What Sleep Paralysis Really Feels Like
According to studies, sleep paralysis, a sleep-dream occurrence, is somewhat common in the general population, and it's even more common in people with panic disorder.
I was diagnosed with panic disorder in the early 2000s, and I've experienced sleep paralysis multiple times since childhood.
What Is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis isn't just a dream state. It happens either when you're falling asleep or when you're waking up, and you have use of some of your senses and movements, but not all. It is referred to as sleep paralysis because it's a temporary paralysis that happens during sleep. Those who experience it can't move their limbs even though they can open their eyes.
During sleep paralysis, you can see around you, but you can't move or talk. It can last seconds or minutes, and it seems that the longer the sleep paralysis lasts, the more likely you are to have hallucinations that seem like dreams.
While sleep paralysis can easily happen when you're completely exhausted and sleep-deprived, which has mostly been my case, it's also sometimes linked to illnesses like narcolepsy. It's also more common when sleeping on your back. Once upon a time, people believed that when they experienced sleep paralysis, it was witches or demons attacking them, and it can definitely feel like that sometimes.
My First Experiences With Sleep Paralysis
My first experience happened when I was around 7 years old. I had it three times, two of which I remember pretty vividly. Not only do I remember the strange hallucinations that I had while “trying” to wake up, but I also remember what happened immediately afterward.
The two that stick out came with strange red marks when I could “free” myself from the paralysis, but the marks faded quickly. In one case, I heard the sound of something chewing next to me, and it sounded as though it was in the wall. I tried to scream, but no sound came out. I tried to will myself off the bed but was stuck. Something bit me. I was able to sit up then, but there was nothing there except a couple of red spots on my arm that looked like teeth marks and faded within seconds.
The hallucinations in this one were especially frightening, as I could smell the fire. I thought I heard the window break and felt a burning sensation on my arm right before I was able to move. I had a red mark that looked like a tree branch, which faded in seconds like the other mark. There was no fire and no broken window.
The next time I remember experiencing sleep paralysis was in my late 20s, and this instance really fit the concept of witches or demons attacking people. I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor and it felt like someone was sitting on my chest, but I didn't see anyone. I struggled and had trouble breathing. Then I heard a noise next to me like a mouse moving through the papers on the floor. When it squeaked, I was suddenly able to get up off my mattress. I spent the rest of the night sleeping on my roommate's bedroom floor.
While these experiences were absolutely terrifying at the time, later in life, they inspired short horror stories and art. As a creative soul, anything that inspires my creativity, even if it seems bad at the time, is a fantastic thing.
My Most Recent Experiences With Sleep Paralysis
The newest experiences haven't inspired any creativity, but they opened my eyes to what was causing them. I had three or four bouts of sleep paralysis when moving into the home I live in now. That was about four years ago.
Each instance was a little different, from hearing someone walking up the steps from the basement when no one else was home, to easily willing myself awake before the hallucinations set in. In one instance, I felt an evil presence in the house and then heard my mom call my name, which pulled me out of it. Unfortunately, my mom passed away in 2014.
In these episodes, my sleep paralysis happened when I took naps out of pure exhaustion. I was sleeping on my back each time.
My Final Thoughts on Sleep Paralysis
Waking up and not being able to move is frightening; it's like something out of a horror film. As a child, I had no idea what was going on and thought our house was haunted. When I felt like someone was sitting on my chest, I was almost sure that the tales of witches or demons attacking people in their sleep were true.
Now I know that sleep paralysis is a strange yet somewhat normal function of the body and mind. Of course, no Freddy Krueger is waiting in those hallucinations, but that doesn't make them any less scary at the time.