Have you ever woken up from a deep sleep fully conscious but unable to move a muscle, with a great pressure on your chest and a feeling that something or someone truly abnormal is in your bedroom? That’s called sleep paralysis, a waking dream state you have absolutely no control over. Think of it as a bridge that joins the dreaming and waking world.
Some who experience sleep paralysis report an indescribable abstract beauty, which sounds like a great time. However, most people describe it as going through a living nightmare, a sneak peek into what hell on earth would look like.
Scientists have a good hypothesis on the fundamentals of sleep paralysis. Put simply, sleep paralysis is an out of sequence REM (rapid eye movement) state. REM sleep induces total muscle atonia to keep sleepers from physically acting out their dreams. If someone becomes suddenly conscious during REM sleep, and the muscle atonia is still in effect, sleep paralysis occurs. That’s a clean explanation, and it’ll work for now, but science is ultimately just a hairless monkey’s guess at what’s going on in the universe. There is no satisfying answer to why exactly sleep paralysis occurs, and why those who go through it tend to report the same strange things.
10. Each Experience Is Unique
Despite shocking similarities among case reports of sleep paralysis, no two experiences will ever be identical. Like dreams, sleep paralysis occurs in the mind (we think), and its presentation is subject to the thoughts and experiences of whoever falls under it. Many report seeing what felt like angels or aliens, but what transpires during the event is personal. In one case, a man woke up in sleep paralysis out of his body, hanging off the side of his bed, looking into an infinite nothing.
9. It Can Happen At Any Time
If there’s a cosmic troll deciding who gets sleep paralysis, and when, he/she does not follow any calendar we’re familiar with. Sleep paralysis can occur at any time, day or night, in people of all ages, seemingly independent of their diet, mood or thoughts. Someone who experienced their first sleep paralysis at the age of 9 can have their second one when they’re 80. It can even occur once in a person’s lifetime.
8. You Can Get Yourself Out Of It
As the name implies, sleep paralysis is associated with a feeling of utter physical helplessness. The mind is fully awake while the body seems entirely disconnected from it. However, there have been reports of people managing to snap themselves out of it. The sheer horror of the experience may be enough to jolt the body back to life. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that sufferers of sleep paralysis can will themselves out of it by trying to wiggle their fingers or toes, or swing themselves into an upright position.
7. It Isn’t Fun
While there have been several cases of benevolent sleep paralysis experiences in which people see or feel a beauty belonging to other dimensions, most people who have gone through it had a really bad time. People like to have options, such as movement; lying in bed completely powerless, at the mercy of a mysterious abstraction, is not an ideal situation. Throw a few supernatural beings into the mix and you’ve got yourself some abject horror. Sleep tight.
6. Open Eye Sleep Paralysis
You can fall under sleep paralysis with your eyes open or closed. Something tells us that the former would be the preferable option, if we had to pick. While sufferers of closed eye sleep paralysis feel an overwhelming sense of fear and tension, it’s a walk in the park compared to those who actually see whatever is in the room with them. Like nearly every other thing about sleep paralysis, there are no concrete indicators as to whether it will come in the closed or open eye form.
5. It Can Happen To Anyone
Sleep paralysis affects up to as many as four out of every ten people. Sufferers of sleep paralysis commonly begin experiencing it in their teen years, although it can happen to people of all ages. Those with mental conditions such as narcolepsy, stress or bipolar disorder may be especially at risk of sleep paralysis. It may run in families. Until more research is done, the general belief is that anyone who sleeps can potentially fall into sleep paralysis.
4. It’s A Total Mystery
The scientific consensus on sleep paralysis so far is that it occurs when we become abruptly conscious during REM sleep. That sounds tidy, but there’s no science explaining why so many cases of sleep paralysis commonly report an awareness of supernatural beings in the room. This can be written off as a hallucination, something only the beholder perceives. Still, it’s hard to find anything outside of our minds. Whether or not science can neatly explain it, doesn’t change the fact that sleep paralysis sufferers saw what they saw.
3. It Has Several Possible Causes
Some cases of sleep paralysis seemingly occur at random; others experience it regularly. Among the latter, the strongest commonality between cases is a lack of proper sleep (for adults, anything less than 6-8 hours). According to Michael Breus, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, sleep paralysis typically occurs as a result of sleep deprivation. Those who suffer from narcolepsy, according to Breus, are also at risk of sleep paralysis.
2. It Comes In Two Forms
Sleep paralysis can occur when a person is falling asleep, or soon before they would regularly wake up. The former, called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis, comprises those who retain consciousness while the body begins shutting down for REM sleep. The person slowly becomes less aware as the body relaxes. If sleep paralysis occurs when the REM cycle is complete, it is known as hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis. Hypnagogic sleep paralysis takes its time to form itself over you, while you can only ever plummet into hypnopompic sleep paralysis.
1. The Amount Of Time It Lasts Varies
According to Breus, sleep paralysis typically lasts between 20-40 seconds, although there are exceptions who report several minutes or even, in exceptional cases, hours of sleep paralysis. Although being trapped under sleep paralysis for hours on end sounds a lot like hell, those who experience sleep paralysis for less than a minute report feeling like it was much longer than that. Since sleep paralysis is essentially a waking dream, time can move in several directions, just like in a dream.