Sleep paralysis is a condition about which people are not much aware and do not open up easily. Those who have such experiences are fearful of it. Prevalence of sleep paralysis is controversial (5%-62%), since people do not open up easily about this and fear about the experience.
I would like to share my personal experience of sleep paralysis. Once in my sleep I felt that someone was pressurizing my chest and I was unable to move. I wanted to scream for help but I failed to do so. I also felt like opening my eyes and waking up but I was not able to do it. This frightening experience lasted for a few minutes and it broke my sleep. I was very scared to sleep again as I felt that there was someone in the room.
I was sleeping on my back during this experience. The next day when I was trying to figure out whether it was a dream or reality, I realized this happened for real and it brought shivers down my spine. Later I decided to research on this experience and I came to know about Sleep paralysis. Since I have personally experienced it, I decided to share some information regarding this topic and help people who are fearful of sharing their experiences –
When a person is just about to sleep or about to wake up from sleep he/ she realizes that he/she is unable to speak or walk or scream for help. This lasts for about few seconds or moments. It is an experience of being temporarily unable to move or talk during the transitional periods between sleep and wakefulness (i.e. at the onset of sleep or upon awakening). If the experience occurs during the onset of sleep it is known as hypnogogic paralysis and if it occurs before waking up, it is called hypnopompic paralysis. The experience often involves hallucinations (visual and auditory).
The term “sleep paralysis” was coined by Wilson (1928). According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorder–3rd edition (ICSD-3) sleep paralysis is considered a disease when it occurs repeatedly and is disturbing. The ICSD divided the condition into; Severe Sleep Paralysis (episodes of sleep paralysis occurring at least once per week), Moderate Sleep Paralysis (episodes of sleep paralysis occurring at least once a month but less than once a week), Mild Sleep Paralysis (one or more episodes less than once a month or occurrence of the last episode more than 1 year earlier) and No Sleep Paralysis (no symptoms of sleep paralysis).
Types Of Sleep Paralysis Experience:
There are 3 kinds of sleep paralysis –
1. Intruder: it is characterized by a felt presence, fear, as well as auditory and visual imagery. The person who experiences this kind of sleep paralysis feels that someone is in the house or in their room. This experience is sometimes accompanied by seeing or hearing someone or something moving around the house or room.
2. Incubus: in this kind of experience the felt presence is perceived as a supernatural assault. It feels as if someone is sitting on their chest and feels pressure on the chest. It is mostly accompanied by a sensation of shallow breathing, a feeling of being smothered (i.e. a feeling that someone is killing them by covering their face so they cannot breathe), pressure on the chest, or pain. In this case, the sleeper often sees and feels the supernatural entity being on top of them.
3. Unusual Bodily Experiences: this kind of experience is less known as it involves very different kind of events. These events include sensations of floating(i.e. the sleeper feels as if he/she is floating in air), out-of-body experiences(i.e. sleeper in able to observe his own body in front of him), and feelings of bliss.
Facts About Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis episodes are generally short (1–6 minutes). The experience also leads to feelings of fear and anxiety. The experience is also accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations. The visual hallucinations might include seeing strange, terrifying and fearful being. The auditory hallucinations might include constant buzzing noise or sound of the wind. Sleep paralysis occurs usually when people sleep on their back (i.e. in supine position) and mostly during REM sleep. The occurrence of sleep paralysis is higher in females and adolescents (11-20 years).
It usually occurs in main period of sleep (i.e. during night sleep) and very rarely during afternoon naps. The emotions felt during this experience include fear, sadness, anger, erotic feelings and bliss, while fear and sadness being the most felt emotions. There are high chances that people who have other conditions such as insomnia, depression, narcolepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder are more vulnerable to have such sleep paralysis experience.
Events Preceding Sleep Paralysis
- There are certain preceding factors which include:
- Emotional factors, which might include outbursts, emotionally unstable or weak
- Work schedule
- Sleep cycle, might include disturbed sleep patterns, unusual dreams, or not getting enough sleep
- Work environment, might include poor work relations with colleagues’ and work schedule
- Mental health, having depression, PTSD, Anxiety or narcolepsy
- Stress, might include work related stress, family stress, stress among partners or relationships and stress related to career or life
- Traumatic experiences, includes accident or misfortune or any natural disasters like earthquake, tsunami or cyclone
- Seasonal i.e. occurring in a particular season (summer, monsoon or winter)
It is important to note that majority of people who have experiences of sleep paralysis do not experience significant distress and can improve by simply improving their sleep habits and maintaining a regular sleep schedule. However, if there is a persistent amount of discomfort or anxiety, the following are some of the treatment options available:
- Few anti-depressant medications have shown to be of effect in some cases. Consult a Psychiatrist for further assistance.
- Treating any mental health problems that may contribute to sleep paralysis.
- Treating any other sleep disorders which might cause sleep paralysis, such as narcolepsy.
I’d love to help you out if you’re struggling with sleep paralysis or any other mental health concern. Reach out to me through information given below.
Ms. Simran Parekh is a psychologist, specializing in clinical psychology working with Children, Adolescents and Adults.
She is based out of Kolkata. She deals with issues like Depression, Anxiety, Stress, ADHD, OCD, Personality disorders, Childhood disorders.
Ms. Parekh has gained expertise in various psychotherapeutic interventions such as CBT, DBT, REBT, MBCT, BT, Stress management, Relaxation Techniques and more.