Awake but can’t move or speak? Sleep paralysis it is.

You know you’re sleeping or were going to sleep. All of a sudden, you were awake, you see your surroundings vividly, and you can’t move. You then feel you are being choked, you cry for help but you are speechless. You eagerly shake your head, or command your body to move but to no avail. You feel death is coming.

Well, this phenomenon is called sleep paralysis. It is not considered a dangerous health problem, but it can spell fear among us. Read on to find out more about this mysterious malady, the possible causes and treatment.

Sleep paralysis is a sign that your body is not in sync in the stages of sleep, as sleep researchers concluded. Often this phenomenon is linked to various cultures’ beliefs about the “Incubus” or evil presence.

What exactly is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious but unable to move. This occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep.

When does it usually occur?

Sleep paralysis usually occurs one or two times, but can also occur several times in a night! There are two types of sleep paralysis, when you are falling asleep (called Hypnagogic or Predormital sleep paralysis) and when you are waking up (called Hypnopompic or Postdormital sleep paralysis)

Hypnagogic Sleep Paralysis results when you fall asleep. In a normal setting, as your body slowly relaxes, you become less aware. However, if a person remains or become aware, that person can notice that he/she is unable to move or speak.

Hypnopompic Sleep Paralysis on the other hand, is when you are about to wake up. Our body alternates from REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep. During NREM our body relaxes, restoring its functions for the next day. After which, it shifts to REM, and from here dreams occur, still your body relaxed. Only the involuntary body systems functions at this moment; if you became aware before the REM cycle is finished, you may notice you can’t speak or move.

How to manage this?

Al Cheyne of University of Waterloo discovered that a much higher incidence of sleep paralysis occurs to those sleep in their backs. He suggests changing sleep position to reduce such incidents and getting up and physically moving around after an episode as several can occur in one night.

I have experienced the two types of paralysis already, and it’s quite terrifying. At first I was really afraid. But since I’m experiencing it often, I’m adding “thrill” to it, and try to make it prolonged, just like a lucid dream. It is amusing to find yourself stuck. The feeling is like you’re nearing death, you gasp for that precious air, fighting to move (I usually shake my head in an attempt to be awake, as body gestures are harder to accomplish, you’re simply half-dead!) and the next thing you find yourself “awake” in the real world.

To those with experience or other views please share them! 🙂

Sources and Citations


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