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August 26, 2010 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Brainfilter: Why is my ability to visualize so unbounded when I am drifting off to sleep (but not yet dreaming)? Is this a state I can reproduce in waking life?

In my normal life, my visual imagination is pretty lousy. I can think verbally pretty well, but can't conjure any sort of visual object or scene in my mind.

When I'm in bed and drifting off to sleep, but still awake and largely in control of my train of thought, I experience a 5-10 minute window when my ability to visualize suddenly becomes intensely vivid. During this brief window, I can explore the wonders of whatever science fiction or fantasy universes my imagination can concoct; the scenery is both expansive and detailed. The oddest thing, to me, is that my visualizations in this period of time are even more complex and moving than my true deep-sleep dreams. (I've even had a few lucid dreams, and they were nothing like this...)

Do any neuronerds know what causes this sudden shift, and is there a way to recreate it without having to go to sleep right after? I want to make more use of this potential which seems to go untapped the other 23 3/4 hours of the day...
posted by overeducated_alligator to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The phenomenon is called hypnagogia. One way you can avoid going to sleep after experiencing it is to keep a spoon or something likely to make a loud noise when it hits the floor in your hand; as you slip into the beginnings of true sleep your hand will release it involuntarily and wake you up.
posted by invitapriore at 8:39 PM on August 26, 2010

I should note that that technique was apparently pioneered by Salvador DalĂ­, and it seems that this page has a cite for that.
posted by invitapriore at 8:41 PM on August 26, 2010

I sometimes get vivid, very fluid visualizations while trying to catnap but failing to really fall asleep. In my experience, a good way to initiate this state of mind in the middle of the day is to get a less-than-full night's sleep, go to a library the next day, study quietly until your head feels heavy, rest your head in the crook of your arm on the table, and let go.
posted by Orinda at 9:01 PM on August 26, 2010

Man, this used to happen to me in high school all the time, but only when I fell asleep during study hall. I'm not usually a light sleeper, but I was during study hall because I knew I had to wake up when the bell rang. It's anecdotal, but maybe try listening for something while you're falling asleep?
posted by wayland at 9:19 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I get that exact thing during the 9 minutes between hitting the snooze button in the morning and the second alarm. Love it. Sometimes on a Saturday, I'll set the alarm for the normal time and keep hitting snooze over and over, just to enjoy that state for as long as I can keep it up.

In the guest room. "Enjoy" is not the word my wife would use for this.
posted by ctmf at 9:48 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

This was posted by IndigoRain a week or so ago:

Okay, it sounds kind of crazy but... An article went around the science blogs a while back that said to induce your own "hallucinations," turn a radio to a staticky station and cover your eyes with ping pong balls, lay quietly and wait. Here's the article.

Not sure if it's the same thing you are talking about, but it sounds similar.
posted by CathyG at 5:34 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thomas Edison used ball bearings and metal plates.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:34 AM on August 27, 2010

Meditation can really help. First, you can simply relax your attention, and systematically relax your entire body. This can help free you from the normal waking state of consciousness and into a more creative, free state.

Or, you can try visualization meditations which have the same effect. There are a bunch of guided ones on Itunes and youtube.

Good luck!
posted by tessalations999 at 7:39 PM on August 28, 2010

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