Sleep Paralysis

There's this not so groovy thing I experience sometimes called Sleep paralysis and since I had an episode of it today, I thought I'd mention it here in case it can help anyone else out there who may be experiencing it but unsure (and freaked out)about what is going on. I'm not sure how obscure this condition is, but I have never seen any literature about it until I went looking for it today. I think I had a few episodes of it as a kid but started getting it routinely as a teenager when a neurologist diagnosed it. I feel like there is a pretty good chance that at least someone who reads this may suffer from this too and I hope it will help.

My personal experience with Sleep Paralysis is that I wake up but I can't move at all. I also feel as though I am suffocating. I can see the room I am in and am aware of everything around me, but my entire body is literally frozen in a paralyzed state. The sense of suffocation and pressure on my chest is probably the freakiest part. I have learned that if I can force myself to move even a little the "spell" will be broken so I struggle with every ounce of my being to do this. Sometimes making a sound will help break the "spell" too, but making any type of sound also requires supreme effort. It sort of feels like struggling to get out from under water with bricks on my chest. Oh my heavens, it is an awful sensation. It might be why I have a weird fear of being anesthetized but not all the way. I imagine it would be a similar sensation. Incidentally, I have a really hard time coming out of anesthesia, I have no idea if the two are related in any way.

It always happens when I'm especially tired. It is most likely to happen if I nap during the day. If someone shakes me, they can get me out of this state. If I can manage to make a loud enough (yet still very muffled) sound for my husband to hear he will come to my rescue as he did today. Bless his heroic heart. Sometimes I can force myself to relax enough so I can fall back asleep and wake up normally but this is almost impossible to do due to the suffocation sensation even though I cognitively aware of what is going on.

Some people sense an evil entity in the room during these episodes. My neurologist told me that he himself had experienced it and had felt like if he could just make the sign of a cross, he'd be ok. Generally, I don't experience that side effect although it has happened. Ick.

When I finally wake up from this experience I am incredibly exhausted almost to the point that I can't get up and feel myself drifting off to sleep again, this is distressing because I sense that if I do, it will happen again. I find the best thing to do is to force myself to get up, or even sit up and read a book for a while before going back to sleep.

Although it feels very dire, this is not a dangerous condition. It can be related to panic disorders and people with panic disorders are more prone to this. It can also be related to narcolepsy.

If I am diligent with my sleep, it almost never happens. If this is happening to you, try to avoid stress and exhaustion. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule. Naps may not be a great idea. (I almost always pay for my naps in one way or another). If you share the bed with a person tell them about it and so they can help you if they hear of feel signs of struggle.

If you'd like to read more information on this bizarro condition, you can here and here.

Something to note: Sleep paralysis can be familial so if your kids have night terror episodes and you have sleep paralysis it could be related to this. I just asked my kids if they experienced it and two of them said they had, one of whom frequently wakes up crying inconsolably or agitated and distressed but does not seem to be fully in touch with her surroundings. I feel so sorry for them, I hope they don't feel the way I do! But this certainly makes me more aware of helping them out if I hear them struggling or making sounds in their sleep.

So ends my public service announcement for the day. Knowledge is power and in this case, knowledge is definitely comfort. You aren't dying, it just feels that way. (Awesome!)

Sweet dreams (and active limbs upon awakening!)

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Aunt LoLo said...

Oh, Kirsty, I don't even know what to say. Ugh! That soundds scary, but you're a brilliant woman to post this info to help your readers!

Sweet dreams, and active limbs, to you too!

Samantha said...

That sounds really scary. It's one thing to have a nightmare and feel like you can't scream (or that no one can hear you), but another thing to be awake. I suppose the other thing I can liken it to (for my own purposes of trying to understand the sensation) is being winded--a few times when I've been thrown from a horse, I've landed hard enough to force all the air out of my lungs... it takes a little (terrifying) while until I can breath again. Knowing that I *will* be able to breath again if I wait helps. But with the added "confusion" of just having woken up... yikes.

Kim said...

I can't remember where I found the link to your blog, but I'm so glad I did. I have had these strange episodes off an on since I was a kid. As an adult I just assumed it was some kind of sleep apnea, but it turns out I don't have apnea. Thank you for posting this and solving a mystery for me.

Sophie Jane said...

Hi Kirst

I've experienced sleep paralysis probably 5/6 times in my life and on each episode felt an evil entity in the room and that terrifying pressure on my chest that you speak of - it's horrible! The last time I had an episode I felt a presence in the corner of the room but couldn't turn to face it as I was paralysed...makes me shudder to think of it.

Thanks for posting info on this topic as I had just put it down to nightmares, I've read up a little on sleep paralysis but have never met anyone else who had experienced it. It's also good to know that your neurologist had a similar haunting episode as the more I can put really scary stuff like that down to science, the better.

Awesome blog!

Lynn from For Love or Funny said...

Hmm. This is interesting. I've dealt with a panic disorder in my early 20s. Twenty years later, I occasionally wake up (from a nap) with that suffocating feeling you describe. I just thought it was allergies...but I wonder.

