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Every one of us experiences occasional moments when our body remains immobile for a short while after waking up from a dream (it can occur whilst falling asleep as well). It is a sensation that no person describes as being anywhere near comfortable. These episodes are called “Sleep Paralysis”, and when a person experiences them nightly or frequently they have what has been termed as Sleep Paralysis Disorder. I am one of those people who have this lifelong condition and I was officially diagnosed with it as a teenager.

Previously, I have written blogs about how it terrifies me whenever my mind wakes up but I can’t move a single arm, leg or eyelid for up to a whole minute after waking up. Even my breathing cannot be controlled voluntarily, and it’s a very uncomfortable sensation to be attempting quicker breaths yet my body is only able to involuntarily breathe, in a slow and drawn out manner. This gives me a false sensation of suffocating.

Sleep paralysis occurs when our brainwaves don’t shift cleanly between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and wakefulness. REM sleep is a somewhat lighter phase of sleeping and whenever we are in those stages of our nightly cycle (usually just after falling asleep and just prior to waking up) we will most likely be dreaming.

It’s especially clear to us that REM sleep is lighter than slow wave (or deep) sleep on those difficult nights when we have a few dreams for an hour or so, yet we feel much more fatigue in comparison to having a full cycle of sleep. As well, during REM sleep our mind can still be alert and aware, to a certain extent. It is also possible at times to consciously change our dreams and to be aware that we are dreaming.

However, after saying all of that whenever we are in REM sleep our body and brain are still asleep. Therefore our voluntary muscles are paralysed, our breathing is slow and deep, our eyelids are firmly closed and our heart rate and body temperature are lowered. Whilst awake (even during intense relaxation or meditation) it is essentially impossible for our brainwaves to be in a REM state. Though during Sleep Paralysis episodes our brain and body are in a very uncomfortable state where we are half way in between.

Something else which is very important to mention is that Sleep Paralysis doesn’t solely involve not being able to move. As well as making our body paralysed, REM sleep also causes our eyes dart and roll around. There have been nights and mornings when I have managed to wrench my eyelids open during an episode, and my eyeballs have been quickly moving up and down as well as side to side, and even from back to front. Then last but not least, whilst we are in REM sleep it causes our mind to dream

There have been times when my eyes have been fully open during an episode of Sleep Paralysis, all of my voluntary muscles were immobile, though my mind was still dreaming. If I had to pick the most frightening kind of Sleep Paralysis episode to have, the one I mentioned in the previous sentence would have to be it. I have a recent example to give here.

A few months ago I was having a dream and walking along the seaside to clear my thoughts. The dreams that I have are always of the same few locations, in a way that is quite similar to living life when I’m awake. Those locations don’t exist in my waking life, however they do all together make up an inner world that I know very well and subconsciously live in. Dreams aren’t (physically) real, but they do accurately reveal to us what is going on beneath all of our conscious thoughts and feelings whilst we’re awake.

Anyhow in the dream I was walking along that outdoor landscape and I noticed that there was a horrible rotting shack in a corner, that I hadn’t ever seen before. So I asked a person next to me what it was. I was told that it was an evil place that I should never set foot in. But despite my efforts to avoid it, I unfortunately ended up inside that awful shack.

Similarly in my waking life I’m currently going through a stressful process of criminally charging a person of whom abused me as a child. It’s bringing back a lot of painful memories, yet I’m doing everything I can to shove that ‘box’ into a corner where I can’t see it.

Returning to the subject of that dream, within the rotting shack I saw my abuser imprisoned with horrible fangs dripping with black blood. He told me in a growl that he was so angry about me telling the police and my parents about what he did, and that he was going to make sure that every “oo-na-na” he knew was going to get me. When I was a very young child “oo-na-nas” were a kind of monster that he made up to scare me in a sadistic way.

After telling the man in the dream that this wasn’t real (during REM sleep I always know that I’m asleep) I then unfortunately had a Sleep Paralysis episode upon waking. What I saw absolutely terrified me. My eyes were open though I was still dreaming about my fanged abuser sitting right next to me and sniggering at the sight of me being scared, just like he used to do all those years ago. I wasn’t able to scream, however the fear was so much that I jumped out of bed while I was still paralysed. As a result of doing that I tore a muscle in my left knee. Once I fully woke up I was in physical pain from my injury, and when it occurred to me that the man/monster wasn’t real I felt so embarrassed about having had such a nightmare as an adult. I cried until the sun came up, though mum told me to never feel ashamed by it. As I was injured, I had no other choice but to tell my parents, carers and doctors about the episode.

Unfortunately very little is understood about sleep paralysis, even though so many of us experience it from time to time. For instance, a surprisingly large number of therapists and doctors of whom I have spoken to about my episodes haven’t had much information to give me. A previous therapist even said that it was extremely unusual for me to only be hallucinating whenever I had just awoken from dreams, and not all throughout the day in addition. Yet the truth is that what I am seeing are actually dreams, and that I merely see these supposed hallucinations because I am still asleep! This is a sleep disorder and not mental illness. By saying that I don’t have any negative thoughts at all about people who do have mental illness either.

There is no medication specifically manufactured for Sleep Paralysis Disorder. Anafranil has been found to work well with aiding Sleep Paralysis, and I myself take that to lessen my symptoms. However, I actually use Anafranil for its side affect of enabling me to move around more whilst asleep.

Initially, when the medication was first developed, Anafranil was intended to be an antidepressant. However it was created so long ago that most people with depression are no longer being prescribed with Anafranil, and therefore it’s becoming much more difficult for pharmacies to get hold of. This is very frightening for me, as no other kind of medication is known to be effective for aiding Sleep Paralysis Disorder.

In conclusion, this blog has been titled “Sleep Paralysis Truly is Terrifying” because it is just that, and there is no other word but ‘terrifying’ to describe it. It’s also important to mention that this condition can be seriously aggravated by certain medicines and treatments for other ailments. Even certain anaesthetics have complications with people who have Sleep Paralysis Disorder. So the medical world needs to put in more time to recognise, investigate, research and provide treatment for this little known but frequently experienced disorder.