The description in Wikipedia best simplifies the strange phenomenon known as sleep paralysis, “Sleep paralysis occurs when the brain awakes from a REM state, but the body paralysis persists. This leaves the person fully conscious, but unable to move. The paralysis can last from several seconds to several minutes after which the individual may experience panic symptoms and the realization that the distorted perceptions were false.”
You know that movie “The Matrix?” That’s what I compare this to,it’s like waking up and realizing you’ve been living in a fake universe and you suddenly glimpse the real one and it freaks you out.
The symptoms of sleep paralysis include sensations of noises, smells, levitation, paralysis, terror, and images of frightening intruders.
Here’s some things that have been discovered about this phenomenon: It occurs more often in people who have had panic attacks, it tends to run in families, it is often associated with “hag syndrome” or the sensation of someone sitting on one’s chest, often involves the sensation of someone being present with you, sometimes gives an out-of-body experience, it is rarely linked to any deep psychological problems, and about 4 out of 10 people experience this phenomenon.
What might exacerbate it? Lack of sleep, sleep schedule changes, stress or bipolar disorder, sleeping on your back, restless legs or narcolepsy, some medications, and substance abuse.
Your best bet for beating this is to get regular patterned sleeping habits, reducing stress, exercising, and trying not to sleep on your back (it helps if you use a tall pillow so you’re more apt to sleep on your side).
If you’ve experienced this phenomenon, consider yourself someone who’s undergone something rather paranormal-like. It certainly makes for a terrifying short story. Here’s an example of the one that I can still remember to this day that horrified me so much that I became fixated on end-of-world movies and stories.
It’s my day off. I don’t feel like going to the beach, so I decide to veg-out. I lie down against a bunch of pillows I have tossed against the base of my couch, sinking into the plush old-fashioned shag carpet of my apartment. The TV, at my feet, is showing the usual LA morning talk shows. The speakers drone in their whiny voices as I fade into a light sleep. Lying on my back against the pillows, I open my eyes slightly to see words going across the screen, scrolling continuously. I try to move, but am completely unable. My arms and legs are weighted down, my eyes won’t open more than a slit. The writing is fuzzy. My face feels weird, like it’s melting. I can’t open my mouth to speak. I try desperately to read the scrolling. Why do I feel so weird? What happened? What’s that scrolling saying? My mind interprets it as the TV showing emergency shelter locations for my area. I am desperate to read where those in Redondo Beach go, but I can’t make out the words. My body won’t work, my mouth won’t work. I must be irradiated. They dropped the bomb! I’ll never make it to a shelter now. I will all my power into moving or speaking or opening my eyes to see better. I collapsed back against the pillows and give up. Even if I made it to a shelter, I’d be dead from the radiation. I give in to death.
It must have been only seconds later that sleep gave up its hold and I opened my eyes and realized the show was over and scrolling the credits. I looked around me and out the window to see the normal world. I studied my face in the mirror. It felt so absolutely real and I felt as though I had just given in to death. I’m trembling, but I’m alive. I feel like I had a second chance.
Many times the elements of what the eyes are seeing are incorporated into the semi-dream state and they can be quite distorting. Occasionally, I see a face leaning over me that’s gray with large dark eyes (alien-like). When I do finally become fully alert, I realize I’m looking at the patterns of light and dark in the room and making a face from it.
The mind doesn’t know the difference between a fantasy and reality, it will react accordingly with arousal, tension, or peace. I learned that lesson that day and I also learned to try to avoid sleeping on my back. I bought a tall pillow and avoided that position as often as possible. Over the years, several more times I’d have this phenomenon, each time I was sleeping on my back.
Just remember, most everyone will have this happen at some point, waking up during paralysis. It’s necessary for the body to undergo this state while dreaming (to keep us from running about the house and acting out our fantasies). Still, if you wake up during it, it’s like waking up in Christopher Reeve’s body and a sense of being held captive; the brain on, the body off.
You’ll probably remember your sleep paralysis events the rest of your life. They leave quite an impression. I like to consider them as an interesting learning tool about what the mind is capable of and the alternate realities that exist when we dance between the mystical dream world and the practical awake one. Marrying the two together is bound to cause some very surreal experiences.