Sleep easy!

Kirsty said...

*Aunt Lolo-thanks :) I hope it can be useful to someone.

*Kim-Hi! Glad to solve the mystery-something else I read was to avoid sleeping on your back. I hope you can avoid future episodes. They are so awful.

*Sophie Jane-You poor thing. It really does give me chills even to type about. At least now you will be able to tell yourself that it's not what it seems, that really does help.

*Lynn-Hmm..I wonder. Do you have the paralysis along with the suffocating feeling? There's no way I could ever confuse it for allergies but the other parts fit...

Tooj said...

I hope that your information helps appears that it already has, reading the comments. :) I wish you and your children restful sleep.

Anonymous said...

Good public service Stinny. Good also for the mothers of kids with it. The first time you experienced it Shona came running through to our room to tell us you could not move. TRES scary!

Anonymous said...

Want to leave a comment, but there are no little letters to copy, so not sure if the comments will "stick".


Soxy Pirate said...

Holy monkey, I was catching up on some older posts and I came across this. I suffer from this dreadful curse too (I got it from my father, apparently). It only happens to me during naps, but it's extremely EXTREMELY frightening for me. Every time it happens I think I'm dying.

It happened to me one time in class when I was in high school. I finally caught the attention of someone in the room when I started blinking with all my might (this was a monumental accomplishment) and they came over to shake me and wake me up. I still haven't managed to make sounds though. My dad is so good at it that you can even make out what he's saying under his breath!

Sunday naps are the worst for me. If I can get my thoughts together well enough I can convince myself to just go back to sleep and wait to "really" wake up, but usually it's just several minutes of painful, frightening struggle.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirsty

I have been suffering from this since I was 10 years old but in different forms. I could feel it coming on, my ears used to ring and then my entire body would freeze (I used to say I was being "zapped"). Sometimes it happened in broad daylight. There were times I felt it coming on and would try to put my light on, it once happened with my fingers on the light switch! When I felt it coming on, I used to try and fight it off before it got me, sometimes it would work, there were stages it would happen every single night. My chest would feel like there was a weight on it, my stomach was pressed down and breathing would become difficult. The more I fought it, the more it came on. Once out of it, it would take a long time for strength to be restored in my legs. You probably not going to like this, neither are your readers, but I have worked out what it is - and in my case it is not sleep paralysis and NO I am not mad - it is a poltaguist trying to take possession of my body. The times it happened the most to me were when I was living my life strictly in accordance with the way I should. The moment I am no longer a threat, it backs off. When it used to happen, I could perhaps get a little bit of sound out and my mother would call me, that would bring me out of it. There was an occasion when it happened to me - and during the "spell" that it spoke to me. I was wide awake when this happened. My brother never ever ever believed me and still doesn't. There were occasions I would sleep in the same room as my mother out of fear. Night after night after night, she would take me out of it when she heard me struggling. It happened to her once or twice. A friend of mine that stayed at our place for a few weeks and shared a room with me, also used to help me with it. She used to raise her hand to the square and dismiss it using sacred terms and it would go. My other thoughts are along the lines that if it is sleep paralysis, the poltaguist takes that opportunity to attack me. They attack when we physically weak. I know a woman who is an alcoholic and it happens to her every time she drinks too much, her body becomes weak. It never happens to her when she is sober. They use every opportunity to "get us". Again, I am not crazy, my best friend is a psychiatrist, he believes in the sleep paralysis term. I have spoken to many people who suffer from this and there is definitely a link to the dark side. Sometimes it was so bad it would last for 30 minutes, during the struggle I could see certain things in the spiritual realm. Frightening things. Any way, in short that is my take on it. I got so used to it happening every night that the fear eventually left and I got used to it but hate it and still do. I would tremble with fear in the beginning and sleep with my light on the rest of the night. Not that it makes a difference because it happens during the day too. I used to be too scared to go to sleep at night. - this is the tip of the iceberg. Take care. Chantal

Kirsty said...

Hi Chantal

Not sure if you read the literature I linked to, but the sense of some sort of malevolent/evil force being present is a very common aspect of sleep paralysis. In fact it used to be nick-named "the Hag" for the evil witch people said was sitting on their chest. Really, read the literature please, you will probably find it enlightening and perhaps, comforting.

For this reason, I don't think you are crazy for believing it is a dark force, many people do and yes, Sleep Paralysis is a medically recognized and approved term (my neurologist diagnosed as I mentioned)and the feeling that a dark force is medically documented in everything I have ever read.

***HOWEVER** I truly don't believe this is a "poltergeist" or that any sort or exorcism is necessary. It is just a brain chemistry thing, a truly unpleasant one but one all the same. I think Satan has so many more subtle ways to destroy us including making us believe that if we live well we will be threatened by demons, wouldn't that make you at least sub-consciously inclined not to do the right things?

I'm really sorry you have experienced it so severely for so long, that sounds dreadful. I'd recommend you speak to a Dr. or Psychiatrist about possibly treating it with medication. Good luck!!