It sounds like the stuff of nightmares, but sleep paralysis is a very real phenomenon that impacts an estimated 8% of Americans. Unlike dreams or the uncomfortable sensation of being “jerked” awake, sleep paralysis is a rare and sometimes disturbing sleep condition that results in feeling paralyzed but entirely lucid and alert—and often accompanied by sensations and visions akin to a waking nightmare.
Can sleep paralysis kill you? Is there anything you can do to avoid the effects of sleep paralysis? Check out these 5 fascinating facts about sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is not sleep.
Sleep paralysis isn’t technically sleep, nor is it being awake. The condition occurs somewhere in between—the mind feels lucid and awake, but the body is still flooded with chemicals that keep the body paralyzed during sleep. Sleep paralysis actually results in your senses being more hyper-aware, which is why many experience the feeling of a “weight” on their chest or an inability to breathe.
It often feels like a waking nightmare.
Because your mind is caught in the uncomfortable space between awake and asleep, your mind will often fill in the blanks with the sensations and visions you might experience during a nightmare. Many report feeling an evil presence near them but just out of sight, while others report actually seeing ghostly or disturbing figures in plain sight, all while they are unable to move.
Sleep paralysis has a long and strange history.
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon that’s been around since the early 19th Century, when theologians and philosophers wrote about what they believed to be a very real demonic experience. For centuries, people believed that sleep paralysis occurred when demons sat on their chests, or in instances of witchcraft or demonic posession. Only later did many decide that bad meat or cheap wine might be the cause.
Scientists still aren’t sure what causes sleep paralysis.
Today, doctors and scientists know that sleep paralysis has to do with the transition between REM and NREM sleep, and is most likely brought on by an interruption in the normal sleep pattern. They know that it may be inherited and that if you have twin who has experienced it, the odds that you will as well are notably higher. Despite knowing some of the commonalities among sleep paralysis sufferers, they still aren’t entirely sure what causes the phenomenon in the first place.
Sleep paralysis is more common in students and psychiatric patients.
In a study published by Sleep Medicine Reviews, Brian A. Sharpless of Penn State discovered that students and psychiatric patients were among those most likely to experience sleep paralysis on a somewhat regular basis, and even more so in patients that were diagnosed with a panic disorder. This could come down to their level of stress and overall sleep health.