Has this ever happened to you?
You go to sleep as you normally do after a long day with the feeling that you will have a good night’s sleep.
Instead of waking up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to turn your loud alarm clock off (or in most cases you will set the snooze alarm for 5 more minutes).
You wake up in the middle of the night with a feeling of fear slowly encasing you.
At the same time you feel frightened because you are unable to move or communicate.
If you never had anything like this happen to you count your good fortunes.
If this has happened to you, then you have experienced a sleep disorder known as “sleep paralysis”. There are many interesting facts about this sleep disorder.
Let us explore more about sleep paralysis and what causes a person to be immobilized by hallucinations and demonic spirits.
What Is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a parainsomnia type sleep disorder that happens when a person wakes up only to find that they are temporarily immobolized and cannot speak while being conscious at the same time.
They can also feel as if someone or some spirit is present in the room at the same time they are. This can cause the person to hallucinate and feel, hear or see things that are really not there.
As scary as this sleep disorder sounds, it is not menacing and it is not an indicator of a more serious medical condition.
This sleep disorder is one of the few symptoms of narcolepsy. However, many occurences of sleep paralysis are not necessarily a sign of narcolepsy or other sleep disorders.
The duration of the episodes can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
Sleep paralysis can happen when you are either in the process of falling asleep or when you are waking up.
Symptoms Of Sleep Paralysis
These are the most common symptoms of sleep paralysis:
- Experiencing muscle pains and headaches.
- Having a feeling that death is around the corner.
- Breathing issues.
- Feeling as if there is a pressure on your chest holding you down.
- Hallucinations and other sensations that are related to fear.
- Awake during the episode.
- Not being able to communicate during an episode.
- Inability to move either when awake or falling asleep.
Causes of Sleep Paralysis (The Scientific Version)
The causes of sleep paralysis vary based on which sleep stage you experienced it in.
When going to sleep
If the occurence takes place when you fall asleep, then it is referred to as predormital or hypnagogic sleep paralysis.
When you fall asleep, your body naturally relaxes over a period of time.Your level of awareness is lowered so that you do not notice the transition.
Yet, if you have awareness while you are going to sleep, you will find that you cannot speak or move. This happens because your brain prevents your muscles from moving around.
This is our brain’s way of protecting us from harm while we are asleep.
How about that?
When waking up
If the occurence takes place when you wake up, then it is referred to as postdormital or hypnopomic sleep paralysis.
Conversely, the occurence can take place if you are already asleep.
Throughout the duration of the night, you will transition through non rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). Each cycle of non rapid eye movement and rapid eye movement can last approximately 90 minutes.
Non rapid eye movement takes place in the beginning and it comprises 75% of your entire sleep time. It is during this sleep stage that your body relaxes and repairs itself.
When non rapid eye movement comes to its conclusion, we now enter into the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep.
During the rem stage of sleep, your eyes move much faster and this is where dreams take place. Yet, the remainder of the body stays very relaxed. The muscles in the body are shut down during this sleep stage.
This happens because during REM sleep, your body enter into state of paralysis that is referred to as “REM atonia”. This is a standard portion of this sleep stage when the voluntary and primary muscle groups are effectively paralyzed.
This paralyzation possibly acts as a safety net to prevent us from injury while we are asleep. If REM atonia was not working properly, then we could potentially act out what we observe in your dreams.
In some cases, such as those in REM sleep behavior disorder the normal effects of sleep paralysis do not function as they should. This leads people to act out their dreams often in a violent and erractic manner while they are asleep.
Lastly, if you are aware prior to the REM cycle being complete, you might know that you are still paralyzed if you cannot move or speak.
Think of sleep paralysis as an indicator that your are brain and body are briefly out of sorts.
Why do we feel, hear or see unusual events?
The scientific explanation on why you feel paralyzed, yet awake at the same time is one thing.
On the other hand:
Can science explain more on these three sleep paralysis stories that people often describe:
- Having an out of body experience.
- A malevolent spirit, demon and other entity pushing down your chest or performing other replusive acts on you.
- An intruder or other being in the room.
The final two are typically explained by a mixture of three occurences.
When the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep takes place. A form of muscle paralysis happens and your breathing can become lighter. When you attempt to breathe deeply, you will find it difficult.
At this point, your brain can misunderstand this as a feeling of being choked or having another entity pressing down on your chest.
Fight Or Flight
During the moments we feel intimidated, your body’s natural defense is to activate fight or flight mode.
So when you wake up, cannot move and it is dark in the room. You can possibly react to the difficultly breathing and the feeling of paralysis by coming up with bad things that are going to happen.
Adding to the two points above, many of these brain structures can potentially cooperate together to form a hypnagogic hallucination.
In the process of the experiencing an evil spirit or invader, the hallucination may not take on any form in the beginning.
However, when the threat system emerges, you can potentially explain what you felt or saw as being threatening. Afterwards, that will create a hallucination that is evil or demonic.
Out Of Body Experience
The out of body experience is typically not affiliated when the threat system is activated. Rather, it is connected to the portions of the brain that control movement and understanding where the body physically lies.
Most researchers have come to a general consensus that an out of body experience is another type of hallucination that is triggered by a neurological input.
Nightmares and Dreams That Extend Over To Reality
Along with the out of body experience above, there is also a misunderstanding that can happen when your nightmares or dreams extend over into reality.
When you wake up from a dream, yet remain paralyzed what you see in your dreams can project itself into reality.
