Voices inside my head/Echoes of things that you said. Repeat.
August 15, 2008 11:40 PM   Subscribe

When it's really quiet as I try to fall asleep, I'll sometimes hear faint sounds that seem to have been things I'd heard earlier in the day, with what's almost like a residual effect. It mostly seems comprised of co-workers talking, TV/radio broadcasts, and the vocal parts of songs (which doesn't include "Helter Skelter"). It's almost like hearing one's own "inner voice" (at least, I'm assuming), but more faint and on auto pilot. Is this a fairly common occurrence, and what's the cause of it?

I've often been tempted to remember certain things I "hear" to look up later, such as various facts or song lyrics that my conscious mind doesn't know, but naturally I forget by the time I get a chance to.

So are these sounds mostly my own mind coming up with these sounds, or are they actually things it might've subconsciously picked up amidst background noise throughout the day, and later plays back almost like an echo?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing to Science & Nature (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you're starting to dream, and the audio precedes the video, so to speak?
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 11:54 PM on August 15, 2008

Sounds like hypnagogic hallucination, which may be auditory as well as visual.
posted by rjs at 11:59 PM on August 15, 2008

I sometimes find that when it's very quiet, I start to almost feel like I can make out sounds- voices, quite often- in the background buzz of my house. I think it's a human trait to listen for patterns in random sounds like that... could that be what you're experiencing?
posted by MadamM at 12:05 AM on August 16, 2008

I used to go to sleep by listening to all that.
posted by salvia at 12:06 AM on August 16, 2008

Response by poster: It's definitely not dream-related (though I've done the head-jerk thing mentioned in that link, but that's much different). I'm still wide awake and conscious when I hear everything, while patiently waiting to fall asleep, and I'm sure I'd experience it were I in another environment and situation, if it were quiet enough. It's not at all distracting; just sort of white noise. And there's no visuals associated with the audio. Just black.

It's just kind of a continuous random stream of various conversations, voice-overs, etc, and not a single "narrative" as it were, that you might get in a dream. These all really sound like things I'd actually heard previously from being inundated with media all day, like NPR, CNN, a baseball game, or a music station. But most of all, co-workers... I'm fairly certain I can almost distinguish the voices, especially the louder guys.

Heck, I'll probably start noticing some Olympic play-by-play tonight. I'd be curious to see if anyone notices this sort of thing happening to them after reading this post...
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:26 AM on August 16, 2008

I think of it as brain chatter - the quiet signal that's probably there all day but you can only make it out when all the other inputs are quiet. Sometimes I try and listen for it, you can pick up words, phrases and other stuff. I find it very interesting, I think it's probably just a side effect of a working brain.
posted by tomble at 1:09 AM on August 16, 2008

Yep, I get that too, especially if I've been hearing someone talk with an accent.
I think it's kind of neat.
posted by exceptinsects at 1:42 AM on August 16, 2008

I get it too, and I get video input as well. Actual vision, not just circles and colours. It's not necessarily same-day material, though. I also think it's neat, and I can't recall it ever being scary or nightmare-like (I do get nightmares a lot, though less than when I was younger, but not at that falling asleep stage). It's usually accompanied by this "oh, good, I'm falling asleep" tought/feeling. I hate it when I get the "jerk", which awakes me.
posted by neblina_matinal at 3:46 AM on August 16, 2008

Bizarrely, for the first time ever this happened to me last night. No visual, just the babble of voices from that day and snippets of sentences more clearly over the top (like something out of a movie). I'd just determined I must be insane as I sank blissfully asleep... My dreams were strangely uneventful?? This morning I'd just put it down to a day of unreleased, intense highs and lows. (Overstimulated?) And the fact that I was utterly exhausted. But not crazy it now seems.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 4:43 AM on August 16, 2008

I get that sometimes. Once in a while, a particular voice or phrase will suddenly be much louder than the rest, causing me to sit up and look around the room!

I don't think it's uncommon. Some medications can magnify it.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:38 AM on August 16, 2008

Happens to me to, and if I focus on it it helps me slip into sleep. I find it really neat, actually, because there can be whole conversations that occur in my mind without me seeing to consciously direct them. I can go in and imagine the conversation going differently, but then it's a different and much more familiar feeling. When the dreamy thing happens it's like I don't know what's coming next and when it's said it's a surprise. I imagine that's akin to what some authors are talking about when they say their characters do things on their own.

If I've been doing a single activity a lot I'll tend to get the visuals about it when I close my eyes, i.e. soccer or dance - physical activities help, but I've also had it happen with math.

Brains are amazing.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:48 AM on August 16, 2008

Seconding hypnogogic hallucination. Your case is more florid than most, but this is actually very common.
posted by Crotalus at 8:14 AM on August 16, 2008

This is so interesting. I never heard anyone discuss this, but it definitely happens to me as well. I will sometimes hear my name called, sharply and suddenly, but no one is calling my name. I also sometimes hear a choir singing very faintly...and I no longer attend church and am not in any music-related business. Great question!
posted by Punctual at 8:53 AM on August 16, 2008

oo, I get the same thing, kinda.

