What is Sleep Paralysis and Why is it so Scary?

What is Sleep Paralysis?

This is when you are conscious but unable to speak or move. Generally happens in the transition period between being asleep and being awake.

Is the cause of a phase of panic as it feels like a presence is pushing down on your chest. The worst thing is nobody can hear you as panic and anxiety take hold, as although every attempt to scream would indicate your lips are locked in place.

The real answer for what is happening when you experience these terrifying feelings is to do with the sleep cycle your body goes through.

Light sleep → Deep sleep → REM sleep

Pictured: Sleep cycle infographics. Stage of sleep during the night. Phase of deep and moderate sleep, drowsy time. Isolated vector illustration in cartoon style

REM sleep is the period where you normally dream, so as part of a physical and psychological process your body may become agitated and defensive against you acting out one of your dreams as it’s the body’s way of preventing you from doing any damage to anyone around you.

Your brain then acts upon this by sending signals to your muscles and limbs which paralyzes you in place. The problem will generally arise due to a messed up sleep cycle.

Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis

A weight on your chest – provides a crushing feeling on your chest which can lead to a difficulty of breathing.

Hallucinations – Intense and overwhelming period of fear. It doesn’t take long for you to get your movement back but what will live with you for a lot longer is the horrific experience of it happening.

Man Suffering From Sleep Paralysis At Home.
Pictured: Man suffering from Sleep Paralysis from home.

Out of Body Experiences

In some cases people even have out of body experiences during a sleep paralysis-like state which adds to the terrifying feeling as you could be floating over your body in a state of panic.

Some cases will be more severe however it will still be a horrific experience either way.

Out of body experiences are sometimes referred to as astral projection. This could be a form of sleep paralysis.
Out of body experiences are sometimes referred to as astral projection is the alleged ability to enter into a trancelike state in which one leaves the physical body and operates in the astral plane

Best things to do if you have sleep paralysis

Firstly relax and stay calm otherwise the feeling on your chest will just become even tighter making it even tougher for you to breath. Although it is very hard not to react in a way of struggle in such circumstances.

Rationalising the thought of it happening will help to prevent you from reacting too severely to it. It’s best to try and concentrate on getting certain limbs moving which is usually easier to start with smaller bones such as your fingers and toes. If the attempt of movement isn’t working then you are best to just relax and observe all your symptoms.

Not fighting against the symptoms is crucial as this will ensure that it’s a lot less stressful if you don’t fight against it. So it is best to just let the paralysis take its course.

What causes Sleep paralysis?

A lot of people are keen on the concept of it being down to supernatural goings on. However, a lot of people are also trying to look for scientific explanations.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid and glycine and these chemicals come in crucial. Blocking these two chemicals prevents paralysis. Therefore usually they must be the cause of paralysis.

We are yet to have anything scientific to explain hallucinations as with many issues I would imagine it’s a brain chemical that causes this to happen.

Unsurprisingly the lack of scientific explanation causes many people to have strong beliefs in demons, witches, ghosts or angry spirits. Looking to find a rational solution for why it happened can help to put you at ease and assure you it won’t happen again.

Pictured: The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781. JOHN HENRY FUSELI, in centuries past a night “mare” was a very specific type of frightening nocturnal visitor, a spirit or demon that would sit on a person’s chest and suffocate them.

Sleep paralysis can be more regular for people with anxiety or depression. Sleep paralysis is also a side effect of narcolepsy.

What prevention strategies can you take to stop sleep paralysis?

  1. Have a regular sleep pattern – If your sleep falls out of its usual pattern which means you aren’t getting enough sleep. Then you will be more likely to experience sleep paralysis. So you need to make sure you find a sleep pattern which works for you and your body.
  2. Sleep outdoors when possible – Although this may sound like something which may negatively impact your sleep it can actually reset your sleep cycles if done the right amount of times but not too often.
  3. Limiting Alcohol and smoking – They both can contribute to messed up sleep patterns and as with most health issues they have a negative impact on your body to cause problems.

Did you know?

Biilie Eilish has previously spoken about how her debut album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was influenced by her night terrors and sleep paralysis?

Billie Eilish's
Pictured: Billie Eilish’s ‘Bury A Friend’ Was Inspired By Sleep Paralysis

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