Consciousness and Hypnagogia: Part III

Copyright © Sirley Marques Bonham, PhD


Following is a list of the types of experiences during sleep that are usually related to dreams:

Dreams without awareness

Common dreams – without awareness

Special dreams – without awareness, but which produce strong impressions, as with the case of dreams of the future, or of dream with problem solutions

Dreams with awareness

Lucid dreaming – the person recognize he/she is dreaming (awareness becomes present)

Out-of-body experiences & astral-projections – the person enters a dream with awareness from the awake state – also called ‘wake-initiated lucid dreams'

Hypnagogia – At the Threshold of Sleep and Awakening

The following is a list of situations during which the indivitual may become aware of the two types of hypnagogia:

Hypnogogic reveries:

Falling asleep while keeping awareness

Wake-initiated lucid dreams or out-of-body experiences

Exceptional remote-viewing event where the “viewer” feels himself or helself to be entering the targeted environment

Alpha-Theta session when imagery begins

Meditation session when imagery begins


Hypnopompic reveries:

Continuation of dream imagery while awakening

Awakening from a lucid dream, or returning from an out-of-body experience or astral projection

Residuals from a remote-viewing session

Alpha-theta session - residuals

Meditation session - residuals


Visions are included in the list, due to the possibility of having the same characteristic as hypnagogia, only happening while the person is fully awake, or perhaps in a lighter state of trance.

Let's now review what I have learned with relation to the skill of out-of-body experiences and lucid dreaming. It is important to remember that if we carefully compare experiences of lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences, they frequently are very similar, though sometimes the nomenclature and the philosophy are slightly different.  

Learning to have Out-of-Body Experiences

After many years experimenting with out-of-body experiences, I came to believe that there is the need of a method, a procedure, or a protocol, to help individuals to detect and to understand situations that are conductive to out-of-body experiences, or of wake-initiated lucid dreams. A record of the experiences is a must, as it is a good tool to help memory. So, keep a diary! Memories of dreams and out-of-body experiences tend to be slippery or short-lived, and if not rehearsed and taken note of, they tend to be soon forgotten.

While in a pre-sleep situation, levels of awareness or of attention re quite unstable, or precarious. That's why it is so important to practice ‘reality testing' throughout the day, not only for the purpose of remembering to do it while dreaming, but also as a means of automatically increasing the mind's level of awareness, or level of attention, while falling asleep. This is very important when we reach the point where we have lost normal wake-like awareness. In these situations the unconscious mind – if there is a habit of doing so – will ‘kick-in' a higher level of awareness after the person has lost it in the process of falling asleep. The process followed by the unconscious mind at this point is exactly the same as it does during the common dream state: the increase of the level of awareness during the threshold of sleep will help you to produce an out-of-body experience, while if it happens during a dream it will transform it into a lucid dream.

Next comes an important activity we should practice while falling asleep: continuous self-observation . While falling asleep, self-observation will help you to observe what comes along when you are reaching that optimal situation where your physical body is asleep but your mind is awake, even if awareness becomes precarious. It is a tricky situation, and many times we will slip into un-awareness and the hypnagogia, or dream imagery, will be missed in the resulting un-conscious sleep.

What to observe?

We should note all perceptual anomalies, such as kinesthetic sensations of floating, or of falling through the bed; we should note auditory and visual imagery or perceptions of any kind; also, there may happen perceptions of touch, which can be unnerving to some, as it may presuppose a foreign presence in the bedroom.

