Seeing colors with eyes closed

I think this only happens when I am resting on the couch on the front porch. Which I do more often as I age and slow down. If I nod off for a while and waken, I can shut my eyes tightly and I see bright orange completely across both eyes. If I rub my brows, not the eyes themselves, it turns vivid blue, the brightest, prettiest blue you can imagine. This effect only lasts a short while. I can switch the colors back and forth by rubbing or stopping.

I should mention it would be sunny outside but I am in shade under the roof and wearing sun glasses most of the time. I think wearing or not wearing the glasses may change the shade of orange but it needs more research.


It is a real phenomenon, known as phosphenes. No less than Isaac Newton investigated them somewhat. Typical causes are mechanical, electrical, or magnetic stimulation of the retina. Even a startling sound can lead to visual effects.

Not the same as rubbing eyeballs (through closed lids) to provoke psychedelic lightshows. But I’ve recently had multiple retina surgeries that seem to increase my low-light sensitivity. At night, in blackness, retinal scars glow, corruscate, illuminate what should be invisible shelves and walls. Colors are dimly present and… wrong.

The latter, on the other hand, were the subject of a book I encountered in the 1970s in the school library. The main takeaway for me were that the patterns were extremely repeatable and predictable — different people, press the eyeball (through the closed eyelid) exactly here, and you see this pattern…

The orange is probably incoming light passing through the tiny capillaries in your eyelids before they strike the retina. When you rub the eyebrows, maybe there is a reduction in blood flow and you see that as a bluish shade. I do not think you are seeing phosphenes. Those are lights seen in the visual field without any light physically entering your eyes.

Interesting. When I was a child I used to see lightshows all the time while I was waiting to fall asleep. One night when I was seven I had the most spectacular one I’d ever had; actual pictures, clearer than ever, including one of fairies dancing in a circle.

And then they just stopped. I would occasionally see a bit of color but nothing like the ones I’d use to have. I did get some, briefly, once in my 20’s the one time I tried LSD; but even that wasn’t like that one major show when I was seven.

Now I sometimes get pixellated moving color patterns when waiting to fall asleep; but no actual pictures. Never tried pressing the eyeballs to see whether that affects it; though I’m pretty sure that if I look at strong light just before turning the lights out to sleep (say, looking right at the lamp when reaching to turn it off) that increases the chances.

I have noticed the something similar when I’m in that dozy state between asleep and awake but it’s when I hear a sharp sound, like a door slam, and it’s geometric patterns on a field of dark. It’s there and gone in an instant, too quick to get an impression of the color, other than “light.”

I assume it’s the startlement of my brain leaking over into the visual cortex, but that’s just a WAG.

For sure, if you lie back on a deck chair and look directly at the sun with your eyes closed, some light will go through the lids and enter your eyes. I thought the OP was describing something induced purely by rubbing, but I may have misunderstood.