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What Are The Colors You See When You Shut Your Eyes?

Phosphene Eye Flash


What Are The Colors You See When You Shut Your Eyes?

Sometimes, when you shut your eyes tightly or are in a pitch black room, your eyes decide it’s time for a light show. Random, psychedelic-like patterns and flashes of color will dance around your field of vision like it’s 1969. While you can appreciate the entertainment, in the back of your mind you wonder what is causing the phenomena.

Are these flashes and patterns of light and colors indicative of a health problem? Are they something that can be treated or cured? Or are they completely normal? Today we’re going to crash the party in your eyes and find out what’s going on.

Light Need Not Apply

One common misconception about a human’s vision is that our eyes require light (photons) to be stimulated. Even in the absence of photons, the neurons in our visual system are always active. The thalamus (part of the brain responsible for relaying sensory signals), your visual cortex, and your retina are in an “always on” state – even while you sleep. The neurons in these visual systems are continuously relaying signals and information.

This continuous activity is sometimes referred to as background activity. It’s this background activity that is responsible for your trippy visuals and interesting patterns in the absence of light. The technical term for this phenomena is a “Phosphene“.

When you are in a completely dark room or just closing your eyes to go to sleep, the neurons in your visual system will spontaneously fire, and in doing so, will activate other visual neurons and so on. These neurons acting together collectively are what is causing those interesting and strange visual effects. The colors, duration, frequency, duration and type of effects seen will vary depending on which part of the visual system the neurons are acting up in.seeing stars

“Seeing stars” is another common phosphene or visual effect that can occur, and is most common immediately after blowing your nose, intense laughter, a sneeze, a heavy cough, a blow to the head, or standing up too quickly. However, these phosphenes are usually the result of mechanical or metabolic stimulation, as opposed to spontaneous activity.

Low blood pressure, low oxygenation or a lack of glucose are most common causes of metabolic stimulation. Certain drugs can also produce metabolic stimulation of the visual system to varying degrees, the most potent and well known among them being LSD and psilocybin.

Artificially Induced Phosphenes

A common demonstration by professors in college is to have their students gently press on their eyeball in the dark. When done correctly, a football shaped white patch will be seen just off center of your field of vision. What you’re seeing is a bundle of axons attached to your fovea becoming active.

Those particular axons are a little thicker than your retina so the pressure from your finger pushes them onto the rods and cones at the back of your eye. This creates a phosphene. While it’s an interesting demonstration, we do not recommend attempting this without the assistance of a medical professional.

Phosphenes: The Evidence“. Suzanne Carr. 1995
Bokkon, I. (2008). Phosphene phenomenon: A new concept. BioSystems, 92, 168–174.
The sensations produced by electrical stimulation of the visual cortex“. The Journal of Physiology 196.



  1. Trisha

    December 18, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    I want to know more about kind of brain activity is happening with closed eyes, with the addition of photons. What I see when I close my eyes in the dark is completely different (which is what this article is about) than what I see when I close my eyes in the presence of light.

  2. David

    May 24, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    I am doing experiments in complete darkness. I am confused, I can’t see my hand in front of my face nor my feet. However, solid light appears on my wall and I can actually see the wall itself and I can see the wall and light on the ceiling as well. If I am creating the lights, I shouldn’t be able to see the walls as easily as I can. I want to know why I can’t see the wall next to me but can 10 feet away without being able to see anything in between. I am getting ready to video tape the lights to see if they are really there. Can anyone help me understand what I am seeing?

  3. Gene Brock

    August 27, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    I see the same lights, or should I say I see circles that change from blue to green and then purple, sometimes they change to red. Sometimes when I when I’m trying to fall asleep, it’s like I have a blue light in my peripheral vision. When I look at the color gray I see green and purple instead. I get lots of floaters too. I have been seeing these colors for about 1 1/2 years now. The eye doctors do not, or will not recognize that it’s a problem.

    • Blake Skinner

      June 26, 2015 at 4:30 am

      I have the same thing you aren’t alone man it’s called visual snow, floaters, eyes sensitive to light, anxiety problems and confusion sometimes, static vision in the dark and I can see purple green colors and other visual phenomena when I close my eyes

  4. Gene Brock

    October 3, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Today, as I was looking at the blue sky and my floaters settled down and stopped moving, the sky was covered with hundreds of silver sparkles. Then it looked like I was looking through a silver spider web.

  5. Sander

    October 17, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    I keep seeing these colors 24/7 and it is in no way entertaining or fun. It is actually keeping me awake. It’s 4am right now. It’s driving me absolutely crazy. I do not only see it when I close my eyes, but also when I look at shadows and I need some advice.

    • christine

      February 14, 2017 at 11:13 pm

      Maybe synesthesia?

  6. Gene Brock

    October 22, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    I am sorry but it is good to hear from someone else out there with the same thing that I have, or something like what I have. At first, it scared the crap out of me and I did not know what to do. Everyone I talked to thought I was crazy. Even the eye doctors thought I was crazy. I have learned to live with it. Look at it this way, you will never be in a dark room. The lights are always on but there isn’t really anyone home. Just kidding. What colors do you see?

    • Callaghan

      April 7, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      Have you had this sorted out yet? The presence of a lot of floaters, as well as flashes of light and color, are typical symptoms of a detached/detaching retina. It is treatable, so if you haven´t yet had it seen to then get a new doctor, but do it ASAP.

  7. Laura

    December 1, 2014 at 1:40 am

    Only purple, only ever purple.

    For years I’ve seen these, light or dark. Never “stars” though, only slowish moving blobs of light in a circular patter from the top middle to the bottom right, this happens on both sides.

