Laugh­ing in a dream is a fair­ly com­mon occur­rence. Babies smile charm­ing­ly and gig­gle in a dream, less often, but adults also laugh very sweet­ly in a dream. Of course, unwit­ting wit­ness­es of such cas­es imme­di­ate­ly think of a fun­ny dream that the sleep­er is hav­ing at the moment. How­ev­er, doc­tors say that reg­u­lar laugh­ter in a dream is not always a harm­less reflec­tion of dreams, this phe­nom­e­non can be a symp­tom of some seri­ous ill­ness­es. Med­AboutMe found out in which sit­u­a­tions one should not be touched, but explain to a per­son the need for a med­ical exam­i­na­tion.

Hypnohelia: from mental characteristics to illness

Hypnohelia: from mental characteristics to illness

For the first time, laugh­ter in a dream (hyp­no­he­lia) was described by the father of the the­o­ry of psy­cho­analy­sis, Sig­mund Freud. And he did this based on the results of cor­re­spon­dence with his Hun­gar­i­an col­league San­dor Fer­enczi. He in his let­ter described in detail an elder­ly gen­tle­man who, being asleep, woke his wife with his sin­cere laugh­ter. When a woman some­how woke him up, he described the awk­ward sit­u­a­tion he had dreamed of, which caused him a fit of fun.


Peo­ple who laughed in their sleep and were able to remem­ber the dream that made them laugh unan­i­mous­ly admit­ted that they did not expe­ri­ence such strong emo­tions in the wak­ing state at all — they did not want to laugh at the dream at all. Most often, they char­ac­ter­ized what they saw in a dream not as a “fun­ny”, but as a “strange” event.

Lat­er, psy­chi­a­trists of var­i­ous direc­tions tried to con­nect laugh­ter in a dream with a vari­ety of man­i­fes­ta­tions of human fears and instincts: from the fear of death to crav­ings for incest.

How­ev­er, after the inven­tion of polysomno­graph devices and the sleep study method of the same name, it turned out that laugh­ter in a dream is very close to sleep­walk­ing. This was sup­port­ed by sep­a­rate stud­ies in which the vast major­i­ty of patients who laughed in their sleep were diag­nosed with sleep­walk­ing ear­li­er in their lives.

And lat­er, neu­rol­o­gists became inter­est­ed in laugh­ing sleep­ing gen­tle­men and ladies, and it turned out that man­i­fes­ta­tions of such fun can be a sign of such seri­ous patholo­gies of the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem as a brain tumor, epilep­sy, etc. Thus, epilep­tic con­vul­sions in the form of unpro­voked fits of laugh­ter in a dream were described in end of the 19th cen­tu­ry.

What about talking?

Hyp­no­he­lia is con­sid­ered by many doc­tors to be a form of som­nil­o­quia, the ten­den­cy to talk with­out wak­ing up. Som­nil­o­quia, like hyp­no­he­lia, is now con­sid­ered a sleep dis­or­der.

Accord­ing to experts, almost half of ado­les­cents dur­ing puber­ty tend to talk and laugh in their sleep at least once every six months. As a stu­dent, 73% of col­lege stu­dents expe­ri­ence hyp­no­he­lia attacks at least once a year. But as they grow old­er, this con­di­tion is becom­ing less and less com­mon: only 4% of adults are prone to talk­ing and laugh­ing in their sleep.

Most often, peo­ple laugh in the sec­ond half of the night and often wake up from their own laugh­ter.

The laughter phase is the stage of rapid eye movements.

The laughter phase is the stage of rapid eye movements.

In a study of 10 sleep laugh­ing patients, 9 out of 10 laughs were heard dur­ing REM (or REM, or REM) sleep. It is at this stage of sleep that a per­son usu­al­ly sees his most vivid dreams. At the same time, his eye­balls make quick, sharp move­ments, which gave the name to this phase.

In each REM/NREM sleep cycle, the REM phase accounts for approx­i­mate­ly 25% of the total time and lasts from 10 to 20 min­utes. The more tense in terms of stress the day was, the longer the phase of REM sleep: the mus­cles are as relaxed as pos­si­ble (up to the state of atony — a sig­nif­i­cant decrease in mus­cle tone), but the brain is alert and active.

Thus, hyp­no­he­lia is con­sid­ered by some doc­tors to be one of the REM sleep dis­or­ders. This is the name of a whole group of var­i­ous devi­a­tions from the norm. In par­tic­u­lar, patients with this pathol­o­gy usu­al­ly do not fall into a state of atony, which leads to uncon­trolled phys­i­cal activ­i­ty dur­ing sleep: sud­den unpre­dictable move­ments of the limbs, etc. This is at least dan­ger­ous for a part­ner sleep­ing peace­ful­ly near­by.

REM sleep stage dis­or­der is quite rare — in less than 1% of the pop­u­la­tion, and old­er men over 50–60 years old are more often on this list. Anoth­er group at increased risk of devel­op­ing REM sleep dis­or­ders is patients with var­i­ous neu­ro­log­i­cal patholo­gies: Parkin­son’s dis­ease, mul­ti­ple sys­tem atro­phy, etc. They devel­op prob­lems with the REM phase 50% more often than peo­ple with healthy sleep.

Final­ly, anoth­er cause of fail­ure of the REM phase is exces­sive alco­hol con­sump­tion, acute long-term sleep depri­va­tion, as well as the use of cer­tain med­ica­tions.

Other diseases

As men­tioned above, doc­tors sus­pect a con­nec­tion between cer­tain types of epilep­sy and hyp­no­he­lia. We are talk­ing about gelas­tic seizures — attacks of uncon­trol­lable gig­gling or laugh­ter, which can be observed both dur­ing wake­ful­ness and dur­ing sleep. The dura­tion of such attacks usu­al­ly does not exceed 10–20 sec­onds.

They may be caused by a hypo­thal­a­m­ic hamar­toma, a rare benign tumor in the inter­me­di­ate part of the brain. This is a con­gen­i­tal dis­ease that usu­al­ly first man­i­fests itself at the age of 10 months.

Should I be worried?

Should I be worried?

The main ques­tion is: how to dis­tin­guish a harm­less gig­gle about a dream from a symp­tom of a dan­ger­ous dis­ease?

Doc­tors advise rel­a­tives of peo­ple laugh­ing in a dream to care­ful­ly observe them. So, the fact that gelas­tic seizures hap­pen quite often, regard­less of sleep, may be a cause for con­cern and a vis­it to the doc­tor. They may also be accom­pa­nied by var­i­ous unusu­al actions — con­vul­sive swal­low­ing or slap­ping one’s lips. At the same time, the patient him­self can tell that before an uncon­trol­lable attack of laugh­ter, he feels “but­ter­flies in the stom­ach”, a headache or a feel­ing of tick­ling in the chest area.

If laugh­ter in a dream is rarely observed and no spe­cial symp­toms are observed dur­ing the wake­ful­ness peri­od, then we are talk­ing about a harm­less con­di­tion, an indi­vid­ual fea­ture of a per­son — sweet and fun­ny, unless, of course, this is a part­ner sleep­ing near­by.


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