This situation seems like it should be straight out of a horror film: you wake up in the middle of the night, completely unable to move. You start to see creepy demon-like figures in the corner of your room, and they may even move toward you, or sit right on top of you!
Sleep paralysis occurs when one’s REM sleep gets disrupted. In case you don’t remember everything from your high school psychology class, we’ll give you a little refresher: REM stands for “rapid eye movement,” and refers to the last of your five sleep stages. REM makes up about 25% of your sleep cycle, and repeats throughout the night.
REM sleep is when your dreams occur. It’s also thought to be involved in the process of storing memories, learning, and balancing mood. If you’ve ever heard anyone emphasize the importance of REM sleep, this is why!
Of course, there are sometimes random disruptions in this paralysis that you may experience. During sleep paralysis, the person is technically conscious and will have their eyes open. Therefore, they experience dreams as if they are hallucinations.
So how do you know if you’ve experienced sleep paralysis? Some of the symptoms include difficulty taking deep breaths, ability to move the eyes and see normally, hallucinations, or feeling incredibly scared.
If you’ve experienced these symptoms, then you may have had an episode of sleep paralysis! Episodes can vary from a few seconds to a few minutes.
It’s also important to remember that evolution occurs very slowly in the human body. The implication of this is that your body goes into emergency mode after experiencing paralysis and difficulty breathing and therefore will try to alert you by interpreting this in the most terrifying ways possible.
Different cultures have different folklore relating to sleep paralysis, and they’re all pretty terrifying! In Brazil, for example, a creature called “Pisadeira” has long fingernails and comes into people’s homes at night and sits on their chests.
In Newfoundland, Canada, sleep paralysis manifests itself as an old hag who also sits on the sleeping person.
Everyone experiences sleep paralysis differently, but one person describes a particular experience as such:
“I was laying on my left side and started to feel that pressure on my chest. When I realized I was paralyzed and started panicking, something whispered in my ear, ‘just coming in to say goodnight.’ That’s when I felt like something was pushing me towards the edge of my bed.”
The simplest way to get out of paralysis is by wiggling your toe or clenching your fist, since most of the paralysis happens in the chest, stomach and throat. It will probably feel like an eternity, but it should eventually work!
Another tactic is to not fight back, as this will make your panic feelings even more intense. It’s easier said than done, but staying calm is the best course of action!
Most people only experience sleep paralysis every so often, but if you’re experiencing terrifying hallucinations on a regular basis, it might be time to give your doctor a visit. You should also see your doctor if you’re experiencing sudden sleepiness during the day, or if you’re struggling to get enough sleep at night because of your sleep paralysis.
Of course, if you want to try to prevent sleep paralysis, it’s always good to get a full night’s sleep, get regular exercise, and to make sure you have a regular sleep schedule that includes a comfortable place to rest your head!