Sleep paralysis

What is sleep paralysis and what could potentially be causing these episodes? Is it paranormal or is it our brain? How is it different to a Night Terror?
Sarah Chumacero
17th February 2019.
2 comments.
Stuff paranormal investigators need to know, General.
411 page views.

Ever since I was little, I have suffered from Night Terrors. It was well known in my household that if I woke up screaming not to get too worried, I was just having another Night Terror. When I got older, I started to have different experiences. I would wake up and see what looked like a dark mist floating above my bed. I couldn't move and it would slowly approach me and eventually lunge at me. I couldn't move and I couldn't scream. I could only just lie there and let it get me. Just as it was about to consume me I would wake up screaming. Soon it changed from a mist to a shadow person standing at my door. I was unable to move. It would start to approach me. I would try to scream and nothing would come out. The fear I would feel was indescribable. As the figure approached me, I would try harder and harder to move or scream. Always just as the figure was about to 'grab me' I would wake up. I would be petrified and scared to fall asleep. The next night, I would be so scared to fall asleep that it would often happen several nights in a row. I soon learned that this is what was commonly referred to as sleep paralysis. As I started investigating the paranormal, I found I started to have these sleep paralysis episodes a lot more and usually the same night as an investigation. I myself started to wonder if perhaps there was a connection. Was I being attacked by something, or was I just overtired and my brain was playing tricks on me again? To understand it a bit further, lets look at sleep paralysis in more depth. First we need to understand what REM sleep is.

What is REM sleep?

When we sleep, we go through 5 stages of sleep. 4 of these are considered to be NREM - non rapid eye movement, with the final stage labeled as REM sleep - rapid eye movement. We can dream during any cycle of sleep, but it is most common and most vivid during REM sleep. IT is believed that we have between 4-6 dreams every night, we just don't always remember them. It is during this vivid REM state that sleep paralysis occurs.

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis occurs when a person is in REM sleep - Rapid Eye Movement. It is in this state that the brain has vivid dreams. It also sends a message to your muscles to relax which puts you in a state of temporary paralysis so that you don’t go and start physically acting out what you are dreaming. If you dream of punching someone, you don’t want to be punching your partner in your sleep - or if they snore like mine does maybe you do! Sometimes a person wakes up and becomes conscious before the brain sends the signal to the muscles to wake up. It means a person is lying there and is conscious but is unable to move and unable to speak. It is common to hallucinate in this state as well as you are still technically in REM and some people report seeing figures in their room or at the foot of the bed. They can feel a heaviness on their chest or a choking sensation which makes you feel like it is the figure at the foot of the bed doing this to you. It doesn’t take long for the body to catch up, but it can feel like an eternity when you are in this state. It is absolutely terrifying. It is called sleep paralysis. It can occur if someone is sleep deprived, stressed, on certain medications or if they suffer from other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea.

How is it different to a night terror?

A night terror commonly occurs in children during the first 3-4 hours of NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep, however can also occur with adults. It is just more common in kids. They may suddenly sit up in bed and start screaming, shrieking, panting, sweating and thrashing around to protect themselves. Soon the will eventually wake a little confused and with no knowledge of what just happened. Unlike sleep paralysis, they are not conscious as the episode is happening. It is caused by an over arousal of the central nervous system during sleep. It is generally happening as a person begins to move from the deepest stage of NREM sleep to a lighter REM sleep. As a parent, it is frightening to watch your children go through this. Both of my children have suffered, and all you can do is wait it out until they wake up. Some people think that there child must be under some sort of attack, but this is a very common occurence in children and they don't remember when they wake up. It is more painful on you than it is them.

Is it paranormal?

A lot of people believe that their sleep paryalsis episodes are some sort of attack from a spirit. Some even go as far to say it is demonic. The perception of sleep paralysis being some sort of demonic attack goes back to an oil painting from 1781 entitled The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli. It has a woman who is in a deep sleep with her arms thrown below. On her chest sits what is described as an incubus - a form of demon. There are a lot of different interpretations of this painting, but it is almost always used as a reference when someone writes an article about sleep paralysis.

Science tells us that it is our brain hallucinating as we are still in a dream like state. One of the characteristics of REM sleep is that while our body is switched off so that we cannot move, our rational thought is also switched off. It means that no matter how crazy our dreams are, we believe at that time they are happening. How many times have you been upset with someone over a fight or maybe your partner cheated on you in a dream and you believed that it was real? The section of our brain that deals with emotion and memory is also highly active during this state so you become emotionally attached or involved and it makes it a dream that you remember. Your frame of mind when you fall asleep can have a big impact on the experience you have in your dreams. Call it the dream's creative inspiration for the night. Every night it is thought that we have several dreams, except we don't remember them. This is what makes sleep paralysis feel like a very real attack.

While this does make sense, what is quite odd is that a lot of people report the exact same hallucination. While some report alien like creatures, others report shadow people. Hat man is also a common figure that people report terrorizing them in their dreams. If I am going to be honest, I have had one sleep paralysis episode where the figure matched the description people give of hatman. He wears a long black trench coat, a black three piece suit and a hat which is either like a fedora hat or a cowboy hat. Some have reported that he has red eyes and can be between 6-10 feet tall. In my instance, it would have maybe 6 feet tall and didn't have red eyes. It gave off a cowboy vibe. I was surprised to hear not long after my experience (which I had kept to myself as I felt it was just a dream) that other people in my area had experienced similar sightings and it was then I learnt about hat man. I never had another instance where I saw a figure wearing the hat, it was a one off episode and it was just as terrifying as my other sleep paralysis encounters. Interestingly, I have read that some feel hat man is a manifestation of the negative energy which a person may have in their life.

Initially when I had a lot of sleep paralysis episodes when I started investigating the paranormal, I felt like was I under attack from negative spirits. I was a very different investigator when I first started. I was more into just experiencing it rather than researching it. There was a period where I was having several episodes every week and they often followed an investigation. So i started to look into it more because it was causing me so much anxiety I was scared to goto sleep. One of the biggest factors that could cause an episode I discovered was stress. I was not in a great place at that particular time and yes I was under stress. I find the fact that people attribute hatman to be a manifestation of your own negative energy to be quite interesting. I do really feel I was making things a lot worse and that seems to be evidence of that. I was also going through a bout of insomnia which is another trigger as well as the fact I spent my weekends out investigating so I was very sleep deprived. You could say there was certainly a strong power of suggestion there as well. Another thing which can be a factor is when you have experienced it one night, you are afraid to fall asleep the next night as it might happen again. It is almost sure to happen because you have pretty much made it happen by thinking about it over and over. I had really become my own worst enemy. Once I got my head around all of those factors, I can honestly say that I have not had another sleep paralysis episode since which is almost 3 years now. I am also investigating the paranormal a lot more than I was back then. For someone that was having them so frequently, it has been a welcomed change. Is it that I am more aware now of what my brain is doing and I am able to control my triggers? Just being aware, does it mean my brain figured it all out so I am not afraid of it anymore? Maybe from a spirual perspective, is it that I am not as spiritually open as perhaps I was before so I no longer experience these 'attacks'? I am now a very rational researcher instead of just letting things happens like I did back then, have I closed that door or have I just figured it out?

Do you suffer from sleep paralysis? Tell me about your experiences.

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