[ What is hypnagogia || What happens in the brain during it || The hypnagogic light experience || Beyond hypnagogia into drug free psychedelics ]
What is hypnagogia
Hypnagogia or more commonly called the hypnagogic state, is a transitional state indicated by a changing of awareness from an alert awake state to a dream like sleep state.
It is the stage of relaxation where drowsiness takes over and in EEG electroencephalogram terms there is a sudden change in brain activity that causes certain types of hallucination effects. These effects range from visual hallucinations to auditory voices to actual feelings of floating or out of body and lucid dreaming type experiences.
For some people, such as those who have high anxiety, this threshold of consciousness experience can be alarming. These unreal experiences can seem to actually be real because they are being experienced in a semi awake state of consciousness.
In some cases a type of temporary body sleep paralysis can occur, and this is something people who practice sleep processes like lucid dreaming or astral travel often become familiar with.
Hypnagogia is common and sometimes very useful
For most people, the sensations and often cryptic pictures and sounds are very pleasant and can even be a cause for spontaneous creativity, messages from unknown parts of your unconscious mind, and a feeling of deep relaxation blended with heightened awareness afterwards.
Similar to the phenomena of hypnagogic imagery and linguistic intrusions (auditory hallucinations) which happen in the transition from wakefulness to sleep, there is the state called hypnopompic hallucinating. This happens just as you are waking up from sleep.
The progression over the border of sleep and awake is the common thread with the two phenomena and they often work in unison. A person can remain in that tipping point between being awake and asleep and both have similar EEG encephalogram signatures.
You may have noticed for example if you have a midday nap or mini sleep that lasts only 20 minutes or less that you slip in and out of consciousness. And you may have become aware of seeing or hearing dreamlike (mainly abstract) situations or feelings.
You know they are not real but they are so close to your awake state that you remember them briefly as if they are real. The same can happen when you are day dreaming but otherwise fully awake.
Hypnagogia can be a challenge and experienced more often in some people who have challenges such as schizophrenia or narcolepsy (daytime drowsiness and the onset of uncontrollable bursts of sudden sleep). However hypnagogia in general is completely normal and no cause for alarm.
On the contrary this experience is a sought out experience by many people wishing to tap into altered states.
What happens in the brain during hypnagogic states
Many studies have been done on hypnagogic states and the associated imagery and auditory hallucinations to understand what is happening at and just before an incident of the hallucinations experienced.
As with most studies on neuronal activity in the brain where the study itself requires the person being measured to interact with the scientists, getting accurate results can be a challenge. Although patterns emerge, there are some slight variations in the findings.
In general, most stages of sleep start with an increase of low Alpha brainwave activity (approx 8-10 Hz) before lowering into Theta brainwave activity (4-8 Hz) which is the first real level of sleep for most people. Alpha is considered a kind of bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind and is a level of mild meditation. Many people experience this even when doing something they relax into like walking in nature or listening to music.
The brainwaves of hypnagogia
Some studies show that Alpha is the most common band for the effects of hypnagogia and other studies show Theta as being the main band of brainwave activity for hypnagogic effects. And I think that rather than being conflicting results, this is the point.
After all, we are talking about a phenomenon that happens between resting alertness and sleep. So it makes sense that it is both, and that it is neither of these stages of brainwave exclusively.
Typically there are what are called spindles (short pronounced spikes) of both Beta (12-38 Hz) and Gamma (38 Hz and above) brainwaves during this time also particularly just before a hallucination. There seems to be in EEG measurements a levelling or flat-lining of neural activity at or around the point of certain hallucination effects.
The suspicion as best as can be proved scientifically, is that the transition of Alpha to Theta dominance (because both are present even if one is stronger) combined with bursts of Beta and Gamma activity are all part of this whole and dynamic brain state. And that we are neither awake or asleep in those moments.
The study linked here was done with an experienced individual with a fascination for the hypnagogic effect.
Studies show that these hypnagogic experiences are experienced more as a passive observer than the usual experience of dreams where there is more body involvement as if being in the dream itself. IE: Hypnagogia is not the same as REM dreaming.
The hypnagogic light experience
So knowing that this is a natural and totally safe experience for the majority of people, and knowing what is going on in the brain while it occurs.., can we induce this effect on purpose?
Yes and easily, although to do so in a consistent way that is more than just a short burst as you fall asleep takes more intention.
As mentioned earlier, taking a short nap can get you there and if you practice this short nap idea over time, you will get better at staying for longer periods of time in the zone of hypnagogia.
Breathwork and meditation can get you there although again sustaining being in the right zone can be challenging.
External stimulation such as neurofeedback, brainwave entrainment and audio visual entrainment can get you there too. And this can be a more reliable way to get there and stay there for longer periods.
Light machines and hypnagogia
Light based photic stimulation by way of stroboscopic light and sound journeys is one consistent way to achieve such states. This type of technology does assist people to have these pleasant and mind expanding experiences of hallucinated images, movies, sounds and inner voices, and floating feelings of suspended reality.
And all but a very rare few have an exhilarating experience that leaves them relaxed, refreshed, and creatively inspired.
Technology like the roXiva RX1 (more on this on this website) uses a natural and unique function of our brain called the frequency following response. This is where an external stimulation (in this case sound and light) synchronises with your brains own internal rhythm and then influences that rhythm. By doing so, the pre-programmed sessions can guide you into altered states of consciousness including this state of hypnagogia.
The RX1 session called ‘Hypnagogic Vision’ uses the same protocol found in the studies.., guiding you to encourage the associated visual, auditory and kinaesthetic effects of hypnagogic hallucination.
Experience from users of audio visual brainwave entrainment show the use of this technology to be very effective at getting them into this in-between state. And the result is often types of eureka or insight moments that can in some cases be instrumental to life changes.
Beyond hypnagogic imagery into drug free psychedelic experience
The added benefit of light based photic stimulation with technology like the RX1, is that of the potential with certain frequencies to create visual effects similar to a psychedelic drug. This is not necessarily the goal of hypnagogic experiences but the results can be surprisingly powerful and en-light-ening.
And the real point of interest is that users of actual psychedelic drugs report not just similar visual experiences but also similar feelings to go along with it. This makes sense in that the brain stores memory in clusters that include visual, auditory and kinaesthetic/feeling components all linked together to create a whole. So by stimulating one of those senses, often the rest will follow.
Users of such sessions as ‘Return of the Squirrel’ and ‘Spaceship Dream’ have out of this world trips that leave a huge smile on their faces and have them asking to experience more of these purpose made sessions.
That is another subject altogether and you can read more about that here…