When I was a kid once I woke up in the middle of the night. I could not move, I could not do anything, I could only roll my eyes.
And I felt something. A felt that I was being watched. I couldn’t turn my head, so didn’t see anything, but felt that someone or something was standing right next to me, I was feeling a presence.
I felt my arms were being pushed down.
It lasted for several minutes before finally I could move.
Back then I was sure that I was abducted by aliens. Well, at that time it was a popular topic.
After several years have passed finally I have found out the real reason behind this experience. It’s called sleep paralysis.
What is sleep paralysis?
In the past sleep paralysis was explained as being attacked by ghosts, demons or witches, but of course it’s not the case.
To make it simple sleep paralysis is being partly awake while your body is still (or already) sleeping. It can happen right before falling asleep or when you are waking up. It’s not a typical sleep disorder rather a condition that only lasts for a short time.
If sleep paralysis happens when falling asleep it may cause hypnogogic hallucinations (which can also be fun by the way), when it happens at the end of your sleep it’s called hypnopompic sleep paralysis (or simply morning paralysis) and it’s much more scary.
The two are somewhat different, but the cause is the same. It’s your body not perfectly coordinating your body being paralysed and your dream cycle.
What is the reason behind sleep paralysis?
Actually sleep paralysis is a good thing. How is that? Well, have you ever dreamt about running? Jumping? Falling? Peeing? When you finally woke up, were you happy that it was only a dream and you did not run, jump, fall or pee in reality? That is the reason behind sleep paralysis.
To prevent your body follow the movements in your dreams your brain has to shut it off. Because the commands you give to your body when dreaming are the same as when you are awake. In your dreams you move your hands and legs, but these commands should not reach your muscles when being in dreaming.
That’s why your brain will switch off your muscles for the time of your dreams. But sometimes this process is not flawless.
It may happen that you are still awake but your brain has already switched off your muscles, and (and I think it’s more scary) it may happen that your mind is already awake, but your muscles are not switched back yet.
It can take a few seconds, or minutes, but in rare cases it may take even longer. And it can be scary as hell.
What are the causes of sleep paralysis?
According to recent studies sleep paralysis is quite common, about 60% of people experience it during their life. Causes are not well known, but there are some factors which increase the chance of experiencing sleep paralysis, like
- sleeping on your back
- sudden changes in your environment or life
- drinking a lot of alcohol while not getting enough sleep
These may all trigger sleep paralysis.
What can you do to break sleep paralysis?
The most important is that you know it’s normal. That you are not fighting with demons, you are not in danger, no aliens are abducting you, but you are just experiencing a small anomaly that happens to most people at least once in their life.
If you know what is happening you can reduce the fear you are having and can break it more easily.
But there are three methods that can help to end it faster:
- Try to control your breath. Once you control your breath you will calm down and have more chance to regain control over your body.
- Try to make a mouth like you are sniffing at something. It is said to work most of the time.
- Try to focus your eyes on one single point somewhere. It helps breaking the REM cycle and wakes you up. By the way, it’s also the best method to wake up from any dream that scares you. Just fixate your eyes on something and you will wake up.
Can someone wake you up from sleep paralysis?
Sure they can. If your partner notices that you are suffering from sleep paralysis he/she can gently tap you or pat you and it will go away, a gentle kiss may also do the job.
What are the signs of your partner having sleep paralysis? Well, if her/his eyes are open and moving but her body is still stiff it may be a good indicator.
Can sleep paralysis be beneficial?
Well, scary as it is once you know sleep paralysis and it’s symptoms you can also use it for your benefits.
Hypnagogic sleep paralysis can be a lot of fun if you are prepared, because it gives you experiences like hallucinations. When falling asleep you can hear voices, see images (hypnagogic images), have strange sensations, people often feel like falling back.
Hypnagogic sleep paralysis can be one of the best ways to experience lucid dreams and astral projection. If you know what’s going on and use it to your advantage you can have a lot of fun with it.
Morning body paralysis is a bit different, it’s usually not a very good experience, but you can get over it quickly if you know how to handle. Also, if you can avoid all the panic you can also use it to ease back into lucid dreaming.
Is sleep paralysis dangerous?
It’s certainly not a very refreshing experience, specially when you have it for the first time, but you can be sure that your body is under good control and sleep paralysis is normal. Whatever you feel it’s only temporary and your brain will never let any of your vital body controls go down. So don’t worry, you can not die from sleep paralysis or have any harm.
You shouldn’t worry, sleep paralysis is pretty normal and nothing more then a temporary glitch in your sleep cycle.
If you experience frequent sleep paralysis you should try to reduce the stress in your life and probably change your sleeping posture, you should not sleep on your back and then night paralysis will go away.