An asleep person is half dead. Anything can happen to you while you’re sleeping. A spider can walk over your face and get inside your nose. Someone may break into your house and steal your Nutella. A natural calamity may sway you to Heaven along with your mattress. Or for that matter, the world may come to an end and you might wake up straight on the Judgment Day. Anything can happen.
Sleep is an integral part of the human existence on this planet. It is also the most fascinating phenomenon that a person can study.
Recently I started paying attention to my nightmares and often tried to remember them for as long as possible. One afternoon I was having my after-lunch nap that I had a nightmare. This is not the unusual part. The unusual part is that after I became aware of my lucid dream and it ended somehow, I lay in bed motionless for a few minutes. No matter how eloquent I try to be I cannot precisely describe that terrifying moment. I just lay still in my bed while my brain was struggling between sleep and consciousness. I was trying to sit up with all the strength and might I had in the midst of sleep exhaustion, but nothing happened. I came out of it somehow and regained control.
This irregularly happens with me. It’s just a matter of few numb seconds after which I wake up. But those few seconds are absurd, sometimes very horrifying.
I was so intrigued with this strange occurrence that I decided to Google it and read a bit about this phenomenon called sleep paralysis.
I opened up myself to a vast ocean of knowledge pertaining to sleep disorders and what they really are. After knowing what sleep paralysis actually is, I realized that what I experienced is not even a fraction of something that could explain the gravity and complexity of the situation people suffering from it go through. People actually struggling from sleep paralysis disorder had shared their stories. Some of their experiences were similar to mine but with some I simply couldn’t relate. Before I head on to that comparison I would like to explain what all I know about sleep paralysis to give you a better insight.
Simply put, it is a moment either while falling asleep or waking up; where your body is still into the state of sleep but the mind has woken up. While reading up sleep paralysis I noticed repeated mention of the term ‘REM sleep’.
What is REM Sleep?
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep is when we do most active dreaming. Our eyes are actually moving back and forth during this stage, hence the name.
Now, it would be more comprehensible to know that sleep paralysis occurs when our body can’t transition smoothly between going into deep REM sleep and coming out of it. The reason behind the failure of smooth transitioning is yet unidentified. It is, however, an absolute natural occurrence and can happen to any person, healthy or ill.
If we look at the logical need of sleep paralysis state for the body, one fairly obvious reason surfaces. When the body fails to transition smoothly between stages of REM sleep, the brain instructs our voluntary muscles to relax. This causes a state of paralysis called ‘atonia’ in science.
This way the brain prevents us from acting out our dreams (as in the case of sleep walking).
Now I would like to share with you all the tid-bits of facts I collected about sleep paralysis.
Some of which matched with my personal experience:
It is more likely to happen when we are sleep deprived and need more rest than we are currently having.
Most people have experienced it at least once in life but are not aware of it or ignore it.
It lasts for around 20 seconds to a few minutes.
It is NOT a disease or a mental illness, until it is very frequent and exceeds the 20 sec- few mins average span. In that case, the reasons behind it might be other than the usual natural occurrence (for instance, a past mental illness or trauma)
However, I couldn’t relate to a few other facts. These are possibly true in case of unusual causes originating out of a mental illness or trauma:
You feel as if you woke up dead. Well, that is not what I felt, at least. You kind of know what’s happening but can’t really do anything about it.
Your eyes are sometimes open.
Hell! That is scary.
You feel a presence in your room and sometimes even hear voices.
That seems bizarre and is more supernatural than scientific.
You just can’t wake up. It is a natural process, not in your control. So you just lay there waiting until it ends.
But in my case, as I mentioned, I was able to wake up once I pushed myself up with all my might. But chances are that I just feel that I got up because I tried hard but in reality it was simply the natural end of atonia.
In a nutshell, sleep paralysis is just one of the sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep walking but not as common. These lines by one of my Twitter friends perfectly explain the feeling of being in sleep paralysis:
It's that time again –
when wake and sleep
and I don't know
what world I belong to.