Sleep paralysis: a terrifying experience

Sleep paralysis: a

Before talking in detail about sleep paralysis, if they asked you what sleep is, how would you define it? It is not easy to answer this question, at least from a non-academic point of view. We can however say that sleep is a fundamental physiological function .

It can also be defined as “a functional, reversible and cyclical state, with some characteristic manifestations, such as one relative immobility and / or an increase in the response threshold to external stimuli . At an organic level, there are variations in biological parameters, accompanied by a change in the mental activity that characterizes the dream '(Buela-Casal, 1990a).

During sleep, important changes occur in the functioning of the body, which include, for example, changes in blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate, body temperature and hormone secretions. It has also been observed that numerous variables, both physical and behavioral, can occur, which are largely responsible for many of the sleep disorders. .

Sleep disturbances

The international classification of sleep disorders includes four categories (Buela-Casal and Sierra, 1996a):

  • Dissonnie : disturbances in getting and keeping sleep, excessive sleepiness and dysfunctional sleep schedules.
  • Parasonry : disorders of awakening, sleep-wake association and disorders associated with rapid eye movements (REM or MOR).
  • Disorders associated with medical or psychiatric conditions .
  • Other possible ailments about which we do not have enough information to be considered specific to sleep.

In this article, we will focus on one type of parasomnia: sleep paralysis.

Woman awake in bed with

What is sleep paralysis?

The paranormal events that some people claim to have experienced (such as diabolical attacks, visits from spirits and alien abductions) probably have to do with episodes related to sleep paralysis.

Sleep paralysis could explain the stories of ghosts and aliens : during attacks, victims intensely perceive a presence, usually harmful. In addition, they report unusual kinesthetic sensations: being dragged out of bed, feeling a vibration, flying or falling.

Such episodes can lead to a whole range of out-of-body experiences. Sleep paralysis can be scary, but it will never be dangerous . Thankfully, his episodes only last a few seconds.

But these events have nothing paranormal about them. Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to perform any voluntary movement , And occurs during the transition period between sleep and sleep wakefulness .

intense gaze of a man

Woman with nightmares

It can occur when you fall asleep or when you wake up, usually accompanied by a feeling of great anguish . It lasts from one to three minutes, then the paralysis subsides spontaneously. Sleep paralysis usually goes away automatically if the person is touched or shaken. Even if the person who is attacked cannot move, he is still able to see and hear normally . In some cases it can also make sounds.

How can you understand, then, an episode of sleep paralysis is frightening for the sufferer and is often remembered with great anxiety .

'Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to perform any voluntary movement and occurs during the transition period between sleep and wakefulness'

Symptoms of sleep paralysis

There are many symptoms that occur during these episodes, most of which are terrifying to those who experience them:

left arm pain anxiety

  • Hallucinations visual : some people claim to have seen someone inside the room they sleep in, even if they are unable to recognize him. Such presence is often seen in the peripheral area of ​​the visual field or hidden in dark corners of the room.
  • Auditory hallucinations : Elementary, mechanical and loud sounds are usually perceived, such as buzzing, voices, hissing, running footsteps, roars, bells, knocks, vibrations, whistles, screams or moans In other cases they are identifiable sounds such as telephone ringtones, sirens, instruments, electric motors, door knocks, dragging of furniture, glasses or plates that break, strange music, etc.
  • Respiratory difficulties : People with sleep paralysis may experience chest tightness, shortness of breath or choking. These symptoms cause great anguish and panic because the fear of asphyxiation is triggered.
  • Perception of presences : the person may have the feeling that there are strange 'presences' in the house. He can also sense that the presence moves, enters the room and approaches the bed. Some people report that they feel like someone is watching them, but they don't know where from.
Woman lying in bed with sleep paralysis

Why does it occur?

Sleep paralysis is sometimes linked to others disturbances such as sleep apnea and especially with narcolepsy . However, it usually occurs in an isolated form, when the person is experiencing a period of severe stress or pressure.

When you go to sleep, some neural circuits are overexcited due to this stress. For this reason the person has nightmares and wakes up abruptly. However, the body does not react so quickly because it is in REM phase , therefore the muscles are devoid of tone. This is why the person cannot move but is aware of what is happening around them.

If you have ever suffered from an episode like this, don't worry, it's nothing unusual. It is important not to panic, even if it is not easy. When you remember the episode, repeat yourself which was just a bad dream, something like a nightmare , but in which you had your eyes open . This will calm you down.

What to do to help you sleep better?

What to do to help you sleep better?

There are nights when we can't sleep as we would like. We are exhausted, we are sleepy, but we cannot reconcile it.

  • Chóliz, M. (1994). How to beat insomnia. Madrid: Pyramid.

  • Buela-Casal, G. (2002). Sleep disorders. Madrid: Synthesis.