Have you ever felt like someone is sitting on top of you? You cannot move, your words do not come out of your mouth and you feel paralyzed? Yep... sleep paralysis! What causes sleep paralysis and what can you do about it?
You wake up one morning, but strangely enough, you cannot get up. You feel numb, you are having trouble breathing.
Suddenly, you realize you are not alone... Someone is sitting on your stomach.
She smiles creepily and reaches for your throat. You try to stop her, only to find that you can barely move.
You feel her grip tightening as her smile widens to that of a demon, this has got to be a nightmare! Wake up! Move!!
The lady is gone, but your memory of her is engraved forever.
It all felt so real, you swear you were awake…
Surely this was a dream, right? Welcome to the terrors of Sleep Paralysis, horror movies will not do anymore!
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
Although studies about its prevalence vary, sleep paralysis does not affect everyone. If you have never experienced this, you should take a moment to thank your body. When you go to sleep, your body enters into cycles which themselves have stages. Stages 1 to 4 range from light sleep to deep sleep.
Finally, there is a 5th stage in which you reap the most benefits of your sleep cycle: REM sleep. You may think that your brain is resting when you are tucked in bed, you could not be more wrong.
REM sleep is when your dreams are most vivid. This is also when your brain orders your body to get into maintenance mode; it repairs tissue damage, muscle damage and reinvigorates your immune system amongst an abundance of things that are incredibly beneficial to you.
To get to this stage, however, your brain needs you to stay still for that period, so it releases a chemical that naturally paralyzes you so that it can take care of you. This is when things can go very wrong. Sleep paralysis occurs when only your conscious mind wakes up from your state of REM sleep. Your muscles, on the other hand, are still stuck in that state, frozen and numb.
What Triggers Sleep Paralysis?
We now know the mechanics behind the causes of sleep paralysis, but what could actually trigger it? Sleep paralysis is often linked to various conditions. If you relate to any of these conditions, try to address them if possible.
Persistent stress and anxiety are bad for both your physical and mental health. Identify the cause of your troubles if you have not already done so. If you cannot directly do something about it, try something that relieves the stress instead.
Think yoga, meditation, breathing exercises or even something as simple as yogurt or a webcomic. Remember to always make time for yourself even during times of total chaos.
Neglecting stress and anxiety may cause you to spiral down towards depression. This is often extremely personal with no easy solution.
Irregular and/or insufficient sleep
This may be one of the most common triggers for the average person. Today’s society gets increasingly dynamic and as industries compete harder for your attention than ever before. Our average amount of sleep has been steadily decreasing.
Start by taking measures that would increase the quality of your sleep: Cutting down on alcohol and tobacco, turning off screens, sticking to a schedule… Keep in mind that the recommended amount of sleep for an adult is 8 to 9 hours. Although skipping here and there is fine, regular & healthy sleep brings a lot to your life.
Benefits include an extended lifespan, a healthier body, better mood and a healthier mind.
Sleeping disorders such as narcolepsy or insomnia and mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
Consult your doctor if you get haunted by sleep paralysis. Modern medicine and mental help have made many strides, they may help you avoid sleep paralysis.
Aside from these conditions, sleeping on your back also increases your chances of sleep paralysis.
If you ever happen to be struck by sleep paralysis, try the following:
This could be a wildly confusing and scary moment for you. Keep your head cool like an astronaut. If you panic, you risk turning this nightmarish experience as you forget to breathe and your heart rate accelerates. The first step starts with identifying and rationalizing. Recognize that you are in a state of sleep paralysis. It may be scary, but is not actually dangerous.
Wiggle a toe or a finger
What is harder and heavier to move around: Your finger, or your arm? Start small and work your way up.
Tap into a source of love and inspiration
Think of something or someone that brings a joy, a light into your life. Many religious people have reported praying their way out of sleep paralysis. It could also be your grandmother or your favorite pet.
Try lucid dreaming
For some, this is a golden opportunity for lucid dreaming. Since you are the source of your dreams, that means you can shape and create the dream as you want them to be.
Many who have experienced sleep paralysis have also reported seeing malevolent figures. Fortunately, whatever you may have seen was not real. Since you are technically still under a REM state, it is likely that your dreams have turned into hallucinations.
It turns out that the brain is pretty adept at pulling tricks on ourselves, one of its favorite pastimes is actually making up information. A basic example of this can be found in “uniformity illusion”.
This is an example among many in which your eyes clearly report what they see, but as you stare and focus on the center, your brain insists on overriding that information by filling your peripheral vision with its own interpretation. This can be further strengthened with something called confirmation bias.
