a woman surrounded by hallucinations in a dark room

Narcolepsy Hallucinations and the 5 Senses

As someone who regularly experiences hallucinations, it’s a topic that I find especially interesting. There is so much that we don’t understand, and even that the scientific community still doesn’t understand about them, which continues to feed their mystery.

Hallucinations can feel very real

In technical terms, hallucinations are "sensory experiences in the absence of an external stimulus, perceived as 'real.'"1

For those who have never experienced a hallucination, it’s hard to describe just how real they can be, and in my opinion, the above definition simply fails to convey the magnitude of it.

It’s as though your mind is feeding you false information and presenting it as the truth. No matter how much you try and tell yourself that it’s not real, it’s hard to argue against what your own brain is telling you. And, apparently, it can tell you a lot of different things in different ways.

The 5 senses of narcolepsy hallucinations

Hallucinations can actually affect all of your 5 senses; your sight (visual), your sense of smell (olfactory), your sense of taste (gustatory), your hearing (auditory), and your sense of touch or bodily sensations (tactile). Some of these are more common than others; some research has shown that people with narcolepsy report visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations most often, with olfactory hallucinations being less frequent.1,2

Here are a few of the ways in which narcolepsy-related hallucinations can be experienced through the senses.

Visual hallucinations

Visual hallucinations are the ones I personally experience and hear about the most. They seem to be the most commonly experienced by many of us in the narcolepsy community. They involve seeing things that are not there. It could be anything. You could see objects, animals, people, or even paranormal beings.

For me, seeing insects or bugs that aren’t there has been the most frequent experience that still continues to haunt me on a daily basis.

Auditory hallucinations

Auditory hallucinations are another common hallucination that we can experience with narcolepsy. These can be very difficult to detect sometimes because the sounds can be absolutely anything. Many times they can be mundane sounds that you hear every day, like a bird chirping or an instrument playing.

The only experiences of mine that I know for certain were undoubtedly hallucinations were hearing the sound of glass breaking at night, as though someone was breaking in. I know they weren’t real because there was never any shattered glass anywhere.

Olfactory hallucinations

Olfactory hallucinations involve your sense of smell. You could smell something that no one else is smelling. It could be pleasant or unpleasant and could be very subtle or extremely strong.

Personally, I don’t believe I’ve experienced this type of hallucination, but just like auditory hallucinations, these can be extremely hard to detect.

Gustatory hallucinations

Gustatory hallucinations are like olfactory hallucinations, but instead involve your sense of taste instead of smell.

As far as I can tell, these seem to be the least common of all, and I personally have never experienced these.

Tactile hallucinations

Tactile hallucinations are my least favourite. These involve the feeling of touch or movement in or on your body. From personal experience, these can be not only scary, but extremely unsettling!

As I mentioned previously, I experience a lot of visual hallucinations involving bugs, but I've also experienced feeling them crawling on me many times. It’s one of the most horrible things I’ve ever felt. You can feel something on you, but no matter what you do, they’re still there.

I’ve also heard from other people that some experience feeling a hand on their shoulder when they are completely alone. Unfortunately, I’ve even heard of people experiencing feeling movement internally. These types of hallucinations can be incredibly exasperating, and you may have to seek medical support if they persist.

What kinds of sensory hallucinations do you experience the most?

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