Sometimes, I hear voices from people I saw that day, and I can think of something and I'll hear them say it. I think it's cool :D
posted by carpyful at 8:54 AM on August 16, 2008

I get similar, but only for repeated sounds. Like, for example if my alarm goes off, I'll hear residual sounds similar to it for quite a while after.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:18 AM on August 16, 2008

I don't remember ever hallucinating, but when I'm about to fall asleep, my brain always starts churning out nonsense phrases.
posted by jinjo at 9:28 AM on August 16, 2008

I get this, too. Mine sounds just like a radio left on in another room that I hear as I fall asleep. I am greatly comforted to know that others have experienced it and that it even has a name!
posted by Lynsey at 10:02 AM on August 16, 2008

I get this too occasionally, generally only when I'm underslept, both with accents/languages I'd been hearing a lot on a given day and general chatter. Here's a quote from Richard Feynman's collection Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, in a passage where he's being interviewed by a psychiatrist for the draft:

Three questions–same technique‑and the next question is completely different. “You said you hear voices in your head. Describe that, please.”

“It happens very rarely, when I’ve been paying attention to a person with a foreign accent. As I’m falling asleep I can hear his voice very clearly. The first time it happened was while I was a student at MIT. I could hear old Professor Vallarta say, ‘Dee‑a dee‑a electric field‑a.’ And the other time was in Chicago during the war, when Professor Teller was explaining to me how the bomb worked. Since I’m interested in all kinds of phenomena, I wondered how I could hear these voices with accents so precisely, when I couldn’t imitate them that well … Doesn’t everybody have something like that happen once in a while?”

The psychiatrist put his hand over his face, and I could see through his fingers a little smile (he wouldn’t answer the question).

Between that and a whole list of other even more benign things, he was found mentallly deficient--it was the 40's.

AskMe is such a great repository for little neurological phenomena that tons of people apparently have yet no one talks about and may not even be well-attested in medical journals. The accents thing seems to be particularly underdocumented, if the two reports plus a literary account that are found in this thread are any indication of its frequency.
posted by abcde at 12:56 PM on August 16, 2008

Happens to me when I am exhausted. Just assumed it was one of those "brain things." Recently listened to the closing credit radio clicks and voices of "Generation Kill" - which are maybe a few minutes - for what might have been close to half-and-hour. And during this, someone was watching Def Comedy Jam and on the phone - it was not silent in our hotel room.

If this means I have a tumor or am insane, it's a slow-growing ailment.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:46 PM on August 16, 2008

I am wittiest just before I sleep.
posted by Dizzy at 6:53 PM on August 16, 2008

I get that all the time! It's like a radio in my head playing before I get to sleep!
posted by divabat at 3:17 AM on August 17, 2008

Every single time I fall asleep, my whole 34 years, exactly as you mention. Like a radio in another room, or like music underwater, mixed with free-association bits of my own thought which get less logical the closer I am to sleep. It's just what my head sounds like.
posted by desuetude at 6:35 PM on August 17, 2008

I get the same thing. It's nice, I like it.
posted by electroboy at 6:50 AM on August 18, 2008

I am hearing impaired and I get these auditory hallucinations when I take my hearing aids out. My brain is trying to fill in the silence. Sometimes I put my hearing aids back on to make sure I haven't left a radio or TV on somewhere in the house. Maybe hearing-normal people get this when they go from a noisy environment to a quiet one. Is your workplace/home environment generally noisy?
posted by desjardins at 2:35 PM on August 18, 2008

Response by poster: There's always lots of chatter at work, pretty much like any other job, but I also constantly have a radio or TV going elsewhere. Oddly enough, since posting the question, I haven't been able to experience this since. It's not something that happens all that often to begin with, but when it does, it actually takes some concentration to sustain it. It's nice to see that others go through the same weird thing as well.

But other than a scientific explanation of the phenomenon, I'm most curious as to whether it really is just the brain making stuff up, or if it's a virtual playback of what it's gathered throughout the day. For example, one time I could kind of hear a Springsteen song that I didn't know the lyrics to (or if the song even existed). I wondered if I looked up a particular lyric I'd "heard," would it have been an actual line that my subconscious had acquired and was now presenting accurately? Because, well, that'd be wild.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:25 PM on August 18, 2008

I get this, but as it happens i've come to be able to sort of direct it too. For me, the trick to getting it to continue is not to brush it off or question it too critically, because when that happens i tend to silence it.

In my case it happens only at the brink of sleeping, and sometimes the most pronounced instances happen after i wake up and am trying to fall back asleep. At that point i'm usually recalling the dream i woke from, and sometimes and able to bring it back just where it left off.

So yeah, definitely Hypnagogic Hallucination. Good times.
posted by phylum sinter at 10:48 PM on September 6, 2008

Also - too much melatonin brings this out in my experience like crazy. To the point where it feels nighmarish once or twice.
posted by phylum sinter at 10:50 PM on September 6, 2008

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