Six years ago, when I was in college in my Native American literary class, I did this thing with your head wiggling around on your neck as you try to stay awake. Every few seconds my head fell forward and then picked up again. My eyelids felt heavy and barely opened. By college standards, it was an early lesson that began at 9:30. I had slept only a few hours the night before. And the night before. And before and before that. That was already a few weeks.
The only thing that kept me awake was an intense itchy feeling in all my legs. It was as if I was trapped in Fear Factor in a showcase full of spiders and centipedes and all kinds of crawfish. During the hour and a half, the itching was all that I could concentrate on. I had no idea what my professor was talking about, and honestly I did not care.
The itching became unbearable as I scratched my thighs under my desk. I started shaking my legs and stomping with my feet to stop the itching, but nothing worked. I'm sure the people around me thought I was funny, but I did not care. I felt like millions of needles were biting my legs, and I was afraid I would start crying in the middle of the lecture. I got up and went into the hallway to get my legs moving.
In the corridor, the itching quickly dissolved to my relief. I went back inside, sat down and assumed that everything was alright. I tried to concentrate on what my professor said, but when I looked at her, something strange happened. Her short elven cut began to grow. Her brown hair stretched to her shoulders, then to her chest and then down to her waist, all in seconds. My eyelids did not feel heavy when I stared at them with wide eyes and shock.
That's impossible I told myself. But it looked so real. I had just experienced something magical. I looked left and right at my classmates, but everyone stared straight ahead at them, unimpressed. I looked back to my professor. Her hair was short again.
What happened just now? I asked myself. Then a man entered the room. He passed us all students and went directly to our professor. Something bad would happen. I could feel it. I looked to my colleagues, but nobody seemed to worry. I felt I should do something to stop this man, but I remained silent. I watched in horror as the man approached my professor and stabbed her in the chest. I pushed my chair back, ready to run, but I blinked and everything was back to normal. My professor, completely intact, continued to teach. There was no man in the room.
Something was wrong with me and I had no idea what to do.
I have never taken drugs, but this felt like a bad trip (or what I could imagine) a hallucinogenic drug feels like). My colleagues must have thought that I had something because I was so bizarre. I was paranoid, my eyes were huge and I could not sit still. The rest of the class faded as I tried to figure out what was happening.
It was obvious to me that I had to hallucinate but because it had never happened to me before, I could not believe it. I knew that I had been tired and tired, but I thought you would have to sleep seriously to really see and feel things that are not there.
However, it turns out that it was me. I had only slept a few weeks a night at this time. I had just come out of a serious long-term relationship and immediately jumped into something new. I was emotionally disconnected from the separation, but stayed awake most of the night while my new husband talked and got to know each other. I was exhausted every day, but pushed through to pretend that everything was fine. My confusion about the sadness of separation and the happiness of the new relationship was only compounded by my fatigue. I should have known that I needed more sleep, but the logic did not really work for me at the time.
According to Dr. Emmanuel While, a sleep specialist at the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, who is trained in psychiatry and neurology, our brains do not mind working not as they should when we are without sleep. "If we do not sleep it's like the brain is burning, like a stimulant drug," he says to SELF. "Parts of the brain work together in a chaotic way."
Yes, sometimes this can lead to hallucinations.
Hallucinations are not so easy to just see something that is not real. "It's an experience with the perception of something that does not exist," Dr. While. "At first, the perception seems so real that there is no reason to doubt it."
They are different from illusions. This is the case when someone misinterprets what he sees, for example when confusing a cloak with a person. Hallucinations are also not the same as daydreams (when you enter into a dream state, but with your eyes open), adds dr. While added. He explains that if you are hallucinating, you are still awake and conscious, you will not sleep.
Hallucinations are often experienced by people who suffer from psychosis or persons who have schizophrenia people on hallucinogen or from people who to suffer from dementia . But it is not unsurpassable that people with a lack of sleep are hallucinated.
Brandon Peters, MD, a double-board certified neurologist and sleep medicine doctor, who practices at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, tells SELF that it is actually quite common for sleepless people who hallucinate, when sleep is deprived long enough. What makes "long enough", however, depends on how long they were awake and not sleeping: if sleep is completely rejected, ie, someone has not slept overnight, hallucinations can occur after 24 hours, but are more likely to be person 36 to 48 hours just awake. When sleep deprivation occurs over time with short intermittent sleep phases, as in my case, it often takes longer for hallucinations to occur.
Dr. Peters, who is also a lecturer at Stanford University, says most hallucinations are visual. In rare cases, however, they can be auditory or even tactile, such as when my legs itch.
Experts do not quite understand why hallucinations happen through sleep deprivation.
The exact mechanism of the brain during hallucinations in general is not understood. The idea is that visual hallucinations can occur if certain parts of the brain responsible for visual functioning are disturbed . Another possible reason is that it may have to do with changes in the dopamine levels in the brain : " Excessive dopaminergic transmission seems to be the best-understood mechanism for hallucinations in certain brain areas Peters explains: "Especially in the context of sleep deprivation, it may also be that the brain is so tired that it gets into a" mixed state of mind. "
Despite a person's exhaustion, they may feel normal. They hallucinate, "Often there is insight into the situation," says Dr. Peters, and in my case, I quickly realized that no one around me saw what I saw, what made me understand what I saw It's not true (Dr. Peters notes that this use of thinking and logic is more difficult for people suffering from hallucinations due to psychosis.)
In e In some cases, sleep deprivation can lead to psychosis, although this is more rare, says Drs. someone had to be awake for about 72 hours before she entered psychosis. "If you continue and continue [to stay awake] it is possible to go into psychosis and develop delusions that require psychiatric treatment," he says.
But most people can not stay awake for so long. While. This means that most sleep deprivation occurs over weeks and months with very little sleep, as in my situation. In retrospect, it took me a few weeks to sleep only a few hours each night before I hallucinated. "Most people can manage sleep deprivation for a long time," says Dr. While. "We are not good at judging how much sleep we need."
In order to avoid experiencing hallucinations, both Drs. While as well Peters alert people to the early signs of sleep deprivation. The most common early symptom is a mood change and increased irritability. People can also become impatient and restless and have difficulty concentrating. You should immediately give sleep a higher priority if you notice these symptoms.
Hallucinating was a big wake up call for me.
I never went to a doctor or therapist after experiencing my hallucinations. On the one hand, the episode was somehow embarrassing. I was afraid nobody would believe me. I had never heard anyone had hallucinations unless he was using drugs or had a serious mental health problem. When I went to the doctor, I was afraid that people might make assumptions or judgments about me, or think I had thought up everything.
But I began to prioritize sleep, to address things that caused emotional stress, and to learn how to listen to my body. I never had a hallucination again.
Most people can manage sleep deprivation on their own by simply getting more sleep. and agree with Peters. And even if sleep deprivation becomes so serious that hallucinations occur, it is usually not necessary to see a doctor. "If it's isolated and has a clear cause and stops when the cause is resolved, you do not have to go to the doctor," Dr. Peters. "This is a very common, potential phenomenon that is not necessarily a serious condition." (However, if you have a diagnosis of psychiatric illness or are susceptible to psychosis, you should contact your doctor if you have hallucinations.)  I realized the importance of taking care of myself and my body hear when he says I need more sleep. Hallucinating was scary not only because the things I saw were scary, but also because I felt I could not keep my mind under control, not always a priority for many people. It was not for me until this incident, so today I am much less dependent on lack of sleep, no matter how busy or distracted I am. Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way, but this is a lesson I will never forget.