Science and Mystery

Uncovering Sleep Paralysis

Have you ever had the feeling of being unable to breathe a few minutes into your sleep, that someone is crushing your chest and squeezing the last drops of life out of you and that your whole body stiffens so you cannot move an inch? This phenomenon is termed as ‘Sleep Paralysis‘ and although around 50% of the people have experienced it, they don’t know what has caused it and often they come up short in trying to explain their experiences.

Sleep paralysis is basically a defense mechanism initiated by your brain which prevents you from acting out your own dreams. It usually happens during the sleep-wake border during which we are asleep physically and are awake mentally. This can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. This time is reported by many as scary and terrifying. The lack of breathing is accompanied by numerous hallucinations varying from visions of evil entities such as ghosts, aliens, witches as well as fairies and angels to footsteps thumping around you.

What causes Sleep Paralysis?

The basic cause of this medical condition is REM atonia, a natural process which happens to everyone, every night. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement (the phase of sleep most often connected with dreaming) and atonia means lack of muscle tension. This is a very important mechanism in sleeping. REM atonia cuts off electrical signals to and from the brain so that you can sleep peacefully, thus preventing you from acting out your dreams.

The condition is more prone to arise in the event that you are under stress or you have disrupted sleeping cycles, deprivation of sleep and other sleeping disorders. Being physically awake and mentally asleep, your half dreaming brain conjures up hellish experiences and images and that is when the panic starts.

Sleep Paralysis – Real or Imaginary?

Some of the experiences are real. For example, the thumping of footsteps around you is just an amplification of your own heartbeat. And so is the feeling of your body being paralyzed. The demonic entities, thankfully are not real and are just manifestations of an active mind under the state of panic.

My personal experience on sleep paralysis began about three years ago and then I had no explanation as to what was happening to me. The symptoms were the same : difficulty in breathing due to a crushing feeling in the chest and complete paralysis of the body. It was until recently, when I researched about this condition, that I came to know that Sleep Paralysis is a normal human condition with just a mysterious twist to it.

 

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