Imagine that you woke up from a fitful night of sleep to find that you couldn't move at all, and some dark creature is sitting on your chest. For some people, that is pretty much what sleep paralysis is like. There are plenty of similar nightmare sleep paralysis stories out there, but many people may be wondering what is sleep paralysis? How does one get it? How does one get rid of it? The answers can be downright nightmarish.
If you're wondering if you have sleep paralysis, the way to figure that out is pretty easy. If you've ever been completely paralyzed when waking up or going to sleep, panicking and unable to move , then you've experienced symptoms of sleep paralysis. If it's happened several times... chances are you probably are already aware of how this issue can impact you. Rest assured, at least, that it's not a deadly condition.
That being said, it is pretty horrifying to experience or even think about. There are plenty of other strange sleep disorders out there, but this is one that people have been experiencing as long as we've been catching Z's.
People Used To Believe It Had To Do With Demons
Sleep paralysis is one of those things that has been around ever since humans have had the ability to sleep. However, we didn't always know that it was some form of sleep disorder. For a while, we thought it was actually the manifestation of evil beings and forces around us. In a way, that seems like a logical jump. People who experience sleep paralysis may see things looming over them, or may feel things sitting on their chest and crushing them. If you were to open your eyes and see a living nightmare right in front of you and find yourself completely unable to move, you might react that way as well!
This condition gave rise to the legend of the Incubus as well as many similar spirits and monsters. This creature would climb on top of sleeping people and render them powerless, and would perhaps sexually assault them or try to hurt them. People would experience this happening, never knowing that the only thing they were under assault from was their own brain. Sleep paralysis has been used as a rationale for UFO abductions, ghosts, demonic possession, and more. Even today, some people mistake their own symptoms for signs of evil lurking near them.
We're All Paralyzed When We Sleep, We Just Usually Don't Realize It
In reality, being paralyzed when we sleep is completely normal, and it's going to happen to you tonight when you go to bed. When we enter a state of REM sleep, or rapid eye movement, our brain decides that it's time for our body to stop moving around. In order to do this, two chemical systems in your brain release signals to make all of your skeletal muscles go still. Basically, the muscles get switched off and remain switched off, so that only your eyes are in motion at this point during your sleep cycle. This might be your brain's attempt to keep you safe while you sleep so you don't constantly flail around as your dream and cause yourself injury.
Every night you're actually paralyzed, completely unable to move an inch, but because you're asleep, you don't even notice it! The difference with those who experience sleep paralysis as a disorder is that they are sometimes awake to experience that paralysis first hand.
It's More Common If You Have A Mental Illness
Sleep paralysis can happen to anyone of any age, but it tends to happen to a few specific groups more than it does to others. People between the ages of ten and twenty five tend to be more susceptible, but it doesn't just top with that.
In a study done by Pennsylvania State University in 2011, over 7% of people had issues with sleep paralysis. This showed that the problem was a fairly common one, but the test also showed the type of people who got it. Those with mental disorders such as anxiety or depression and other mental illnesses were far more likely to experience sleep paralysis than those without. Almost 32% of people with mental disorders experienced sleep paralysis problems, indicating that the two problems might be linked.
You'll Pretty Much Be Sleeping As Usual Before It Happens
So, how does this whole thing happen to you? It starts with you trying to just get a good night's sleep. You'll be drowsing off, closing your eyes, and your body will start your sleep cycle, moving you towards REM sleep. There are several stages in sleep and things may just go on as usual, until somehow you're disrupted. We don't know what exactly happens, but something will jolt you into consciousness as you transition into or out of REM sleep. This can either be as you're entering it, in the beginning of you cycle, or when you come out of it, at the end. Your body will already have entered a state of paralysis, or REM atonia, and you may be experiencing dreaming.
The problem becomes that you wake up. Your brain comes out of the sleep cycle, but unfortunately your body doesn't quite follow suit fast enough, and you become aware that something is really wrong.