Are Hypnagogic Hallucinations Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
I have a 30 year old brother who is schizophrenic. I know this can run in families so I’m concerned that I might be showing symptoms. I’ve read that females usually start showing symptoms in their late 20’s and early 30’s. I’m 28. For the last few years I’ve been having hypnagogic hallucinations.
I actually had them when I was a kid, too, but I don’t remember having this problem when I was a teen. When I was a kid (around 5) I would see things like giant red ants and even stepped on one when I was going to crawl into bed with my mom. It started again around 23. Then I would see spiders on the walls, feel like someone is spying on me, or hear people outside my window. Half the time I end up jumping out of bed and try to catch them or swat at the spiders. I often feel someone shaking the bed and sometimes it even feels like earthquakes. I do live in California, but most of the time I’m sure it was a hallucination.
Until now, I didn’t know these hallucinations had a name. I looked it up but I don’t see any other reason why I would have these hallucinations, especially as often as I do. I didn’t keep any record, but sometimes I go months without having them and then I’ll have them 3 or 4 nights in a week. I read that they are usually a feature of narcolepsy or caused by sleep deprivation. I’m not suffering from either of these and I am not on any medication.
This past week, I had them two nights in a row. I felt earthquakes and then something trying to come through the window. Before I would feel somewhat freaked out but I didn’t have a problem going back to sleep. This time I was really scared and the second night I had to sleep with the lights on (which I NEVER do, I’m a really picky sleeper). So now I’m wondering if they are going to get more intense.
I decided to start keeping a journal of them but my question is if these are early warning signs? I don’t really have any other symptoms of schizophrenia. I get a little paranoid sometimes that someone is following me when I’m driving. I know it’s not true but I can’t stop watching the car until they’ve gone a different route. Other than that, I think I’m pretty normal.
I don’t have a lot of information on my brother (my mom doesn’t like to talk about it). But I think he has undifferentiated schizophrenia. I don’t get to talk to him often but he usually says he has a lot of anxiety. Other than than, I’m not sure what his symptoms are/were.
Should I be worried? Or could it be something else that’s wrong with me?
A. I do not believe that you have schizophrenia but only an in-person, diagnostic interview could rule out the diagnosis. I suspect, as you mentioned, that your symptoms are more characteristic of a sleep disorder. Individuals with schizophrenia can have hallucinations but they also have delusions which you don’t have. You also do not have any other symptoms associated with schizophrenia. The paranoia is a concern but it is mild and limited to very specific situations.
I think it is also noteworthy that you were able to construct a very logical and well thought out question. This is not true for all individuals with schizophrenia but in some cases their writing is very difficult to read and understand, especially when they are actively symptomatic. Just like language, writing is an expression of consciousness. I had the opportunity to work with individuals with schizophrenia over the Internet as part of a university-based research project. We were testing a new online psychoeducation-based intervention for individuals with schizophrenia and their family members. The participants and I often communicated by writing messages back and forth on a centralized message board. It was interesting to note that when one of the participants began having psychotic symptoms it was usually evident in their writing. I’ve seen other cases of this as well.
My recommendation is that you undergo a sleep study. The best way to do this is to speak to your primary care physician. Ask him or her to refer you to a qualified sleep disorder specialist.
It is also worthwhile to consider having a psychiatric evaluation. I’m primarily recommending this because of your concern about having schizophrenia. A psychiatric evaluation could serve the purpose of ruling out certain psychiatric disorders. It could bring you peace of mind. The psychologist or psychiatrist may also be able to provide you more information about sleep disorders and treatments.
Lastly, you may also want to consider psychotherapy, especially if the idea of having schizophrenia causes you significant anxiety. Psychotherapy can help you deal with that anxiety and any other issues you would like to address.
I hope this answers your question. Here’s a link to a website where you can type in your zip code and find a local sleep center. You can also read more about sleep disorders on that website. Thanks for writing. I wish you well.
Randle, K. (2010). Are Hypnagogic Hallucinations Symptoms of Schizophrenia?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 29, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/06/17/are-hypnagogic-hallucinations-symptoms-of-schizophrenia/