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How to cope with sleep paralysis?

Updated on May 30, 2014

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a sleeping condition where a person's consciousness wakes up but the body does not. Some people rarely, if not at all, experience this frightening event. However, some people experience them frequently. This may be caused by a lot of different factors including stress, unusual sleeping pattern, lucid dreaming, sleeping position, and some stimulants(such as caffeine). The experience of sleep paralysis may differ for each individual, however, there are things that are commonly present:

  • Intense feeling of fear and helplessness
  • Feeling as if threatened and about to die
  • Being unable to move and call for help
  • Hearing or seeing strange and dark entities that seem to watch you
  • Feeling pinned down and unable to breathe
  • Strong desire to wake up

During sleep, the brain paralyzes the muscles purposefully to prevent your body from moving and acting a dream during the REM(Rapid-eye-movement) cycle. If your consciousness wakes up before the cycle ends, your mind becomes aware while your body remains paralyzed.


Escaping sleep paralysis

Personally, the best escape for me is falling back asleep and turn the experience into another lucid dream where you can control the dream, it's pretty fun. However, most people would prefer to wake up. But a lot of times after waking up, you would feel so tired and fall right back into sleep before you can sit up, frequently leading into another episode of sleep paralysis.

Waking up

  1. Calm down and concentrate on your breathing
    - The sensation of being choked and unable to breathe is in the mind. It is important to remember this because majority of the fear generated from the experience is from the feeling of being in danger. You are in a completely safe state. Seep paralysis does not cause death.

  2. Relax your muscles and try to move only one limb at a time
    - Struggling and trying to move your entire body at once will only contribute to the feeling of helplessness and the sense of danger. Collect your thoughts and focus on moving just one limb. For example, try to move just your right arm, or your left leg, but never simultaneously.

  3. Try to synchronize your effort to move with your breathing
    - Try to wake up right at the moment when you inhale deeply. It will take several tries, but you should wake up within a few minutes of trying. You will always wake up when you tend to inhale a lot of air while trying to move.

  4. Immediately after waking up, stand up and do not fall back asleep
    - Falling back asleep will probably lead back to the sleep paralysis state. Try to avoid this at all cost.

Falling back asleep

  1. Calm down and try to relax
    - Understanding that sleep paralysis is not fatal will eliminate your fear of the entire experience.

  2. Close your eyes and think of something else
    - Remember, your body is still asleep. Try to think about something that you might want to dream about. Most of the time, you will dream about it.

  3. Fall back asleep


Sleep paralysis and folklore

Sleep paralysis has been around for a very long time and humans from different cultures have had different perceptions and explanations for the strange phenomena. It is not surprising that some cultures have eerie supernatural explanations for such strange occurrences. Here are some interesting folklore about sleep paralysis:

  • In the Philippines, there is a supernatural creature called Batibat which is the form of an old, fat lady. The Batibat sits on top of a sleeping person, therefore inflicts the person with the sleep paralysis condition.
  • Sleep paralysis has been referred to as a "witch riding your back" in the southern states of the US.
  • In Persia, a ghost-like creature called the Bakhtak sits on top of a sleeping person during sleep paralysis, making it hard to breathe.
  • In Greece, sleep paralysis is caused by a ghost-like demon named Mora, Vrahnas or Varypnas (Greek: Μόρα, Βραχνάς, Βαρυπνάς) who sits on top of a person and tries to steal the person's soul.
  • It is believed in Newfoundland that a person can curse someone with sleep paralysis by summoning a Hag. According to David J. Hufford, the Hag can be summoned by reciting the Lord's prayer backwards.


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