For most of us, sleep is a welcome friend at the end of a tough day. Our bedrooms are a place of heaven where we can slide between our comfortable sheets and finally put away the cares and stresses that beset us amid waking hours.
But, for some people, the bedroom is not a haven and sleep is not relaxing. These people experience a phenomenon known as sleep paralysis.
What is sleep paralysis?
Sufferers of sleep paralysis wake from their sleep totally paralyzed. They wake from sleep immobile for a few minutes. Even though it lasts a short time, it can seem like an eternity in the dark of the night.
During this, the sensation of paralysis is so complete that people even feel that they are not able to breathe. But, this is only a sensation. People continue to breathe throughout an attack.
Many people who experience this, sense that there is an evil presence in the room with them. For some of them it will be a shadow in the periphery of their vision, while for others the presence will sit on their chest.
Sleep Paralysis – History
The first known description of an attack in writing dates from 2400BC. It was when Gilgamesh’s dad was said to be a ‘lilu’ or night demon and the subject has been returned to many times in both art and sculpture.
Female sufferers were thought to have been visited by an incubus. It was a sex demon who sat on their chests and seduced them while men were the victims of the female equivalent – succubae.
The people who suffered from these attacks were often exorcised. This was done in order to rid them of their demons.
There are cultural equivalents to these demons in all cultures from Zanzibar to Brazil demonstrating that sleep paralysis is a global phenomenon. Individuals who have reported being abducted by aliens might have experienced an attack of sleep paralysis.
Sleep Paralysis – is it dangerous?
Sleep paralysis attacks, are not dangerous. Many sufferers can experience one or two attacks during their life, however, for some of them, these attacks can be an extremely annoying regular event.
Sleep Paralysis – Causes
People who suffer from narcolepsy can experience sleep paralysis .A narcolepsy is a disorder that causes excessive sleepiness during waking hours, sufferers can fall asleep suddenly and without warning at any time. Also, people who suffer from Sleep Apnea can experience sleep paralysis
Sleep paralysis may also happen after a traumatic life event or when someone is suffering from depression or anxiety.
Another reason for sleep paralysis can be the genetic susceptibility. If a person experiences sleep paralysis, others in the same family will probably also suffer from sleep paralysis. Roughly 7-8% of all people suffer from sleep paralysis. This can rise as high as 30% of individuals who are diagnosed with anxiety, narcolepsy or some other risk factors.
Sleep Paralysis – Reasons
Even though we are aware that certain things such as narcolepsy can make someone more likely to suffer from an attack of sleep paralysis we still do not know why it happens.
Our sleep takes place in cycles. One of these cycles is known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). REM is a sleep stage when much active dreaming occurs.
During REM stage, more of the muscles in our bodies are paralyzed. This happens in order to prevent us from injury during sleep.
We are not aware why some people who suffer from sleep paralysis, find themselves hallucinating an evil presence in the room with them; at least, not for certain.
Amid sleep paralysis attacks, the brain is hyper aware and more inclined to see any external sights or sounds as a threat. According to some researchers, this presence might be a result of the brain’s way of interpreting and making sense of the signals it is receiving. People of a religious bent might hallucinate the devil, others may be culturally conditioned to hallucinate aliens or burglars.