(Originally posted April 2018)
An anecdotal angle on the topic:
By making it to this article, I’m sure you’ve read late night Creepypasta‘s or have heard horrorstories about sleep paralysis, a rather unusual transitional state between sleep and wakefulness. Sleep paralysis occurs during REM sleep, the phase of sleep in which most vivid dreaming occurs. As you enter the REM stage, your body induces a temporary state of muscle paralysis. This in turn serves as a safety mechanism, protecting the subject from physically acting out his or her dreams. The dreamer is usually not aware of the transition. Let’s take usually with a grain of salt here. Shall we? If this process were impervious to error we would have no article to write. Fragmentation between sleep cycles is believed by some to be responsible for triggering this undesired lucidity.
As a person who has endured episodes on a roughly bi-monthly basis for the greater part of the last 4 years since highschool, I will be describing my experience below in this article.
Symptoms seemingly vary depending on entrance. Upon awakening to sleep paralysis:
- I awake at a random point in the night or morning.
- My efforts to sit up are halted due to the paralyzed muscles (duh?)
- Attempting to roll over on my side or otherwise re-orientate myself initiates a sort of free fall, floating, or spinning sensation. This disembodied mental image is likely the result of multi-sensory disintegration in the temporoparietal junction. Simply put, your body is fast asleep and unable to tell the center of gravity apart from a toothbrush.
Entering paralysis from a waking state varies from the former in a number of ways:
- For starters, my balance is typically not affected. This leads me to believe that the temporoparietal junction is not yet suppressed. Therefore disembodied sensations like the aforementioned are generally not present.
- In contrast, I often experience a somatic buzzing or throbbing sensation in some or all extremities, often followed by an auditory high-pitchedfrequency. In rarer instances, I have felt tightness in the chest as well as difficulty breathing.
- Hallucinations are far more prevalent when passing directly from a waking state to sleep paralysis. These are referred to as hypnagogic hallucinations. They may come in the form of auditory, visual, or tactile aberrations. (More on this later)
There are exceptions of course, but for all intents and purposes let’s just stick with the notion that wake-induced sleep paralysis is the least pleasant of the two. Fortunately it also happens to be the easiest form of SP for me to predict and avert:
- Avoiding irregular sleep patterns plays a huge role in preventing premature REM sleep.
- Some studies suggest that lying in the supine position can increase the likelihood of entering sleep paralysis by as much as 58%. Face down it is, comrade.
- As difficult as it may be at times, moving around as soon as you wake up in the morning ensures that you don’t slip back to sleep, potentially darting straight into REM and invoking an episode of sleep paralysis.
- While this cannot always be helped, falling asleep in an unfamiliar setting has been linked to SP by some researchers.
- Most peculiar of all is where my mind appears to remain lucid, while my body feels as though it is being pulled asleep against my will. It’s a difficult sensation to describe, but in any event wake-induced sleep paralysis is a near certainty if prompt action is not taken. This tends to occur after prolonged sleep deprivation. If your physiology is anything like my own, then getting out of bed and finding some reading material to tire your mind is probably the best course of action. Again, easier said than done.
In any event, struggling against the paralysis is ill advised. In doing so you chance triggering a panic-driven fight-flight response, or a false awakening which is essentially the false pretense of waking up while you actually remain asleep. Recall Dom Cobb’s totem?
Focusing on small muscle groups, such as a toe or finger point has proven quite effective in anchoring myself out of la paralysie. On one occasion fairly recently, I managed to break free by focusing on the back of my head.For the remainder of this article I’m going to further elaborate on SP-related dreams/hallucinations. I’ll also go as far as to say that these aberrations are over-demonized, albeit bizarre. The experience is largely influenced by your own expectations and state of mind, which is why it is vital to stay calm and collected. There’s nothing to fear but fear itself truly is a valid statement in this case.
Constrained by my pessimistic realism, I’ve yet to be greeted by Incubus and his band of Killer Cyborgs. Worse yet has been short bursts of sleep apnea. Perhaps ole Incy is just pissed that he can’t make a cameo appearance in an episode?
My norm is to sleep face down in the prone position, so I generally have little-no field of vision when I wake up. Sleep paralysis tends to follow suit, with exceptions of course.
Vision was most often retained in my earliest of episodes when I slept upright.
(whether or not the surroundings observed are real or merely a vivid dream is a disputed topic)
The first episode I ever experienced was a rather classic case scenario. I awoke face-down unable to move. Balance was not suppressed and hallucinations were non-present.
The proceeding occurrences became exceedingly more interesting once I (then) altered sleep positions due to an injury and begun sleeping upright.
- Malevolent Force vol 1: It’s beginning to look a lot like Creepypasta – Not long after switching sleep positions, I experienced a more alarming episode of sleep paralysis one morning. Having fallen asleep in the supine position, I came to facing the ceiling with a strong sense that a malevolent entity was closing in on me from a distance. As unnerving as this was, I kept calm and waited for it to pass. I woke up moments later. The room I observed while paralyzed was empty, however upon awakening I noted a sibling was nearby. This would indicate that my eyes were closed and the room observed was just a vivid dream.
This was the first and only episode I have recorded where I have perceived a threatening presence. From here on it gets even weirder.
- For a brief time I was a night owl that always found myself snzzzzing on a reclining chair well past 4 a.m. On one occasion hours after passing out, la paralysie has me pinned upright to that recliner. With my vision somewhat obstructed, I’m able to scan the room. I notice a distorted figure in front of me. The more I focused on it, a head warped and extended toward me. Right off the bat, I recognized the face as my brother. I woke after a few moments. Ready to deduce that what I saw was just a hallucination, I leaned forward to find my brother asleep on the couch. I was alone prior to falling asleep.
I would further go on to have several other episodes similar to the aforementioned, however this was the only scenario that I’m confident my eyes actually were opened during sleep paralysis.
That or the half-conscious human mind is great at sensing other people within its vicinity….
The OBE-like hallucinations/dreams are a more recent occurrence, the first having taken place about a year ago. (at the time of writing) Virtually all episodes of sleep-induced sleep paralysis that I have since experienced exhibit this aberration, with slight variation. It is often preceded by a lucid dream.
I initially feel anchored to my bed. I see a room lit with daylight and attempt to roll over and mourn the fact that I have to get up. Game on:
- Everything goes dark and I’m suddenly disassociated from my body.
- While unable to see my surroundings, I feel as if I am hovering several inches above my bed, facing down.
- I’ll experience a sense of motion, spinning, or free fall. I generally wake up after what feels like a minute or two, however I have been led into other dreams before.
Fascinatingly enough, an old Tibetan practice called Dream Yoga seeks to place a subject in a deep, lucid sleep absent of a dreamscape. (if my understanding of this practice is flawed, do feel free to correct me)
I’ve had dreams about float’in about in the void after failing to break free of SP. Perhaps on the steppe along an isolated mountain side in Southeast Asia, the Tibetan monks would applaud me for my awoken spirituality.
Thanks for making it this far ; ) The information provided is purely anecdotal, although I do hope you find it to be of use. Sleep disorders are rather abstract, and as such differ on an individual basis. Observational data, while flawed is integral to understanding altered states of consciousness and finding common ground between subjects.
~Feel free to share your experience below.
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