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Sleep Deprivation Hallucinations: What You Need To Know 2023

Mitchelle Morgan

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Chelsea Rae Bourgeois, MS, RDN, LD

sleep deprivation hallucinations
Sleep deprivation can lead to vivid hallucinations and perceptual distortions.

Do you suffer from sleep deprivation? If so, you’re not alone. Approximately one-third of adults[1] living in the United States report falling short of the recommended amount of sleep. We know that insufficient sleep has been linked to chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression. But can it cause hallucinations? 

Unfortunately, sleep deprivation can cause visual and auditory hallucinations, severely impacting your mental health. Here we will explore the causes and symptoms of sleep deprivation hallucinations. We’ll cover the range of sleep problems that can lead to hallucinations and discuss potential treatment options to maintain healthy sleep hygiene to achieve better sleep.

Can Sleep Deprivation Cause Hallucinations?

Lack of sleep can disrupt the brain’s normal functions, leading to perceptual distortions and even full-blown hallucinations. If you are sleep-deprived, you might experience visual and auditory hallucinations. These hallucinations can be mild or severe and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as mood changes, cognitive impairment, and perceptual distortions. You should prioritize getting enough sleep and practicing good sleep hygiene to prevent the adverse effects of sleep deprivation, including hallucinations. If you are experiencing persistent hallucinations or other concerning symptoms, it is best to seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

What Are Hallucinations?

Hallucinations[2] are sensory experiences that aren’t caused by outside stimuli. These sensory encounters can impact any five senses, including sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.

Here are the five types of hallucinations.[3]

Visual Hallucinations

They involve seeing things that are not there. Visual hallucinations cause you to perceive patterns, persons, or objects that aren’t real.

Olfactory Hallucinations

These are hallucinations in which you perceive a smell that is not present. These odors can be highly vivid and might be either pleasant or unpleasant.

Gustatory Hallucinations

These involve experiencing tastes in the absence of any actual stimuli. These tastes can be unpleasant or pleasant and are often associated with certain medical or psychiatric conditions.

Auditory Hallucinations

They involve hearing sounds or voices not present in reality. These can be pretty upsetting and are sometimes linked to mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Tactile Hallucinations

Physical feelings that don’t exist are experienced during tactile hallucinations. These sensations may include tingling, crawling, or the perception of being touched while no one is touching you. Some medical issues, drug usage, or substance withdrawal symptoms can cause tactile hallucinations.

Hallucinations, in general, are typically linked to mental health problems, such as schizophrenia,[4] Parkinson’s disease,[5] and bipolar disorder.[6] Although, hallucinations may occur as a result of sleep deprivation or drug use.

Sleep deprivation hallucinations occur when you have not slept enough, and your brain is not functioning correctly. Prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to severe physical and mental health problems, including hallucinations.

Of the five hallucination types, visual and auditory hallucinations are the most common, with the most frequent being visual hallucinations. These can range from straightforward shapes or patterns to intricate representations of people or objects. On the other hand, auditory hallucinations involve hearing imaginary noises or voices.

Severely sleep-deprived people should find and treat the underlying reason with the assistance of a medical or sleep specialist. This is especially crucial if the hallucinations interfere with your everyday life.

The Link Between Sleep Deprivation And Hallucinations

Sleep is significantly neuroprotective,[7] so a constant lack of it can seriously impact your mental and physical health. Hallucinations can be a direct consequence of sleep deprivation, and this link is due to sleep’s role in the brain’s ability to process[8] and interpret sensory information correctly.

Lack of sleep over an extended period might increase the risk of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression,[9] further increasing the likelihood of experiencing hallucinations. Chronic sleep deprivation can also lead to cognitive impairment,[10] which can contribute to the development of hallucinations.

It’s crucial to remember that sleep deprivation might have other adverse effects besides hallucinations. Other signs of inadequate slumber include mood changes,[11] perceptual changes, and perceptual distortions.

Long-term lack of sleep can also result in more severe physical and mental health issues, including high blood pressure,[12] delirium,[13] and even psychotic experiences. When you experience delirium, you may exhibit deluded, agitated, and confused behavior.[14] 

Effects Of Sleep Deprivation Hallucinations

Sleep deprivation hallucinations can adversely affect physical and mental health in the following ways.

You May Become Accident-Prone

Like night shift workers, one of the most significant threats to sleep-deprived people is the increased risk of accidents, injuries, and careless mistakes. This is due to a hallucination’s potential to impair perception and judgment.

Sleep deprivation hallucinations, even over a short period, can cause cognitive impairment, which makes it challenging to focus and finish tasks. This becomes a danger to both you and others.

You May Become Susceptible To Other Mental Health Issues

Hallucinations brought on by poor sleep hygiene may also increase the risk of mental health issues like anxiety and depression and increase the possibility of mood swings and perceptual disorders.

