Sleep Paralysis

October 2014

scared boy under blanket

Most people experience sleep paralysis at some point in their life. It is that strange feeling of being conscious mentally, but not being able to move your body. When this occurs, the result can be that you feel afraid. Indeed, it is possible to undergo physical sensations that are unpleasant at such a time, which might mistakenly be attributed to an unseen force. At other times, people report that they have not yet slipped out of dream mode when they undergo paralysis, and parts of their dream is still visible to them. If they do not realize that they are asleep, they may assume that their dream is part of reality. However, sleep paralysis is not thought to be harmful or an indication of an underlying mental disease.

Long ago, before sleep paralysis was understood, people automatically assumed that something unnatural and sinister was underfoot when they were unable to shift their body, but could sense things around them. The typical sensation that they were being strangled or that someone was sitting on their chest lead them to imagine that witchcraft was at work, or that an incubus was in their bedroom.

Although the condition is better understood now, countless people still report that strange goings on occur at the same time as their paralysis. Some even put their experience down to alien abductions. However, the odd experiences that occur during paralysis can be explainable.

As you fall asleep, a signal is sent to a region of your brain to start the dreaming process, while another is sent to a different part of your system informing it to stop your muscles from moving. If this did not happen, you would move about during sleep, which could be dangerous.

Some experiences involving sleep paralysis tend to occur when people are lying on their backs. Interestingly, so do many out of body experiences. When you lie on your back to sleep, there is a chance that your breathing might not be as full or comfortable as it is when you lie in a different position since your airway can collapse a little, making obtaining air difficult. This is not usually anything to worry about since your system will pass along the information to relevant parts of your system so that you partially awaken and roll onto your side. However, occasionally, the communication arrangement might not work 100%, leaving you moderately alert mentally, although still in dreamland to an extent, while your body remains frozen.

Unfortunately, as your muscles have not been woken, breathing might still be laborious. As a result, your system panics and you wake up fully, albeit mentally rather than physically. Your brain attempts to work out what is happening to you as you need air, but cannot remedy the situation. Next, your fear center kicks into action. Now you are experiencing a heavy sensation on your chest, a constricted throat and you are terrified. Dreamland is just around the corner, and might still be providing some input. At the same time, your brain will gather all the information it can glean about your situation and come up with a possible scenario to justify matters. Hence, you could think that there is someone harming you, which would explain the physical sensations that you feel.

While some people encounter such experiences only once, other report that they happen to them frequently, which makes them afraid to go to sleep since they want to avoid the situation occurring.

So, what can you do if you have sleep paralysis often and want it to stop? You might try not sleeping on your back, and making sure that there is plenty of fresh air in your bedroom. There again, if your sleep paralysis does not stem from your system attempting to wake you in order to help you breathe better, there might be another external reason at large that you can remedy. For example, perhaps sudden loud noises half-rouse you and lead to your condition. Making your bedroom as soundproof as possible might be a useful solution. However, it is also true that your paralysis may occur for no apparent reason, in which case, telling yourself to remember that nothing dreadful is really occurring when it happens might be useful. People can sometimes recall such messages to themselves when in a mentally, but not physically alert state.

Reference:

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/05/07/dueling-neurosurgeons-kean/

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/sleep-paralysis

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