Imagine, after a long hectic day, as usual you have fallen asleep with an expectation of having a pleasant sleep and to wake up in the next morning feeling refreshed. But instead of that, in the middle of the night you just awaken at an unexpected time and suddenly you feel two things that you cannot move at all and realized that you are not alone. You feel weight in your chest that some uninvited, strange, frightening things press you down but you cannot see because there is too dark. Even you cannot speak to call for help. Isn’t it scary!
7.6% of people have experienced it within their life time and this experience is called sleep paralysis. It can last several minutes. Sleep paralysis occurs frequently among 3-6% of the world population and about 30% of young adults (Research conducted by J. Allan Cheyne, 2001).
Modern sciences do not have a clear and convincing knowledge about this phenomenon though research on sleep paralysis is going on. According to modern sciences some probable causes of sleep paralysis are genetic link, sleep deprivation, sleeping on the back, long standing sleep disturbances, life stress and mental condition such as bipolar disorder.
Sleep paralysis is mainly two types, one is hypnagogic sleep paralysis and other is hypnopompic sleep paralysis. In case of hypnagogic sleep paralysis, after falling asleep body slowly relaxes and a person become less aware, if that person becomes aware in that stage then he may experience sleep paralysis. There are two types of sleep occurs in mammals, rapid eye movement (REM sleep) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM or non-REM sleep). A cycle of REM and NREM sleep lasts about 90 minutes. At first, NREM sleep occur which takes up to 75% of overall sleep time. In this stage body relaxes and restores itself at the end of NREM, REM sleep starts. During REM sleep eyes move quickly and dreams occur but the rest of the body remains very relaxed and muscles are turned off. If a person become aware before finishing the REM cycle then sleep paralysis may occur, this is hypnopompic type.
Hypotheses have set forth possible explanations of the various symptoms. Ethan Green, a sleep blogger and the founder of “No Sleepless Nights” run several polls among thousand people to find out the reality of sleep paralysis. Most of them share three common experiences. These are: presence of an intruder in the room, demon pushes their chest or doing some unpleasant things and having an out-of-body experience, but modern science explains these three that people report. The first two occurs because of the combination of three reasons. Firstly, during REM sleep stage when muscles are turned off, breathing may affected which becomes shallower. So in that time when a person become try to breathe deeply but he cannot be able to breathe then brain might misinterpret this as a feeling that something unpleasant pushing down the chest. Secondly, when the person is in a threatened state, body naturally reacts with its fight or flight defense mechanism. Thirdly, several brain structures might interact to create hallucination which can be misunderstood with demonic in some way. An out-of-body experience is another type of hallucination in neurological mechanism which is explained by coordinating movement of brain.
Sleep paralysis can affect men and women of any age group and the average age when it first occurs is 14 to 17 years. Sleep paralysis cannot affect a person’s sleep or health. But if episodes of sleep paralysis occur then the person should consults with a sleep specialist or a doctor. There are no specific tests for this but doctors do some study to the patients like polysomnogram where doctor takes overnight sleep study of the patient. It includes brain waves, heartbeat, breathing and the movement of arms and legs during sleep. Electromyogram (EMG), which records the level of electrical activity of muscle and normally the level, is very low during sleep paralysis. Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT), measures how fast the patient fall asleep during day and if the sleep paralysis is narcolepsy type or not.
Most people do not need treatment for sleep paralysis. As sleep deprivation causes sleep paralysis, one must improve sleep habits like try to make sure six to eight hour sleep each night. People with mental problem like bipolar disorder should take medicine that doctor prescribed. Sleep paralysis may also happen after a change of medicines and this issue must be informed to the doctor. Antidepressant medication can be taken to reduce stress and to regulate sleep cycle, as stress is one of the reasons for sleep paralysis. If narcolepsy or any other sleep disorder presents then treatment should be taken as soon as possible.
Spiritual research by the SSRF (Spiritual Science Research Foundation) of Sleep paralysis has revealed that one of the main spiritual reasons for these phenomena is an attack by ghosts or demon. There are many different beliefs about sleep paralysis in many different countries which are mainly based on six-sense.
Every person wants a sound sleep and a pleasant dream during sleep. Sleep paralysis prevents from getting a good night’s sleep. It is a nightmare, though chances of happening this during lifetime are very low. Still no one wants this horror experience. A healthy life style and good sleep habit can prevent you from this terror.
Mehedi Mala Mitu is a pharmacy student, completing her graduation under the department of Pharmacy, East West University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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