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Hallucinations While Driving - Sleep Disorder Or Something Else?

Hi, I don't know where to start off, so I'll just start with the basics. My name is "G." I found your site this morning after doing a search on hallucinations while driving.

Last night was my first experience of having a hallucination while awake. I had just come from seeing a movie with my family and had to drive home (about an hour drive) during the middle of the night. The time was between 3-3:30am and I was beginning to get sleepy but completely awake. I've stood up this late before several times and had to drive home and never had an experience like this.
Last night, while on the freeway I saw what appeared as an electrical post falling onto the freeway. As it was falling it spun then hit the ground. It was so realistic that I actually swerved off to the side and made the driver behind me, pull beside me, honk 3 times then speed off. He assumed that I was falling asleep at the wheel when I was just trying to avoid the "post."

I had been driving about 40 minutes before seeing my first object. During the next 20 or so minutes I saw a few more things and it seemed back to back and I started to get really concerned about what was happening.

After seeing the post I saw two shadowy figures run across the freeway and immediately knew that wasn't real after seeing that the post wasn't there. Then I saw a black/shadowy figure of a bird that came and disappeared within seconds. It was heading toward my window then vanished. Finally when exiting the freeway I noticed a big cardboard box in the distance, except this time it looked real not shadowy. So I started to slow down to see if it was real or fake. I didn't know what to believe anymore. As I got closer the image/object disappeared and I started to panic then cry.

I don't know why this is happening and after reading your site I'm beginning to wonder if I have some type of sleep disorder?

Sleep Paralysis - This is the closest description to what I've been experiencing for years. Two years ago I went through a really tough period and/or episode where I was coming out of the sleep paralysis every night at the same time. It got so bad that I was beginning to know when an onset was going to happen, knew how to control it and come out of it. What bothered me was that it was happening and always at the same time. And, it progressed to where I was hearing voices that sounded muffled--one male and one female. Or, footsteps, feeling a presence, hearing and feeling someones breath.

There were also times when I didn't have the sleep paralysis I would hear the doorbell ring, same time. I'd go downstairs not knowing if this time someone was really there, look through the peep hole and no one.

OBE?? I remember feeling like I was asleep and looking through my eyelids as if they were translucent and seeing my husband next to me, going into a sleep paralysis when trying to reach out to him, come out of it, open my eyes to see him in the same position.

I'm not sure what is wrong with me but I'd appreciate any feedback.

Thank you.

Kevin's Thoughts

First off, let me start off by saying thank you for taking the initiative to write in and seek feedback for this experience, and I'm very, very glad you were able to make it home safely to do so. I can hardly begin to imagine how frightening those hallucinations on the road must have been, and for you to have the presence of mind to overcome them and to then research them says a lot about the type of person you are. Secondly, let me get straight to some insights on the matter, because what you have described really calls for some serious urgency, as your words suggest you already know.

The hallucinations you describe while driving sound precisely like what are known as hypnagogic hallucinations (the term hypnogogia is a term referring to the transitional state between wakefulness and the onset of sleep). Conversely, the voices, footsteps, and breath you have heard and felt during episodes of sleep paralysis are known as hypnopompic hallucinations (the term hypnopompia instead this time referring to the transitional state between sleep and the onset of wakefulness).

The key thing to take from this is that, as you thought, the hallucinations are dream imagery--or in other words, imagery that is closely connected with sleep. And in
the case of the images you experienced while driving, they are tightly linked with sleep onset, something you want to be as far away from as possible while driving.

Tragically, falling asleep at the wheel is an enormously prevalent cause of death today. In our Stanford Sleep and Dreams course we emphasize constantly--more than any other topic in the class--the dangers of driving drowsy in order to raise awareness of this fact. Dr. Dement, the longtime professor of the course and pioneer of sleep research, refers to sleep in general as the moment when the "door of perception" slams shut. And in being drowsy behind the wheel one is literally seconds away from that "door of perception" slamming shut in a situation where losing your ability to perceive your surroundings will very likely result in death. It's serious stuff that you may not start to realize the full implication of until your put in a situation like you experienced driving home from the movie.

