Ask SleepBetter: Morning Hallucinations

Have you wondered about something related to sleep, but just can’t find the answer? Lots of people do, and that’s why we created Ask SleepBetter. You can ask your own question on the SleepBetter Facebook Page, or by using our Ask SleepBetter contact form. We will try to answer as many questions as possible, but we are not able to answer queries about physical issues or medicinal issues. Those should be addressed face-to-face with a physician.

Today’s question is from a Facebook friend who sees things in the morning:

“I was just wondering what would cause visual hallucinations when waking. A couple of times in the past after waking up I have seen either spiders on the floor or the wall. Was this due to stress or still being half asleep?”
-Mina (via Email)

As we always recommend, please discuss this with your doctor as soon as possible.  It’s best to rule out a physical reason for any sleep problem.  With that said, it sounds like you’ve suffered from a form of sleep hallucinations, which are often paired with sleep paralysis.  Don’t consider this a diagnosis, because it’s not, but it could explain what you’re describing.  Here’s some information from a SleepBetter article in which we described sleep paralysis as the scariest sleep disorder:

During normal sleep, your brain sends a signal to your body to that essentially paralyzes you while you’re dreaming. This keeps you from thrashing around and possibly hurting yourself or your bed partner. When sleep paralysis occurs, however, the brain either switches on your muscle inhibition too soon or doesn’t switch it off when you wake up.  This can lead to very creepy experiences where you’re awake but unable to move. Even worse, many people who suffer from sleep paralysis will dream while they’re awake.  When you’re asleep, dreaming is normal, but when you’re awake it’s called hallucinating.

The most common hallucinations that occur with sleep paralysis include sensing or seeing another person in the room, being touched, hearing footsteps, floating, or even hearing someone call your name. Episodes of sleep paralysis can last anywhere from 10 seconds to a terrifying 70 minutes.  Sleep paralysis has been pointed to as a possible explanation for individuals who believe they’ve been a victim of nighttime alien encounters and abductions.

Chronic sleep paralysis only affects about six percent of adults. Generally, the disorder is related to jet lag, sleep deprivation, stress or even your sleeping position. It’s believed that supine sleep (sleeping on your back) can make a person five times more likely to have an episode of sleep paralysis than any other position.