Why, when I get tired, do my senses sometimes go into super-human overdrive?
July 19, 2007 11:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm wondering if anyone has had similar experiences to those described below, and/or can enlighten me as to what's happening.

Occasionally, when I get very tired and am doing something quiet, like reading in bed, or working on the computer, my senses kind of go into overdrive.

My hearing becomes so acute that I can "hear" silence, hear the air move. My breathing sounds monstrous and incredibly detailed, and turning of a book's page lets me hear every fiber of the paper bend and rustle.

My touch and sight go crazy too, with everything becoming super "real". The act of pressing a key on my laptop stops being a quick, fleeting sense of pressure, and instead becomes quite a rich, drawn-out, multi-touch, multi-pressure experience.

And while these experiences seem to slow down in my brain, they're not slowing down my actions. And it's not a panic-inducing experience either.

The only thing I can liken it to is what I've read about top athletes going into the zone, and having everything become slow and intense for them while the world carries on as normal around them.

So, would anyone have any what's happening to me, and does this happen to anyone else?

I am not on drugs :o)
I am perfectly healthy in every other way, except I don't have (and have never had) a sense of smell.
posted by dunstanorchard to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read this thread from two days ago? Are your experiences similar?
posted by jourman2 at 11:56 AM on July 19, 2007

Well, I can't say I have had the exact same experience, but I can relate to things seeming almost surreal when I've been very tired. Being very tired does seem to make me catch on to details and dwell on them way more than I normally would. For example, if I'm extremely overtired, sometimes I will get caught up in the mirror looking at my pores. Not in a vain, cosmetic kind of way, just really staring at every minor detail about a part of my body or the tiles on the floor.
posted by tastybrains at 11:56 AM on July 19, 2007

I've experienced this a few times. Especially when I was younger (about 13). The exact same sensations that you describe. I used to meditate a bit then.
No idea what causes this, although some supposedly spiritual texts such as The Pilgrimage from Paulo Coelho describe certain exercises, which can induce similar or more pronounced experiences. Perhaps we're tapping into a zone in our brain/mind (take whichever term you prefer) that off limits most of the time...
I'm not on drugs, don't smoke or drink, and am virtually tonedeaf :^)
posted by sysprv at 12:00 PM on July 19, 2007

Well, I can tell you what happens to me. Sometimes I am so tired that I have to take a short nap, and when I wake up I am extremely sensitive to sound. A TV in the next room that hadn't been bothering me before all of a sudden becomes excruciatingly loud to my ears. I need a good 15 minutes to adjust, but I always do.

I'm curious as to why these things happen as well...
posted by infinityjinx at 12:00 PM on July 19, 2007

This is usually called depersonalization. Its a dissociative disorder when its a problem. Nothing to worry about if it doesn't interfere with your life.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:33 PM on July 19, 2007

I am perfectly healthy in every other way, except I don't have (and have never had) a sense of smell.

Sorry this is off-topic, but that really struck me.

You've never had a sense of smell? Do you have a concept for what it is? Do you taste food? Do you receive any sensation, even dull or nondescript, from things that are particularly strong, such as bleach?

Sorry for the questions, I've encountered several people who have lost their sense of smell, but not one who never had one.

As to your question, the hearing thing happens to me often... being able to suddenly discern a sound you had not even noticed before, or having a sort of humming or buzzing sound from what appears to be silence. I also sometimes get very tuned into my breathing right when I am fading off to sleep.
posted by Ynoxas at 12:58 PM on July 19, 2007

The bit about being "in the zone" is sometimes referred to as "flow". Googling on "flow experience" shows at least one person who is real cranky about this term, but maybe it's an idea that would interest you.
posted by lemuria at 1:04 PM on July 19, 2007

I don't think it's depersonalization. In fact, it doesn't really seem like a dissociative experience at all.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:05 PM on July 19, 2007

You've never had a sense of smell? Do you have a concept for what it is? Do you taste food? Do you receive any sensation, even dull or nondescript, from things that are particularly strong, such as bleach?

Flag if this is too much of a derail: my grandmother was born without a sense of smell. I have one, but it's pretty primitive. Things pretty much smell good or bad to me, and that's about it. My other senses are finely nuanced, but as-far-as smell is concerned, it's all roses or excrement -- or nothing.

I don't seem to connect food with taste as strongly as many. You know that claim that if you hold your nose and close your eyes, you can't tell if you're eating an apple or an onion? Not true for me. An apple tastes like an apple; an onion tastes like an onion. If I have a cold, I don't notice a change in sense of taste. I'm a supertaster, by the way. I don't know if this has anything to do with my smell deficit or not.
posted by grumblebee at 1:57 PM on July 19, 2007

This seems related to how I feel when I am tired. I experience similarly heightened senses, and often start experiencing what I believe are hypnogogic hallucinations as my eyes start drooping, which often carry over into wakefulness as I am startled back to reality.

