Sleep Paralysis

"The evil twin of lucid dreaming."


Sleep paralysis is a semi common sleep disorder. It either affects people when they are in hypnagogic sleep or hypnapompic sleep which is when you are going to sleep or waking up. When you are falling asleep your body releases chemicals to paralyze you during REM sleep. This is natural and is done so that you don’t physically move during your dreams, it is a protective measure. When you fall into SOREM (Sudden Onset REM) these chemicals are released at a different rate and can cause more malfunctions in brain activity. There are a lot of different theories as to why sleep paralysis happens. A lot of them are spiritual and religious, but scientifically there is still not a definite answer. One theory is that when you sleep on your back, some of your airways can become blocked. So your brain will wake your body just enough for you to roll over or snort to get more oxygen. If your body wakes you without shutting the valve that releases the chemicals you are "awake", but paralyzed. As your mind becomes more alert the amygdala is triggered, which activates the body’s fight or flight system. But since you can’t do either of those things you panic. This is where the unexplainable hallucinations begin. It is like an extension of the dream while you are “awake.” The hallucinations fall into two categories. Hyper realistic multi sensory hallucinations or vestibular-motor hallucinations. HRM hallucinations involve visual and auditory hallucinations while VM hallucinations involve body movement like floating. 


There have been recorded medical cases of sleep paralysis going back 300 years. It has existed in art for perhaps even longer. 20-50 percent of adults have experienced some form of sleep paralysis with only 5% experiencing the hallucinations. One of the most fascinating things is the similarity between the accounts from all over the world. The most common visions are the shadow man, the old hag, and the succubus. There is a Netflix documentary called the Nightmare that follows the stories of people with recurring sleep paralysis. They delve further into the spiritual and religious reasons behind sleep paralysis. They believe it is a communion with the spirit realm or with the devil. There’s also a lot of people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. There have also been some deaths that are thought to be caused by sleep paralysis--fear induced heart attacks. 


When I first learned about this it interested me because of all the weird things your brain and body can create. Also I was fascinated by the fact that people who suffer from sleep paralysis have similar visions. It could be that we all have similar fears, or that there is a supernatural explanation that is beyond science. P.S. They say that it’s contagious. So if you learn too much about it, you’ll have it. Hehe. 


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