10 Terrifying Facts about Sleep Paralysis

Laura Lavigne
January 14, 2021
10 Terrifying Facts about Sleep Paralysis

You might be wondering what exactly sleep paralysis is. Generally, there's a big difference between the level of alertness versus the body's muscle tension. One is awake and aware but unable to move or speak. The person experiencing this phenomenon may appear simply awake but very still. 

Experiences reported include difficulty breathing, feelings of panic, and fear. As you can imagine, this is usually considered rather unpleasant. Sleep Paralysis has been a widespread point of fascination for many years. Some have claimed the cause to be stemming from a demon spirit and even part of the alien abduction experience. Supernatural aside, here are ten real-world scientifically discovered features about sleep paralysis to help you understand it better.

One, it happens mostly to adults. It often begins in the teen years, continuing until later life, noted particularly with an increasingly stressful and sleep-deprived lifestyle. While disruptive sleep disorders, sometimes called parasomnias, are a problem for nearly 70 million Americans have varying ages. 

Second, Sleep Paralysis is one that typically affects adults to sleep. The process is when the brain awakens before the muscles wake up. Paralyzed but lucid means your brain is awake before the rest of your body. As we sleep, our brains, with the help of neurotransmitters, GABA, and glycine, turn off our muscles so that we don't act out our dreams and hurt ourselves or potentially others. Usually, the brain wakes up and turns on the muscles at the same time. When sleep paralysis occurs, it's like the brain forgets to hit the muscles' on switch. 

Number three, it happens closer to morning. Too bad mornings are hard enough. Sorry to say. But this susceptibility to episodes of sleep paralysis increases closer to waking up in the morning. It's easier to snap into mental alertness during these hours while the body is finishing its deep stages of sleep. Health.com says that it's because deep sleep is more persistent closer to the morning. During this time, there is a higher probability of the brain waking before the body, or it can occur with other sleep disorders. 

Fourth, sleep paralysis is not usually a loner and can be buddies with narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder noted for causing extreme drowsiness or sleep, often at very inconvenient or inappropriate times and places. It's often visualized in Hollywood, somewhat inaccurately, as the person falling asleep in their bowl of soup, sleeping during normal waking hours. Sounds familiar? Narcolepsy can often, although not always, be a contributing factor to sleep paralysis. 

Number five, episodes may last several minutes. While most sleep paralysis instances are short, lasting a few seconds, some can last up to a few minutes. They can last even longer than this, but with a lower likelihood. 

Six, it is remembered clearly. Because the mind is alert during sleep paralysis, the experiences are remembered. The details are often terrifying, and terrifyingly clear. 

Regular dreams and nightmares are usually forgotten or quickly fade. This is because to the unconscious mind; the details are considered unreal, thus unimportant. Having a waking dream is upsetting because differentiating the real from the unreal is now difficult to add to memory clarity. The sleep process also evokes strong emotions like fear. And we tend to recall subconscious emotions with more clarity. 

Seven, hallucinations are common and often scary. Sorry, no unicorns or rainbows. As if the sleep paralysis concept wasn't unsettling enough, reports for many sufferers explained that along with this suffocating pressure felt on their chest. They also see an ominous figure like a demon or monster sitting there. Imagine that situation. They're unable to move. There's a demon crushing your chest and watching you, and on top of it all, you can't tell if it's terrifying. The high level of consciousness occurring during sleep paralysis might be the reason for the hallucinations, causing scary dreams about monsters to seem like visions. 

Eight, it happens in REM sleep. Most of our dreams occur in a stage of sleep called REM Eye Movement, or REM. This stage is generally reached an hour and a half after falling asleep. We cycle through REM sleep a few times over a night, with each time and REM getting longer, which makes it more likely to continue into brain wakefulness, which usually happens closer to morning. 

Nine, it is a genetic movie that odd uncle wasn't so odd. If you have a family member who has experienced sleep paralysis, your chances of experiencing it are higher. This shows that there may be a link between sleep paralysis and genetics. The Journal of sleep research completed a twin study and concluded that the genetic influence is over 50%.

Ten, it can be prevented. To prevent sleep paralysis from happening, it's important to know what triggers it: sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, and certain medication types. Several lifestyle habits help to prevent episodes. Some of these include having a consistent sleep and wake schedule and a sleeping environment without uncomfortable extremes. This means quiet, dark, and a moderate temperature. Sweet dreams.

Do you have any experiences of sleep paralysis episodes? Does this help with understanding how to deal with it? If this makes you think of someone who it might help, please share it. 

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