What is it? Sleep paralysis is a problem that many people face. You may wake up and find yourself unable to move or speak as if you are frozen. Sleep paralysis also causes hallucinations; patients have reported hearing footsteps, seeing ghost-like creatures, or feeling a presence or heavy object on the body.
Throughout history, people have associated this phenomenon with demons and evil spirits, among other things. Modern science and medicine have explained this terrifying event. It is considered a hereditary disorder that causes total paralysis of the body with little respiration and eye movements. This is caused by mistransmission of neural signals in the brain. When you are sleeping, your brain sends signals to inhibit muscle contraction. It does so to protect you, so that you do not repeat the actions you see in your dreams. However, sometimes people become conscious before the brain can tell the muscles that they can work again, thus causing this problem.
In order to fully understand the phenomenon, we have to understand sleep cycles. There are two different states: non-REM and REM, with REM standing for rapid eye movement. Humans alternate cyclically between the two states throughout the night. It is noted that during non-REM stages, people have control over motor skills, resulting in sleepwalking or sleep talking. Meanwhile, in REM stages the eyes move rapidly because of dreams. The paralysis occurs when sleep is suddenly interrupted when the person is having a dream. Since waking up is a gradual process, the brain is unable to react at the same time as the body, resulting in the feeling of being paralyzed.
How to Treat Sleep Paralysis
Doctors agree that stress and tension cause this phenomenon. It will leave you feeling emotionally drained and unable to focus on your live. If you leave it unchecked, you will face even more episodes. Here are a few tips you can use to counter it:
- A common way to beat stress and tension is to exercise frequently. You should keep in mind that you should not do this close to sleep times.
- You should also try to maintain a regular sleeping pattern. Our bodies get used to sleeping and waking up at set times. If you sleep at random times then it may occur.
- Some sleeping positions are discouraged. Doctors believe that sleeping facing upward may cause the problem. You are encouraged to be on your side, or other positions that you find comfortable.
- Do not sleep with the television, radio or computer on. Also, try to turn the lights off. The brain works even when we are unconscious, receiving stimuli from the environment around us. It takes images, sounds and other feedback it gets from the environment, putting them into our dreams and possibly causing problems with our sleep.
- As stated above, try sleeping with the lights off. Keeping the lights on may cause sleeping problems. However, that does not mean you have to sleep in a pitch black room; just dark will do.
- You can also try things like meditation and yoga. These try to clear your mind from any stress or tension that you may have. They also try to get you into a relaxed mood. You will have much better sleep if you do not have to worry about things in your life.
- Try not to drink excess alcohol before sleeping. Drinking coupled with lack of enough sleep is often the cause.
Sleep Paralysis throughout the World
It was not until recently that doctors discovered the secrets behind this anomaly. In the old days, people used to believe it to be demon visitations or evil spirits haunting the soul. Termed as a “waking nightmare”, people throughout the world have attributed various things to this phenomenon. These are usually supernatural and involve spirits, ghosts, and demons, among other things. Here is a look on how it is perceived in cultures throughout the world:
- Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures all label the phenomenon as being bound or fastened. The Chinese and Koreans believe it to be the manifestation of a ghost, with the latter believing that a ghost or spirit is lying on top of the victim.
- In Islamic countries like Pakistan they believe it to be “shaitan” (Satan) or jinns (spirits) who have come to haunt the victim. Arabic cultures also have similar beliefs, referring to it as ‘Kaboos’ which literally means “presser”.
- Many parts of southern United States refer to the phenomenon as a “hag”. They believe the event is a sign of approaching tragedy or accident.
- Some groups in contemporary western culture believe sleep paralysis is caused by alien abductions.
You no longer need to worry if you are suffering from this problem, as you are not alone. Millions of people around the world face the same situation. However, if you are affected by sleep paralysis on a regular basis you should definitely consult a doctor to look for solutions.