hyp·​na·​go·​gic ˌhip-nə-ˈgä-jik How to pronounce hypnagogic (audio)
variants or less commonly hypnogogic
: of, relating to, or occurring in the period of drowsiness immediately preceding sleep
hypnagogic hallucinations

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"The hypnagogic state is that heady lull between wakefulness and sleep when thoughts and images flutter, melt, and transform into wild things," wrote Boston Globe correspondent Cate McQuaid (October 1, 1998). Some scientists have attributed alien-abduction stories to this state, but for most people these "half-dreams" are entirely innocuous. Perhaps the most famous hypnagogic dream is that of the German chemist Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz, who was inspired with the concept of the benzene ring by a vision of a snake biting its own tail. You're not dreaming if the Greek root hypn-, meaning "sleep," seems familiar—you've seen it in hypnotize. The root -agogic is from the Greek -agōgos, meaning "inducing," from agein meaning "to lead." We borrowed hypnagogic (also spelled hypnogogic) from French hypnagogique in the late 19th century.

Examples of hypnagogic in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In town in the fall after a performance at Pitchfork Music Festival Paris, Gray chose the venue to discuss Qwerty I and II, her dual-EP scrapbook of a strange year, collaged from mutant alt-rock, experimental pop, and hypnagogic R&B. Jazz Monroe, Pitchfork, 21 Mar. 2024 My hypnagogic experiences suggest that similar changes are constantly taking place beneath the illusory continuity of ordinary waking consciousness. Michael W. Clune, Harper’s Magazine , 16 Mar. 2022 Oftentimes, those who experience sleep paralysis also report hypnagogic hallucinations, or waking up and seeing something from their dream in their bedroom, Barrett said. Washington Post, 4 Nov. 2021 And some of the dreams that have inspired great discoveries could be hypnagogic experiences rather than night dreams. Rasha Aridi, Smithsonian Magazine, 13 Dec. 2021 Now, of course, skeptics would say: hypnagogic sleep, and you’re dreaming. Brad Japhe, The Hollywood Reporter, 31 Oct. 2019 What remains the same is his signature hypnagogic melodies and cassette-like lo-fi aura. Efrain Dorado, RedEye Chicago, 24 Oct. 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'hypnagogic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from French hypnagogique, from Greek hýpnos "sleep" + -agōgos "leading, drawing forth" + French -ique -ic entry 1 — more at somnolent, -agogue

Note: The word hypnagogique was introduced by the French scholar and physician Alfred Maury (1817-92), apparently first in print in the article "Physiologie psychologique des hallucinations hypnagogiques, ou des erreurs des sens dans l'état intermédiaire entre la veille et le sommeil," Annales médico-psychologiques, tome 11 (1848), pp. 26-40. Maury introduces the word as follows: "J'ai donné l'épithète d'hypnagogiques (1) aux hallucinations qui forment la matière de cet article, parce qu'elles s'offrent presque toujours comme les précurseurs du sommeil, et qu'elles l'amènent en quelque sorte …[footnote] (1) C'est-à-dire qui amènent le sommeil, de ὕπνος, sommeil, et αγωγός, qui amène." ("I have given the name hypnagogic (1) to the hallucinations that make up the subject of this article because they almost always present themselves as the precursors of sleep, and because they in a way lead to it …[footnote] (1) That is to say, which bring on sleep, from hýpnos, sleep, and agōgós, that brings on.")

First Known Use

1886, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of hypnagogic was in 1886


Dictionary Entries Near hypnagogic

Cite this Entry

“Hypnagogic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hypnagogic. Accessed 12 Jul. 2024.

Medical Definition


variants also hypnogogic
: of, relating to, or occurring in the period of drowsiness immediately preceding sleep
hypnagogic hallucinations
compare hypnopompic
hypnagogically adverb

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