This is hard to describe, but there seems to be a similarity for me between the feeling of the improved sense resolution and the hallucinations, so maybe it is just the semi-hallucinogenic nature of being really tired?
posted by invitapriore at 2:39 PM on July 19, 2007

Ynoxas: You've never had a sense of smell? Do you have a concept for what it is? Do you taste food? Do you receive any sensation, even dull or nondescript, from things that are particularly strong, such as bleach?

I have no concept of what smell is, not even the slightest idea. And with the exception of being forced to smell a bottle of ammonia by my chemistry teacher and accidently CS-gassing myself once, I've never had any sensation from my nose.

I grew up on a farm though, so that's probably a good thing :o)

As for tasting food, I can taste, but really very poorly, and I have no ability to differentiate between similar foods. All cooked green vegetables taste of warm water. All meat tastes (in varying degrees) of animal fat. And I have no chance of telling you the ingredients of things -- a meat pie is a meat pie to me.

But, having never known anything different, none of this bothers me in the slightest. So that's nice :o)
posted by dunstanorchard at 2:46 PM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

This happened to me from the time I was a small child into my early 20s. I LOVED this sensation and I miss it. I am so amazed to hear it described here, as my family never understood what I was talking about.

I most commonly experienced this as I was falling asleep, and it would keep me awake, but in the most wonderful state of heightened awareness- like I was moving at one speed and the world around me at another--sometimes I was superspeeding through a slo-mo world, and sometimes slo-moing through a superspeed world. However, it would also occasionally happen during normal waking hours.
posted by nax at 7:50 PM on July 19, 2007

dunstanorchard: fascinating. I'm glad you don't feel bothered by it. I'm not sure I would consider it a disability, but certainly an interesting and unique way of experiencing the world.

The only thing I could think of that could possibly be a problem would be not being able to smell smoke from a fire. Check your batteries in your household smoke detectors for me, will you? I've had family members saved from certain death by them.

grumblebee: I hadn't heard of supertasters before. Having a binary sense of smell is also rather interesting.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:24 PM on July 19, 2007

I am an insomniac, and have spent many nights without any sleep at all. Sometimes the day after aroud two or three in the afternoon I find myself with very acute senses (all five of the suckers), and my mind seems a lot sharper than usual.
posted by pg at 7:42 AM on July 20, 2007

I get this but only with hearing and it makes me absolutely mental. Things like a person clicking a pen that would normally be trivially irritating make me violently angry because they're so freaking loud.

My friend's mom was born without a sense of smell and her house was hard to sleep over at because even in a room on the other end of the house, we'd keep her mom up just with normal conversation. I don't know if she had hyper-senses all the time or if they only came out at night like yours. Their dogs were debarked too, though, so I suspect her hearing was just very keen all the time.
posted by crinklebat at 8:11 AM on July 20, 2007

I've had this, too; it happened a lot more when I was younger, and often when I was getting sick. Sounds in particular overwhelmed everything -- every little noise resounded, and it made me feel like I was going crazy. Like nax, and I felt like everything around me was going on at a different speed than I was functioning -- for, me it was always "slo-moing through a superspeed world"). I would feel almost paralyzed when this happened, because every little movement was just deafening, and even shifting my body or walking (let alone talking or making deliberate noise myself) was painful to hear. I don't really know/remember if my other senses were heightened, since I'd usually try to sit motionless until it passed (usually 5-15 minutes), but sometimes it was so unbearable that I'd just have to go to bed and try to fall asleep (when I woke up, "it" would always be over). I often worried about how it was going to affect my adult life -- what I would do if the sensation came over me when I was in public. I find that it almost never happens anymore, though if I think too hard about it, I can still experience it (trying to write about now without trying to relive the sensation is really hard!). No correlation for me between the experience and tiredness or nighttime.

I'm actually relieved to read the post and seeing that other people experience something similar. I thought about posting something about this awhile ago but was honestly too worried that no one would be able to relate. I still wish I had some sort of name for the experience.
posted by jacksides at 12:56 PM on July 20, 2007

I've had pretty much the same experience on a regular basis when I'm sleep-deprived, usually after a night without sleep.

In my cases, smells are more intense too, often leading to tearing the house apart to find the source of a very faint unpleasant smell (and there always is a source; there's nothing imaginary here.)

I'll echo what pg said: "My mind seems a lot sharper than usual." Emphasis on the seems. Judging from the mistakes I make while in this state, and the impressions of others, my mind is actually half asleep...
posted by mmoncur at 8:37 PM on July 20, 2007

To further derail/build on Ynoxas' post, both my maternal grandmother and her youngest daughter (not my mom) have no sense of smell either. I'm not sure about my grandmother, but my aunt used to be able to smell.

The only time I'm aware of this being an issue was many years ago when my aunt was living alone and had been suffering from persistent headaches, several days in a row. She's not given to headaches and had been worrying about them when a friend came over to her apartment. Immediately the friend asked her about the horrible fumes in the room. As it turned out, someone had been painting in an apartment downstairs, and my aunt, not being able to smell the fumes, had not known to improve the ventilation in her apartment.

Take care out there.
posted by jarsyl at 8:40 PM on July 20, 2007

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