Imagine lying in bed next to your partner, deep within the blissful realm of your mind, allowing your body the rest it so desperately craves. The room is pretty quiet. There's nothing else to be heard besides the fan you use as a white noise to help you sleep. Everything seems to be going so swell when BOOM! Suddenly you are staring at a person in the corner of the room, a girl with long dark hair. She starts moving towards you using a speed far more superior than human speed. You need to get away from her as fast as possible so you dive on top of your partner, the direction furthest away from her. Your partner wakes up and has no idea what just happened. You blink a few times and look over and realize there's nothing there.
Well, this is a big part of my life. I am that person who wakes up holding a fan inches away from her face because she hallucinated that it was dropping on her. I had to catch it before it was too late! I am that person who sees people in her room in the late hours of the night. And no, I haven't lost my mind. It's much more common than you think.
I don't remember the first time this ever happened to me. Sometimes I don't remember the episodes at all; only the people around me see them. Other times I remember clearly. I know it started when I was around 11. I would sleep walk quite a lot. My mom and I often shared a room because at that age, embarrassingly enough, I was terrified of the dark. She would wake up to me standing over her or sitting up in bed, walking around the room. Real horror movie type scenarios, stuff that would give people nightmares. But my mom was cool. She would just tell me to go back to bed and that was that.
Of course as a teenager, I grew out of the phase of being afraid of the dark. Well, I was a little scared still, but I knew it was time to stay in my own room. That's when I remember the hallucinations starting the most. The only other one I remember was when I was sleeping in my mom's bed and I thought a bunch of people were standing around the bed. Yes, it was as creepy as it sounds.
So, sleeping alone in my room meant no one else was really around to catch my sleepwalking and sleep talking episodes. Most of the time I had no idea when it happened. I would only remember things here and there.
Soon I began sleeping over at friend's houses more often. It would happen anywhere I went, even hotels.
Finally I met my lovely husband who has definitely dealt with my sleeping issues the most. At this point in my life, I was ready to take the steps into researching what was going on with me. I had gone to my doctor before to talk about it as a preteen but he tried to prescribe me some pills which had some wicked side effects, so my parents felt unsure about me taking them at such a young age. We decided not to. Years later, I also spoke to a psychologist who was more concerned with whether or not these hallucinations were a sign of schizophrenia. They weren't. After that, the subject was dropped by the people who were meant to be helping me.
I decided to take initiative and figure out what they were myself. It didn't take me long to find the terms for them: "Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Hallucinations."
Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Hallucinations
Hypnagogic hallucinations happen when you are falling asleep. Hypnopompic hallucinations happen as you wake up. I deal with both. These types of hallucinations can impact all your senses. For me, they are primarily visual but sometimes I can feel things too, like the spiders.
A lot of people may say, "you are simply dreaming!" But these are different from dreams. They happen in the space that you are in. You aren't asleep, you are awake, just not fully coherent. They feel extremely real and the best way to deal with them is by turning on a light of some kind. They will instantly be gone. They might make you freak out, jump out of bed, scream, and give you the shakes simply because of how real it feels.
These hallucinations can be associated with Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, narcolepsy, and mental illness. The strange thing is, though, this has happened to perfectly healthy people as well, people who do not have a history of mental illness. So sadly in the end, there is no solid answer to as why this happens. They say drug and alcohol abuse can influence it but if I'm being perfectly honest here, marijuana helps a lot. I rarely hallucinate if I smoke before bed. Not to mention this happened to me long before I started drinking or smoking.
Within my own experience I can tell you this, when I'm stressed or anxious before bed they happen more often. I don't know if that's a coincidence or a cause. If the room is super dark, it's also more likely to happen. Though if there's a light on as I sleep, my sleep talking issues take over.
Sleeping with a pillow on my head stops them from happening. I'm sure a sleep mask would do the same but I like the weight on my head and I'm weird. I'm guessing it helps because then I can't see anything in my room. So I can't hallucinate. Keeping my phone within reach is also important because with the flashlight on, it instantly gets rid of any creepy lurking hallucination. There are always solutions. It's important to try and stay calm so you don't get hurt or hurt the person next to you. I have a dog who sleeps in our bed, I have been able to reassure myself that if anyone was actually in my room, he would be barking like crazy. It takes a while for your brain to get used to calming itself down like that but if you keep at it, more often than not you will be able to remain calm and fall back to sleep.
What do I see?
Okay now for the interesting bit. I don't mind talking about what I see, I love creepy things. I have grown used to this part of myself. Not everyone will feel the same way as me. These types of hallucinations can be quite traumatic for some people so never push someone into telling you what they see. I'm okay with it. They might not be.
I am not sure if the fact that I love horror movies impacts what I see. I'm also not saying that I'm never scared. I have had pounding heart, shaking body, terrified to go back to bed moments. It's just gotten better over the years because I have learned to cope.
My hallucinations are always quite quick. They never last more than a few moments. Mostly I see people or spiders but I've also had experiences with moving furniture or things in my room that just don't seem quite right (like the time I woke up in my bed but my room was a warehouse for a split second). I've woken up to seeing a man on my floor in a red hoodie with his knees tucked up to his chest. He was rocking back and forth. I've seen another person in a dark hoodie pacing back and forth at the end of our bed. The one mentioned in the first paragraph actually happened with my husband. It was one of the first nights we stayed together. I saw a girl with long dark hair in the corner of the basement and she ran at me.
One of the most horrifying experiences I had was at the house I used to live at as a teenager. It was late at night. I awoke standing near my window. We had an old brick house, my room was on the second floor, a straight brick wall leading up to it. There was a bald, naked man type monster holding onto my windowsill, trying to climb in. I turned on my light and he was gone.
I've slept over at my friend's house and tried to break into her brother's room. Apparently I had a terrified look on my face as I was looking for my friend... who was in the room I just came out of, asleep. Needless to say that was an embarrassing conversation with her brother in the morning.
I've had giant spiders crawl down the ceiling towards me. Those ones are the worst because my dog wouldn't bark at that so it takes me a while to realize it wasn't real. I end up searching my bed and room to make sure there are no spiders.
I would say the most common of all, though, is just purely someone standing in my room. I can never see their face, only the silhouette.
If this happens to you, don't fret. There's more than likely nothing wrong with you. 40 percent of people at some point in their lives have some sort of sleep-related hallucination. It's much more common than you think. Talk to your doctor to rule out anything more serious. There are ways to deal with it. Personally, I feel it's simply a part of my life and who I am. The stories I get from it are funny to tell to others. They inspire me to write horror as well. Sometimes you have to take something annoying and turn it into something you are fine living with. At least you now know you aren't alone and you aren't losing your mind!
I hope more research goes into why this happens. The best way to explain it is like you are dreaming but in real life, while you are awake. If you have experienced this share your story if you are able to. When I found out it wasn't just me, I truly felt a weight being lifted. I hope others can feel the same way as well.