Most people will not be aware of sleep paralysis. If you’ve never experienced it, consider yourself lucky.
Sleep paralysis is a medical condition where a person, on waking up, experiences a sense of paralysis, along with the inability to move or speak. It is also commonly accompanied by horrible hallucinations, which makes the situation a whole lot scarier.
Here are 11 facts that will teach you all you need to know about the condition.
1. It is affected by lifestyle
Several studies have consistently proved that people who are exhausted, stressed or sleep-deprived are more likely to experience sleep paralysis. However, these are only factors – doctors have been trying for a very long time to understand why one experiences sleep paralysis, but there has been no specific explanation for it so far. It can happen to anyone.
2. It is not dangerous or life-threatening
There is no denying that sleep paralysis is a scary and horrific experience, but there is no actual danger. to your physical health. It does not cause any physical harm to the body. There have been no deaths reported from sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis sufferers all have their own coping mechanisms. A good idea is to trick yourself into not being scared whenever you experience something like this. Remind yourself that this is not real. It may feel like forever, but the more you remain positive, the less scary it will be. As with anxiety, self-reassurance is the key!
3. You lose control of your body
No matter how hard you try, even if somehow you are aware of your state of sleep paralysis, you cannot wake your body up. Some people can just move their fingers or wiggle their toes or facial muscles. This eventually helps them wake up, but a majority of people have to patiently wait till it’s over. The state of sleep paralysis can last anywhere from 20 seconds to a few minutes.
4. It has always been a problem
Researchers have been attempting to explain and understand this phenomenon for centuries. A persian medical texts, which dates back to the 10th century, also has accounts of sleep paralysis. There was also a record of sleep paralysis by a Dutch physician in 1664. The physician believed that his patient, a 50-year-old woman, was suffering from ‘nightmares’, a term which is still used today. Eventually, it was renamed as ‘sleep palsy’ and then ‘sleep paralysis’.
5. It has inspired great works of art
An important historical example of sleep paralysis can be seen in this Renaissance painting by Swiss painter, Henry Fuseli. The demon displays the feeling of extreme pressure on the chest that a person feels when they experience sleep paralysis. It’s an accurate portrayal of how it can feel.
6. It is *not* a disease
SP is a 100% natural occurrence, and is not classified as a disease. Sleep paralysis can happen to anyone, regardless of their physical or mental health. Several studies have revealed that most people have experienced this at least once in their life and are probably unaware of it. The level of intensity of the paralysis varies from person to person. Young adults and people with a history of mental illnesses are statistically more likely to experience sleep paralysis.
7. It can feel like a living nightmare
Symptoms of sleep paralysis include hallucinations and nightmares. However, these are much more intense than the visuals that you see in your sleep when your eyes are closed. These hallucinations occur when your mind is alert and feels awake. This is what makes the situation twice as scary as we have been conditioned to think that seeing is believing. Sufferers feel an added sense of anxiety as they are unable to scream or move.
8. It has been the subject of folklore
There are many folk stories and legends from all around the world that talk about this condition in different cultures. ‘Kanashibar’, in Japan, means being bound up with metal – a feeling that will be familiar to sufferers. The Chinese know the sleep paralysis phenomena as ‘ghost oppression’ whereas some people in the US even relate it to alien abductions. In African culture, they associate sleep paralysis to ‘a devil riding your back’ – demons that are commonly referred to as Incubus or Succubus.
9. How it happens
Sleep paralysis occurs during one of these two transitions; when you’re falling asleep or waking up. The body has to go into a REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep) and must come out of it. Sleep paralysis occurs when your body has a problem making this transition. When it happens while you are falling asleep, it is known as ‘hypnagogic’ sleep paralysis. When it happens when you are in the process of waking up, it is known as ‘hypnopompic’ sleep paralysis.
10. It can feel like dying
Sleep paralysis is usually accompanied by a feeling of total despair or dread. It is almost as though you are slowly dying. This results in a feeling of relief when you finally wake up almost as if you rose from the dead. These are two accounts of horrific sleep paralysis experiences as told by a Reddit user:
“I had my first sleep paralysis when I was in high school. I was a Freshman or Sophomore. I fell asleep at my desk while studying. Suddenly, I became aware of my surroundings. I could see my desk and book. My mom walked in and moved stuff around. I tried to call out to her, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move my body either.”
11. Here comes the science
When you sleep, what happens is that your brain sends a command to your body’s voluntary muscles to relax and go into a state of paralysis known as Atonia. This tends to restrict your physical movements in your dreams which help prevent your body from any external injury. In a sleep behavior disorder or nightmares, atonia does not happen properly and the voluntary muscles move while the mind remains asleep. This is why when people walk or talk, they are completely unaware of what they are doing.
Sleep paralysis can be an awful experience, and it’s so sad that so many people suffer with it. But remember – it can’t hurt you!
Have you had experience with this condition? Let us know your coping techniques in the comments.