To begin with, It is good to note that as things currently stand we do not have a comprehensive understanding of the hypnogogic state – the transitional period between sleep and wakefulness and wakefulness and sleep.  Despite the paucity of scientific research into the topic, there have been some indications that it is a rich and fertile landscape to explore.  Partly these come from subjective reports, but also from a few scientific studies.

An interest of mine is utilizing the hypnogogic state to help achieve one’s life goals including internal wellbeing.  Historically, several people have utilized this state to achieve their goals and overcome problems creatively.  Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali are two such people, but there are many more.  A feature of this state is that it is highly amenable to creativity, problem-solving and intuition.

One of the more interesting facets of the hypnogogic state is that it is the only state of mind which utilizes alpha and theta waves simultaneously.  Alpha waves are associated with wakeful relaxation, lower stress levels and feeling calm in general.  Theta waves are associated with deep meditation, intuition and creativity.  The rare mixture of waves makes the hypnogogic state amenable to producing a change in human beings often in surprising ways.

The hypnogogic state is often confused with lucid dreaming (being conscious while dreaming) and sleep paralysis.  However one of the main indicators of the hypnogogic phenomenon is a lack of narrative.  Things that occur with the state often appear as random images, sounds and patterns.  The connection between one event and the next does not follow a narrative as would be the case when someone is dreaming.  Rather each event seems unrelated to the previous or next event and has a flavour of randomness to it.  This is not to say that these events are not significant, it is just that they seem to be unrelated to each other.

Another important indicator is the lack of ego involvement in this state.  The boundaries between the conscious and unconscious mind become diffuse. We are in a liminal state of being living between the space of the conscious and unconscious.  Whilst in this state, the experience is akin to watching each image, thought, sensation, sound etc, without any commentary.

In some ways, it has similarities with mindfulness in that it’s a watching of things as they come and go.  This type of watching of the contents of one’s consciousness is a useful practice to develop with regards to learning to obtain the hypnogogic state.  Every couple of hours spend a few minutes watching the contents of the mind.  Attempt to do without judgment and with the least amount of commentary.  The latter will be difficult as our minds love to create stories and we often lose ourselves in these stories. When this occurs, don’t be harsh or critical about yourself, instead, just gently return to watching the contents of the mind.  Rinse, repeat.

I think the following routine works reasonably well in inducing the hypnogogic state as long as it is noted that it’s continual practise over weeks or months that produces the best results.

  1. Do the mindfulness exercise noted above during the day.
  2. Throughout the day, use an intention to induce a hypnogogic state when you are falling asleep or waking up from sleep. You can also use naps instead of nighttime sleep if that is the preference.  The intention is an important facet to develop during this practice.
  3. When in bed get into your regular sleeping position. Alternatively, if you have woken from a dream or in the morning, get into the same position as you were dreaming.  This not only helps with dream recall but also acclimatizes the body into drifting back towards sleep.
  4. Relax as best as possible. The aim is to attempt to induce an alpha state where relaxation and lack of tension is a hallmark of this state.  It can be worthwhile to learn some deep relaxation techniques to aid this endeavour.
  5. Once relaxed, try and generate some random imagery. Here we are attempting to mimic the randomness associated with much of the content of the hypnogogic state. Do not try and force the random images or sounds, rather try and gently coax them into existence.  This coaxing element is important to learn, as once in the state, we are gently trying to maintain it, by not getting caught up in a narrative or falling asleep.  Perhaps an attitude of playfulness and curiosity might be a good way to explain the aim in this instance.
  6. If a narrative begins to form, take note and go back to generating random imagery, thoughts, emotions etc. A key here is not to get critical as that too then becomes part of the narrative and takes a person away from the hypnogogic state.  Instead, think of it as playfully developing a skill and teaching the mind to observe itself in a particular way.  This takes time and plenty of practice.
  7. This is the part where the mindfulness practice comes in handy. Once the randomness is starting to occur, just observe each segment of the process, letting go of one and allowing the next to form.  Eventually, it’s the spontaneous random phenomenon that we want to observe and pay attention to.  But to aid the process we initially try and generate random images or thoughts or sounds so that we can become accustomed to the process.
  8. If it switches into spontaneous material relax and just watch.

I hope these tips help with your hypnogogic endeavours.