Sleep Paralysis Disorder

Sleep Paralysis Disorder

Do you feel awake in your nightmares? Do you feel the presence of goblins and demons in your sleep and yet find yourself unable to move so much as a toe? You could be suffering from sleep paralysis disorder if you answered "yes" to any of these questions.
SleepHearty Staff
Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there's little fun to be had in explanations; they're antithetical to the poetry of fear.
~ Stephen King

Well, nightmares are not that illogical if various psychiatric theories are to be trusted. Experts of human psychology have been stating since ages that our dreams and nightmares are the offspring of our unconscious and sub conscious minds. It has been said by a lot of medical authorities on psychology and cognitive sciences that our dreams or nightmares are the sum total of our unmanifested selves - non material perceptions, emotions, experiences and memories thereof, strong and unfulfilled desires, deep-rooted fears and dogmas, superstitious and religious beliefs, etc. Oftentimes, these incorporeal inhabitants of our psychic depths surface during those moments when the self is farthest from active consciousness - sleep. Sleep paralysis disorder is the phenomenon of feeling awake in your nightmares and experiencing lucid emotions, mostly intense fear or loss of a sense of security, that stay on as vivid memories even after you wake up. So vivid in fact, that the waking up almost seems like a continuation of the dream/nightmare! So what exactly is sleep paralysis? Let's make an attempt to unravel the mystery.

What is Sleep Paralysis Disorder?

Sleep paralysis is a condition wherein a person may abruptly wake up from deep slumber, whether or not from a dream, and find himself unable to move or speak for sometime. Oftentimes, this waking up is not complete where the sufferer feels like he/she has been trapped within his/her dream and is rendered helpless by evil forces. Most of the so-called nocturnal attacks by goblins, incubi/succubi and other malevolent entities accompanied by the victim's inability to chant prayers to ward them off or get up and run away from them is nothing but sleep paralysis attacks or fits which last from anywhere between a few seconds to several minutes. Such a fit is also often accompanied by a feeling of being choked with victims reporting having felt something heavy placed upon their chest. Also, it is not uncommon to have mild hallucinations like seeing shadows, hearing unexplainable noises or voices and feeling people or things move around in the room while having an attack. This happens due to faulty transmission of brain signals, which is what also leads to an incomplete state of wakefulness.

When you look at this phenomenon from a physiological view, you'll have to first understand the biology of sleep itself. You see, when we go to sleep, the brain sends signals to the various muscles in the body which tell the latter to stay still and avoid any contraction. While waking up, the hormone that induces sleepiness stops its function leading to psychological consciousness and, almost simultaneously, the brain signals the muscles to regain activity and begin contracting. Now, when there is a considerable time gap between when the brain wakes up and when it sends signals to muscles, that interval is what leads to the state of sleep paralysis. In simple words, your mind wakes up earlier than your body and the time that passes before your body wakes up too is what you experience as sleep paralysis.

Sleep Paralysis Causes

Causes of sleep paralysis include various mundane as well as medical conditions such as narcolepsy, heightened stress, random changes in the surroundings or radical lifestyle modifications, sleeping on your back, having a lucid dream, side effects of narcotic medications, psychotropic effects of opiates and psychoactive drugs, etc. Also, since environment and experiences strongly influence the subconscious mind and are active participants in shaping dreams and repressed memories, it is not uncommon for people to have nightmares followed by fleeting moments of dream awareness if they have been watching horror movies or movies with violent content and gory elements or if they are continuously exposed to similar literature. Sleep paralysis, in such cases, are mostly random episodes and do not assume the chronic proportions of a physiological disorder.

Sleep Paralysis Treatment

In case of chronic sleep paralysis disorder, which is mostly common for narcolepsy patients, treatment of the underlying disorder is the best and the only option is to treat sleep paralysis. Also, counseling patients about the physiology of sleep, REM atonia (the phenomenon wherein the brain signals to muscles for resuming contraction get delayed) and dreams helps alleviate their fears of demonic attacks and help them come to terms with the fact that it is a minor quirk with their neural signaling process which can be corrected over time. Also, changing your sleeping position helps most of the time. If stress is the causative factor behind sleep paralysis, practicing meditation, yoga and various relaxation techniques go a long way to give relief. Keep a track of your sleeping time as the trigger for sleep paralysis may lie in how early/late you go to sleep and how much sleep you get at one go.

Most of the time during a sleep paralysis spell, while you feel immobile, you may be able to actually move a particular part of your body (mostly a finger, a toe, the tongue or the eyelids). Keep moving that part continuously and you'll soon be able to completely wake up. Another way to resume movement of the limbs is to breathe rapidly. This also quickens complete wakefulness. Focus on pre-slumber activities and note down if you get a fit only when certain activities were performed before going to sleep. If you find a connection, avoid those activities just before going to sleep as they may be the very triggers that lead to sleep paralysis. Also, it helps to share your experience with someone close to you. Tell your spouse, parent or close friend about it - you never know, even they may have been experiencing similar things but were hesitant to open up! Sharing the experience garners emotional support which will, ultimately, help you conquer your nightmares.