I was 11 years old when It first happened. I was terrified. I cleared my throat but I had yet to speak a word even though it had seemed as if I had been screaming for hours. It took me a while to realize that it had only been a nightmare and that it wasn’t real.
I told my parents about what happened and my mom told me that it was cuando se te subía el muerto, when the dead would sit on you to torment you. The description was terrifying and their explanation was more traditional than medical therefore it did not help ease my anxiousness. On the weeks that rolled by I insisted on sleeping with my parents in fear that perhaps a demon or a spirit was trying to terrorize me.
This didn’t happen again until a year later when my parents were in the middle of a nasty divorce and I had begun attending therapy for severe depression. The episodes would happen at least twice a month and then escalated to 3-5 times a week. Every time before I reached REM sleep it crawled in uninvited without a hitch and every time they would get more painful.
It is said that ” approximately 8% of people experience sleep paralysis, rising to around 28% in those that have a disrupted sleep patterns and up to 34% in those suffering from psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression.” (Sleep Project)
It occurs when the brain and body aren’t quite on the same page during REM sleep. During this stage it is usual for dreaming to happen and your muscles are relaxed to the point of paralysis, this hibernation state essentially keeps people from acting out their dreams. However, In sleep paralysis entering REM means being in a limbo between the conscious and unconscious. Your body has entered paralysis but your mind remains very much awake. This causes the individual to have lucid dreaming where they can see themselves where they are in waking life, like laying in their bed or a couch, but creating terrifying life like hallucinations.
As I grew older my episodes got worse and till this day I still experience them with much more pain than ever before. I hardly sleep and when I do I can assure you I do not rest. It has put a damper on my mental health and my body’s ability to heal itself as the lack of sleep does not allow my body and mind to receive the proper reparations that you’d usually get during REM. I’ve tried everything in the book to rid myself of these night terrors but as always even doctors have come inconclusive about the strange phenomenon. There is no actual cure or explanation to why it is able to happen and therefore this is a curse for us who experience this.
The worst part is that you can’t JUST wake yourself up. It doesn’t matter how much you wiggle and scream.
No one can hear you and no one can see you struggling until it ultimately becomes unbearable.
Only a handful of people in my life have been able to experience this with me and being the person outside of it can be equally as frightening. Theres been a few occasions where I had to be forcibly woken up as I was sobbing in my sleep and clenching my muscles so tightly that it became concerning.
I’ve been finding myself taking naps through the day but all shorter that 60 minutes anything further than that can cause me to fall into an episode.
My research has brought me to recognize the scientific aspect of the disorder but also has made the spiritual, occult and divine explanations hard to notice. People describe their nightmares in similarity. Always overpowered by with shadow people, distorted voices, demons and alien like beings. Theres always something dark and terrifying about them and nothing ever changes.
In some cultures, it has been explained as deceased relatives coming to remind you of unfinished business, demons trying to eat your soul, alien abduction , or even being the link between the spirit world.
For a good while I thought I was alone with this phenomenon as it had never occurred to me that there were people out there collectively sharing their experiences and supporting each other through these nightmares. I began to see that many of the films I enjoyed had subtle references to my episodes and realized how common it was. Talking about it to people I knew had always been difficult as just mentioning hallucinations lead people to believe there’s something really fucked up about you.
It wasn’t until Vice came out with an interview with Rodney Ascher, director of The Nightmare, that it became a viral topic. As the documentary became available on Netflix other sites began picking up on relatable content such as Buzzfeed’s 13 Facts About Sleep Paralysis That Will Keep You Up At Night, Motherboard, and Youtube has had an influx of new user content based on personal experiences.
Through all of this, I’ve picked up a few tips on how to survive a night:
- Don’t let yourself become sleep deprived as it often happens more then. Try and get those naps in you’ll need them.
- Try to keep a routine. live, eat and sleep at correct times.
- Try to reduce stress and anxiety in your life. These are triggers for sleep paralysis. Specially if you’ve been cramming the night before an exam or a big project.
- Stay calm and try not to panic.
- Try to wiggle just one finger or a toe. Some say this is more achievable than trying to move your whole body.
- Tell yourself that you’re in control even when you aren’t. Fake till you make am i right???
- If you feel a weight on your chest, try to not hyperventilate and breathe the best you can. believe it or not you can actually pass out while your are passed out.
- You would be able to reassure yourself that you weren’t actually dragged out of bed.
- Try not to think about what it ‘could’ be that you’re experiencing, seeing, hearing or feeling. Your imagination will take you places you’re trying to avoid.
- Try to relax and ‘go with it’. Some people say that with practice you can achieve lucid dreaming.
- Don’t sleep on your back.
- Try to organize your bedroom in a way which makes you feel safe and secure.
- Don’t hang gowns, coats or hats in places which look like figures in the dark this is the best one I can think of.
- Sleep with a night-light, or with music. I’ve found myself having less episode when i do.
- Remind yourself that nothing bad will happen.
- Count numbers to focus your mind on something other than the hallucinations.
- Don’t sleep with a high pillow – some suggest that this affects the supply of blood to the brain.
- Keep well hydrated – drink water before going to bed.
- It’s okay to talk about it but don’t linger on them. I realized that when I was for sure bound to get one that same night.
- If you have it once, get out of bed for a while to reset the brain. Sometimes if you try to fall back asleep after you’ve woken up from an episode you’ll fall back into it again.
- I’m not a religious person but i did grow up catholic so sometimes prayers can help ease your mind out them.
- Cease recreational drugs if it happens to you often. They will fuel your nightmares and hallucinations like never before.
- If you’re a mental Illness patient, keep a diary. If you have professional help talk to your doc. There’s really great therapeutic methods to help you out there. If you don’t, like myself, its important to stay positive and practice self-care routinely to prevent you from letting it take over.
- Check if any sleeping pills or herbal remedies you’re taking are causing it. When i tried to take them for sleep aid I just found myself in episodes lasting 2-3 hrs when they are usually under 30 minutes. It was horrible and I wanted to die.
- Once the episode has passed, it’s good to take a moment to remind yourself that you overcame it again.
It’s not sure whether there will be an actual remedy for it and it’s not sure whether this is a link to something more occult but for the meantime I Hope this helps. I can’t tell you that it will be easy but i can tell you that you can survive it and coexist with it.