In the course though we also have a tool to combat this danger, a tool which empowers someone who knows about it to take action against the risk of falling asleep. The tool is a key-in phrase called "Drowsiness Is Red Alert!" that you may have seen elsewhere throughout this site. In fact, it's so important to the mission of Sleep and Dreams that it is on the top of every page on the site. It works by nature of you understanding its intention: to protect you when you are feeling sleepy on the road. When your eyelids start to feel heavy, "Drowsiness Is Red Alert" pops into your head and calls for you to realize the danger you are in and to pull over or exit the freeway to take a power nap and stay safe.

That is the abridged version of the story. For the more complete version of "Drowsiness Is Red Alert!", and to see what people like Oprah have to say about it, go here.

The overall point of this tangent is to emphasize that if anything like what you experienced happens again, or even without the hallucinations you begin to feel drowsy on the road, don't be afraid to simply pull over and rest, because it's not worth ending up like this just to make it back home a little quicker.

Now to come back to your question about a possible sleep disorder that may be driving the sleep paralysis and/or the hypnagogic/pompic imagery, the most telling thing for me to emphasize given what you have described is that both sleep paralysis and hypnagogic/pompic are tied to intrusions of REM sleep (the period of sleep when dreaming occurs) into waking life.

SIDENOTE: As far as I know, It's not precisely known whether all hypnagogic imagery is directly related to REM sleep--some incidences of simple imagery may be more tied to the first stage of NREM sleep--but the type of vivid, completely lifelike imagery that you describe would seem to me necessarily tied more to REM sleep.

Sleep paralysis, meanwhile, is simply a byproduct of the paralysis during REM sleep that prevents us from acting out our dreams carrying over for a short amount of time (although it can feel like an eternity) after we've woken up. There's more on this phenomena here.

Sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations are two of the main symptoms of narcolepsy, a condition characterized by protrusions of REM sleep into the waking state. You can read up more about it using that link I just dropped. If you've ever experienced sleep paralysis while falling into sleep (rather than while awakening from it), or are persistently tired during the day, or have ever experienced weakness in the knees, legs, or jaw while laughing or experiencing intense emotions, you should definitely check yourself in to go see a sleep specialist regarding narcolepsy. Additionally, if you've had more hallucinations since writing this or if the sleep paralysis persists to the point where you feel it is seriously disruptive, it would certainly be wise to see a sleep specialist then as well.

And in the meantime, be very wary and alert while on the road. If you begin to feel like you are experiencing another episode of imagery, don't take a chance. Simply pull over and get yourself out of harms way, rest your eyes and your mind, and ensure that you make it home safe.

I'm very glad to have received your writing. If you have any more questions or thoughts about anything that I've said here, feel free to follow up by using the "Post Comments" link below. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the matter.


Comments for Hallucinations While Driving - Sleep Disorder Or Something Else?

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Jan 02, 2013
I might sound crazy, but... NEW
by: Anonymous

I have experienced these exact same hallucinations while driving... I have had a lot of trouble sleeping lately... Sometimes I can't sleep for days at a time, and for seemingly no reason. However in particular, I would like to address the shadowlike figure of the bird. I experienced this hallucination exactly as you described. It was flying a short distance in front of my car, then suddenly the bird crashed in to my windshield but dissipated like smoke. I have also seen the shadowlike figures running across the street, and the life like figures. Just tonight, I saw a huge brindle mastiff slowly crossing the street. It stayed in full detail until I got closer and just vanished. I have got to say, I was very scared the first few times they occurred. But with chronic spells of insomnia, I sort of... grew accustomed to them. I didn't think they were that serious. I've recently experienced delusions of a presence while at work. I would like to Seek help

Mar 15, 2013
It's normal NEW
by: Anonimous Floridian

Hello. Forst let me tell yoh that while this doesnt happen to some people, it is quite natural for some of us.

