11 things you must know about the terrifying condition called sleep paralysis

11 things you must know about the terrifying condition called sleep paralysis

Facts that every person needs to know about sleep paralysis.

Most people will be unaware of a sleep disorder called sleep paralysis. This is a condition that most of us suffer from at least once in our life, whether we remember it or not. It is a medical condition where a person, on waking up, experiences a sense of paralysis or the inability to move or speak. It is also commonly accompanied by hallucinations, which makes the situation a whole lot scarier. These are 11 facts that look at different aspects of sleep paralysis:  

#11 Symptoms of sleep paralysis

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Several studies have consistently proved that people who are exhausted, stressed or sleep-deprived are more likely to experience sleep paralysis. People have been trying for a very long time to understand why one experiences sleep paralysis, but there has been no valid explanation for it so far.  

#10 There is no actual danger

Picture for representational purpose only (Source: Shutterstock)

There is no denying that sleep paralysis is a scary and horrific experience, but there is no actual danger. It does not cause any physical harm to the body. There have been no clinical deaths reported till now. The idea is to trick yourself into not being scared whenever you experience something like this. Tell yourself that it is just a dream and this is not real. It may feel like forever, but the more you remain positive, the less scary it will be. Reassurance is the key!  

#9 You lose control over your body

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No matter how hard you try, even if somehow you are aware when you are in a state of sleep paralysis, you cannot wake your body up. Some people can just move their fingers or wiggle their toes or facial muscles. This eventually helps them wake up, but a majority of people have to patiently wait till it's over. The state of sleep paralysis can last anywhere from 20 seconds to a few minutes.

#8 Historical cases of sleep paralysis

Picture for representational purpose only (Source: WikiCommons)

Researchers have been attempting to explain and understand this phenomenon. Persian medical texts, which date back to the 10th century, also have accounts of sleep paralysis. The first-ever observation of sleep paralysis was made by a Dutch physician in 1664. The physician believed that a 50-year-old woman was suffering from 'nightmares' and it was called thus till the 19th century. Eventually, it was renamed as 'sleep palsy' and then 'sleep paralysis'.

 

#7 Fuseli's interpretation of sleep paralysis

Painting by Fuseli in the Renaissance period (Source: Alaska Sleep Clinic)

An important historical example of sleep paralysis can be seen in a Renaissance painting by Swiss painter, Henry Fuseli. The demon displays the feeling of extreme pressure on the chest that a person feels when they experience sleep paralysis. This painting is one of Fuseli's best work! 

#6 It is NOT a disease!

Picture for representational purpose only (Source: Adventist HealthCare)

Know that this is NOT a disease and is 100% a natural occurrence. Sleep paralysis can happen to anyone. Several studies have revealed that most people have experienced this at least once in their life and are probably unaware of it. The level of intensity of the paralysis varies from person to person. Young adults and people with a history of mental illnesses are more likely to experience sleep paralysis.  

#5 Nightmares and hallucinations

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Symptoms of sleep paralysis include hallucinations and nightmares. However, these are unlike the visuals that you see in your sleep when your eyes are closed. These hallucinations occur when your mind is alert and feels awake. This is what makes the situation twice as scary as we have been conditioned to think that seeing is believing. You feel an added sense of anxiety as you are unable to scream or move. 

#4 Folk Stories

Succubus: The sex demon (Source: unimaginablenightmares.blogspot.com)

There are many folk stories and legends from all around the world that talk about this condition in different cultures. 'Kanashibar', in Japan, means being bound up with metal. The Chinese know the sleep paralysis phenomena as 'ghost oppression' whereas people in the US relate it to alien abductions. In African culture, they associate sleep paralysis to 'a devil riding your back' where demons have sex with people in their sleep and are commonly referred to as Incubus or Succubus.

  

#3 How it occurs

Picture for representational purpose only (Source: Asleepywolf)

Sleep paralysis occurs during one of these two transitions; when you're falling asleep or waking up. The body has to go into a REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep) and must come out of it. Sleep paralysis occurs when your body has a problem making this transition. When it happens while you are falling asleep, it is known as 'hypnagogic' sleep paralysis. When it happens when you are in the process of waking up, it is known as 'hypnopompic' sleep paralysis.  

#2 The feeling of dying slowly

Sleep paralysis is usually accompanied by a feeling of total despair or dread. It is almost as though you are slowly dying. This results in a feeling of relief when you finally wake up almost as if you rose from the dead. These are two accounts of horrific sleep paralysis experiences as told by two Reddit users:

"I had my first sleep paralysis when I was in high school. I was a Freshman or Sophomore. I fell asleep at my desk while studying. Suddenly, I became aware of my surroundings. I could see my desk and book. My mom walked in and moved stuff around. I tried to call out to her, but I couldn't. I couldn't move my body either." - SocialJusticeTemplar, Reddit 

Picture for representational purpose only (Source: viralsection.com)

"I've been experiencing sleep paralysis when I was in high school till now due to stress. I was around 15-17 when it started but earlier today I experienced the scariest one yet. Usually whenever my SP starts to kick in, and when I say kick in I mean I can know or feel that my SP is going to happen.

"How do I know? Well, if you experience SP a lot and by "a lot" I mean 3 times a night if I'm lucky, you can know. But earlier today, I didn't notice. It just ambushed me in the middle of my sleep and this time, everything I try to do didn't work. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't move+I was in the worst sleeping position ever.

"Every time I have my SP, I would just normally count from 1-10 and try to relax or whenever I'm too tired, my exhaustion beats the SP and I fall back asleep. Those things didn't work. It took me so long to wake up, I was so scared and desperate that I choked on my own fucking saliva!!! I thought it was the end!!!!!!!!" 

- KiriAsu, Reddit 

#1 The science behind it

Picture for representational purpose only (Source: athleticform.us)

When you sleep, what happens is that your brain sends a command to your body's voluntary muscles to relax and go into a state of paralysis known as Atonia. This tends to restrict your physical movements in your dreams which help prevent your body from any external injury. In a sleep behavior disorder or nightmares, atonia does not happen properly and the voluntary muscles move while the mind remains asleep. This is why when people walk or talk, they are completely unaware of what they are doing. 

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