Recently I’ve been a bit slack with my sleep hygiene, which is why I was so annoyed the other night when I had totally avoidable hallucinations from eating a bowl of cereal right before bed. I should know better by now!
That’s why I decided to write this list of things that can help you lessen the frequency or severity of your episodes, both for your benefit and mine.
This advice is a mix of things that I have found work for me, things that other PWN have suggested and things that are commonly mentioned in literature on the subject. Not everything is guaranteed to work for everyone, but most of them would be worth a try!
I should also mention that this list doesn’t include things like basic sleep hygiene, a good diet and regular exercise (which are all very helpful but are not specific to these symptoms) 🙂
1) Don’t sleep on your back
Sleeping in the supine position (the technical term for sleeping on your back) is a known risk factor for sleep paralysis and hallucinations. One study of sleep paralysis sufferers showed that incidents of sleep paralysis were more common when sleeping in the supine position than all other positions combined. In order to avoid changing position while asleep, you can use the old trick of sewing a tennis ball into a pocket on the back of your pajamas.
2) Learn lucid dreaming
Lucid dreaming is what happens when we become aware of ourselves within our own dreams. Most people will wake up shortly after this realisation, but those who can stay asleep are often able to control aspects of their dream while existing inside it (as some will remember depicted in the movie Inception).
This capability can be invaluable for redirecting the content of dreams and hallucinations alike, allowing the dreamer to make choices that direct the action away from frightening areas. The mere ability to recognise hallucinations as being unreal can often be enough to reduce their impact, even without the ability to control them. For practical ideas on achieving lucidity, check out these tips on becoming a lucid dreamer.
3) Try other dream control techniques
While lucid dreaming can be helpful, it is not the only way you can direct the path of your dreams. Image Rehearsal Therapy has been shown to decrease nightmares in those with chronic nightmares linked to PTSD.
To try this technique, simply write down a description of one of your recurring nightmares (or hallucinations). Next, think of a way to change the outcome to a positive. For example, if you always dream about falling, write an alternate version in which you realise you have a parachute or learn how to fly. It doesn’t matter how silly the idea seems, as long as it leaves you without the fear of the original nightmare. Once you have decided upon your new dream, practice visualising this dream occurring for a few minutes every day.
4) Don’t give your brain spooky ammunition
This may not apply to everyone, but personally I am very sensitive to anything vaguely scary. I don’t watch horror movies, crime shows, or even let people talk to me about scary things! This is because I know that these ideas will just sit around in my brain waiting for a chance to traumatise me later in my sleep.
5) Don’t eat straight before bed
I know this is an obvious one for anyone who knows the first thing about sleep hygiene, but this is a biggie for me as pretty much every single time I eat and then fall straight to sleep I will have hallucinations and often sleep paralysis.
For me things like cereal and bread are the worst culprits. As for the idea that eating cheese gives you nightmares, apparently it is simply a myth.
6) Listen to music or podcasts while falling asleep
When I was a kid, I used to have a trick for getting back to sleep if I woke up in the middle of the night from a bad dream… I would sing a song in my head until I fell asleep again to prevent myself from starting to think about the nightmare again. This lessened the chance that I would slip back into the frightening dream.
Strangely this technique doesn’t work as well when I am going to sleep initially upon going to bed, as it has a tendency to keep part of my brain active and lead to more hallucinations.
7) Sleep with the light on
This is my fallback plan – if I’ve tried to fall asleep normally and keep having problems with hallucinations or sleep paralysis I will give up and sleep with the light on for that night (or until I wake up later and switch it off). I’ve noticed that this makes my sleep worse, but it is better than battling through the frightening alternative.
I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but for me it is enough to reassure me that nothing untoward is going on, and I can relax enough to get to sleep without issues.
Of course, this is not a comprehensive list, but these are the things that I find make the most difference for me.
If you have any more ideas on avoiding hallucinations or sleep paralysis, please leave a comment below! 🙂