Sleep Paralysis 101: What You Should Know

We all had those monsters under the bed fears when we were younger; but what happens when that monster crawls out of the bed and starts staring right into your eyes as you’re sleeping? Although not an actual monster, nor a horror movie scenario, scary sleep paralysis sure feels just as sinister. According to studies, about 4 out of 10 people experience sleep paralysis during their lifetime. For some, it’s an experience they’ve felt a couple of rimes then forgot. Others have a more chronic-fashioned beef with their REM sleep. 

If you’re interested to meet and get to know the harmless beast that is sleep paralysis, follow us as we dive into deep sleep mode to uncover everything there is to know about this trickster. 

What is Sleep Paralysis?

To put things quite plainly, sleep paralysis occurs when your brain is in REM sleep; not to confuse it with deep sleep, your brain works as actively during REM sleep as it does while you’re awake. To protect you during this vividly visual time, your brain completely paralyzes your body, so you don’t end up acting out on the images and dreams you’re experiencing. Now that’s just one of the many scary facts about sleep and dreams. 

As chance would have it, some individuals wake right in between that sleeping phase, which results in a rather uncomfortable, paralyzed yet conscious state of mind and being – and that’s what we call sleep paralysis.

 “You’re consciously waking up, but that protective paralysis from REM sleep hasn’t fully subsided yet,”  sleep disorder specialist Alicia Roth, Ph.D. explains. 

Some of the symptoms you may experience are chest pain, difficulties with breathing, no movement, and a feeling of a presence or hearing voices in the room. It all sounds so scary, so can sleep paralysis cause death? No, not really.  It’s not fully clear why sleep paralysis occurs, but it has been linked to some seriously interesting theories; from the paranormal to the fully ordinary and normal, we’ll be discussing all of those speculations here today. 

Why Do Some People Experience Sleep Paralysis?

Since there is no direct or singular answer, there’s a lot of room and space for speculation here; from sleep specialists to your average Joe on Twitter, a lot of these theories either make sense or are just very interesting to read about and discuss.  

On a little more serious note, a lot of experts have tied sleep paralysis to a series of mental health issues. As we know it, anxiety or GAD (Generalized anxiety disorder), has shown to be one of the several disorders that might affect your REM sleep in this manner. 

Since anxiety is linked to excessive worry and overthinking, we’d assume the brain is immensely active while going through an anxious episode; oddly similar to the type of brain activity while you’re in REM sleep. Depending on the type of imagery you experience during sleep paralysis, your wakened and anxious thoughts and feelings just might disrupt your sleep. As the mind is most likely used to that sort of activity anyway.

Everybody has fears and worries, there’s nothing odd about that; however, an anxious mind takes that worry to extremes; fully teaching and rewiring the mind to act out in such a worrisome way. It wouldn’t be unusual to assume it would do the same during sleep.

PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) is also linked to bad sleep and sleep paralysis. Folks who have experienced emotional distress or trauma in their lifetime, especially in their childhood are more likely to then experience sleep paralysis as a result.

Experts have gone as far as saying that folks with very rich imaginations or prone to daydreaming are also at a higher risk. Additionally, dissociation is also a mental condition that could be the root cause of sleep paralysis.  All in all, everything that is heavy on the mind will take away the easiness of your sleep. 

Stress

This one deserves a column of its own. The reason why are statistics that are just too much to handle. One of them is that around 77% of the population experience stress that affects their physical health; that number is just too high. And although stress is expected and even normal in some situations, excessive or extreme stress can lead to so many disorders, even the ones including your sleep.

Try to remember that at the end of the day, not that many things are worth stressing about; they truly aren’t. Replace the time you take to stress with being more grateful for the things you already have. If that stress turns chronic, you’ll beg to be your old self again, without all the things you stressed about not having! That’s one of the ways how to avoid sleep paralysis and really bad sleep. 

Is Sleep Paralysis Changing Reality As We Know It?

We’ve all had our fair share of paranormal activity interests; some fully believe in such phenomenon, while others look at these thought-provoking occurrences with a grain of salt.