It occurs when you are starting to fall asleep and it is the sign (late sign) that is time to pull over and take a nap.

This has happened to me all my life as a driver. Day or night, but it occurs strictly when i am very very tired, and starting to call asleep behind the wheel. I have seen all sorts lf crazy things when this happens and i have even reacted to dangers that werent there. I have also continued driving to see if what i am seeing is real or not, and i have laughed at seeing funny stuff in the hallucinations. Conclusion: it's normal when you are fighting sleep while driving. Solution: immediately pull over and sleep.

I used to continue driving when i saw hallucinations but thankfully realized it is a big danger before anything bad happened. Now I pull over immediately. Even if home is just 20 min awa.

Feb 25, 2015
Reply NEW
by: Amy

I like the post very much

Jan 19, 2016
mmmmmmmmmmmmmmyaaaaaaaaaaaaaas NEW
by: Sweggybootaytay

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm yaaaaaaaaaaaaaas i like trains

Mar 31, 2016
Hallucinations while driving NEW
by: Diamonds22

I also have seen dark figures on the road while driving. I have hit my brakes, swerved, and even stopped only to realize it was nothing there. I would have never mentioned this to anyone with the fear of being called crazy, so thank you so much for allowing me to say it without that same fear. I scare myself while driving and although I get at least 10 hours of sleep a day or more (due to narcolepsy) it still happens mainly at night.

Dec 29, 2016
Stop the car & Sleep !!! NEW
by: Nikag

First of all thank you for the great post.I just google"hallucination while driving" and found that it is related to sleep disorders.

I had the same hallucination while driving on mountain road at night.
Plus, curved road was changing(Hallucination of-course)to straight road on the blink of an eye and vice versa.

I crashed horribly last night found rims & bumpers 50 meters from the car.
Plus I have sleep paralysis and I thought it was not dangerous but it is !!!
Stop the car while hallucination you may not fall asleep but your brain will! and you will not be able to hit the brake even when you see a wall!

Jun 10, 2017
People NEW
by: Bre

When I drive at night. Doesn't matter if I'm sleepy or wide awake, coming home from work or riding with my husband. I see figures of people. Not things. People. People all bloody, standing in the road, on the side reaching out, just black figures of people. Mostly older men? I get so freaked out and scared that I just have to close my eyes for a second and make then go away. It's a really scary sight when your in my shoes.

Dec 15, 2017
Stars falling and gazelles crossing the road.. NEW
by: GHN91

Its kinda comfy to find that im not on my own in this case, yesterday i experienced this phenomenon for the first time, i was completely out of control, i mean i was'nt driving, i dont have any memory of me driving my brain was taking control by itself !! its like it went on automatic mode, i drove about 200 km without remembring anything,,, until i saw stars falling on the road and gazelles crossing alongside,,, i had to put a huge effort convincing my brain that it wasnt real and i had to take back control,, i immediately stopped after that, i pulled over,, i was terrorized. Please i really appreciate to know if this phenomenon has a scientific name, ,,any scientific details would be appreciated.

Jan 14, 2019
Hallucinations only driving at night NEW
by: Daniel

Caucasian Male 25
Like others have said, im glad im not fighting this alone. I am actually used to driving at night, as I work the night shift, and sleep during the day. Driving home from work, I've almost always seen shadowy figures off in the distance just shifting or 'dancing' around but never anything more. Also, I always sleep really well the day before, again as I have to work and there is almost never anything to do except to sign someone in once in a blue moon, so I get as much sleep as possible to combat the dragging hours. This equates to anywhere from 7-10 hours of sleep each night, which should be more than enough. Even on my days off, I get the same amount of sleep. Less than this and I cant stay awake, more and I'm up all night unable to sleep, so I strive to get the right amount as to make my life easier.

