or images of animals or people. Between 8% and 34% of these hallucinations involve sound. Common sounds include the ringing of bells or the sound of talking voices. Sounds may be paired with images or occur on their own. Also, in 25% to 44% of instances, hypnopompic hallucinations involve tactile sensations. For example, a person might feel like they are weightless, flying, or in the room with another person. The sense that a person is in the room commonly occurs with sleep paralysis.
Researchers haven’t definitively determined what causes hypnopompic hallucinations. These hallucinations have neurological similarities to both daytime hallucinations and nighttime dreams. Researchers used to argue that hypnopompic hallucinations occurred because REM sleep states intruded on awakened consciousness, but further research hasn’t supported this hypothesis. Instead, it seems like hypnopompic hallucinations occur during early, non-REM sleep stages.
Generally, hypnopompic hallucinations are considered harmless and normal. Their presence alone doesn’t indicate that the person experiencing them is unhealthy or facing an underlying disorder. That said, some people with underlying disorders are more likely to experience them. For example, these hallucinations are common in people with narcolepsy. If you experience hypnopompic hallucinations in addition to other symptoms of narcolepsy, consult with a doctor.
If you experience hypnopompic hallucinations and no other symptoms, you likely do not need to see a doctor. However, if the hallucinations interfere with your ability to sleep or cause you distress, consider seeking medical attention. A doctor can help you determine if you’re dealing with an underlying illness or disorder that contributes to your hallucinations.
Hypnopompic hallucinations only occur as a person is waking up. If you also experience hallucinations during the daytime when you’re wide awake, talk to your doctor. Daytime hallucinations aren’t as common and could be due to an underlying mental or physical illness.
If you believe you might have narcolepsy, you should also seek medical attention. In addition to hypnopompic hallucinations, people with narcolepsy often experience excessive tiredness, a loss of muscle tone (cataplexy), sleeping problems, and sleep paralysis. Narcolepsy is a disorder with potentially serious consequences, but it can be treated and managed with the help of medical professionals.
Hypnopompic hallucinations generally occur beyond our control. We do not get to choose if we want to have them or not.
If, however, your hypnopompic hallucinations are accompanied by other daytime symptoms, or you find they are causing you sleep problems or distress, see your doctor. Your doctor can help you identify and treat any related underlying causes, and this treatment could help reduce how often you have hypnopompic hallucinations.