On Sleep Paralysis And Its Avoidance: Part II, A Solution
This article is the second part in a four-part series describing sleep paralysis; what it is and how I overcame it. It assumes that the reader has already read Part I which provides a general introduction to the nature of sleep paralysis. The four parts will be made available here on HubPages. There may be delays between publications, so please try again later if you don't see the article you're looking for.
For many, the combination of paralysis and hallucinations can be an alarming experience, therefore the articles might not be suitable for people of a nervous disposition.
Part II primarily describes a solution to the problem.
Contemporary Medical Advice
When I experienced sleep paralysis, I soon discovered what many do, namely, that although medical advice is available and well meaning, it is superficial and underlies the fact that there is no known cure (current advice is limited to avoiding sleep deprivation or irregular sleep patterns).
Even though the ailment has been around for thousands of years, contemporary medical knowledge does not appear to include a comprehensive understanding of what causes sleep paralysis or what can be done to avoid it. Although in extreme cases antidepressant medication is offered to treat the symptoms.
The solution came to me after I noticed a pattern of behavior that preceded an attack. A key moment in trying to understand sleep paralysis is when first realizing that it's happening. In that moment – supported by the knowledge that what's happening isn't real and can do no harm – it's important to avoid panicking or becoming caught up in the details of the hallucination but instead just calmly observing the situation. In such a state, the trigger can be more easily spotted.
In my case the trigger was: having thoughts in the mind when falling asleep.
Using 'thoughts in the mind' as a starting point, other issues fall into place. For example, current advice for dealing with sleep paralysis includes avoidance of erratic sleep patterns. I had found the same thing, that taking a nap (eg from 7pm until 9pm on the couch and then going to bed at 11pm) increased the likelihood of an attack. I then realized that having naps during the day takes the edge off sleepiness which, in turn, increases the likelihood of tossing and turning in bed with lots of thoughts churning through the mind. That obviously increases the chances of falling asleep with thoughts in the mind.
Following on from the above, my primary requirement for avoiding sleep paralysis is: do whatever needs to be done to ensure minimal thought activity in the mind when passing through the boundary between waking and sleeping (at least not any weighty thoughts).
In order to achieve the primary requirement, secondary requirements arise.
For example, it's better to be sleepy when going to bed. As mentioned above, that reduces the likelihood of having thoughts in the mind when crossing the waking/sleeping boundary. A healthy balance needs to be struck however, as some claim that sleep deprivation can also be a contributory factor in sleep paralysis.
To increase the likelihood of sleepiness when going to bed, it was necessary to avoid erratic sleeping patterns such as sleeping in in the mornings, going to bed too soon, or taking naps during the day.
Some people have such bad experiences during sleep paralysis that they fear going to bed at night. One lady said that when her husband was away on business, and she was home alone, sleep paralysis was all she thought about day and night. Clearly, this is sowing the seeds for another attack.
Others fear nighttime so much that they take short naps during the day to catch up on lost sleep. Again, they may be unwittingly increasing the probability of another attack, not decreasing it.
It seems to me that the mechanics of what goes on regarding sleep paralysis can best be described using the analogy of a diver. The goal is for the diver to descend to the seabed at a sustained and steady speed. Sleepiness acts like a weight that helps with the descent to the bottom. An active, busy mind and sleeplessness act like floats preventing a descent along the proper route.
I believe that if sleepers don't take a natural, direct path down into sleep, then they're liable to end up bobbing around in a part of the mind where they shouldn't be.
It also seems to me that thoughts don't stop when we fall asleep, instead their energy remains; causing a whirlwind in the mind and churning up activity that soon leads to wakening into a state of sleep paralysis. Some people seem to be much more prone to the effects than others, for some unknown reason.
Imagine If We Acted Out Our Dreams
Stilling The Mind
I used to suffer from what is referred to by many as 'the monkey mind'. That's the state in which most people live, whereby the mind is constantly active and full of thoughts. I remember one day thinking that my mind felt like a roughed-up football field after a game, due to all the thinking I'd done that day. So I decided to do something about it.
Whether it was due to that conscious decision, or a separate decision to explore meditation, or the discovery that thoughts were triggering sleep paralysis, the result is that I'm now in the fortunate position of being able to still my mind at will (it can be done, all it needs is some gentle practice and the resolve to do it).
However, to avoid sleep paralysis it isn't even necessary to go that far. It's only necessary to keep thought activity below a certain threshold, such as on the nights when there is no sleep paralysis – which shows that the target is achievable with a minimal amount of resolve.
So, to round off this article I decided to search YouTube for a video on stilling the mind. There's a lot of information out there, but most make it sound too complicated.
The following video is the best I could find. It's philosophically neutral but still overly complicated (those books in the background look like the sorts you spend years reading in order to reach the realization that you didn't need to read them), but I guess if he had summarized the video to just the key message of: 'there's merit in stilling the mind, therefore if you wish to do so, you could try meditation', its popularity would drop dramatically.
The only other thing I'd add to that summary is, given stillness as the immediate goal, it's best to avoid trying to use meditation to control the mind. Meditation works better through 'letting go' rather than through 'control'. One of the problems of being in control is that one might end up where one wants to be, rather than where one needs to be.
But learning to still the mind to the point where sleep paralysis isn't triggered any more can just be the start.
In Part III, I move the story on to describing some people's experiences during sleep paralysis.