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Overview

Hypnopompic hallucinations are described as unusual sensory experiences that occur during the period of transition from a sleeping state to wakefulness. The sensory experiences may include seeing, hearing, or sensing sounds and objects that aren't actually present.

The term hypnopompic refers to the situation where the individual experiencing these sensory aspects is not fully awake but also not entirely asleep.

Causes

The causes of hypnopompic hallucinations will depend entirely on the unique circumstances of the individual affected by the condition. The hallucinations experienced by the person will also then depend on that individual's psychological state.

The factors involved in the development of this condition may include:

  • The structure of the brain - structural abnormalities of the brain may be present from birth or occur as a result of trauma to the organ. Lesions to certain parts of the brain have been demonstrated to result in certain hallucinations and sleeping disorders.
  • Activity in the brain - there is some evidence that inactivation or depression of the frontal lobe of the brain may result in the development of the condition. This is also true when certain other parts of the brain are activated or stimulated.
  • Alteration of brain waves - individuals who transition into a combination of alpha and theta brain waves, together with bursts of beta waves, experience hypnopompic hallucinations.
  • Meditation - this practice eventually allows individuals to remain conscious while alpha and theta brain waves emerge resulting in hallucinations occurring between the phases of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Consciousness - during the hypnopompic state it is thought that individuals are in a dream-like, emotional state of consciousness. The brain then tries to make sense of the experience which may result in a subjective interpretation of conscious thoughts that the individual may have or subconscious topics that have been previously forgotten.
  • Sleep deprivation - a reduction in the number of hours slept at night can cause changes in brain activity as well as the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones produced by the brain. 
  • Sensory deprivation - individuals who purposefully engage in sensory deprivation cause their brains to make up sensory experiences, which are essential to human evolution and survival, by producing hallucinations.    
  • Medications - medications that alter the neurotransmitter levels in the brain are thought to result in hypnopompic hallucinations. These include acetylcholine inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, and central nervous system depressants.
  • Using illicit drugs - the use of certain illegal drugs can result in damage to brain cells leading to structural changes in the brain tissue and development of the condition.
  • The presence of mental health conditions - these disorders are associated with abnormal neurotransmitter levels in the brain, abnormal sleeping patterns, and the use of medications all of which can cause hypnopompic hallucinations.

Management

Hypnopompic hallucinations are managed according to the factors that are involved in their development. The treatment will also depend on the patient's individual circumstances as some protocols may work well for some and not for others.

Therapies include:

  • Improving the quality and quantity of the patient's sleep and managing sleeping disorders.
  • Removing the use of stimulants such as nicotine, caffeine, and illegal drugs.
  • Appropriately managing mental health conditions with the correct medication and reviewing any drugs that may increase the chances of the patient developing hypnopompic hallucinations.
  • Brainwave modification by incorporating brainwave entrainment, neurofeedback, and neural stimulation.
  • Sleeping on one's back is thought to be associated with the development of hypnopompic hallucinations. Therefore, changing sleeping positions may reduce the chances of development the condition.
  • Incorporation relaxation techniques to reduce levels of stress.

 

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