  8. Linda Z

    January 23, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    This visual phenomena is more common than you may realize. I have had it myself since early childhood and my daughter and grand daughters also experience it. We are all able to use this as “biofeedback” at night and slow down the changing patterns. We can make the shapes less angular and make the colors calm blues and greens instead of reds and yellows. We are wondering if this ability to see the colors is inherited.

    This summer I saw the art work of a distant relative of mine, Wilhelm Morgner. ‘Google ‘ him and look at his ‘Astral’ series of paintings… this is a close representation of what I see with my eyes closed. And yes, I see the colors in complete darkness without any ambient light in the room.

  9. Ms Josee allen

    January 31, 2015 at 5:58 am

    I see these colors at night too, though I never thought it was a problem. In fact, I find them quite interesting and as I watch them, I become relaxed and drift off to sleep. :) For those who are bothered by them, just try to control them a bit as Linda Z suggests. When I look into the sky on a sunny day I can see millions of tiny silver stars all jiggling about like particles in an atom. I’ve never met anyone who knows what I’m talking about so I have since given up mentioning it to my friends. I wonder if I’m seeing particles of dust, I don’t know. I can’t tell if it’s in the eye or out in the air.

  10. Armani Chambers

    June 30, 2015 at 3:47 am

    My case sounds a little different. Sometimes at night, when I’m laying down, I see shapes and all different types of colors. The shapes morph to different shapes but its not like its actually 3D, it’s like I see it over everything and when I close my eyes, it’s like I see a different dimension.

    • Jenn Riley

      August 5, 2015 at 11:17 pm

      I’ve had this my entire life. I really don’t think it’s a danger or health concern.

    • Clayton Moore

      August 9, 2016 at 5:00 pm

      I thought everyone did this. :/ Mine always take the shape of red or green red blood cell shapes, and sometimes if I imagine hard enough I can control what they look like.

  11. Julianne Bell

    October 5, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    I’m glad I googled this, good to know I’m not the only one. I thought it may have been from being diabetic type 2 and also being a smoker. I am also a glaucoma suspect (yes I know I need to give up smoking). I see both greens and purples, they also change shades. ☺

  12. Rober

    October 9, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Very interesting. I assumed everyone sees patterns of various colors when their eyes are closed. Yesterday when I was having one of my short mini-seizures, and I was trying to relax, I noticed that with my eyes closed all I saw was solid light blue. No pattern of any kind, however. Does the color mean anything? I went on google and found this site.

  13. G

    November 1, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I see blues, purples, yellows. A very strong bright pink dead in the center and once I let my eyes relax, boom. A show of slow sloshing and swishing commences, where everything morphs, sways and combines itself with one another. A constant vibration is forever present, and a lot lot more.
    It’s always terrified me being able to see something everyday, everywhere that people only seem to understand under substance use.

  14. Susie A.

    January 2, 2017 at 2:52 am

    I just noticed this so called “phosphene” like sight. I’ve could always remember seeing flashes of red in the corner of my eye. Tonight I noticed it in the left bottom corner of my left eyes and I noticed as I turned my eye balls to the right I saw blue and purple at the right bottom of my right eyeball. I say bottom cause I could see my flat screen tv right above/ infront of me mounted on the wall with no color touching the part of my vision that sees the tv only below my vision and corner of my peripherals. I’m up wondering about it and googling about it and I’m glad to know of others too, to compare and get closer to figuring out what’s up with sight and the dark.

  15. John

    March 29, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    I’m not going mad then? It’s science. I just experienced this for the first time tonight…. I was very tired but couldn’t sleep so was just staring into the darkness when this bright purple light appeared then started swirling around. It stopped after a while…..So I googled it and found this site. I’m hoping to see it again….. Beautiful colours.

  16. Jack Hamm

    April 16, 2017 at 4:09 am

    In any circumstance, light or dark I’m able to induce colors without touching my eye physically. With an immense amout of focus I think strongly of a color and focus on a small part of the dark abyss of lights and colors within your eye holes. As I maintain focus on that small portion it soon grows and depending on the color/what I imagine the color as, For example when I thought of red I thought of fire red flames, it’s form would portray that. I find it very stimulating for my brain and always feel like I’ve just left the brain gym when I decide to call it quits. Anyone else experience this? Direct control over color and shape of color in darkness of eyes view when closed.

  17. J Creech

    January 28, 2018 at 8:40 am

    I have watched these colors since I was a kid (I am 50 now). Swirling clouds of purple lwere the predominant sensation. In the last few years, I found I can change the color to green, red, yellow, white which come in but the purple seems to want to to push them out. I also started looking through the colors and see a star field behind them that can make rotate when I focus. Glad to see others have similar experiences.

  18. Kevin Raftery

    January 12, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    I see paisley-like patterns in gold, on a deep blue background. As long as I can remember, and I’m 77 now. Kind of restful, and not at all alarming.

  19. Rene

    September 6, 2019 at 5:40 pm

    A while ago I got block-out curtains, so my room is completely dark for the first time in my life. Recently I contracted a particularly nasty cold with endless coughing. Thankfully the article mentions COUGHING, because I was at first convinced that I must be hallucinating, which has never happened to me.

    When I cough I see luminous yellow-green light that I thought was originating in my throat and reflecting on the bedsheets. After dismissing hallucination, I wondered whether this cold could include a crazy fungal infection in my throat that produces phosphorescence!

    Phew! So relieved to hear that this is normal! So I’m not hallucinating and I don’t have a glow-in-the-dark bug!

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