Home HealthTopics Health Centers Reference Library Research
Join us on Facebook Join us on Facebook Share on Facebook

Sleep Disorders

Dreaming that I`m Sleeping

12/16/2011

Question:

This has happened to me several times especially lately, always when I`m falling asleep. I go to sleep, I think, but my dream is that I`m asleep or trying to go to sleep. I`m in the same position I went to sleep in but I heard voices, or see my kids come into the bedroom. I can force myself to wake up and it`s not until then that I realize I had to be dreaming because everyone else is asleep and my kids are in bed. So basically I can`t tell the difference between being asleep or awake. It can last a couple of hours. It drives my husband crazy because I make him get up and check to see if anyone is in the house or if the kids are awake multiple times. Please help me!

Answer:

This sounds very frustrating for you. Typically, people to not enter into dream sleep until after 90 minutes of sleep or so. However, your description of seeing and hearing things that appear very real at the onset of sleep sounds consistent with what are known as sleep-onset hallucinations or “hypnagogic hallucinations.” These episodes at times can be terrifying and anxiety producing.

There are a number of conditions that can be associated with sleep-related hallucinations. These include sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, medication side effects, illicit drug use, past alcohol use, anxiety and sleep deprivation. Narcolepsy is comprised of: excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy (loss of muscle tone after an emotional stir); sleep paralysis; and sleep-related hallucinations (either at the onset of sleep or at awakening). It’s also important to recognize that they occur as normal sleep-related phenomena in a certain percentage of adults (known as isolated hypnagogic hallucinations).

I would first ensure you are getting a full night's sleep on a regular basis. Replenishing a chronic sleep debt may help. Excessive caffeine in the afternoon may also be affecting your sleep quality and causing arousals from sleep in the early evening. Try to avoid caffeine after 2pm. Alcohol, sleeping pills, and even over the counter sleeping pills including benedryl can cause confusion during sleep. Try to avoid these.

If you continue to have symptoms after establishing a regular sleep routine and ensuring 7-9 hours of sleep per night, I would recommend discuss these symptoms with your primary caregiver. They will need to do a history and physical to assess for any other signs or symptoms that may require further evaluation. If you have any significant daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, snoring or other relevant symptoms, they may decide to refer you to a Sleep Specialist to determine if testing is needed.

For more information:

Go to the Sleep Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Aneesa M Das, MD Aneesa M Das, MD
Assistant Clinical Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University