An example of a radical experience of hypnagogia with the perception of touch, from my own memories, happened while I attended graduate school in Sao Paulo ( Brazil ). I was sleeping on my tummy, when I felt as if the blanket moved by itself upward on my back. That sensation awoke me, and I touched the blanket on my back and verified it was in the same position as before. Then, once again as I approached sleep, the same sensation happened again, but this time I decided to allow it to continue, just to see what would happen. The sensation continued, quite like a warm, fluffy, and slowly vibrating sensation that I had perceived as the blanket, and it finally stopped after covering both my ears. Soon after covering my ears, I heard a man's voice, but I couldn't make out what he was saying. It sounded garbled! So, I said ‘Repeat!' Then, the most amazing thing happened: I clearly heard this man say to me: ‘Believe in Jesus, I wish you peace.' I once again said – ‘Repeat!' and the same was repeated once again. I asked a third time to repeat, and again the same phrase was said, followed by the withdrawing of that perception of a fluffy warm ‘thing' that moved away from my ears and down to about the middle of my back and off. I made myself to come out from the threshold of sleep and marveled at what had just happened. The curtains of my bedroom window were open, and I could see the full moon in the sky, and I remained there with a peaceful feeling.

The most amazing thing about the man's voice that was noticeable, principally for the fact of my being in Sao Paulo , was that he somehow resembled the voice of my mother's youngest brother, and the Portuguese accent was noticeably different from the Portuguese spoken in Sao Paulo . The accent was actually similar to how my uncle would have sounded, as he lives in the Minas Gerais state, about 600 kilometers north of Sao Paulo ! I could not help but to think that man may have been my mother's deceased father, who I have never met in life, as he died before my mother had even met my father.

We are Able to Attract Hypnagogia!

We may attract hypnagogia by, for example, the act of remembering the sunset or the sunrise at down, or how it feels to be floating in a swimming pool, the annoying headlights during a night drive, or an event of fireworks! Remember now my experience as told in the beginning of this article. That was an example of attracting hypnagogia that worked, though unexpectedly.

More remembering…

The overwhelming sound of an orchestra during a concert, the lightning and the sound of thunder, the sound of rain falling on the roof, and that of a careless walk at a beach with the waves crashing on our feet, are memories that bring along emotion and are therefore good memories to recall while falling asleep for the purpose of attracting hypnagogia. The vibrations you feel while riding on a motorcycle, or that bumpy ride while driving on a not well-maintained dirt road are also good memories to recall, because they may cause ‘falling-dreams,' which are very common examples of kinesthetic types of hypnagogia! Vibrations are another very common perception that we may feel while falling asleep, and that, depending on their intensity, may be frightening.

Another interesting sensation that sometimes happens during the threshold of sleep, and that some people use as a ‘jump-start' for OBEs, is the sensation of dizziness. That sensation may appear along with the imagery of a tunnel – quite like the ones described by people in near-death experiences.

Distorted or Changing Perceived Imagery of Hypnagogia

I have frequently observed geometrical figures that are colorful, mostly while awakening. Also, I have many times observed perceptions that appear to be moving blobs on the field of view of my closed eyes that my mind transforms into images of a landscape or a person. I have observed that when these blobs disappear, it means I am fully awake, and therefore distant from the ideal condition for hypnagogia. While in the ideal condition for the formation of hypnagogia, but with open eyes and usually right after awakening, the mind may modify the view of physical objects to something else, a form of unconscious interpretation of the object, changing its perception into images of hypnagogia. One example I know of is from Lon Milo Duquette in his book ‘Living with the spirits', where as a child he saw Jesus right after awakening, which later he verified to be just a dress. Also, Momir Maksimovic, an accomplished OBEer from Yugoslavia , told me of awakening from an OBE, and seeing a woman next to him. After a while, the image of the woman changed to the cloth that was hanging on the back of the couch where he was sleeping.

One of the most striking hypnagogia I have experienced was the sound of an explosion, which was accompanied with the visual of lightning or flashing. Fortunately, the sound of explosions is rare for me. However, it is common that we sometimes hear our names being called while approaching sleep. Also, as already mentioned above, it may feel as if somebody touched us, or there is a sudden source of light, or a double light moving from one side to the other of our field of view, just like a car's head-lights. But also, there may be peaceful visions of the sun or the moon, like the one I talked about before.

Are these perceptions Hallucinations? – We don't know!

