- Religion and Philosophy
My Experience with Sleep Paralysis
The great debate surrounding sleep paralysis- is it a medical condition or a supernatural phenomenon?
Sleep paralysis (SP) has been documented since the beginning of time, with tons of articles having been written about this frightening phenomenon. Medical science has proposed several theories as to why it occurs and evidence has proven what actually happens in the body surrounding the event. However, the overall source of what causes sleep paralysis has never been solved; even more puzzling is the lack of explanation of why the sleeper senses a malevolent intruder in the room, along with the feeling of absolute terror and hallucinations that go along with it. Yes, there are factors that seem to make it more likely to occur. And there are theories that attempt to explain various chemical reactions in the body accounting for the bodily sensations, or a heightened awareness of the "fight or flight" response, but with no definitive answer. And on the other side of the coin are the paranormal theories that deduce wicked entities are to blame for these occurrences. (Additionally, there's even a speculation of an alien abduction, but for the purpose of this article will not elaborate on that one).
My own personal experience with sleep paralysis
I suffer from recurrent sleep paralysis, always occurring at the onset of sleep (I also have excessive daytime sleepiness, which oftentimes goes hand in hand with this). These episodes are completely random; I may have one five nights in a row, or it may be an entire month before another one appears. But one thing is for sure- it's scary as hell! I'm more of a spiritual and think-outside-of-the-box person than I am partial to medical or scientific explanations- hence the great debate between religion and science. Nevertheless, I tend to lean toward the paranormal theories because they just make more sense to me. Basically, the spiritual aspect of what I experience during sleep paralysis seems spot on.
This is what happens in the first few minutes...
Here's a scenario of what happens during sleep paralysis: It generally transpires about 5-20 minutes after falling asleep. And as I lay there trying to drift off, I start hearing music, voices or various noises in my head. I'm not really aware of it because it's like a "white noise"; your not really mindful of it until you accidentally wake up and have the realization something loud was going on in your head. This continues to happen for a couple more minutes and as I'm just about to drift off, the slightest panic hits me. Again, this tinge of panic is unidentifiable but I am mindful of it. And then a few seconds later I'm falling and it's kind of like the sensation you get when you're dreaming you're falling (I'm sure everyone's done this), and for about three seconds it feels like everything's going in slow motion and sometimes there's a noise associated with this "falling". I struggle to move as this is happening and it's like swimming and drowning at the same time. During these three seconds, I'm screaming "help!" to myself in my head, and then it's "oh shit!" because at this point I know exactly what just transpired (but for some strange reason, I forget every single time up until this moment). Unfortunately, I've just entered the world of sleep paralysis...
Factors believed to be linked to Sleep Paralysis
Lack of REM sleep
Consistent, inadequate amounts of sleep; less than 4-5 hours a night
Such as medications used to treat ADHD or other stimulants
Mental health conditions
Stress, Bipolar disorder, Anxiety disorder, PTSD, Depression
Heredity appears to be linked in many cases involving identical twin studies
Heavily linked to narcolepsy, sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome
Sleeping on the back
Lying in a supine position makes the sleeper much more vulnerable
Alcohol, opiates, caffeine, stimulants and other drugs in combination
And once you're there...
The bizarre thing about sleep paralysis is that you can hear every little noise in your physical surroundings. Some people report actually seeing with eyes open during sleep paralysis. And I wouldn't say you're exactly awake during this phenomenon because your not- your brain is in a transitional state between consciousness and sleep- but you can definitely hear. While experiencing SP, there are thoughts and feelings of a malevolent presence that can't be rationalized away and your main goal is to wake up from this hellish nightmare, so to speak. Sometimes you're not able to get enough air and breathing is affected, like someone is sitting on your chest. This is caused by the actual "dream-state" itself- when a person is scared, their natural instinct is to increase the pace of their breathing. However, since your body is still asleep during episodes of SP your respiration is regulated and causes the sufferer to experience the feeling of suffocation. But, this depends on how deep in the sleep-state you've fallen. It's the conscious breathing that actually saves me from this hell...
Lucky for me I have hubby to arouse me from this nightmare, because there is one thing you CAN do to alert others when you're stuck in this paralysis- and that is to breathe fast and loud, kinda like you would see during a Lamaze class. Occasionally I'm able to get a little whimper or two out, but it's the breathing thing that signals my distress. And what's more, hubby has learned to tune into when I'm having one of those episodes (even as he's sleeping), and once he hears my purposeful breathing, he wakes me up. It's like a mother hearing her baby make the tiniest sigh when she's completely zonked out. "Honey, wake up", I'll hear him say while he's tapping me. But it generally takes more of a shove to free me from the paralysis.
Could there be more at work here than what we think?
The feeling of evil is absolutely real. There are several scientific theories that attempt to account for the deep sense of terror, those of which broadly state a physiological response in the brain is the primary cause, due to lack of sufficient REM sleep. But these are just hypotheses. And my question is, why do most people who suffer from sleep paralysis also experience the same exact narrative of panic and extreme terror, namely in either a malevolent being on top of them crushing their chest, or an evil presence in the room with them? Where did the myths of sinister spirits, "the old hag", the "intruder", as well as the incubus/succubus come from? I find it extremely ironic the same recurring theme continues to present itself in almost every case. I honestly believe there are some individuals who are simply destined to experience this phenomena and who probably also possess psychic abilities (either aware or unbeknownst to them). There may be scientific theories behind the etiology of sleep paralysis, but isn't it also possible for a "spiritual entity" to perhaps induce the physiological changes in the body, thus bringing about the sleep paralysis? I know this may be far fetched, but it does seem anything is possible and especially with such an ambiguous event.