Sleep Paralysis- Your Walking Nightmare

Isabella Smith, Photojournalist

Sleep paralysis is a condition where your body becomes paralyzed during “sleep”. Imagine yourself in bed and “awake,” but unable to move or even speak, in most instances, these occurrences include vivid haunting hallucinations–it’s quite literally a living nightmare. 

But centuries before it wasn’t just a nightmare. Over the years there have been many superstitions over sleep paralysis, during the 1st century BC it was considered to be a visit by evil threatening to push the life out of you. Sleep paralysis usually lasts several seconds to several minutes. There are three factors relating to sleep paralysis. The first relates to frightening hallucinations; these hallucinations are vivid, even auditory. The second relates to a factor called “Incubus’ ‘ associated with trouble breathing, chest pain, and chest pressure. The third is related to a vestibule-motor experience where you experience an unusual out-of-body experience, a floating/flying sensation. 

With all the chilling experiences from nightmares and sleep paralysis, it’d make sense to why there’s so much fear around the dark. But sleep paralysis begs the question: Could these occurrences be glitches in the simulation!? No. Sadly, your sleep paralysis probably isn’t real. Dreams of sleep paralysis have differing associations, usually playing off what the person fears most. In the 1600’s it was common to have sleep paralysis nightmares of demons, thieves, and big dogs- there’s a big contrast in what we find scary now.

When you’re going through the sleep stage of rapid eye movements (REM), dreaming is more likely. After you begin/end this stage regaining awareness becomes safer. Sleep paralysis is surprisingly quite a common universality with 8-50% (depending) chance of sleep paralysis occurring once at some point in life. Surprisingly, it occurs universally with quite normal sleepers- though, it has been linked to narcolepsy, stress, alcoholism, and sleep deprivation.

it isn’t always bad, but it’s definitely shaken me- I started questioning reality”

— Isabella Gutierez

The best way to understand sleep paralysis is to listen to first-hand accounts. An experience from a Reddit user described herself in bed while her sister came to visit- the sister had an odd aurora about her while her voice seemed distorted- it didn’t match… The user pointed out “you’re not my sister” and with that, another distorted version of the sister staggered behind the first with a chilling murmured response “yes I am”. Isabella Gutierez (12) has experienced sleep paralysis and noted that “it isn’t always bad but it’s definitely shaken me- I started questioning reality.”

Sleep paralysis could be really scary to experience. The best way to prevent sleep paralysis from happening is by maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, treating underlying conditions, and using de-stressing activities. With some being haunted by the thought of being stifled and suffocated, others may be curious about how sleep paralysis may occur.  Even meeting a spirit, would it frighten you if you knew it couldn’t harm you? Either way, if you wake up paralyzed as a figure crawls toward you, breathe- you’re pulling a cruel prank on yourself.