Hypnopompia: Between Sleep and Awake Where Someone with Aphantasia May “See” Imagery

On rare occasions in the morning, between sleep and awake, when the images from my dreams float behind my eyes, that’s when I revel in what it must be like to “see” imagery.
Share
Hypnopompia
Feature image by Jr Korpa on Unsplash.

Table of Contents

Originally published on lianamscott.com

My imagination is blind, meaning I can’t visualize. This neurodiversity is called aphantasia, and I was born with it. When I close my eyes and try to imagine something—an animal, a landscape, a person—all I see is black and grey and sometimes lava-lamp-like splotches of light purple and white. That’s the extent of my visual imagery.

But, on those rare occasions in the morning, between sleep and awake, when the images from my dreams float behind my eyes, that’s when I revel in what it must be like to “see” imagery.

Hypnopompia and Hypnagogia

I recently tweeted about this experience and was surprised to learn that this in-between sleep and awake state had a name: hypnopompia. In contrast, there is hypnagogia which is the state between awake and sleep.

According to Wikipedia:

The hypnopompic state (or hypnopompia) is the state of consciousness leading out of sleep, a term coined by the psychical researcher Frederic Myers. Its mirror is the hypnagogic state at sleep onset

Wikipedia

Upon doing a little bit of research, I learned that what I am actually experiencing is called hypnopompic hallucinations. What? I’m hallucinating?

The Sleep Foundation website explains:

Hypnopompic hallucinations are hallucinations that occur in the morning as you’re waking up . . . For most people, hypnopompic hallucinations are considered normal and are not cause for concern.

Jay Summer (“What Are Hypnopompic Hallucinations?”)

Needless to say, I was relieved to read that: “not cause for concern.” Still, way to burst my bubble, internet.

What Having Aphantasia Is Like

Having a blind imagination has never stopped me from achieving. For instance:

  • I got good grades in school. However, math and science were definitely not my strong suit. Arts and literary courses were my bag.
  • In my past corporate lives, I was a computer programmer, a support analyst, a project manager, a website developer, and a communications consultant.
  • I’m highly organized.
  • I read a lot of fiction, which astounds some people who learn I have aphantasia: “How can you follow the story if you can’t imagine the story as it unfolds?” The answer? I follow the story just fine. But I skim over long descriptions of people, places, and things, and concentrate on dialog, relationships, feelings, etc.
  • I wrote a mystery novel which, again, begged the question—”But how?” Simply put, the story unfolded as my mind played it out. I know what a car chase looks and sounds like, for instance. I can write about it without visualizing how it looks. It’s the difference between seeing it in your imagination and perceiving it.
  • Recently, I wrote a children’s book about aphantasia.
  • I do pottery.

Having aphantasia doesn’t preclude me from being smart or creative. But having aphantasia is frustrating sometimes.

  • I would appreciate a stronger ability to work with numbers and multidimensional concepts.
  • My sense of direction sucks. Thankfully, there’s GPS.
  • I wish the memory of my favorite places and events were accompanied by vivid mental images that I could relive at will. Photos and video help a lot in this regard.
  • Hypnosis and meditation would be a lot easier. For some, it’s impossible.
  • I would love to be able to close my eyes and picture the faces of my kids and grandkids on demand.

Where Aphantasia and Hypnopompia Cross Paths

Would I “cure” my blind imagination if I had the chance? First of all, aphantasia is not an illness or disease that demands a cure. But, if there was an opportunity to achieve vivid imagery, like many aphantasics, my response is: only if I could turn it on and off. The thought of having sudden, permanent imagery is overwhelming.

Until then, I will bask in the hypnopompic hallucinations that allow me to see images of my sweet mother, who passed in 2016… if only for a few brief, magical moments.

Explore more of Liana’s personal experiences on her blog, LianaMScott.com.

You must be signed in to comment
Total Comments (11)

This is wonderful! I have gradually realised over the last year that I have aphantasia, but yesterday morning I really “saw” something in my mind as I woke up. It was amazing, and I wondered if it had happened to others. So thank you so much for confirming it for me!!

Hi James. It’s amazing, isn’t it? “Seeing” something when we aphants can’t typically do so? I’m glad to share my experience and that it resonates with people. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

I had a hypnopompic hallucination only once and it was incredible. Researching it was what lead me down the path to find out about aphantasia and that I have it.

I have been pretty depressed ever since, whenever I think about it. I know what I’m missing out on now. Now I realise that even my dreams are deficient, I never actually see anything – just kind of know where I am and what is happening in the dream.

