As many of you know, I have suffered from chronic sleep paralysis in the past so this topic is very personal to me. I had no idea how common this problem was until I was brave enough to seek help, as I was afraid of being labeled as crazy. At my worst, I had severe insomnia and anxiety, I honestly thought there was a poltergeist out to get me, which was hard to explain to a doctor while maintaining that I was NOT insane, I felt like it made me look even more crazy! Understanding the how and why Sleep Paralysis happens helped me overcome the debilitating fear associated with this disorder.
– Emily, Owner, Stop Snoring Guide
So, how what is Sleep Paralysis and how does it happen?
Most people love the thought of crawling into bed and falling into a deep slumber after a long day. However, for some (8% of Americans) the thought of sleep can be an incredibly daunting and scary experience.
Sleep paralysis happens when a person is at the stage of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which occurs in the process of falling asleep or waking up; at this point a person has vivid dreams. During sleep, the brain switches off the muscles in the body to stop the person from acting out and hurting themselves when dreaming.
Sleep paralysis occurs when a person wakes up before the brain has finished REM sleep (the dreaming phase) and the whole body remains in a state paralysis as the muscles are still switched off. There is a battle between the body and the brain to snap out of the sleep paralysis, and eventually the person wakes up. An episode can last a from few seconds to a few minutes.
So, is Sleep Paralysis a Sleep Disorder?
In short, yes…
The thing about sleep paralysis is that although it is not considered a severe medical issue, it can be the root of other problems such as extreme tiredness, anxiety, insomnia, snoring and depression, to name a few. Most people experience anxiety and panic during an episode, however others don’t even notice that they had one, the effects vary depending on the individual. It is a common condition and can happen to almost anyone at least once in their lifetime.
Sleep paralysis is a game of the mind. There are 3 common types of sleep paralysis experiences:
There are dreams, vivid dreams, illusions and then hallucinations. An average person can have a lot of trouble in differentiating between all these because they may feel like the same mind game. Illusions happen when you are wide awake. Dreams and vivid dreams happen while you are asleep. Hallucinations occur usually before or after sleep, during the REM stage. Sleep paralysis sufferers have reported seeing a figure in their room, most common are a tall dark man, sometimes wearing a hat, or an old hag. Others have reported dark moving shadows, cats and other various things created by the mind.
So, why do so many sufferers see the same visions? A common thought is that we are preconditioned through movies and media on what ‘scary’ looks like, so our minds recreate these things when we are feeling frightened.
There are a number of factors that can cause hallucinations during sleep paralysis. Most common are drug and alcohol abuse, stress, anxiety and other mental health factors can also cause hallucinations. Although there is no treatment for hallucinations as such, if these episodes trigger serious anxiety or fear, then consulting a doctor or sleep specialist is strongly recommended.
Sleep Paralysis Demon
The sleep paralysis demon seems to visit many sufferers. Imagine you are in a state between sleep and wakefulness, however you feel wide awake. You are unable to move a muscle, can’t speak and may have some difficulty breathing. What’s more is that you feel a presence. Something not physically present in the room but you feel it in the energy around you and it may feel like it’s attacking you or trying to hurt you in some way, maybe by pushing on your chest or stomach. Sounds like something out of a horror film, but this is a common experience.
Movement is actually the one thing that will help break out of the paralysis but people only get control back when the paralysis has passed and the ‘dream’ is over.
This type of sleep paralysis is not as scary as the previous two. During an episode, some people have reported that they feel like they had exited their bodies and were flying or floating in the air. There have been claims of people watching themselves sleep or even be forced out of their bodies. Some people also report feeling unexplainably happy or a sense of contentment.
This experience is almost like entering another realm and it’s usually a positive experience. However, if you feel violated or overwhelmed in one of your episodes, then seek help from a sleep specialist but generally, many people enjoy this experience of sleep paralysis. An episode like this may be recurring or happen sporadically. If you suffer from this, then you may want to consider keeping a diary about your adventures out of your own body, it could make for an interesting read!
Sleep paralysis effects sufferers differently. For some it’s not a big deal and for others the fear of falling asleep causes high levels of stress and anxiety. In severe cases, chronic sufferers have reported to be up for a few days’ stretch and have extreme sleep deprivation because they fear sleeping will cause another episode. Others have also described the experience as painful.
If you feel like sleep paralysis is affecting your sleep health and lifestyle, see your doctor or sleep specialist. In our busy lives, we all need a good nights’ rest without feeling demonized!