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I can’t breathe, but I can hear myself moaning. I jerk around, or don’t…?
My eyes are open, staring into nothing, or is it everything…? I’ve been trying to free myself from this purgatory for what seems like eternity.
I am looking at the room around me, but it’s not quite right. I “get up,” walking around the room with a spiraling vertigo, falling and getting up over and over, refusing to give into paralysis.
Through the unbearable static sounds comes a scream. Then another, each scream getting more and more intense around me.
Finally, I jerk myself awake.
Those who experience sleep paralysis know that the struggle will end eventually, it is only a question of when. Sometimes we can jerk ourselves awake, and other times we stay in sleep, drifting in and out between the dream world and the conscious world.
Some people take advantage of this state and use it as a technique to start lucid dreaming. A lucid dream occurs when we realize we are dreaming, and then are able to have some control over what happens next.
Others report a similar, but notably different state, of having an out-of-body experience, which is being able to “walk” or “see” outside our body from a different place than where our body is actually located.
What is sleep paralysis, really?
With countless occurrences and folktales across many cultures, the explanation for sleep paralysis varies. Some describe it as a demon or ghost sitting on their chest, holding them down so they can’t move. Having experienced it since childhood, I can say that it changes each time, along with the cause and the frequency of them.
I remember my first sleep paralysis experience clearly. I was struggling to breathe. Everything was pitch-black. I started panicking, struggling to move even one finger. When the pressing urge to breathe shook me awake, I realized that oddly enough, nothing was covering my nose or mouth. Not having control over my own breathing was the scariest part.
My episodes skyrocketed during college. Severe anxiety and depression sucked me into an irregular sleeping schedule—I made a habit of napping between classes and staying up late to complete assignments. My struggle with sleep paralysis was at its worst during this time, filling my head with static noises and screaming.
Through endless research to eradicate my “problem,” I read something daunting about it. The more you experience sleep paralysis, the more likely it is to reoccur. This wasn’t encouraging, but I didn’t give up my battle. I noticed that I would usually have sleep paralysis during naps. This correlated with what others online have reported about inconsistencies in their sleeping schedules. I tried to adjust my erratic sleeping times and cut out all naps, which helped tremendously.
It’s been eight months since I graduated from college. My sleep schedule is fairly consistent and my mental health has improved. However, the “problem” lingers. From time to time, I still experience sleep paralysis when there is a change in my sleep cycle. Interestingly, the episodes are never as severe as when I was depressed. The static and screeching noises are replaced with repetitive noises or voices, and I can “move” about the room without falling.
No, it still isn’t easy to ignore how scary it is to be conscious, yet unable to move, but it almost seems like it’s getting easier. I am beginning to understand it, and I am learning to accept it.
With a more contemplative approach and a positive outlook on the situation, I was able to reduce the trauma of sleep paralysis.
What is the significance of dreams in sleep paralysis?
When having an out-of-body experience, what is truly happening? Doctors might call the things we see while in sleep paralysis simple hallucinations. However, thinking along these lines—psychics and spiritual intuitives may be considered as affected by mental illness, if they admitted their abilities.
What if the visions we have while in sleep paralysis meant something more? I found myself wondering about the ability to see the world around us through a different lens, or having an ability to perceive things that would otherwise be hidden by our conscious mind.
There are many online tutorials which refer to sleep paralysis as an easy access to lucid dreaming, or an out-of-body experience. Some even use it to connect with their subconscious mind for deep introspection along with communication with ghosts, spirits, or other divine figures.
If we look at sleep paralysis like a variation of a dream or a meditative state, at the very least, it can reflect what we are going through in the real world.
Rest assured, it gets easier
Getting support from a significant other, a family member, or a close friend is critical when we notice signs of distress.
Not everyone with sleep paralysis is struggling with their mental health, but as with nightmares, sleep paralysis may be a sign that the person needs support in their day-to-day life. Maintaining good mental health is a lifelong battle. However, working toward mental stability changes the game entirely.
Also, developing and sticking with a consistent sleeping routine can greatly assist to reduce the frequency of episodes.
Approaching sleep paralysis with curiosity and acceptance reduces the panic and anxiety we experience. Adjusting ourselves to respond, but not react to problems can be a valuable tool.
Nobody wants to experience panic during the hours that our brains need to spend recharging, but it won’t kill us.
There is no known cure for sleep paralysis, but theses strategies can help to make our experience of it much easier to handle.