The only thing I can think of that has stuck out this past week has been my obscure sleeping pattern. I’ve been tossing and turning, lying awake and staring at the ceiling. This sometimes happens to me usually because something is on my mind (I’m still trying to figure out what). However, my sleeping pattern has been more unusual with me experiencing sleep paralysis on a more frequent basis. Usually, I experience this about once a month. However, this week, it happened on three separate nights, with 1 night it happening three times in a row.
From my memory, I’ve always experienced sleep paralysis. This was incredibly frightening when I was younger. I completely understand for someone to feel frightened and anxious after experiencing one for the first time, or for a period of time without them knowing what’s happening to them. So I will explain:
What is sleep paralysis? Sleep paralysis is when you are experiencing rapid eye movements (REM) whilst you are awake. You get sleep paralysis when you are just waking up or just going to sleep. During sleep, it seems as though you cannot move your body, but you can move your eyes and muscles used for breathing.
Typically your dream becomes entwined with reality, but you are unable to interact with it due to your paralysis. Usually, the dreams tend to be nightmares, which makes the experience unpleasant. You might experience visual hallucinations or auditory delusions.
Sleep paralysis can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. According to the NHS website, it’s unclear why it occurs but could be due to a lack of sleep, irregular sleep patterns, narcolepsy or a family history of sleep paralysis.
I have found that I am more likely to get sleep paralysis when I am ill, if I have a high temperature, I am stressed/agitated or experiencing an irregular sleep pattern.
Members of my family have experienced sleep paralysis, mainly my dad and brother. But my mother and Nan (mum’s mum) have vivid dreams where they feel they are awake and interact with them (sometimes), but they are not paralysed. Clearly, there are odd sleeping patterns in my family.
I explicitly remember my first sleep paralysis experience. Unfortunately, each time I would have it for over a period of a few years and it would be the same nightmare. For those of you who don’t like to read things that may freak them out, maybe don’t continue to read the rest of this paragraph or the next one…. The first time it happened I recall lying in my bed glaring at the doorway. I suddenly felt intense fear and felt completely unsafe. I could hear feet pressing down onto the carpet floor, and followed this sound to the end of my bed. I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear something was there (auditory hallucination). Then the worst part of the nightmare kicked in. Something (at this point I didn’t know what), pressed its feet onto my bed. I saw my duvet dip down where the feet were pressing (visual hallucination). It came closer and closer. I realised that this wasn’t a human, but an animal. I felt this animal walk on top of me, my chest felt crushed and I struggled to breathe. I desperately tried to move, but I was paralysed. I was screaming for help, but my mouth wouldn’t move. Suddenly, I felt a warm wet breath against my face and I heard a deep evil growl in my ear. It was a wolf. As it goes into attack (assuming to bite my face). I manage to wriggle my big right toe and I come out of the nightmare. It isn’t clear that you are waking up, it just seems as though the nightmare stops (that’s what makes it quite disturbing for some). Plus, that’s what made it so real, it appeared as if I was awake and something came into my room and attacked me. I was so frightened. I started to have these nightmares frequently, and I couldn’t sleep with the light off for a very long time after (years).
For years, I’ve had the same nightmare, but gradually others ones started to emerge. Such as my bedroom stretching and getting longer and longer, people screaming in my ear, scratching on my door or digging their nails into my skin. The most recent being, I was lying in bed, thinking I was awake. When I heard someone open my bedroom door, walk in, and close the door behind them. I turned my eyes to see my pillow was covering half my view and recognised a woman standing in my room looking towards my direction. I could only see her cheek and her hair which was a brown rectangular short bob, finishing just below her earlobe. That’s when I realised I didn’t recognise who this person was. I felt frightened and tried to move, I was paralysed. I concentrated on wriggling my right big toe and I came out of it (for some reason this tends to work). I felt anxious and couldn’t sleep much for the rest of the night.
It wasn’t until my teens I found out about sleep paralysis. Now that I understand what’s happening, I feel more control over the situation during and after it occurs. Some people mistake sleep paralysis, which I did for a while, that ghosts or demons are entering your room, or you’re developing psychotic symptoms. Well, that isn’t the case.
According to the NHS website, things you may experience during your sleep paralysis include: finding it difficult to take deep breaths, as if your chest is being crushed or restricted. Being able to move your eyes – some people can also open their eyes but others find they can’t. Have a sensation that there’s someone or something in the room with you (hallucination) – many people feel this presence wishes to harm them and feel very frightened. I tick all these boxes.
How can you cope? I can tell you how I cope. When I awake I feel very anxious and unsafe. I turn on the light and watch videos/listen to music to distract my mind. I then repeatedly remind myself that ‘it wasn’t real’, ‘I was having sleep paralysis/nightmare’. When I start to calm down, I try relaxation techniques to help me fall back to sleep. Breathing techniques work, and day dreaming (remember people telling you to count sheep when you wanted to fall asleep), well you’re basically daydreaming. Always go back to sleep in a different position than you did before. If I wake up on my side, then I go back to sleep on my back. Notice how your body feels, are you dehydrated, too hot, too cold? Deal with these symptoms; open a window, get another blanket or drink some water. Then relax, enjoy some sleep.
I highly recommend you not waking up from sleep paralysis and drifting back to sleep straight after, this can be easily done if you wake up feeling very tired. This week on one occasion I kept doing this and I would drop back into my sleep paralysis straight away. So when I wake up, I really make sure I wake up fully and change position before going back to sleep.
Sleep paralysis can be chronic for some and very frightening, there are support groups available to help discuss your concerns/queries or get help with sleeping difficulties.
For understanding how and why it happens, try reading -https://sleepparalysissupportcom.wordpress.com/
For help with sleep disorders/difficulties – http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/sleep-problems/
Easily you can google sleep paralysis support groups and find online communities that support one another.
If you find it’s having a big impact on your life and sleep, go and speak to your GP.