Just before you go to sleep your mind is in a kind of borderline condition resembling hypnosis. You get Random Brain Access, rather trippy like, schizophrenic almost. Sublime noises heard, strange thought patterns etc. You cannot usually remember the last 4 minutes before going to sleep so you have to sort of dive in and get up again to remember it. Having had psychedelic experiences facilitates recognition and remembering. Can be used for selfhypnosis to induce lucid dreaming.

A better way to induce a hypnagogic hallucination which you'll actually remember is by waking up some morning then letting yourself drift off to "sleep" again whether you actually need it or not. If you're receptive to this, it tricks the reticular activating system into putting your (still-conscious) brain into a REM state, where your voluntary movement is paralysed and your consciousness is connected to whatever it is that causes dreaming.

This is basically the opposite of sleepwalking, where your (unconscious) mind is in a REM state but the RAS hasn't paralysed your movement. Typically, those who sleepwalk don't have hypnagogic hallucinations and vice-versa. Narcoleptics tend to have a high occurrence, however.

There's a fairly good cursory look at this phenomenon at http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mastral.html; unfortunately, most of the other information on the WWW is filled with inanity and misinformation and is usually linked to narcolepsy information or alien abduction stories written by people who are basically scared of their own imagination. Myself, I love these hallucinagenic states (and also love not needing to endanger myself through LSD to get a neat trip - not only are there no side-effects, but since my RAS prevents me from moving, I'm not about to try to fly or anything), and I actually try to induce them whenever I can (and lately have been getting a lot of success at it).

The hypnagogic state is the condition the human mind reaches shortly before sleep. It is similar to REM sleep in that it is often bizarre and nonsensical, though it is far shorter and less directly related to the subconscious mind than REM sleep is. It prepares the mind for REM sleep.

Basically what happens during this state is that random images and thoughts float through your mind, sometimes related to recent events but mostly just really random strata. Whether you fall asleep within 30 seconds of getting into bed or you need an hour to go to sleep, your mind will eventually pass through the hypnagogic state, for however brief or long a time. Light sleepers often linger in this state, as it is easily interruptable by outside stimuli and isn't actually normal sleep.

Unlike sleep, your mind is really powerless during this state -- you can't dream or get the rest your mind needs at this time. Lucid dreams, or dreams where the mind wakes up and realizes it's dreaming while the body remains asleep, also cannot occur during this state. What happens is more or less just your mind channel-surfing along the proverbial UHF channels of the mind, only past channel 80 -- snow, static, random images, snippets of conversation, voices, etc.

The hypnagogic state is also related to schizophrenia. See the connection? The only difference is that a schizophrenic is fully awake for the ride, whereas the nearly-asleep person is barely conscious of what they're perceiving.

A similar mental phase, the hypnopompic state, occurs when the body and mind are in the process of waking up after having slept for a few hours. Pretty much the same things happen then. Both can be highly fascinating if you can train yourself to be aware of what's going on during these states, much like you can train yourself to dream lucidly or control your dreams.

Helpful sources:
Astral Dynamics by Robert Bruce
Adventures Beyond the Body by William Buhlman

This peculiar state of consciousness can also manifest some extraordinary memory effects. On numerous occasions, after falling asleep while reading a book, I experienced total recall of the text. This was usually in the morning, after many hours of sleep.

While slowly rising to consciousness, caught in between waking and dreaming, I once again see the book before me. Thinking I'd dozed off, I back up a few pages and re-read. When I reach the point at which I fell asleep, I keep going, now breaking new ground as my creative mind (or connection to the Akashic Records kicks in) begins to fill in.

Upon waking fully, I realized what happened, grab the book and confirm that I did in fact perfectly recall the text, word-for-word. The continuation fabricated by my mind, though creative and convincing, was not accurate.

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