However, a few nights ago I was driving home from work and started having hallucinations. It began as shadowy figures in the distance, shifting around in strange ways, and as I drove on I began to see cars in front of me merged into a single larger vehicle taking up both lanes. As I came to my exit, I looked into my rearview mirror and the vehicle behind me seemed as if it were mere inches from hitting me, I waited and watched (only a few seconds) to see if it would hit me, but then remembered the cars in front of me. I swerved onto the shoulder and avoided nearly rear ending someone. Barely a minute later I saw what looked like a half shadowy, half real person on a unicycle juggling in the middle of the street, which by this time I pretty well knew wasn't real.

What I have noticed before the onset of these hallucinations is that I sometimes experience paranoia out of nowhere. My senses become hyper aware and I feel like im being watched and am afraid to look at my reflection in a mirror or window. I just want to shut myself in and forget, or even try to stay busy so my mind will move on.
I have also noticed that I usually only see hallucinations on longer drives, rather than shorter ones, and usually only nights I'm working.

I have been living with sleep paralysis for nearly a decade, granted it usually only happens once in a blue moon if im super tired, and I dont know if I have narcolepsy. Usually the people I see that have that will collapse out of nowhere, so I don't think I have this.

Not sure if related but I experience déjà vu on a regular basis and pre-cognitive dreams (seeing the future). I know I sound like im making this up, but im not. Ive actually known something was going to happen and then seconds later it happened, im not talking about knowing everything that will happen 10 years from now. Just singular images or events that occur immediately after my brain says "hey, this and this is about to happen and heres a memory of it already somehow" and then seconds later 'bam', the exact same thing. The only thing I figure it could be is the subconscious mind seeing these events/images during sleep and then storing it in the conscience mind for later use. I know all of this isn't sleep disorder related (or maybe it is??), but it could shed some light as it is still all connected in the brain and might act as a clue.

I'm just really confused as to why I have hallucinations even though I get a regular amount of sleep (again 7-10 hours each day). Should I be sleeping more?

Aug 02, 2019
I thought it was only me!
by: Matt, South west England

I've had these for the past couple of years. Honestly thought I was going mad, as no one else I know gets them.

I've 'seen' Panthers running across the road, cats, people, wind turbines crashing down... and last night, there was an octopus in a tree!

When I saw the Panthers crossing the road, I knew it wasn't real, but had to think about it. But since then, like others have posted. I've taken evasive action to avoid hitting a non existent cat in the road.

I work shifts, and these hallucinations generally always happen after I've been driving for about 30 mins into my hour commute home.

I'm really pleased I came across this thread. Thank you.

Aug 25, 2019
by: Anonymous

I had the same type of sleep paralysis when I was about 12-16 years old, and I've been having hallucinations while driving at night since I was 17 (when the sleep paralysis ended for the most part). Now I live an hour away from work and get home between 11pm and midnight every night. It's a rural, unlit road with a bunch of wildlife, so seeing stuff that isn't there is so distracting and dangerous, especially because it's often raining or extremely foggy.

Oct 10, 2022
Trains while driving
by: Anonymous

I have had similar experiences except, I see trains shoot across the road while I am driving if I’ve been driving for 40 mins to a hr. Just last night I seen a woman and kids walking in the early 1900s clothes. And I slam on the brakes and then realize nothing is there. I’m gonna start drinking an energy drink before I drive and sees if that helps. Glad I’m not alone I’m expecting this

Jan 07, 2023
I think I'm losing it
by: Anonymous

I work two jobs averaging about 80-90+ hours a week between both and I give a family member a ride home after both jobs Monday through Friday tonight as I was taking them home I saw what looked like a person crossing the road so I slowed down they appeared to stop and just stand in my lane but when my head lights reached where they appeared to be there was nothing there I'm usually on the go daily between 6am and midnight could I be losing it or is it just a simple case of my mind telling me I'm getting worn out

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