My experience regarding Sleep Paralysis: A Confusing Scientific Act of Sleep

Tahiya

All of us dream, right? I am not talking about day dreams and imaginations. I am indicating the dreams and nightmares that we go through while we are asleep. Usually, in my nightmares, either someone is chasing me, or trying to cut my throat, or harassing me, or creating such pressure on my body that I can’t even move my arms and legs. The last one, in particular, used to bother me the most. There was a phase when I used to really feel scared to go to sleep. When I discussed this with my closed ones, they suggested some technics of sleeping. I usually used to sleep on my back, but I was suggested to sleep side by side. I tried that but there was no positive result.

Some people told me that it is related to some demonic possession and invasion. I got more scared because I do watch a lot of horror movies. As, I was going through this experience on a regular basis, while sleeping and was not able to come out of it, I went to Google and searched “Why does my body feel numb during sleep and why do I feel intense pressure on my chest?”. Google was wise enough to direct me to the link of sleep paralysis. It was totally a new term to me. Then I researched on this topic and was able to figure out the scientific explanation behind this horrific experience.

The whole experience can be divided into three different factors- an intruder, Incubus, and unusual body experiences. Intruder normally refers to someone who makes an unwanted appearance in an individual’s life. This is the first feeling that is experienced in sleep paralysis. The second one comes with breathing problems and intense pressure over the chest area. Both intruder and incubus like feeling are considered to be a result of fear and insecurity in someone’s life. The final factor is the unusual body experiences which comprise of a blissful feeling of floating on air in some cases, and in other cases; the feeling comes as more of a scary situation.

Usually, when a person sleeps, s/he gets into the phase of rapid eye movement (REM) of sleep. It is a kind of sleep that occurs at intervals during the night and is characterized by rapid eye movements, more dreaming and bodily movement, and faster pulse and breathing.The brain remains active during the REM phase of sleep but the voluntary muscles of the body like arms, legs, fingers, anything that is under conscious control, are paralyzed.

This REM sleep contributes to the loss of muscle tone in the body so that we can’t move our bodies during dreams and nightmares and physically hurt ourselves. But it gets complicated when our brains get awakened in the middle of sleep but our bodies do not. This is termed as sleep paralysis, the mysterious term of suffering during sleep.

When I went through this on a regular basis, I used to experience the similar occurrences every time including- unable to move, the feeling of being held down, pressure on the chest, feeling someone’s presence in the room, breathing difficulties and obviously fear. Till now I did not consult any doctor but found out the possible causes for this problem. At that time, I was overusing caffeine, my sleeping time was irregular, my anxiety levels were immensely high and I used to sleep on my back.

Various neurotransmitters continuously pass important signals from the brain to the body. When the presence of certain neurotransmitter like acetylcholine increases in the brain during sleep, then this condition may occur. The research conducted by John Peever and Patricia Brooks, researchers of the University of Toronto focused on two different nerve receptors in the voluntary muscles- GABAB and GABAA/glycine. The latter receptor responds to both glycine and a different communication chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, while the first response to GABA and not glycine.The researchers used drugs to “switch off” these receptors in rats and discovered that the only way to prevent sleep paralysis during REM was to shut both types off at the same time.

Consultation with the doctor is the most appropriate way to resolve this sleep disorder but self-measures can also be taken to get rid of this problem. Maintaining a specific sleeping schedule, breathing deeply, clenching feasts and wiggling of toes, trying to relax instead of fighting and most importantly, as the brain remains awake in that moment, try convincing you that it is just a sleep paralysis and it will be alright.

 

Tahiya Islam completed her graduation under Department of Pharmacy, East West University. She is an International student correspondent at Association of Life Science and Engineering Writers (ALSEW). Tahiya can be reached at tahiya945@gmail.com

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