5. A nightmare and a hallucination
Included in the symptoms list for sleep paralysis, hallucinations and nightmares are regulars. But, they are nothing like the run-of-the-mill nightmares that you have when you are asleep. The hallucinations are also not like that mushroom trip that that guy that you met was going on about. They can, unfortunately, be a whole lot worse than either of these two events.
Maybe you have watched the latest horror movies which are putting the goosebumps back on every unsuspecting viewer’s spine. You reckon that you can handle it, you are an adult after all. But that night when you go to sleep, the dreamscape is filled with every horror you could possibly imagine. There are snakes, there are spiders, you are falling from a cliff and being chased by something you can neither see nor hear, but you are very sure that it is chasing you. This is a nightmare and is probably not sleep paralysis. Why can that be said with so much certainty?
Well, if you are well and truly asleep, then it is just a nightmare. Sleep paralysis is a lot more conscious than that. When you are experiencing this, your mind is for all intents and purposes awake. It is not battling dragons on a foreign shore. It is right here, right now and in this room. What’s more, is that it is believing what it is seeing.
Once your mind is awake, even partially, it knows that it is awake. It has therefore entered into a state of rationality where if it sees something then it must be real. Our eyes can definitely play tricks on us, but a hallucination is not as innocuous as that. The hallucinations during sleep paralysis are terrifying because you think they are real. And not in the same way that you think a dream is real while you are in it. The intensity is entirely more elevated than that.
4. The folk tales involving sleep paralysis
It has already been mentioned that witches were blamed in America for sleep paralysis. There are a few accounts of this, but this is just one interpretation of the condition and only at one time in history.
Seeing as how basically everyone will experience it at some point, the next logical step is to assume that there must have been other theories which were thought up to try and explain what was happening to these people. Throughout time, cultures have claimed to have been plagued by some omen or supernatural creature. These vary by continent and are culturally specific, but you can always bet that they do exist. As a race, we are unfortunately prone to superstitious tendencies.
Kanashibar is the term that the Japanese used for the condition of sleep paralysis. It literally means that a person is bound by metal. Who or what bound the metal and why that specific person was bound are questions which would require more research. The Chinese, on the other hand, went a different direction. They believed that ghosts were responsible. This form of oppression was either achieved by the ghost actually sitting on the victim or by them using their spooky and unknown ghostly properties to produce the feeling of weight on a person’s chest.
When you move on to Africa, you find the devil and his demon minions. These were called Incubus and Succubus. They explained sleep paralysis by saying that the devil was riding on your back. This is not to say that you were been ridden like a horse, but rather there are sexual connotations here. They actually believed that while a person was suffering from sleep paralysis, demons were actually having sex with their victims while they slept. In the modern world, there are fewer accounts of these kinds of tales. Instead, they have been replaced with supposed alien abductions of encounters.
3. How and when does this occur
When a person goes to sleep, they go through phases. The entire 7 or 8 that you are snuggled up in bed is not one whole phase. There are actually 5 phases that make up the sleep cycle, and it can take up to 90 minutes to work your way through all of them. During the first four stages, you experience non-rapid eye movement sleep. A person does not move much during this type of sleep, but their muscles are still functioning. As seen in the name, there is no eye movement that is associated with this type of sleep.
When a person goes to sleep, they start at stage one which is a very light sleep. They then process down the stages, and as such, the sleep gets a lot deeper. If a person has reached the 4th stage, it will be incredibly difficult to wake them up. There is not much dreaming that goes on during these sleep phases.
The last phase of the sleep cycle is characterized by rapid-eye-movement sleep. During this phase, the only part of the body that is able to move is the eyes. The heart still beats, and the lungs still move, but there is no other voluntary movement. The eyes tend to dart back and forth for no apparent reason. It is thought that this is due to people following images with their eyes while dreaming. This is where the majority of ones dreaming takes place.
Sleep paralysis can happen either when one is falling asleep or waking up. It is when a person has difficulty moving in or out of the rapid-eye-movement phase. Sleep paralysis while falling asleep is hypnagogic, and if it is experienced when waking up, then it is hypnopompic.
2. The dying feeling that accompanies sleep paralysis
Fear of death is written in the very DNA of human beings. We are all very aware of the fact that we are all going to die. It is not a possibility. It is a certainty. And yet, we fear it. We dread it, and we even pour billions of dollars into researching how we can actually prolong life. There are many reasons why people fear their own mortality. If they believe that there is nothing after death, then they fear the total cessation of their existence. Those who are unsure of what comes after may fear the unknown, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Then there are people who don’t want to die because they simply enjoy living. They enjoy the experience as a whole, with the heartaches and happiness that it offers.
This fear is a constant feature of human existence. And death becomes even more terrifying when we actually come face-to-face with it. This can happen to some degree in sleep paralysis. It is not because you stand there looking at the chopping block. This fear emanating from the feeling of death and despair which may be inspired by sleep paralysis.
There are times when the dread and the fear is so overwhelming that people actually think they are dying. It becomes a reality all too suddenly. Once they realize that they are not dying there is generally an overwhelming sense of relief.
Once a person has regained autonomy over their body they can breathe a sigh of relief as the realization dawns that they are alive and will probably be alive for the foreseeable future. This is all well and good. But, there is a time when you can’t move, you have no power or control and do truly believe that this is the end. This element is possibly the most terrifying part of sleep paralysis.
1. Sleep paralysis explained by science
Science may not have all the answers, but it the matter of sleep paralysis they seem to have a theory which seems far more plausible than an Incubus or Succubus sitting on your chest. It has already been clarified that sleep paralysis involves the rapid-eye-movement cycle (REM). We know that during this time a person has no voluntary movement and they experience very vivid dreams. The reason for this muscle paralysis is thought to be an evolutionary adaption that is meant to protect a person.
When a person is experiencing an intense dream if they were given free reign to move as much and however they pleased, there arises the possibility or injury. The brain, therefore, has adapted to combat this. When a person enters the REM stage of the sleep cycle, there are two neurotransmitters that are released. These are glycine and GABA. Both of these are required for the paralysis of voluntary muscles. In the event of sleep paralysis, there is a mishap involving the REM cycle. A person either transitions badly out of it or into it.
When this happens, the neurotransmitters are released which effectively stop muscle movement and yet the person’s mind does not enter the dreamscape. Their mind is in the here and now, but their body believes that it is dreaming. This miscommunication or disconnect is what we refer to as sleep paralysis.
The brain and the body are however able to communicate very quickly, and it should not take too long to correct the mistake. The secretion of the paralyzing chemicals is stopped while what is left in circulation is taken back up. Once this is effectively done, a person should be able to move their limbs once more. While sleep paralysis can be a terrifying experience, it should be noted that there is no real danger. There are no documented cases of people dying from sleep paralysis.