Your eyes may be open, yet you can still observe the contents of your dream. Even if you cannot recall the details of your dream.
When the psychological factors are added along with the feeling of paralyzation. These are all the necessary components to feeling terrified.
Why does this happen though?
At this point, we clearly know what happens, what causes the hallucinations and the feelings of paralysis. However, why does this happen though?
Sleep researchers and scientists still do not fully understand. Nevertheless, it is believed that the more interrupted sleep that a person accumulates, then sleep paralysis is more likely to occur.
Several researchers in 2017, examined 42 prior case studies and discovered several risk factors that can cause sleep paralysis such as:
- Having a family history of sleep paralysis.
- Mystical and paranormal beliefs.
- Physical ailments.
- Other sleep disorders such as nightmares and narcolepsy.
- Substance abuse.
- Other sleep problems that include inconsistent sleep patterns and sleep depravation.
- Post traumatic stress disorder.
- Anxiety and stress.
According to the WebMD, the other risk factors can include:
- Conditons such as bipolar disorder.
- Night time leg cramps.
- Taking certain types of medication namely for ADHD.
Causes of Sleep Paralysis (The Non-Scientific Version)
If you do not believe in the scientific version of the causes for sleep paralysis. There are non-scientific causes to sleep paralysis as well. Let us examine the three different non-scientific stories to sleep paralysis:
1) The Out Of Body Experience
There are books out there that claim to be guides for a concept known as “astral projection”.
Astral projection is when a being separates its astral body/soul from its physical body in order to travel into the outside universe.
Some of these books have some cross references between the concepts of out of body experiences, astral projection, near death experiences and lucid dreaming.
Physical bookstores and the internet are flooded with writers that claim to possess the techniques that enable them to leave their physical body and have incredible adventures in the other world.
There is no conflict that there are some people out there that can experience this out of body feeling.
Can this be explained in natural laws of the world ?
Is there another world out there that is just waiting to be explored?
Then again it is a question of whether or not it could really happen.
I am not here to pass judgement on your opinion. It could very be that both theories could be true.
2) The Invader
If you have ever woken throughout the duration of the night and you have a feeling that there is a human invader in your bedroom.
Then the potential explanation for this one is rather easy. You are not alone in that room.
If you experience that paralyzation, the natural thing to do in this case is to turn on the light switch and to observe your surroundings. However, if you are paralyzed you would not be able to do so.
It is unlikely that you would find a human invader in your room and there is a much lower chance that they have anything that can paralyze you.
In the event that you wake up feeling paralyzed, having a hard time breathing and notice that there is another being in the room with you. Chances are that there is no actual invader.
If you are a follower/believer of the supernatural beings, then there is not much scientific explanation that will change your mind otherwise. You have a choice to believe in the supernatural or not.
Yet, if you do experience sleep paralysis. Would you find solace in not believing that demons are terrorizing you?
The scientific explanation for this would reduce the burden of this scary episode.
The best thing to do is to not overthink the experience too much. This is an action that many others have successfully done.
Non-Scientific Beliefs Throughout The World
In Jewish mythology, it is called a dybbuk which is a malicious spirit that is believed to be the disembodied soul of a deceased person.
I am Chinese and in my country’s folklore, the evil spirit is thought to be more a ghost and less of a demon or invader.
The related message here is that these beings are ones to be scared of. In my studies, I have not come across any culture that find demons/evil spirits friendly.
If there are cultures that do find them to friendly. They are rare indeed.
However, there are people out there that believe demons and other supernatural entities do exist. There are some that speak about them from a religious standpoint.
In addition, others out there believe that there are some things that science cannot explain.
In spite of all the different beliefs, the important thing to remember is that nothing terrible happens to most people other than being a terrified and possibly losing some sleep as a result.
The good news is that the majority of people do not require treatment due to the fact they do not experience it very often.
Nonetheless, if any of these apply to you. Then it would benefit you to go consult a medical professional:
- You do not get enough sleep everyday.
- You feel tired throughout the day, occassionally going to sleep unexpectedly and losing control of your body.
- Feeling nervous about going to sleep.
- Having regular occurences.
What Type Of Treatment Is Available?
If you do go seek out a medical professional, they can potentially take these types of actions:
- Help explain the biological processes that happen during an episode of sleep paralysis to help remove any doubts.
- Examine you for any underlying mental illnesses.
- Possibly prescribe you an anti-depressant medication for a short period of time.
- Provide a reference to a sleep specialist who will then attempt to rule out the possibility that you might have narcolepsy.
- Speak to you about practicing proper sleep habits. This is believed to help minimize the frequency of sleep paralysis episodes.
You will find some handy information in my post about nightmares vs night terrors. There is a list of methods in this article that are about altering the content of your dreams. This can possibly help you out.
If you were wondering if there is a genetic link to sleep paralysis. It could very well be so.
During 2015, a study was conducted by the researchers at Sheffield University. This research was completed on a pair of twins that both experienced sleep paralysis.
LiveScience also published an article about sleep paralysis being linked to genetics.
Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that can happen to anybody. However, this should not alarm you as it is most likely that demons and other supernatural entities are not out to paralyze you.
In addition, this sleep disorder is harmless and only last for a short amount of time
By understanding what this sleep disorder is and taking the time to practice good sleep habits such as getting enough sleep every night. This action will help minimize the chances that you will experience another instance of sleep paralysis.
What was your experience with sleep paralysis like?
Did anything unusual happen?
Do you have suggestions that can help others manage this sleep disorder?
Please share your story in the comments below.
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