Friday, 16 August 2019

Hypnagogia

An explanation of hypnagogia
The hypnagogic state occurs as we transition from wakefulness into sleep (the transition from sleep into wakefulness is known as the hypnopompic state). Bizarre and mesmerising mental phenomena may occur during this transitional state of threshold-consciousness, which include visual hallucinations, sleep paralysis (muscle atonia) and lucid thought. 


Visual hallucinations
The visual hallucinations and other sensations which occur during the hypnagogic state are sometimes referred to as 'presomnal hallucinations', 'anthypnic sensations', 'oneirogogic imagery', 'phantasmata', 'praedormitum' or 'wakefulness-sleep transition'. The hypnagogic state is fairly brief, and may go unnoticed, but it can be prolonged by sleep disturbance or intentional induction of this state, for example during meditation. 


The most common form of hypnagogic hallucinations are the perception of phosphenes, which can manifest as random brightly coloured and luminescent speckles, lines or geometric patterns - and sometimes even representational or figurative images, such as faces, landscapes or objects. Some people report seeing complex fractals or experiencing the sensation of moving through tunnels of light. Hypnagogic hallucinations are fleeting and often change and shift rapidly. They differ from normal dream imagery, in that they are static and lacking in any accompanying narrative content, although they may be linked to fragmentary dreams (microdreams). 

When an individual engages in repetitive activity before sleep - particularly new activities - it is common for this to dominate their imagery during the hypnagogic state. This is referred to as the 'Tetris Effect', and has been reported by amnesiacs who don't have a memory of the original waking activity which influenced their hypnagogic hallucinations. Professor  of Psychiatry Robert Stickgold (2000) has asserted that the Tetris Effect is a separate form of memory - likely to be related to procedural memory. The Tetris Effect is not merely confined to visual imagery, but can manifest in other sensory experiences and perceptions, such as physical touch. Some scientists consider the hypnagogic state to be a decluttering of the brain - a clearing out of the useless junk, while others believe that it has more value. 


Auditory hallucinations
Hypnagogic hallucinations often have an auditory (sound) component, which can vary from intense, recognisable sounds, to vague and indistinct noises. People report hearing their name being called, the sound of a doorbell or telephone ringing, paper being crumpled or white noise, amongst other phantom noises.

Another auditory phenomena which can take place in the hypnagogic state is that of 'Exploding Head Syndrome' which is the brief sensation of a loud bang from inside the head, sometimes accompanied by flashes of light and physical sensations, similar to electric shock or tingling. 

While some of the auditory hallucinations experienced during the hypnagogic state may be nonsensical and meaningless, it is possible to perceive them as being apt summations of, or commentary, on the individual's thoughts at that time, often involving wordplay, neologisms and made-up words. The individual may hear their own 'inner voice' or the voices of others, often familiar. Very rarely do hypnagogic auditory hallucinations involve the perception of music, although this is possible.


Other sensory hallucinations
Gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell) and thermal (heat) sensations are often reported as occurring during the hypnagogic state, as well as other forms of tactile (touch) perceptions, for example synesthesia (unity of the senses); paresthesia (the abnormal dermal sensation of being touched, with no apparent physical cause); or formication (the sensation of insects crawling under the skin). 

Proprioceptive ('kinaesthesia') effects in the body may be noticed - for example, numbness and changes in body size, shape, proportion or position; feelings of floating, pulsating or bobbing; and Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs/OOBEs). The most common of these experiences is the 'hypnic jerk' - the feeling of falling, accompanied by a sudden reflexive jolt back to sudden wakefulness, which happens as the individual is falling asleep. 

As mentioned above, the hypnagogic state often leads to individuals experiencing the onset of sleep paralysis (muscle atonia) which is characteristic of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, a necessary condition, which prevents us from physically acting out our dreams. Sleep paralysis may be accompanied by humming, roaring or buzzing noises, which are also typical of OBE (Out-of-Body Experiences), and can also include vivid visual hallucinations, such as the perception of a presence in the room.


Cognitive processes during hypnagogia
The thought processes which take place during the hypnagogic state differ radically from waking thoughts - they may be bizarre, abstract or even ridiculous. During the hypnagogic state, there is a loosening of ego-boundaries and the individual is likely to be more open, suggestible and receptive, experiencing an illogical and fluid flow of ideas and associations.

