SleepParalysisByPhyllis Omo-Ojo Sleep paralysis is a state in which a person is aware but temporarily unable tomove or speak when falling asleep or upon awakening. Thisstate lasts only a few seconds to minutes, but it can be terrifying. Sleepparalysis is often a symptom of narcolepsy, an ongoing condition markedby excessive sleepiness. Sleep paralysis without narcolepsy isreferred to as isolated sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis often occurs during daytime naps or when a personis jet-lagged or otherwise deprived ofsleep. Jet lag is a travel-related condition in which the natural cycles ofsleep and waking become out of step with local time.
Common sensations that occurduring sleep paralysis include feeling of floating outside one’sbody. Another common and frightening occurrence is the sensation that anotherperson is in the room. This figure may appear as a dark shadow, or theparalyzed person might simply sense amalevolent presence. You may also dream an intruder with feature of a demon, a witch, or a creature with sharpteeth and cat-eyes.
In the sleep paralyzed state, a person may have the feelingof being attacked, choked, or suffocated by the intruder. Cause. Sleep paralysis happens when aperson wakes while still in a stage of sleep called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
REM sleepis the stage of sleep in which vivid dreams occur. During REM sleep, a part of the brain calledthe dorsolateral prefrontal cortex becomes inactive. Thisportion of the brain is central in the ability to plan and think logically. Itis this inactivity that enables the fantastic things that occur in dreams toseem real.During REM sleep, the body is paralyzed by thebrain.
This paralysis prevents the person from being hurt by acting out ormoving while dreaming. Sometimes, however, people do wake up while the brain isstill in the REM state. This occurrence may leave the person stuck in aborderline state of consciousness between sleepand wakefulness while the body remains paralyzed. Occasionally during such sleepparalysis, the vivid and sometimes frightful or threatening dreams of REM sleepcan intrude into waking consciousness. In effect, the person is dreaming witheyes open. Occurrence. Experts believe that around 20 to 40 percent of people experienceisolated sleep paralysis at least once in their lives. The condition runs infamilies and is common in all cultures throughout the world.
Cultural significance. Sleep paralysis and its effectsare rooted in folklore related to nightmares.The term nightmare comes from the Old English word mare, a kind of female evilspirit or goblin.In European folklore, thisspirit was said to sit on a person’s chest during sleep, causing bad dreams.In Italy,sleep paralysis has sometimes been seen as an assault by the pandafeche, beingsdescribed as witches or catlike creatures. In Newfoundland, it is referred toas an old-hag attack.
AmongEgyptians, some believe sleep paralysis to be caused by supernatural creaturesknown as jinn. In theUnited States, sleep paralysis may be responsible for some reports of abductionby extraterrestrials.