Have you ever woken up unable to move, feeling as if something was pressing you down into the bed? This alarming experience is called sleep paralysis. It is a condition in which you feel mentally awake, but unable to physically move your body. The feeling may last for a few seconds or up to a few minutes. It often occurs upon wakening; however, it is also known to occur when one is in the process of falling asleep. It can be accompanied by a physical feeling of pressure on the throat or chest and an inability to vocally express oneself. Some people report feeling or seeing a presence in the room, which many perceive to be otherworldly and ominous in nature.
What is Sleep Paralysis?
According to Beth Roybal at WebMD (2023), when we are sleeping our body shuts down to prevent us from physically acting out our dreams. At times when we are awakened during the dream cycles of our sleep, the physical body remains in shut down mode which can create frightening sleep paralysis conditions. Essentially, it signals an issue with our bodies being slightly out of sync with our sleep cycles. During the Rapid Eye Movement (R.E.M.) cycle, which is when dreams occur, the body is placed in a relaxed mode that allows you to rest and prevents you from fully acting out your dreams. If you become conscious within the R.E.M. cycle, your body may remain in an immobilized state and your perceptions of reality can be peppered with altered-state illusions making it seem as though there is an ominous presence in the room. This is especially the case when we are in a state of extreme fright about not being able to move our bodies or vocally express our fear. It is not a being holding us down, but our own bodies preventing us from acting out our dreams. Sleep paralysis experiences usually only last a few seconds to a few minutes; however, it can feel as though it is much longer than that when you are in the midst of this type of episode.
Personal Experience with Sleep Paralysis
When I was in my teens, I recall experiencing this type of paralysis. It was extremely frightening to be incapable of moving my body or making a sound. I remember lying there, not knowing what was happening, just praying for it to pass. As panic bubbled up within, I attempted to calm my racing heart by slowing down my breathing and telling myself this would pass. My personal experience, while terrifying, only occurred once in my life, and it did not involve a perception of an ominous presence in the room.
During my experience with sleep paralysis, I was able to talk myself through the experience until the sensors in my brain alerted my physical body to remove itself from dream mode. It is very frightening to experience sleep paralysis; however, I am glad to say it is an infrequent occurrence which may only occur once in someone’s lifetime, if at all. When it happens, though, it is an unforgettable experience.
Who is Affected by Sleep Paralysis and What Can Be Done
According to Roybal at WebMD (2023), the most frequent occurrences are reported in the teen years; however, sleep paralysis can happen to people of all ages. There are many underlying reasons why it occurs, some of which may include sleeping on one’s back, stress, sleep schedule changes, and lack of sleep. If sleep paralysis is a habitual problem, it is recommended that you talk with your doctor about your sleep patterns and conditions, as well as the stress levels in your life. There are many factors that affect our sleep, and if you are experiencing problems, it is best to speak to a specialist who can help you work on the issues.
All in all, sleep paralysis has a scientific reason for occurring based on the natural functions of the human body. It is not an ominous being taking control over you. The fear factor runs high when this occurs, and in a dream-like state, this experience can quickly turn into a sort of waking nightmare in which the mind creates all kinds of scary reasons for its occurrence. For those who have experienced sleep paralysis, there are ways of minimizing the effects when you are experiencing an episode. Knowledge is power in this case as it can help you to recognize the condition for what it is and ease the effects. For example, when you know this is a condition in which the mind awakens to consciousness before the body, you can work on calming yourself down through deep breaths and repeating to yourself, “Everything is alright, this will pass” until it does pass within a few seconds or minutes.
Blessings to you and sweet dreams!
With Love and Light,
Karen T. Hluchan
Roybal, B. (2023, April 28). Sleep Paralysis. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-paralysis