Approximately 70 million Americans¹ live with chronic sleep issues, one of which is insomnia. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem that can lead to various complications, including high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart failure.
People unable to get sufficient sleep could also face symptoms such as perceptual distortions and hallucinations. These symptoms can significantly decrease a person's quality of life, seriously impacting their mental health.
Below, we will look closely at the relationship between insomnia and hallucinations.
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To stay healthy, adults must get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. While sufficient sleep requirements can vary from person to person, people who consistently get less than seven hours of sleep each night could be at risk of developing health complications.
Insomnia² is a sleep disorder characterized by the inability to fall or stay asleep. This disorder has many potential causes, including stress, underlying medical conditions, mental health problems, and poor sleep hygiene.
The common symptoms of insomnia are:
Inability to fall asleep
Sleeping for short periods only
Staying awake a large part of the night
Waking up too early.
Research³ shows that during the day, people with chronic insomnia show high excitability among neurons in the part of the brain that controls movement. This means that the brain is in a heightened mode of information processing, which may interfere with sleep.
Sleep deprivation affects around one-third of American adults. It's a condition that occurs when you don't get sufficient sleep. There are two types of sleep deprivation:
Acute – you don't get enough sleep for just a few days.
Chronic– lack of sleep that lasts for three months or longer.
Sleep deprivation isn't a disease. It can result from a sleeping disorder (insomnia, sleep apnea), aging, medical conditions, and environmental factors. Some people even decide to get less sleep to work, study, or socialize.
Common symptoms of sleep deprivation are:
Problems with concentration
Poor physical stamina.
If sleep deprivation continues for some time, you can experience more intense symptoms such as severe mood swings and hallucinations. Overall, insomnia can cause sleep deprivation, which, in turn, can lead to hallucinations.
Studies⁴ demonstrate that hallucinations can be a direct consequence of chronic sleep deprivation.
A close examination of the symptoms showed that a sleep-deprived person's sense of vision suffered the highest impact. Next were somatosensory (perception of touch, pain, pressure, movement) and auditory (hearing) behaviors.
Patients with sleep deprivation experience symptoms such as:
Visual disturbance (seeing the wrong color, size, depth, or distance)
Illusions (trouble identifying common objects and sounds)
Hallucinations (simple and complex).
Other experiences that sleep-deprived study participants reported include:
Distorted sense of time.
This data suggests that a continuous lack of sleep can affect a person's cognitive functioning. As a result, they can face a lack of concentration, memory problems, bad mood, depression, and anxiety.
Throughout these studies, symptoms progressed the longer people remained awake. Participants had little to no symptoms in the first 24 hours. After 48 hours without sleep, they started demonstrating psychological symptoms and issues with perception. Gradually, perceptual disorders went from distortions to hallucinations.
After five days without sleep, people started having psychotic symptoms that resembled acute psychosis and toxic delirium.
But it doesn’t always take that long to develop serious symptoms. This 2014 study⁵ demonstrated that after 24 hours of sleep deprivation, healthy individuals start exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia and psychosis.
A 2016 review⁶ of British Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys demonstrated a strong link between insomnia and hallucinations. Mild sleep problems increased the odds of experiencing hallucinations by two to three times. Meanwhile, chronic insomnia raised the odds by four times.
In around 50% of cases,⁷ insomnia is related to depression, anxiety, and psychological stress. Mental health disorders that regularly cause sleep problems are:
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Substance abuse disorders.
Some of these disorders, such as schizophrenia, may also cause hallucinations, while poor sleep can worsen symptoms.
Hallucinations aren't just an unpleasant side effect of sleep deprivation. They can be dangerous. Some hallucinations may even lead to violent behavior. To prevent hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation, it's imperative to get proper treatment for insomnia.
Treatment may include:
Better sleep hygiene
Speak to your doctor about treatment options. They may vary depending on the type of insomnia you have. In any case, proper diagnosis is vital to improving your sleep and quality of life.
Continuous lack of sleep can lead to symptoms such as visual distortions, dissociations, delusions, illusions, and hallucinations.
Insomnia can lead to psychosis-like symptoms. However, these symptoms usually subside once the person's sleep returns to normal. The longer you go without sleep, the longer it will take to recover.
Insomnia cannot cause schizophrenia. However, insomnia and other sleep disorders affect people who have schizophrenia. In fact, sleep problems could be a sign of the onset of this mental health condition.
The number of hours you need to go without sleep to hallucinate varies from person to person. Studies show that people usually exhibit at least some symptoms after 24 hours.
Hallucinations and insomnia are closely related. Insomnia causes a lack of sleep, which can lead to sleep deprivation, and may result in hallucinations. The longer a person goes without sleep, the more likely they are to experience adverse effects on their mental health. To prevent hallucinations, it's important to get proper treatment for your insomnia. A good night's sleep is critical for your mental and physical health.
About our program | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
What is insomnia? | NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Insomnia: What you need to know as you age | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Sleep disorders | National Alliance of Mental Illness