You slowly open your eyes as a new day begins, sleep stuck in the corners of your eyes. The first light of day seeps into your room as you attempt to pull the heavy blankets forward and get out of bed. No matter how hard you try, you can’t move, the panic building as you realise that from the neck down, you’re paralysed.
You scream, calling for help, but a deafening silence engulfs you. Suddenly, a heavy mass plants itself on your chest, tightening your breath and suffocating you. This is it, this is how it ends. The panic overwhelms you, and eventually you wake up covered in sweat.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to sleep paralysis.
One of the most basic things humans need in order to survive, is sleep. We all do it. Regularly.
For some, however, sleep can be plagued by fear, panic, and pain.
When we fall asleep there’s a switch in our brain, think of it as an on/off switch, the switch is used to paralyse us while we sleep, this is done for two reasons, firstly, to protect ourselves from injury, and secondly to allow our bodies to fully focus on recovery and rest.
This is all well and good, but for people who suffer from sleep paralysis, there’s a glitch in the system. Parts of the brain that should be off activate while the paralysis switch is still turned on, making for a neurological shit-storm. The brain is awake, the body is paralysed, and you’re still asleep.
It is important to note that time is suspended in this realm, a ten minute nap, can be a seven hour ordeal in dream land.
I’ve experienced sleep paralysis my entire life and I’ve developed some handy tips and tricks that I think are essential for all my fellow sufferers to know.
I’ve discovered that there are three phases or types of sleep paralysis, they are often repetitive for me so I’ve drawn these conclusions on the patterns I’ve recognised.
1. The Panic
This stage is the most basic level of this disorder. It’s exactly like the description in my introduction. You’re paralysed, unable to speak, and afraid. You may experience a choking feeling or a weight on your chest.
2. The Pain
Now we enter the unfathomable – this is quite common for me, and usually what I experience. During these episodes, I am never alone, there is always someone, or something, hurting me.
The problem is that my brain is awake, so I feel all of it. Not only am I paralysed, but I’m also being tortured – and I can feel every inch of it. I’ve had dreams where an alligator has bitten off my arm, and when I woke up, my arm (where it was bitten in the dream) was in excruciating pain for several hours. I once spent what felt like eternity having a scalpel peel off every inch of my skin, again waking up in a throbbing pain.
3. The Persistence
Of all the stages, this one is the worst. So you go to sleep, wake up in stage one or two, then you actually wake up, go about your day, only to find out that you’re actually back in the paralysis. You’re tricked. You think you’re out, but you never were.
Let’s take the example used in the introduction, let’s say I actually pushed the blankets back, got up and out of my bed, and then found myself back in bed with the covers on – and this happening over and over again. Like Groundhog Day. One time I had it so bad, that my lines of reality were blurred beyond recognition that I had to call my dad and make him answer questions about my childhood so that I knew I was really awake.
Temperature is the biggest one for me, the chances of sleep paralysis rise by 50% if it’s summer and I’m too hot when I sleep. So make sure that you don’t have too many blankets on and have a well ventilated room.
Another biggie, when you’re tired that switch flips harder, making the transition from awake brain and paralysed body easier.
I have noted that 60% of all my episodes are in that 10 minute gap between my initial alarm and my snooze alarm, 7:00 and 7:10, in that 10 minutes, I have had a four hour sleep paralysis dream that horrifies me. It could be about a break in the sleep patters or something to that effect.
Late Night Feast
My personal trigger is cheese, pizza specifically late at night almost guarantees sleep paralysis for me, I don’t know the science behind it, but it’s definitely something to take notice of if you have chronic episodes.
Ladies and Gentleman, I have discovered a solution to phases one and two, this technique is my saviour. Much like Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception, I have a similar concept to a totem, but of course in a way that is respective of the situation. Let’s take that introduction example again, I managed to wake myself out of it once I realised and confirmed it was a dream, the jig was up. Now everything in my room was so vividly accurate, except for a red book that was on my bookshelf, I know all my books off by heart and recognised the fallacy. I knew immediately that it was a dream, and woke up from its hold.
So my solution to you, is to look for the mistakes, force yourself to acknowledge that you’re asleep, this will calm you, and stop the cycle so that you can wake up.