Psychoanalyst Herbert Silberer (1882 - 1923) coined the term 'autosymbolism' to describe the process by which hypnagogic hallucinations tend to represent (without repression or censorship) the thoughts of the individual at that time, turning abstract thoughts, into concrete, symbolic visual representations. 

One feature that the hypnagogic state shares with other stages of sleep is amnesia. This is a form of selective forgetfulness, affecting the hippocampal memory, responsible for autobiographical memory, rather than semantic memory.

Hypnagogic hallucinations may be perceived as being visions, prophesies, premonitions, apparitions, demonic visitations, hauntings, alien-abductions or a form of divine inspiration, depending on the beliefs and worldviews of the person experiencing this phenomena. 


Interestingly, the hypnagogic state can provide insight into problem-solving and many notable examples exist of scientists, inventors and artists crediting their experience of hypnagogia in enhancing their creativity or problem-solving. These include: organic chemist August Kekule (1829 - 1886), who visualised a snake eating it's own tail, enabling him to crack the chemical structure of benzene; composers, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) and Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883); novelist Walter Scott (1771 - 1832); painter Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989); inventors Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931) and Nikola Tesla (1856 - 1943); and mathematician and physicist Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727). References to hypnagogia date back to the writings of Aristotle in 350 BC and continued, with a renewed fascination for this phenomena of altered consciousness emerging during the Romantic period, which took place in Europe during the early to mid-19th century. Various authors, such as Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870) who provides a description of hypnagogia in Oliver Twist (1837 - 1839), while Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1849) wrote of the 'fancies' he experienced 'only  when I am on the brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so'.


Hypnagogia & lucid dream induction
Regular meditation can assist in prolonging and 'freezing' the hypnagogic state at later stages, allowing the individual to assess the depth and deepening of the meditative process and induce lucidity. Just like lucid dreams, the hypnagogic experience can be directed and interpreted as it is experienced.


It is possible to experience mild hypnagogia while fully awake and mentally conscious, by cupping the palms of the hands over the eyes so that all you can see is darkness. Focusing your open eyes on the middle distance enables you to see some faint visual light effects (the phosphenes, which are sometimes referred to as 'eye worms'), which will generally appear as static shapes or geometric patterns when you focus your attentions on them.


The Wake-Initiated Lucid Dream Technique (WILD)
One method of intentionally inducing a lucid dream involves paying careful attention to the hypnagogic state as you fall asleep. The most powerful (and rewarding technique) of lucid dream induction is known as the Wake-Initiated Lucid Dream technique, which allows the lucid dreamer to harness the hypnagogic state during meditation, and transition directly from wakefulness into the lucid dream without any lapse in consciousness. 

The key to this technique is to lay completely still and flat on your back, relaxing the body through meditation, while retaining mental consciousness - the paradoxical state of Mind Awake/Body Asleep. All muscles should be loosened and circular 'yoga breathing' (inhale through the nose, hold the breath, and exhale through the mouth) is encouraged here. Some people extend their arms behind their head until they receive the 'Roll Over Signal' - an increasing urge to roll over onto your side, and a sign that the body is falling asleep. Resisting the urge to move, by directing attention away from the physical sensations of the body is necessary here, and at this point you will likely begin to experience hypnagogia. 

The ensuing hypnagogic imagery which is experienced during this paradoxical, transitional state can be used for dream visualisation - by directing the fluid, transformative hypnagogic imagery, you can eventually begin to visualise a lucid dream scene, using imagination and memory. 

As you enter sleep, your dreaming mind will take over, introducing new forms of imagery from beyond your field of vision - a similar process to recalling a memory in your mind's eye. If you manage to maintain your conscious awareness, you may end up in a lucid dream within a matter of minutes. Due to the focus on hypnagogic imagery, this technique is sometimes referred to as the 'Hypnagogic Induction Technique'. The most complex aspect of this approach is transitioning from the observation of hypnagogia to being fully submerged in a lucid dream.

The hypnagogic state offers a fascinating opportunity to explore the transitional limbo-like realm between wakefulness and sleep, offering trippy, psychedelic visual experiences, deep relaxation, clarity of thought and new insights. 

1 comment:

  1. i had this before but it didnt look like the art it look like someone throw snow in my face but in the dark i didnt like the experience tbh

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