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Scientist reveals reason why you see strange 'swirls and wave' patterns when you close your eyes

Scientist reveals reason why you see strange 'swirls and wave' patterns when you close your eyes

A scientist has revealed why it sometimes looks like a kaleidoscope or a scene from Disney's Fantasia when we close our eyes

A scientist has revealed why you sometimes see patterns and colors when you close your eyes.

You get into bed, tuck yourself in and close your eyes ready to try and claw seven hours sleep to prepare yourself for another day in the rat race. But suddenly, instead of being met with pitch black and the ability to let your mind wander and body relax, you see spirals of color, zig-zags and it's like a kaleidoscope or scene from Disney's Fantasia - sleep but a mere dream.

The experience

Well, first things first, thankfully, you're not the only person who this happens to, with many people having taken to social media in panic after experiencing a similar event.

One X user said: "Do u guys also have that weird thing where u can see colorful patterns when u have your eyes closed pls tell me someone knows what im saying."

"YES ITS SO DISTRACTING WHEN IM TRYNA SLEEP," another replied.

A third commented: "Yes!! It's like a kaleidoscope."

And a scientist has since revealed why many experience such a view.

It's most apparent if you close your eyes in the dark. (Getty Stock Images/ Synthetick)
It's most apparent if you close your eyes in the dark. (Getty Stock Images/ Synthetick)

When it happens

In response to a seven-year-old with similar queries to the social media users, Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology, Katrina Schmid, reassured the experience is 'totally normal'.

In an article for The Conversation, the professor explained there are 'a few different situations that can cause you to see colors with your eyes closed', the first of which is if you close your eyes when you're outside, in a bright room or in daylight.

"Some light does go through your closed eyelids. So you might see a dark reddish colour because the lids have lots of blood vessels in them and this is the light taking on the colour of the blood it passes through," Prof. Schmid continued.

However, it's the second instance which is the most common cause of swirls, colors and patterns specifically - when we close our eyes in the dark.

Do you see swirls and patterns when you clopse your eyes? (Getty Stock Images/ Ekaterina Goncharova)
Do you see swirls and patterns when you clopse your eyes? (Getty Stock Images/ Ekaterina Goncharova)

Why it occurs

The professor explained she herself has experiences patterns including 'dots and sparkles' when she first closes her eyes in the dark and this then increases to 'swirls and waves of colored dots' the longer she spends in it.

But why? Well, the perceptions are known as 'phosphenes' which are a normal part of how eyes work and are 'the sensation of light that's not actually caused by light'.

Prof. Schmid said: "Our eyes don’t turn off in the dark, but instead they create very weak internal signals that mimic light. These signals are constantly being made by the cells at the back of your eyes.

"The swirls and waves we see are made by changes in activity from these cells. The blobs may be coloured because the cells in your eyes that detect colour also show this activity.

"These signals are transmitted to the brain, and the brain interprets this random activity. Your brain doesn’t know they weren’t produced by real light, so we think we’re seeing coloured lights and patterns that are not there. It’s a kind of illusion!"

On the whole, such illusions are absolutely nothing to worry about, however, if yours are 'much more obvious' and 'patterns of light become much more noticeable or hang around for longer' it may be a sign to consult with your optician.

Featured Image Credit: SrdjanPav/Getty Images/Getty Stock Images

Topics: Health, Science