Robert Bruce talks about the possibility of entering the imaginary world of a picture hanging on the wall. After being confused with the environment he entered after he left his body in one of his experiments with astral projection, he realized that the environment where he was resembled the picture on the wall of his bedroom. Astral projection is the traditional expression for the modern out-of-body experience. (Even though claims abound that astral projection is different from out-of-body experiences and lucid dreams, in fact, they are indistinguishable.)

…You enter a dream! How?

While at the sleep onset, an image of a door or landscape may appear and you go to it, or enter it. Or you just feel yourself already there, as if by magic. This is a traditional visualization technique designed to attract this ‘door' image, which may be used to enter some dream (or could it be astral?) world. For example, during the one workshop I attended specifically intended to teach out-of-body experiences, organized by the Institute of Projectiology and Consciousness (IPC), founded by Waldo Vieira, in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), one of the visual imaginations we were suggested to do was to imagine a door and then attempt to enter it .

…Or you don't!

We may perceive ourselves as if floating. We can then ‘catch' the moment and move out of our body, much like getting up from bed, only our physical body will not move. Then, already out of our body, we wander about our room, or we can go outside by going through doors or walls and attempt to fly and go elsewhere… and so on.

Brain Correlates

We have seen that all our perceptions may be reproduced within hypnagogia.

Each sense - sight, hearing, touch, kinesthetic perceptions, as well as emotions, may be present within a perception of hypnagogia and beyond, within the dream state.

The brain areas where these perceptions are represented will ‘light up' if a person is under observation in a sleep lab, just as they would if experienced during waking life.  

Example : Brain-correlate in OBEs

Researchers from the University Hospitals of Geneva and Lausanne (Switzerland) have found that OBEs can be produced by direct electrical stimulation of a specific part of the brain. [Blanke, O., Ortigue, S., Landis, T. and Seeck, M., Stimulating illusory own-body perceptions. Nature , 419:269-270, 2002.] [Below, Figure 1.]

The Human Brain During OBEThe Human Brain During OBE

According to Blanke et al.,

… we describe the repeated induction of this [out-of-body] experience by focal electrical stimulation of the brain's right angular gyrus in a patient who was undergoing evaluation for epilepsy treatment. 

Figure 1 [above] shows the results of stimulation mapping and the electrode site on the right angular gyrus where stimulation repeatedly induced OBEs, as well as vestibular and complex somatosensory responses. Mapping of motor, somatosensory and auditory functions revealed no deviant brain pathology in this patient with respect to anatomical representations of cortical functions. The epileptic focus was located more than 5 cm anterior to the stimulation site, in the medial temporal lobe; electrical stimulation of this site did not induce OBEs, and these experiences were not part of the patient's habitual seizures.

This communicate has been frequently used to discredit out-of-body experiences and near-death-experiences. Yet, in my opinion this article only demonstrates a possible site in the brain that correlates with the perceptions we have when we achieve an OBE. Again, it is important to understand that everything we experience in the physical body ought to have a correlate within the brain. Obviously, this needs to be true, even if we in fact move away from our physical body in some form of ‘astral body.'

Possible Problems: Difficulties with Hypnagogia and What to do About Them

Henri Fuseli's Nightmare

Fig. [Henry Fuseli's Nightmare]

Fuseli's nightmare painting is one of the most frequently seen representations of nightmares involving the perception of a negative or evil presence, like the incubus or succubus, similar to the one represented in the painting. Among the characteristics of this problematic hypnagogia is the so-called sleep-paralysis. However, we do not always perceive any beings in these instances. For example, I have frequently had annoying vibrations along with the paralysis, yet I had no other perception. My mother, on the other hand, used to tell about her problems with a big fat lady sitting on her chest, while she was unable to move and rid herself of this uncomfortable dream. Difficulty with breathing and paralysis are common characteristics of hypnagogia that includes sleep paralysis. (A more detailed description of this condition can be found in the article by Terrillon and Marques-Bonham.)

About The Author

About The Author

Rebecca Casale is a lucid dreamer and a science writer with a special interest in biology and the brain. She is the founder of World of Lucid Dreaming and Science Me.