On Sleep Paralysis And Its Avoidance: Part IV, Conclusions
This series of articles describes the surprisingly common ailment of sleep paralysis. Previous articles in the series include an introduction on what sleep paralysis is, as well as a description of the solution I found for avoiding it, and also an article dedicated to describing some of the experiences people have had during an attack of sleep paralysis. If you haven't already done so, it would be better to start reading from Part I. All articles in the series can be found by clicking here.
The combination of paralysis and hallucinations can be extremely alarming and so these articles might not be suitable reading for people of a nervous disposition. Part IV brings the series to a close with some conclusions drawn from the full series.
Catalysts For Sleep Paralysis
As mentioned in Part II, the solution for sleep paralysis that worked for me was to avoid going off to sleep (ie passing through the boundary between waking and sleeping) with thoughts in the mind.
Before falling asleep, it is necessary to stop for a moment and ensure that any thought in the mind has gone. If the mind is caught up in some serious issues then it might take a few minutes to make sure the thought has gone. It depends on an individual's sensitivity to thoughts as to how quiet the mind needs to be but in some cases it might be beneficial to learn to meditate as a means of habitually stilling the mind.
On the assumption that sleep paralysis is caused by thoughts in the mind, which in turn are made more likely by a lack of sleepiness due to erratic sleep patterns, it isn't surprising to find that adolescence is a stage in life when sleep paralysis is most likely to occur for the first time.
Adolescence is a time when people find themselves with greater freedom and control over their lives. That includes control over their sleep, coupled with the potential for more erratic sleep patterns.
I once thought that sleep paralysis, with its frequent sensation of someone sitting on my chest holding me down on the bed, was just the brain's way of creating a reality to cope with the unusual situation of being conscious but paralyzed by sleep hormones. However, that theory was proved false when on a few occasions I woke into a state of paralysis as a reaction to a sudden loud sound from outside. On those occasions, although there was paralysis, there was no feeling of a malevolent presence in the house.
Some people have developed techniques to enter a state of sleep paralysis deliberately for ulterior motives, again without the malevolent presence. So it would seem that the malevolent component of sleep paralysis must be due to a more complex reason than just sleep hormones.
I've often thought that hospitals are also places where sleep paralysis could have a greater potential to occur. Patients spend a lot of time in hospital beds, creating the potential for naps during the day and concomitant erratic sleep patterns. There have been stories from hospital patients telling of 'utterly horrendous' experiences in sleep paralysis but there's also the possibility that medications might also be responsible for such experiences.
Coleridge: The Pains Of Sleep
Part I of this series referred to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem: The Pains of Sleep. In the second and third verses he seems to be describing an experience very similar to sleep paralysis:
Sleep, the wide blessing, seemed to me,
Distemper's worst calamity.
The third night, when my own loud scream,
Had waked me from the fiendish dream.
However, looking at his first verse, I feel he may also be referring to a solution to sleep paralysis similar to what's described in these articles, ie keeping the mind still, and avoiding thoughts when going off to sleep:
My spirit I to Love compose,
In humble trust mine eyelids close,
With reverential resignation.
No wish conceived, no thought expressed,
Only a sense of supplication.
Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself
The important thing to realize about sleep paralysis is that, no matter how alarming the experiences may be, they aren't real. Whether encountering demons, hearing loud frightening bangs, or crescendos of massed voices, or listening to malevolent-sounding mischievous voices, they're just illusions created by the mind. They don't cause any physical harm. A reassuring thought certainly, but also one that appears prominently in a famous literary work.
The Tibetan Book of The Dead
The Tibetan Book of The Dead includes a description of what can be expected during a period (Bardo) shortly after death. In part of the Bardo, similarly frightening experiences are described, typically involving blood-thirsty demons and frightening sounds. Tibetans are expected to prepare for death by learning during their lifetime that such images are illusions that can do them no harm. They are just conjured up by the mind.
According to the Book, the moment the 'dead' person realizes the illusory nature of the experiences, the phenomena immediately lose their strength and disappear.
Socrates advised that every day should be spent preparing for death (which he compared to meeting the Minataur in the Labyrinth). Perhaps those who experience sleep paralysis can consider themselves lucky enough to have been given a lesson in life, as preparation for what's to come!