You may also become pre-disposed to toxic delirium and experience further psychotic symptoms due to prolonged sleep deprivation and the ensuing hallucinations.

How To Stop Hallucinations Caused By Sleep Deprivation

Now that you know what kind of hallucinations sleep deprivation can cause, here are some steps to reduce or stop hallucinations altogether.

Get Sufficient Sleep

sleep deprivation hallucinations
Get sufficient sleep of about seven to eight hours daily.

Since lack of sleep is the issue, why not try to get more sleep? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American adults should aim for a sleep duration of at least seven to eight hours[15] per night. Therefore, prioritize making time for adequate rest each day.

Prioritize Good Sleep Hygiene

sleep deprivation hallucinations
Good sleep hygiene can help you sleep better.

Besides getting more sleep, practicing good sleep hygiene can help improve the quality of your rest and reduce sleep deprivation hallucinations.

Getting a good night’s sleep includes establishing a consistent sleep schedule, using a sleep diary, creating a relaxing sleep environment, and avoiding caffeine and electronics before bed. A healthy diet or supplements as complementary treatments may also help you achieve good sleep hygiene habits.

Consider Sleep Medicine

sleep deprivation hallucinations
Sleep medication helps you fall and stay asleep.

Your doctor might suggest sleep medication to assist in regulating your sleep patterns if you experience severe or ongoing sleep deprivation.

Melatonin[16] is a hormonal ingredient in certain popular sleeping medications regulating sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin medications[17] can help regulate the sleep cycle by increasing the sleep hormone levels in the body.

Seek Treatment For Underlying Conditions

sleep deprivation hallucinations
Treat the underlying issues and eradicate sleep issues.

Treating underlying physical or mental health conditions with the guidance of your doctor or sleep specialist may help you establish healthy sleep patterns. Some medical situations that might contribute to sleep deprivation include obesity[18] and depression.[19]

Please note that everyone’s brain is different, and we all have unique medical needs.  So, personalized treatments[20] are the best course of action in treating your sleep deprivation hallucinations. 

Consult A Healthcare Professional

sleep deprivation hallucinations
Healthcare professionals can guide you through coping with sleep deprivation.

Lastly, if you are experiencing severe sleep deprivation hallucinations, even after medication, consider consulting a healthcare professional or sleep specialist for guidance and more treatment options.

Sleep specialists can run a sleep study[21] to help identify and treat any underlying sleep disorders that may prevent you from getting restful sleep. They may also recommend lifestyle changes, prescribe medication, or implement other interventions to help you stay asleep at night.

Other Causes Of Hallucinations

Hallucinations can be caused by several factors other than sleep deprivation. Some other common causes of hallucinations may include: 

Mental Illness

Acute psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia,[22] bipolar disorder, and severe depression are known to cause hallucinations. These conditions can affect your perception, thinking, and emotions, resulting in auditory and visual hallucinations.

Substance Abuse

When you take recreational drugs such as LSD,[23] cocaine, and mushrooms, you might experience hallucinations. These drugs stimulate your brain, increasing wakefulness and reducing the ability to fall asleep, causing sleep deprivation.

Psychological Disorders

Disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease,[24] and epilepsy can cause psychological symptoms like hallucinations. These conditions affect your brain’s functioning and can cause changes in perception and behavior.


Certain medications[25] such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, and drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease can cause hallucinations as a side effect.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders such as narcolepsy[26] can cause hallucinations. Such sleep disorders[27] affect your sleep patterns, resulting in vivid dreams and hallucinations.


Severe migraines[28] can cause sensory disturbances, such as visual illusions. These migraine auras[29] can include flashing lights, zigzag patterns, and other visual distortions.


So, how long can you go without sleep? Going long without sleep is unhealthy as you may experience sleep deprivation hallucinations.

Sleep deprivation visual illusions can be a scary and distressing experience. If you are experiencing persistent hallucinations or other common symptoms related to losing sleep or staying awake at night, seeking professional help is crucial.

While there are various causes of hallucinations, you can prevent those caused by inadequate sleep. Implement healthy sleep hygiene practices, such as setting a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and creating a comfortable sleep environment.

According to evidence-based scientific literature, sleep is crucial for our overall well-being. Neglecting how many hours you sleep can have severe consequences. 

+ 29 sources

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Mitchelle Morgan

Medically reviewed by:

Chelsea Rae Bourgeois

Mitchelle Morgan is a health and wellness writer with over 10 years of experience. She holds a Master's in Communication. Her mission is to provide readers with information that helps them live a better lifestyle. All her work is backed by scientific evidence to ensure readers get valuable and actionable content.

Medically reviewed by:

Chelsea Rae Bourgeois

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