Sleep Paralysis: What Is It?

By definition, sleep paralysis is a parasomnia when the body is unable to move and speak for a period of time. It is essentially waking up and maintaining consciousness and experiencing hallucinations. Sleep paralysis is quite rare, but at least half of the popular will experience one episode in their lifetime.

During REM sleep, the body inhibits it’s motor neurons, stopping itself to prevent us from acting out our dreams and potentially causing harm. When we are awake, the amygdala is the emotion and threat centre of the brain which is able to confirm or reject feelings of danger. During sleep paralysis, the amygdala is unable to determine whether or not a threat is genuine, which is why those subject to the paralysis tend to feel helpless and extremely vulnerable.

What Do People Experience?

Other than the inability to move or speak, many people experience visual, auditory and sensory hallucinations. These can be very frightening and fall into one of the categories below;

The intruder – sounds of doorknobs opening, shadows, sense of a threatening presence

The Incubus – overhwleming sense of pressure on the chest, difficulty breathing, feelings of death

The Vestibular Motor – sense of floating, falling, flying, spinning or other out of body experiences

How Long Does It Last?

This is different for every individual who experiences sleep paralysis. For the majority however, the episodes are quite short and only last a few minutes. In rare occasions, they can last longer and even up to a few hours. For those experiencing it, it will feel like it lasts longer and there is no way you can get yourself out of the episode unless you wake up fully or fall back to sleep, which is something that is not constant, like a switch.

What Causes Sleep Paralysis?

Researchers and scientists are running out of ideas as to how and why sleep paralysis occurs, but psychologists and neuroscientists are attempting to disrupt sleep and prevent sleep paralysis in Egypt. This is being attempted using culturally adapted cognitive behavioural therapy. Professionals are trying to modify cultural perceptions; however the results so far have been inconclusive. Triggers such as stress and irregular sleep patterns can contribute to sleep paralysis.

The body alternates between rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). This cycle lasts around 90 minutes. During NREM, this is when the body relaxes, however during REM the eyes move quickly but the body remains relaxed. This is when dreams are likely to occur.

Can Sleep Paralysis Be Used for Lucid Dreaming?

There has been extensive research into the act of lucid dreaming and this is when you are aware you are dreaming, so you can customise your dream journey however you like to meet your wants, needs and desires. It’s basically an alternate universe where you can do things you’ve always wanted to. Now, stopping sleep paralysis and transforming it into a lucid dreaming can be quite difficult, and takes practice especially if you experience reoccurring episodes. The prevention of episodes is much more likely and achievable than a cure.

Here are some tips to help with sleep paralysis and transform it into a lucid dream;

  • Relax your body and don’t forcefully fight. Stress and panic increases the chance of hallucinations that you do not want to deal with
  • Try to gently move your toes and fingers. Tiny movements send a signal to your brain that your body is awake which then stops the episode
  • Attempt to move your eyes carefully blinking and looking around. This step is so you can establish waking like movements in order to fully awaken your body and brain
  • Focus on your breathing. If you feel as though a presence is sitting on your chest, stay calm and inhale and exhale deeply whilst remaining calm

The way to transform episodes into lucid dreams is to develop your dream imagery. You should try to focus on entering the dream space and being able to have full control over your body and brain.