Do you wake up easily? Do you set three alarms? Are you “dead” to the world before you have had your first cup of coffee? How fully awake are you in the morning? For most people, and in our brains, it takes a few minutes for our brains to switch on and be at a top functioning level.
A little like starting your computer – our “programming” and nervous system (and the link between our bodies and brains) takes a few minutes to warm up, in the mornings. That foggy morning feeling is not just because you are a night owl but because we’re exiting our sleep ‘program’ and switching on for the day. What happens if it doesn’t work?
Have you heard of a condition called sleep paralysis? It is something that we can all experience, but you may not have known about it before. It may be that you are awake but feel that you cannot move, or speak. It is often when you are waking up and is related to the stages of sleep. It can be that you have hallucinations too.
It is not related to underlying psychiatric disorders, and you may not even remember experiencing this. If you are awake though, it can be a scary experience and sleep paralysis can make you feel anxious or like you are having an out of body experience. It is a medical condition that is not fully understood. Over time, from Shakespeare’s days to modern times, people have thought that it was demons or spirits that invaded our body.
12. Symptoms of sleep paralysis
When you experience sleep paralysis, you can tell the difference between reality and a dream. You do not feel like you are dreaming but know you are awake and can make out the details of your immediate environment. You will know that your partner is there and see your alarm clock. The inability to move can lead to feelings of dread, fear and the perception that you are dying. People also report feeling a presence, or an outside force of some kind.
A feeling of terror, evil and a malevolent presence lead to overwhelming anxiety. You can experience difficulty breathing and feel tightness in your chest. There can be a sense that there is weight pressing down on your chest from an outside force. Generally, people experience this when they are lying on their back, and in a supine position. Most people do not fall asleep in the position.
In addition, there can be heightened sensory hallucinations – you may have olfactory hallucinations and a heightened sense of smell, you can also have auditory hallucinations. People have reported hearing footsteps, scratching sounds or whispers, animals growling and smells that are related to death. You may smell damp, mold or decay, and feel like you are hot or cold, or floating.
The experience of physical paralysis was linked in ancient time to evil spirits and demons. The mental hallucinations and fear may be caused by anxiety and increased adrenaline, making your senses sharper and changing your perception of your immediate environment – similar to the flight or fight response. However, the major symptom is that you are not able to move, and it may be coupled with more symptoms like hallucinations, and a feeling of dread.