Hi Donna. Yes, hypnopompia is real! I was psyched too cuz I didn’t know what it was. It was wonderful tho I suspect some involuntary images could be frightening, especially to us aphants who aren’t expecting it. 😊

Hi Daniel. I’m glad you found us in your journey to learn about hypnopompia and, of course, aphantasia. My hypnopompic event was special, too. I understand that finding out you have aphantasia may cause some distress. When I first found out, I immediately wondered (and searched online) if it could be “cured”. Alas, over time, I have come to accept and appreciate my aphantasia as something unique to only a few. Not being able to visualize means that my whole life I’ve been able to learn and overcome, strategize, plan, and organize all without the help of visualization! Pretty special! Sure, I miss that I can’t visualize my kids faces, or memories I have, etc., but, having aphantasia has made me who I am. I hope that, some day, you’ll feel the same way.

I am so relieved to find out that hypnopompic hallucinations are “normal”, mine lately have been of a online game that I play too much. It seems so real for a bit that I actually think I have the phone in my hand. As soon as I realize it is not real, (because the game does something it doesn’t do), it goes away. I am Aphantasia, conceptulizer.

Liana, thanks for the article. Like you, I only see images in my mind while dreaming or, as I just learned thanks to your article, during hypnopompic hallucinations (which I often do my best to extend as much as I can). I didn’t learn until 2016 that some people could conjure images in their head while awake. I just assumed they had better memory than me (usually of things I didn’t care about, like who wore what to a party).

Unlike you, my strengths, grades, and interests are almost completely the opposite of yours. I loved math and science, and struggled or had little interest in literature and art (except I love music).

I also have an excellent sense of direction. Although I can’t “see” maps in my head, I do sort of “feel” maps so I can sense a set of directions or which way is north even if I’ve been inside a building away from windows. I call it the magnet in my head (like birds have).

So, while we aphantasics sometimes wonder if aphantasia may have affected our life paths, I find it wonderfully boring that as a group we seem to have a pretty normal distribution of other skills and interests. We just have the super power of not being plagued by gory images in our head! 🙂

Hi Steve. I love how you describe how you can “feel” directions! Man! Neurodivergence is so fascinating! I’m glad my article resonated with you. 🙂

Hi Michael. I think it’s AMAZING that you can do this. I can’t. The most I see when I “close your eyes and clear your mind. Absorb the black. Feels its texture. See the noise,” are undulating blobs of black, grey, white, and sometimes light purple. Of late, I have “seen” green/blue dots. I can’t control size, shape, rate of undulation, or duration. Neurodiversity is fascinating!

I didn’t know phantasia was a thing until recently. Intrigued by the concept I started trying to see if I could turn on this mind’s eye. I’m getting to the point where I can induce something like the hypnopompia you describe.

With my eyes closed I can “see”. It’s a wonderful and strange sensation. I can only do it for a few seconds at a time before a sense of vertigo forces my mind’s eye shut. I’m hoping to get better control with practice.

I’ll try and describe the process I use. Maybe others will find it useful or interesting. 

In a quiet, safe place, where you won’t be disturbed, close your eyes and clear your mind. Absorb the black. Feels its texture. See the noise.

Picture a point. Just a dimensionless point – a fixed location in the black. Try and move around the point. Above, around, below. Even this first step can be scary the first time.

Now imagine as you move around the point, you become aware that there’s a second point behind the first one, connected by a line. Examine this line from all directions. See its length. See how the perspective changes as you move around it.

When you’re comfortable around the line, add a third point; making a triangle. For the first time there’s something to actually “see”. From all directions, see its surface. Look at its colour. Feel its texture. You can even try and touch it with a finger. If you manage this, look at your hand and be amazed that you can see it with your eyes closed.

Behind the triangle, and another point, creating a solid tetrahedron pyramid that becomes visible as you move around the triangle. Now you have a solid object. Play with its size, feel its weight. Move around it or turn it over in your hand.

Finally, become aware that the object is simply part of a larger scene: a toy on the ground; part of a roof; a pyramid in Giza. Look up. Look and move around. Look at the scene, taking in the colours and textures. You’ve turned on your mind’s eye! 

It’s usually at this point where my heart skips a beat like I’m falling over backwards. My mind’s eye slams shut and yanks me back to reality.

Sorry for the long reply but I hope someone finds it useful. 

I am constantly amazed to find out new things about my mind.  I found it incredible when I first heard of Aphantasia in 2014, but to now hear about hypnopompic hallucinations is another level.  I have had these for years, always just when I am completely relaxed, before sleep or upon waking.  I would like to understand more as they have a certain pattern.  I am always moving, no idea how, but usually just drifting along with houses or people on either side, I cannot control this movement, and if I try, the whole effect disappears.  then I can hear people or voices, but have no way to interact with them.  It is very surreal, I would be very interested to know if anyone else has similar hallucinations?  To be honest, as a complete Aphantitasic, I find it amazing just looking at all the “photographic” like images in my mind.