There’s something intriguing about sleep. In sleep state, we lose all awareness and control of ourselves. We feel most vulnerable then, and when something threatens our security in sleep, we are naturally disturbed by it. A plethora of tales about ghosts and other demons attacking people in sleep have been around forever. Films depict them, books discuss them, friends talk about them, and I’ve personally had an experience that somewhat validated their existence to me.
“I don’t wanna fall asleep”
I slept at a friend’s house when I was about 19. I woke from sleep immobilised, unable to move my body or turn my head. I tried to scream, but I couldn’t open my mouth. I felt breathless and it was as if a strange presence was pressing against my chest, weighing me down. I felt like I was in deep danger. My friend and I prayed fervently about it when I finally stood up. Recently, two friends reported similar experiences. Ugo said that when her cousin stayed over at her house last month, she was attacked by demons in her sleep. She is convinced that her cousin is “demonic”, because of the sheer coincidence between her arrival and the experience. Frank told me; “I was asleep and this scary woman came into the room and had sex with me. My wife was there and I tried to get her attention and couldn’t speak. When I woke up, my wife said that she didn’t hear or see anything.”
The stories are endless and without boundaries. Every geographical setting has such paranormal tales to tell, irrespective of race or culture. In my ethnic group, the existence of ‘ndi mmuo’ (spirits) is generally accepted. So when I stumbled across Sleep Paralysis online, I was fascinated by it. Even nursing school didn’t teach me about it.
Here’s what experts opined…
Sleep occurs in cycles and each cycle is split into two phases – Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, and non-REM sleep. The brain is very active in REM sleep, and most dreams occur then. Amazingly, in order to prevent us acting out our dreams, the body is totally paralysed with the exception of the eyes and diaphragm (muscle needed for breathing). We are not usually aware of this state, but if a transitional disruption causes this paralysis to persist into wakefulness, Sleep Paralysis is said to occur. This implies that you are conscious and paralysed! You cannot move or speak! You feel breathless because taking deep breaths is restricted! The paralysis is temporary, and can last from a few seconds to several minutes. During such episodes, hallucinations may occur. Some people have reported feeling a frightening presence in the room (Ugo and I). Some have reported hearing sounds and voices. Others reported the stimulation of their taste buds. I read somewhere that some have described sexual encounters with phantom beings (Frank).
Sleep paralysis is scary. It scared me and affected me for days. The good news is that, it is not a risk to health as a whole. Many people experience sleep paralysis once or twice in their lifetime. When it happens more often than that, it is called Isolated Sleep Paralysis. I couldn’t find causes of it, but some risk factors include age; teenagers and young adults are mostly affected by sleep paralysis. Sleep deprivation and irregular sleep patterns are also risk factors of the condition. Sleep paralysis could be genetic, and also a symptom of nacrolepsy (inability to stay awake for long periods). Treatment for sleep paralysis may include; a change in sleep habits, reducing caffeine intake, and ensuring a restful environment. Exercise and giving up smoking can also help. In extreme cases, antidepressants may be prescribed.
It’s noteworthy that those who don’t go through sleep paralysis at all, may be aggressive and dangerous in sleep state. They tend to act out their dreams, because their muscles are not paralysed in REM sleep. Some have gone on to murder people without having any recollection of it.
OK! My thoughts…
Yet again, I agree with science. Some may argue that the ‘sleep paralysis’ explanation challenges their cultural and religious beliefs. Fair enough, but I think that the human body is intriguing and will fascinate us forever. It is programmed to allow us function within personal and societal expectations. I welcome scientific explanations to things that I can’t find answers to. It does not change my cultural or religious beliefs. This scientific explanation brings a closure to an experience that ironically ‘paralysed’ me for a long time.
Post source and further info can be found here