Does Sleep Deprivation Cause Hallucinations?

Not getting enough sleep not only affects you emotionally and psychically but can also cause you to undergo terrifying sleep deprivation hallucinations.

We all have those days and even weeks where we are completely overwhelmed with personal problems, work deadlines, family matters, you name it!  Stuff just has to get done.  Even after a few nights of minimal sleep, you start asking yourself, “Am I out of my head, am I out of my mind?”

Lack of Sleep Hallucinations

Signs that you are deprived of sleep:

  • Hunger
  • Weight gain
  • Making impulsive decisions
  • Memory loss
  • Having a challenging time making decisions
  • Motor skills go down the drain
  • You’re an emotional wreck
  • You keep getting sick
  • You’re seeing double
  • More skin breakouts and skin appearing older
  • You keep falling into microsleeps

We all need sleep.  Rest is a crucial part of the functioning human body and without it things get a little weird. One of the first red flags of sleep deprivation is identifying positive or happy people.  When a sleep deprived person sees someone who is in a good mood they automatically see that person downgraded as being in a neutral or unhappy state.  

To give some context, sleep deprivation has even been used as a form of torture.  When you begin to hallucinate after many sleepless hours some people even develop schizophrenic like symptoms.

The infographic below reveals more health related risks to inadequate sleep:

Hallucinations vs Delusions

Delusions are an overwhelming feeling of being followed or spied on.  They are more commonly associated with paranoia and mental disorders. 

There are two tiers of delusions:

Bizarre Delusions

This is a very severe form of delusion that includes ideas that are clearly impossible. It is very likely for a person to believe that someone has taken out their organs and replaced them with someone else’s when there are no scars or physical evidence.

Non-Bizarre Delusions

This is a much more common delusion such as believing you are under surveillance by the police.

Hallucinations directly affect any of your senses.  They can be visual, tactile, auditory and olfactory.  Flashing lights and hearing weird voices are common hallucinations.  These experiences must happen while you are awake.  If you encounter these while falling asleep or while waking up, they are considered normal.

How to Hallucinate Without Drugs

Everyone reacts to lack of sleep differently.  Some people will see effects in as little as 24 hours, some 36 hours, and so on. Denying your brain sleep makes it much easier for images in your subconscious to escape into your external environment.   You will also have an extremely difficult time trying to figure out what is real and what is not.

And as you would guess, the longer you go without sleep, the more powerful and intense the hallucinations become.

Sleep deprivation hallucinations occur when you start seeing something that isn’t physically there, unlike an illusion, which is mistaking something for something else.  This leads to the different types of hallucination you can expect to encounter with very little rest.

Tactile Hallucinations

You could experience one or many types of hallucinations while being sleep deprived.  Tactile hallucinations occur when you feel as though something is touching you or crawling on your skin when nothing is there.  You have a false perception of physical spiders and bugs touching you. 

This is most commonly seen in schizophrenics and alcoholics going through severe with drawl but after countless hours sleep deprivation, anything is possible.

The sensation of being touched or having insects crawl all over you has to be the freakiest of hallucinations, but I have no doubt things could get much weirder.

Visual Hallucinations

Visual hallucinations seem to be the most well-known form of disorientation. Some of the most common visual hallucinations include seeing lights, patterns, objects, and people that are not really there.

Some common visual effects are include seeing a bug on your computer screen, flashes of light on the side of your eyes, or thinking there is an animal or human in front of you.

Auditory Hallucinations

This is the most common sensory hallucination that occurs in humans. Auditory hallucinations happen when a person starts to hear noises that aren’t really there as well as one or more voices talking.  Just because this is the most common schizophrenic symptoms in regard to sleep deprivation hallucinations, does not mean that people who experience this have the disease.

Hearing voices can involve three of the following categories:

  • A voice speaks your own thoughts
  • One or more voices arguing
  • A voice narrates your actions

Some auditory hallucinations are as simple as hearing someone calling out your name.

Olfactory Hallucinations

Olfactory hallucinations or phantosmia is thinking you smell a certain scent in your environment that is not there.  This doesn’t necessarily have to be a fowl or bad smell but that is the most common effect. 

Symptoms vary from thinking you have body odor to thinking you smell your favorite flower.  You are much more likely to experience smells of rancid, rotting, smoky, and burned when undergoing an olfactory hallucination.  Each smell is unique to each individual and will usually go away within a few minutes.

All Night No Sleep

As you can see, sleep deprivation effects the mind and body in very strange ways


Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences on your everyday life.  More accidents happen, your performance suffers and you just become more inefficient in every task you attempt to complete.

If you experience signs of sleep deprivation hallucinations – please take this as a red flag and get some rest. 

We all experience lack of sleep, but some more than others.  Sleep deprivation hallucinations do happen much more than we think they do.  But in the end, if you have to make a deadline well you have to make a deadline!  Most people who experience sleep deprivation hallucinations find they will go away with a good night’s rest.


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