Liminal Dreaming States: An Important Part of Sleep
Sleep & Dreams
July 10, 2023

Liminal Dreaming States: An Important Part of Sleep

As we fall asleep, we pass through in-between phases of wakefulness & sleep. This is an area for interesting dreams and creative inspiration. How can we use liminal dreaming to our advantage every night?

Floating in-between consciousness

Many people focus on achieving lucid dreams during REM but fail to realize that there are many different types of dreams, and they can occur in various different phases of sleep. At night when you get drowsy and begin to fall asleep, you may notice that you pass through an in-between stage of consciousness where you begin to have dreams, but you are still half awake. During this state, it's common to experience visual, audio, or other types of hallucinations.

It's also common to experience muscle jerks and sleep paralysis. This is called hypnagogia. This is where you may see vivid patterns, and random hallucinations, and experience those muscle-jerk sensations, right when you're falling asleep or that falling sensation. In this phase, you might notice yourself begin to enter the dream world as you're falling into deeper stages. Before your brain completely wakes up, you pass through the opposite end of sleep called hypnopompia.

Together the two transitional stages make up the liminal phases of sleep. Paying attention to your liminal dreams and visuals can bring amazing experiences, creativity, new ideas, and content to write in your dream journal! 

What is hypnagogia?

When you start to fall asleep, when feeling fatigued delirium, and even when taking a nap, you pass through hypnagogia each time. It may manifest in the form of vivid visions, eerie faces, dream flashes, hearing alien radio stations, or the jolting feeling of falling. Those jerking sensations are called myoclonic muscle jerks, by the way. In the morning you surface from sleep through the swimmy realm of hypnopompia, the twin that emerges on the other end of sleep.

The in-between phases of sleep are also perfect for exploring consciousness. It is not only a transitional period, but also a destination filled with inspiration. This is the liminal phase between wakefulness and sleep, where the subject is still partially conscious but begins to experience the free-associative kaleidoscope mental imagery outside of normal REM sleep.

During the liminal phases of sleep, the human brain is marked by a prominent level of both alpha and theta brainwaves, and sometimes they even have all six of the brainwaves in a really chaotic pattern, which is really interesting to observe on an EEG. Chaotic brain activity gives the relaxing feeling of a twilight zone of consciousness as you slip into sleep at night. You pass through hypnogogia every time you fall asleep. 

Legendary Dreamers

Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison became experts in navigating their hypnogogic states. They would take short naps throughout the day with the intention of accessing this dream space for creative inspiration.  When feeling tired, each man would sit in a chair holding something in his hands. Edison held balls in both hands, whereas Dalí placed a solid brass Spanish key in one hand. Beneath them lay metal plates placed on the floor. Each would sit in the chair and start to drift off, until the balls or key dropped onto the plate and woke the holder. Edison kept a notepad nearby to write out ideas. Dalí kept a sketchpad.

There are many different ways to achieve this same practice. It can take practice to surf this half-dream state before allowing yourself to completely fall asleep, but you can find ways to keep yourself just barely awake to surf the edge of consciousness.

Although many artists were already interpreting dreams, Salvador Dali took it to a whole new level by using his hypnogogic state. This is where the legendary artist's imagination started to produce the vivid imagery that appears in his paintings. He treated his dreams like a magical diamond mind from his unconscious state. You can also tap into the creative potential of hypnagogia by starting to pay attention to your awareness as you start to fall asleep.

Play around with this state and see how long you can keep your mind awake, as your body falls asleep. Pay attention to your body sensations, the dreams that form in the blackness of your mind, and even any sounds you hear. Focus your attention inwards and become a present observer for as long as you can, and watch your body fall asleep. Don't worry if you lose awareness and fall asleep.

When you wake up, you can also linger in the same liminal phase. Don't jump out of bed quickly to start your day. Instead, lay there for a bit allowing yourself to re-enter any dreams you were having.

This is Salvador Dali’s method:

You can do it with a quick nap in the middle of the day if you're not doing anything, or you can try it at night as you fall asleep.

  1. Wait until you naturally feel sleepy. Many people experience an energy dip in the afternoon. Just before bed is also good.
  2. Sit comfortably in a chair. If you’re at work, try this at your desk. You can also recline. If you really can’t nap sitting up, go ahead and lie down.
  3. Hold onto something that will clatter loudly when you drop it. You can try holding something over metal plates. You can also hold a bell, a handful of change, or a jingly dog toy. If you’re lying down, just raise your arm in the air.
  4. Keep something next to you to record your ideas. Pen and paper or a digital sketchpad work, as do voice-activated recorders. You can also just dictate into your phone, but set it up first so it’s ready immediately.
  5. Drift off into hypnagogia.
  6. Once you drop what you’re holding, or your arm drops, without doing anything else start capturing what’s in your mind.
Amina Mara
Amina is a lucid dreaming expert and the host of The Dream World Podcast.

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