This is when someone tends to seek information that supports their already established beliefs. For example, if you firmly believe in spirits, you are much more likely to experience seeing or hearing them than your less sensitive counterparts. Consequently, you might interpret sleep paralysis as spirits messing about with you.
The Fascinating Stories, Folklore, And Myths Of Sleep Paralysis
Here is a little something you may not know about: In Scandinavian folklore, a Mare is an evil spirit which rides on sleeping people’s chests, giving them bad dreams. Thus, the word “nightmare” was born.
In the spirit of Halloween, we have decided to share some more fun facts from related to sleep paralysis. Although the symptoms are similar globally, it is fascinating to see how different cultures around the world interpret it. Have you heard of…
The Old Hag, Newfoundland – Canada
Remember the lady? She is quite the legend in Newfoundland. Did you know that sleep paralysis is unusually common in this region? If you happen to be on a visit, take the time to ask the locals about her, and pray she does not come and visit you.
Fun fact: “Ag rog” means to be “hagridden”, referring to the sensation of being sat on or “ridden” by a hag. The phrase is now commonly used to refer to poor sleep.
The Japanese know sleep paralysis as kanashibari, which translates to being bound. In Japanese folklore, kanashibari is a state between dreams and reality where you are awake yet stuck in an immobile body. It is most commonly caused by possessing spirits and ghosts known as yokai. To release yourself from a kanashibari, a Buddhist priest must recite certain sutras.
Though the phenomenon is as old as the country itself, it is not gone. A 1987 study administered a questionnaire to over 600 people. 40% of them reported to have had this experience, at least once in their lifetime. Half of them also reported being under stress or having their sleep cycle disturbed right before the episode.
Japan today is still one of the most hardworking countries in the world, where 4 out of 10 people get less than 6 hours of sleep.
Uqumaniqig, The Inuits.
The Inuit hold that sleep is essential for staying healthy, giving the body time to heal, and for replenishing one’s energy for hunting. The Inuit notion of tarniq, or spiritual essence, is essential to their experience of sleep as it is said to partially leave the body while a person is asleep.
The tarniq is particularly vulnerable in a state of sleep, leaving the body open to the experience of uqumangirnig, or sleep paralysis. During an ugumangirnig, people believe that the tarniq may even entirely leave the body.
The person is left conscious yet incapable of moving while being confronted with having to fend off an evil presence. He or she may also report an “out of body” experience, in which they describe having seen their own paralyzed body from above. This frightening state of sleep paralysis can only be escaped by the person trying to move their toes or their middle finger.
The Pandafeche/Pantafa, Italy
The Pandafeche is known in the regions of Marche and Abruzzo. Here as well do people describe symptoms of sleep paralysis: A sense of suffocation accompanied with the vision of a spectral figure standing next to the bed.
The Pandafeche is an old woman clothed in white, and has an unusually long, protruding “snout”. She will get on your bed, crouching on as you lay helplessly in bed. Finally, she puts her hand on your mouth as she glares at you with her demonic eyes. According to popular belief, she amuses herself by making braids out of the hair of horses.
How does one avoid getting caught by her?
The answer is to put a bottle of wine near the bed so that the witch happily helps herself without waking you up. Alternatively, you can also put a bag of vegetables. Do not, however, leave a knife planted in the wood…
There is a fun story about the origins of the Pandafeche which may have its roots in the dialectic word “pantafc”. The mid 800’s was a time when working in the fields was hard and tiring work. Consequently, the peasants would come home exhausted to the bone.
At night, however, they would be welcomed with a rich meal made of leftovers, condiments, super-seasoned peppers, beef, bread, and wine. They would then go to bed with their full bellies up and no energy left to spare, not even to turn around. The heavy, slowly digested food would weigh on the organs of the elder peasants, impeding their regular function. They would thus be hit by “pantafc”.
UFOs and alien abductions - USA
In light of the growing belief in the existence of UFOs and apparent visits by extra-terrestrial life, sleep paralysis now also manifests as perceived alien abduction. Accounts of encounters with aliens sometimes include descriptions of experiences similar to sleep paralysis.
Alien abductees claim to feel like they are caught in a waking dream, are unable to move and have difficulty breathing, all symptoms that overlap with sleep paralysis. Some experiencers even report an ominous sense of dread or anxiety, possibly due to the presence of an evil being. However, sleep paralysis can explain only some and not all of the experiences related by alien abductees, leaving us to ponder other, perhaps unearthly, explanations...