My experience with sleep paralysis occurred when I was a junior in high school. As with many teenagers, the balance of work, school, and relationships was cripplingly stressful, and left me rolling back and forth at night, hoping to catch some sleep before dawn. It was somewhere between the realm of sleep and wakefulness that I found myself suddenly unable to move. A surge of panic took place, and I consciously sent signals to my toes and fingers to try and manage the slightest wiggle, but there was no response. Even my eyes were glued to the ceiling.
A feeling of foreboding overtook me. In the corner of my immobile vision I could “see” that there was someone unnaturally tall and broad standing over me, and my panic began to peak in the form of pressure in my chest and throat. My vocal cords wouldn’t vibrate a bit to let me shout, and all the fear I couldn’t express began to build in my mind before a fleeting memory poked through the haze.
I had read about sleep paralysis while browsing the Internet. I had found it while reading about supernatural occurrences, and remembered learning that a lot of stories involving demons or aliens in the night were really the product of sleep paralysis.
As terrifying and otherworldly as the experience is, the science behind it made it seem simple.
Sleep paralysis happened either as you’re falling asleep or waking up. If it happens while falling asleep, it’s because your body is gradually relaxing. Instead of losing awareness as you fall asleep, you remain aware and can’t move because your muscles in their “off” mode. If it’s experienced while waking up, it’s due to the mind becoming aware before your body is awake, and so you experience immobilization as a result of your muscles sleeping on the job.
With this in mind, I began to calm down. Slow breaths led to muscles unwinding bit by bit, and before I knew it I could move again and was able to fall asleep peacefully. Upon waking up, I looked further into it.
It’s not a rare condition. Up to four out of 10 people have sleep paralysis, and it’s usually noticed in the teen years. Contributing factors including heredity, lack of sleep, stress, or sleeping on your back. The condition doesn’t occur often, (I’ve had it happen twice), and neither does it often cause health problems outside of a bad night of sleep. Not all people are so lucky, however, and a physician should be checked with if problems persist. Typically, improved sleep habits will remedy the problem.