Several years ago I went to my semi-annual visit to see my psychiatrist. She asked, “Are you feeling good these days?”
“Are you eating well?”
I really should cut down on the ice cream… “Yep.”
“How about exercise?”
“Can you be more specific?”
Are you doing any aerobic exercise to raise your heart rate?”
“Uh…not so much…” I will not feel guilty, I will not feel guilty…
“Any changes in behavior, any psychotic episodes?”
“What do you mean by psychotic?”
“Y’know, seeing or hearing things or imagining situations that aren’t there.”
I can honestly tell you I was reluctant to answer that question. After she had pinpointed my variety of mental illnesses and figured out the right medications for them, I wasn’t prepared to delve into a new disorder.
“Well, as a matter of fact, yeah, something new has come up.” My psychiatrist raised her pen, ready to write in my chart – never a good sign on my end. “There are times when I’m in bed asleep and in the middle of the night I’ll wake up and hear music. It’s not anything I’ve heard before, but I know exactly what’s going to come next, including all the instruments involved.”
Is that a ‘curious hmmm’ or a ‘we-need-to-explore-anti-psychotic-meds hmmm?’
“How do you feel when it’s happening?”
“The first time it happened I went to turn off the radio, but it wasn’t on. After that I tried to figure out where it was coming from. Once I sat up and shook myself awake the music stopped.”
“So, does this happen regularly?”
Oh, shit… “Well, yeah, kind of. Maybe once every couple weeks, once a month…”
“Let’s go back to my first question – how do you feel when it’s happening?”
“I feel frustrated, because I wish I could connect cables from my brain to my MIDI system so the music can go right into my computer and play!”
“And that’s it?”
“Isn’t that enough?!”
“You don’t feel threatened, or paranoid, or anxious?”
“No, not really.”
She smiled. “What you most likely have is Hypnopompic Auditory Hallucinations. For you, you wake up hearing music. For some, it’s other sounds or even people talking. Others experience Hypnagogic hallucinations which happens as a person is falling asleep.
I wasn’t quite at ease. “Shouldn’t I be concerned?”
“Not unless it frightens you or distracts you from everyday living. Being that you’re a musician, your brain is still working while you sleep, even creating music that’s playing inside your head.”
This wasn’t completely comforting. Hey – I saw the movie “Amadeus” and watched Mozart go crazy! Schumann and Beethoven also didn’t have their wits intact. So does this happen to composers? They start hearing things out loud? They lose their faculties and die poor, only to make their descendants rich?! Then I remembered the downfall for Schumann and Beethoven was more than likely syphilis. Fortunately that was one disease that had been crossed off my list.
My doctor continued. “Have you been very active lately in music?”
“No, actually I haven’t. I’ve been doing other creative work, but not in music.”
A light bulb seemed to go off in her head and NO, I didn’t actually see one. “Your hearing music makes even more sense now. You are probably experiencing sensory deprivation and your brain is hyperactive because of it. Think of it as your brain’s way of making up for the music you’re not hearing on a regular basis.”
Okay, my psychiatrist didn’t believe I had some sort of psychosis. So I did what every other person does when they experience a new symptom – I got on the internet and researched. I kept reading about schizophrenia, hearing loss, and tinnitus, but nothing about sensory deprivation. Finally, I found my answer:
There is evidence that sensory deprivation can lead to hallucinations during both hypnagogic and hypnopompic states. Should you engage in frequent sensory deprivation, your brain realizes that it’s not receiving either auditory, visual, or other input. The brain is constantly scanning the environment for these major sensory inputs that are tied to human evolution and survival. Since the brain isn’t able to find any environmental inputs, it fills in the gaps in sensory information by generating a hallucination. This may be a sound, a sight, or a combination of both. In the event that you engage in sensory deprivation prior to sleep, you may increase your odds of hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations.
So maybe I should listen to some soft music as I’m going to bed. This musical wake up in the middle of the night phenomenon could stop.
Who am I kidding?
I relish all this weird psychological stuff! Now when it happens, I lie in bed as long as I can to marvel at what peculiar noise is coming from my brain.
Just the other night I had this wild jazz piece playing as if it were a recording in the room. I listened to it, hoping I’d remember it in the morning.
I wasn’t going to take a chance.
Guess who got up at 3 am to write down chord progressions?