- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Sleep paralysis - Haunted in your sleep
Having a nightmare is never fun. And it’s even more scary when what you are having is not a nightmare but instead something much more terrifying – sleep paralysis. Anyone who might hear this word may dismiss it as simply nightmares, but only those who have experienced it may know the difference. Sleep paralysis can be called the ninjas in the world of parasomnia, they come in at night, paralyse you, and scare you enough to not be able to sleep for the rest of the week, all without making a sound or movement. Though they are less common than nightmares, they are ten times more effective in evoking feelings of fear and helplessness.
Sleep paralysis is a type of parasomnia which is seen in a very small percentage of people, but these people spend a huge part of their life being haunted in their sleep. Some mistake it for an actual haunting, for sleep paralysis do not end in our sleep, they bring about some hallucinations and physical symptoms that may really make it hard to explain.
People often experience sleep paralysis right before falling asleep or right before fully waking up. It is usually explained as the stage where we are neither asleep nor awake, now say that you just woke from a very bad nightmare that you can’t even remember and now you are in a limbo state where you are neither asleep nor awake, and you are having this feeling of dread creeping up inside you, and you are unable to breathe. You may be able to open your eyes and see which only makes it worse, for what you see is maybe a dark figure just standing in the corner or a white figure sitting over your chest and preventing you from breathing. At this point the only reaction you have is to scream and get rid of the white figure sitting on top of your chest and suffocating you, but when you try to move or scream, you realize that there is nothing you can do. You are paralyzed. All you can do is wait for the terror to pass and hope that your heart doesn’t jump out and you don’t go mad before this ends.
Most of the people having night terrors have explained seeing something dark sitting on their bed, hanging over their head, standing in the corner or lurking near the door (For Stephen King fans, you can think of this as the butter-knife nosed Space Cowboy or the Specter of love from ‘Gerald’s game’). This is referred to as the intruder. Another example of this intruder is the hallucination of seeing a white figure sitting in your chest suffocating you, this one is more specifically called as the incubus. Another instance of such hallucination is the out-of-body experience where the person experiencing this feels like he is looking in from the outside at the scene of himself sleeping and is unable to wake himself up. In this case, he becomes the intruder himself.
This parasomnia usually occurs when our sleep pattern is disrupted, and the various stages of sleep do not take place as they normally should, which is common in people with high stress levels who are unable to get enough sleep every night, and have to make do with taking naps every once in a while. This may not immediately cause sleep paralysis, but to those who are already experiencing it, it may be like adding fuel to the fire. While there are those who have understood the phenomenon and sought help, there are also those who have put the blame on some supernatural creature haunting them in their sleep and changed their sleeping position or their homes hoping that it won’t follow them. While all the questions regarding this particular parasomnia are yet to be answered, we have reached a point where we can surely explain the neurological process that occurs during the visit from the intruder, and that has been more than helpful for making the treatments available to avoid such visitations.
The poll below is just to see how many people have suffered from sleep paralysis, though it may not be an accurate way of getting a count, it may give us an idea. And please do share your experiences in the comments.