The paralysis of sleep is a state of immobility experienced by some people in the transition from the dream state to the waking state. That is, it occurs either while we fall asleep, or while we wake up. It is characterized in that the person wakes up, and can see and hear perfectly, but cannot move his body. It is as if our brain wakes up earlier than our body, or rather we would say that our wakeful cognitive functioning is activated, but our motor system takes a while to respond, but what we must be clear about is that it is not a disease or anything serious happens to our body. What’s more, our breathing capacity works perfectly , so we don’t have to fear that paralysis will reach the internal organs.
Sleep paralysis lasts at most about 3 minutes on average , although it depends on each person, and most importantly, for those who suffer from it, that time interval becomes much longer. The feeling of not being able to move generates great anguish, but to this is added that on many occasions this episode is accompanied by auditory and visual hallucinations. And they are really creepy.
Hallucinations during sleep paralysis have to do with the feeling that there is a presence at home, even if they do not see that supposed person. When they are visual, many people claim to see human figures, as if they were black shadows that look at them, approach them and have a threatening appearance . They can also hear sounds, from everyday noises (a door, vibrations, buzzing, a vehicle) to voices and whispers, or tactile, such as their bed sinking, someone sitting on it, or the sheets moving.
But having hallucinations at this specific moment does not mean that we suffer from a psychotic disorder , because all people have a false perception of this type at some point in our lives, and during sleep paralysis the cerebral circumstances occur to make it more easy to happen.
The fear we go through during sleep paralysis
In short, the mixture of the anguish of not being able to move, together with the terrifying hallucinations, translate into a very great state of anxiety, which can lead us to feel that we are short of breath or that we are being suffocated . As we said, the respiratory system works well, but in times of panic or anxiety , we have difficulty breathing. Moreover, even if the episode of sleep paralysis ends, that unpleasant feeling or even fear remains afterwards, especially if we have never experienced something like this.
More than half of the population suffers from an episode of sleep paralysis at some point in their life, and between 5-8% do so on a recurring basis . It is not a disease in itself, it occurs as a consequence of having poor quality sleep due to stress or anxiety, or because we have irregular sleep schedules. But it does occur frequently in people who have narcolepsy. What is clear is that it is a more common situation than we think, and on it the entire culture of paranormal phenomena may have been createdthat occur overnight, and that is reflected in horror movies and other works of fiction. In 1781 the artist Henry Fuseli painted ‘The Nightmare’, a painting that reflects what sleep paralysis is, with demonic creatures around the person who suffers it.
For example, recently the Netflix platform has released the series ‘ The Haunting of Hill House ‘, a horror series where a girl has these episodes of sleep paralysis, but they are mixed with paranormal elements . Although reality and fiction are mixed here, it is a good way to teach us how to experience sleep paralysis . Clearly, and despite what we see in these series or movies, we must remember that in reality they are all hallucinations.
How to deal with an episode of sleep paralysis
If you have an episode of sleep paralysis, the best thing to do is first be aware of what is happening to you. Knowing the existence of these episodes, how they work and their causes, can help us stay calm during that moment. Try to breathe slowly and deeply to decrease anxiety, and know that it will pass soon . If you have hallucinations, keep closing and opening your eyes in 5-second intervals as you breathe. Once you feel more relaxed, try to move only one part of your body, concentrating on it, for example a finger of one hand. Little by little you will come out of this distressing moment and you will see how you can move and get up, in addition to discovering that everything you perceived has already disappeared.