What is Sleep Paralysis?
Imagine waking up with a sense of dread overpowering you. You try to lift a limb but you seem to be paralyzed. You struggle to breathe. You try to open your mouth to let out a cry of help but your lips seems to be frozen for some unknown reason. And then you feel that strong presence somewhere in the room—a figure lurking in the darkness, watching your every move.
Your heart skips a beat, or so you think. You try one last time to move a muscle and scramble out of the room but to no avail.
The figure, dark and vague, inches towards you and sits on top of you. You feel that you’re pushed down deeper into your bed mattress. You’re choking.While all this is happening, all you can think of is, “Why?” Why is there a stranger in the room? Why can’t you control your body? Why are you so awake and scared but so helpless at the same time?
You have just virtually experienced sleep paralysis.
Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sleep Paralysis
In order to understand what sleep paralysis is, you need to know what REM is first. REM or Rapid Eye Movement is a stage in sleep wherein your body’s muscles are relaxed to the point that you’re completely paralyzed. The two body chemicals that induce this paralysis are glycine and GABA or gamma-amino butyric acid. It is important for your body to enter this immobile state because REM is usually where your dreams occur. Full body paralysis will keep you from acting out those dreams as they happen.
Now, you probably have an inkling that sleep paralysis is an incorrect term when applied to that scary phenomenon when your mind is awake but your body is not. It’s true, this sleep phenomenon should have a different name because, and technically “sleep paralysis” refers to the state of your body when your mind enters REM stage.
Technical matters aside, the sleep paralysis phenomenon happens when your mind and body are out of sync as you transition from the last stage of sleep to the early stage of wakefulness (hypnopompic) or from the last stage of wakefulness to the early stage of sleep (hypnagogic). Sleep paralysis can last for a few seconds up to a few minutes.
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
Now you know what sleep paralysis is. But do you know what triggers it? Why does sleep paralysis occur? Scientists are yet to figure out what directly causes sleep paralysis, but what is known is that this phenomenon happens as a result of REM atonia (full body paralysis) spilling over the other stages of sleep.
Can Sleep Paralysis Cause Death?
Sleep paralysis is a frightening episode that can justify your fears and worries. Still, you shouldn’t take this sleep anomaly as a serious medical condition because it’s normally nothing more than a glitch in your sleeping pattern. You must be wondering Can sleep paralysis cause death? It’s highly unlikely. Sleep paralysis is just a physiological occurrence that your mind and body go through. In sleep paralysis, your physical health is not compromised. Even when you feel like you’re choking, you’re still breathing fine. Everything is just happening inside your head.
In a few cases, sleep paralysis can be a symptom of narcolepsy, which is a sleep disorder characterized by frequent and uncontrollable attacks of REM sleep.
Still, there is no direct link between these two so they shouldn’t be connected. There have also been cases of sleep paralysis as an indication of an underlying psychiatric problem, but those are rare and are still widely contested.
Why is Sleep Paralysis Sometimes Accompanied by Hallucinations?
The apparitions and ghost-like presence you sense when you’re paralyzed in sleep remain to be explained by dream researchers. No scientific research has unraveled this mystery yet, but most scientists agree on one thing. In sleep paralysis, you can open your eyes but you can’t trust what you see because your eyes and mind are still somehow immersed in the dream state. You are fully aware of the physical space around you, and your mind projects some parts of your dream into your actual physical surroundings so you feel like everything is real. This is why you think you see demons, witches, and other malevolent creatures in your bedroom when you’re under sleep paralysis.
Is Sleep Paralysis Linked with the Supernatural?
Both literature and history reveal instances of sleep paralysis happening to some prominent figures. In these accounts, the hallucinations that the mind induces when the body is paralyzed are sometimes ascribed to the devil. Because sleep paralysis is a phenomenon that is hard to explain, many superstitions about it have emerged in the past. Scientists have found that people with analytical thinking styles are less likely to hold supernatural beliefs about sleep paralysis while people who are less analytical are more inclined to link this sleep phenomenon to something metaphysical or mythological. From a rational and logical standpoint, however, sleep paralysis is in no way connected to anything supernatural.
Who is the Most Vulnerable to Sleep Paralysis?
Although it sounds unusual, sleep paralysis is actually very common. More than 50% of people are said to experience it at least once in their lifetime. There are also those who have more frequent episodes of sleep paralysis. People who have disrupted sleep cycles are prone to this occurrence. People who suffer from anxiety and depression and who have traumatic experiences are also most likely to experience sleep paralysis. In some cases, genetics can also a play a role.
Can Sleep Paralysis be Prevented?
There is no single rule on how to overcome sleep paralysis, but there are certain lifestyle choices you can make to decrease your possibility of encountering it. An excellent tip that you can take is to practice a healthy sleeping routine. Avoiding stimulants before going to bed, exercising regularly, eating well, and establishing a regular sleep routine can make you less susceptible to sleep paralysis. Eliminating the major stressors in your life can also go a long way. Ultimately, preventing sleep paralysis is about improving your health and making better lifestyle choices.
What are Some Tips to Wake up from a Sleep Paralysis?
Waking up from sleep paralysis can be the greatest relief in your life. When you’re suffering from a sleep paralysis episode, it can feel like a lifetime in hell because you’re helpless in a situation when you need to defend yourself. Fortunately, there are a few techniques you can try to wake up from this nightmare.
- Don’t resist the pressure that is pinning you down. Fighting the force will only heighten your fear and trigger the parts of your brain that will make the nightmare seem more real.
- Beat your irrational self and let the rational side of you take over. Train your mind to acknowledge a sleep paralysis episode as you go through it. Prepare a mantra like, “I’m just under sleep paralysis. None of this is real. I’m okay. Everything will pass.”
- Wiggle your toe or clench your fist. If you can do this, the sleep paralysis will break.
- Do some controlled breathing. Your fear heightens as you speed up your breathing. Take deep breaths to control your fear.
- Make faces. According to some people who have experienced sleep paralysis, crumpling your face will immediately break the paralysis and wake you up.
It’s possible that you will be among the 50% of the population who will experience what it’s like to be under sleep paralysis. Now is as good a time as any to know all the important details behind this infamous sleep phenomenon. You’ve just saved yourself a lot of trouble.
Christopher Britton is an Interior Architect, Home Security Consultant and a Writer. He often writes about home improvement, home security and privacy, green and simple living, geometric and structural designs, technological home advance and home design. He is into sports and a travel enthusiast.