Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sleep Paralysis Event

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.



Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't think I've ever had that happen to me. I guess it makes sense that the mind keeps the body from acting out dreams. I guess in cases where someone sleepwalks or wakes up thrashing, the paralysis has worn off before the dream ends.
Sorry you had such an unsettling night.

Ty said...

Scary stuff. Never had sleep paralysis, but I have had many, many instances of phantom shocks, in which one is jolted awake as if from a heart attack. It's not a heart attack, of course, but to the mind it can seem as if that is what's happening. With experience, one grows more familiar and the experience becomes less frightening.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I have never had a sleep paralysis although I have had a couple of intense dreams that left me rather anxious when I "came out" of them.

Ron Scheer said...

Used to be a common experience for me, and always scary. I would eventually wake after desperate attempts to thrash about. That pitch into black, empty space, though, sounds terrifying.

Vesper said...

This is so scary! I don't think I've ever experienced sleep paralysis, but I remember trying to run in dreams and not being able to do so.
That black space... so weird... Material for a story... :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, sleepwalking is actually not associated with dream sleep. Most people who sleepwalk don't really report it as walking in response to dream stimulation. It appears to occur outside the normal dream period. The waking up thrashing is an example of the paralysis wearing off a bit too soon.

Ty, yes, had I had this experience when I was a teenager I would have been much more panic stricken, but I've learned to respond more carefully.

Prashant, I have a lot of nightmares but this is a different kind of experience and not as pleasant as nightmares. :)

Ron, first time that black space ever happened to me.

Vesper, I'm sure it will find its way into something. :)

BernardL said...

I learn something new every day. I've never heard of sleep paralysis. I walked in my sleep when I was a kid, but never experienced any kind of paralysis while dreaming or waking.

Cloudia said...

Scary, Charles. May you be OK for a few more centuries

ALOHA from Honolulu

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have had meditation paralysis once or twice. And I have walked in my sleep on occasion. Both scary too. Hope that's your last one.

nephite blood spartan heart said...

I've had it once that I know of, along with the old hag (demon-thing) too.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernard, I've had a few students who show it. Interesting phenomenon.

Cloudia, indeed! :)

Patti, never slept walked. I've seen it, though. several times.

David J., the witch riding your back is believed to be an expression of sleep paralysis.

the walking man said...

Never had that paralysis experience but this "I seemed to hurl myself into a completely black space. It felt infinite and totally empty." Is what i was trying to tell you last week or so about how it is when i sleep, only it doesn't discombobulate me.

Lisa said...

sound very scary, I wonder what causes it, does it have to do with what you eat before you go to bed? I think I've experienced that witch riding your back or they called it something here once when I was a teenager

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, I actually wondered later if that was what you were kind of talking about. I suppose if it happens again I might feel the same.

Lisa, other than that it is often associated with stress, it is not clear what causes it. Some people are at risk for it genetically, I think.

Oscar Case said...

I've never heard of this and figure that whatever happens is just the natural outcome. I can see where it could be scary, too.

Sarah Hina said...

You handled it better than I would have, Charles.

This is a different animal, but I remember when our daughter was young, she'd have night terrors, where she'd be "awake," but still having a nightmare. It was disconcerting, to say the least.

Sleep is such a mystery, really.

Here's hoping you had a good nigh's sleep last night and another one tonight. :)

sage said...

I've had similar things happen a couple of times and it is scary. My last night/this morning was filled with a weird "war" dream in which in the mist of battle, aliens invaded.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oscar, there is a lot of variability in how people experience it.

Sarah, Josh had night terrors on occasion as kid too. They are different from nightmares in that there usually isn't much clear visual imagery associated with them.

Sage, I would have preferred that dream. Sounds like fun.

Riot Kitty said...

That sounds absolutely terrifying. Glad you can use it as material, I'd just be pissed.

Charles Gramlich said...

Riot kitty, in retrospect it was quite good fun.

Angie said...

I've never had that happen to me. It sounds... interesting. Moreso in retrospect, I'm sure. But yeah, you should be able to get a story seed or two out of it. :)


G. B. Miller said...

Never had what you experienced, but there was many a time that I've awoken from seriously realistic dreams bathed in sweat and gasping for air.

Father Nature's Corner

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, I wrote down the experience before I forgot the details.

G. B., Yes, I've had some doozy nightmares for sure.

jodi said...

Charles-grist for the mill? I would have been terrified! It's a good thing you were knowledgeable about such a phenom.

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Apu Mridha said...

Thanks for sharing such an amazing and informative post. Really enjoyed reading it. :)


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