Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon typically associated with dream sleep. Normally, one is paralyzed during dream sleep to keep you from acting out your dreams. It's highly adaptive given that responding to dream imagery as if it were real could be fatal. The paralysis is supposed to be perfectly coordinated with the dreams. When one wakes up from a dream, the paralysis should end at the same time.
In sleep paralysis, the paralysis persists after the dream has ended. This usually lasts no more than 30 seconds to a minute, although sometimes it can last considerably longer and be extremely frightening to those who experience it. I've had sleep paralysis attacks but never any that lasted more than ten to fifteen seconds. Until last night.
Sleep paralysis generally takes two forms. In the first, and more common form, the individual awakens completely and the eyes open, but the body remains paralyzed from the neck down. The person has no residual dreaming experiences but is wide awake. In the second form of the phenomenon, the person wakes up and becomes aware of their paralysis, but there remain some dream elements involved with the experience. In such cases the eyes often remain closed.
I had the second kind of experience last night. I woke up from a dream and knew that I was awake. But when I went to move I found I could not. I immediately recognized it as a sleep paralysis event so I didn't panic. At first I just tried to "force" myself to move. Then a new twist entered my experience. I seemed to hurl myself into a completely black space. It felt infinite and totally empty. It was definitely discomforting.
I've learned in the past that straining to move seldom works, so I relaxed my body, which has generally worked for me before. Unfortunately, it didn't this time. And by now this paralysis event had continued well past the longest one I'd ever had before. I resumed straining, trying to force my legs to press outward and my arms to lift. It 'felt' as if I were turning around and around in the black space but I could tell intellectually that I wasn't actually moving. I felt a little snick of fear then because this was going on much longer than ever before, and the totally black space felt very unpleasant. I stopped straining to move again and just started saying over and over to myself: "It'll pass. It'll pass."
A moment later it did and I sat up in bed, breathing rather rapidly. I soon returned to sleep and had no further issues, but it still feels a bit weird to me this morning. A bit unsettling, I should say. But grist for the mill.