The truth is since we have no exact cause of sleep paralysis, this somewhat infinite space of speculation has brought us to this non-medical realm of possibilities. So let’s explore these sleep paralysis paranormal theories and have some fun while we’re at it.

Glitches In The Matrix

Did you see that one coming, didn’t you? Ever since the simulation theory blew up a couple of years ago, there was no shortage of connections to sleep paralysis.  In theory, a sleep paralysis episode is nothing more than a glitch in the simulation; similar to a video game glitch, where the screen or the character is paralyzed for a couple of minutes before the game resumes business as usual. 

“The proposal is that all the current existence that humans know, including the Earth and the rest of the universe, could in fact be an artificial simulation, such as a computer simulation.”

And as with any digital file, malfunction is inevitable, so these theorists believe the same goes for life as we know it. And if you are unsure of the simulation theory, Elon Musk is the right guy to help you understand it better.

Possessions and Other Night Tales

Older civilizations had a very spiritual explanation for schizophrenia; you weren’t ill, you were just possessed by demons, simple as that (LOL). 

In old folklore: “The night hag is a generic name for a folkloric creature found in cultures around the world, and which is used to explain the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. A common description is that a person feels a presence of a supernatural malevolent being which immobilizes the person as if standing on the chest. This phenomenon goes by many names.”

Yes, our ancestors were experiencing sleep paralysis just as much as we are, they just had a rather sinister explanation for it. So to answer your is sleep paralysis scary question, it probably was even scarier back then; having to fight off demons instead of day to day stress. 

Lucid Dreaming & Other Worlds

In a study condoned in the early 1990s, it was said that the belief in paranormal phenomena may reshape the way we view reality, hence the things we dream about. Experts and scientists have even named dreams as a second reality, as we basically spend half of our life sleeping, and therefore often dreaming. 

They are a direct reflection of our thoughts, fears, and everything in between. In many cases, the sleeping mind may have more objective answers and conclusions than the waking one. In other words, listening to your dreams or even keeping a dream journal may be of big help. In light of this, lucid dreams have held somewhat of spiritual meaning as well. Stepping into a secondary consciousness while dreaming is quite a thing to experience. 

“Although the direct relationship between paranormal belief and lucid dreaming is weak studies generally observe significant positive relationships between paranormal belief and major constructs associated with lucid dreaming.”

In theory, lucid dreaming is a mere walk through another universe. Since dreams are an alternate reality of sorts, far away from our own, we can only access it while being in a different state of consciousness.  Sleep paralysis, in theory, of course, is the portal from one dimension to another; creating a hectic arrival from point A to point B if you will. As you are fully aware of your surroundings most of the time while experiencing it.

As for the shadowy figures and voices, they are just echoes from the dream realm, as you return to your own world. But once you’re awake, all of the hardships disappear, as you land safely to where you left off. This, of course, has zero scientific grounds, only a handful of creative outlooks on life and dreams. 

Demons and Shadows Aside, How Do We Cope With Sleep Paralysis?

Just because mythical bearings aren’t real, that doesn’t make the experience of the paralysis any better. So, here’s what you can do to lessen the worry and be more comfortable:

  1. Sleep on the side: It was shown that sleep paralysis is much more common if you sleep on your back than any other way. 
  2. Try to open your eyes, and move your hands and feet while it’s happening: It sends the brain a message that it’s time to paralyze your body and wake up. 
  3. Drink a glass of water before bed: This has a series of health benefits, as keeping your body hydrated during sleep may improve the sleep itself. 
  4. Don’t Worry: Try to tell yourself that these things although scary, are not at all dangerous and will pass any minute. Worrying makes everything so much worse, believe us!

At the end of the day, a lot of people experience sleep paralysis, so no need to feel alone or scared. Lessening day-to-day stress and making sure you’re getting along and good night’s sleep may very well improve the state of your sleep paralysis, or in that case, lack thereof. 

The most important thing though, is to remain calm and with time, the sleep paralysis will slowly fade away from your life; your sleeping life, that is.

 

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