by Mike Kaplan
Sleep paralysis is very real, and is often very scary. Sleep paralysis is when while either falling asleep or during sleep, a person wakes up to the point that they are aware, but cannot move their bodies or speak. It is very common for someone who experiences sleep paralysis to recall hearing, feeling, seeing, or encountering, something that isn’t there. Many of the victims of sleep paralysis have no idea what it is or that they experience it. They often explain their symptoms as something supernatural or extraordinary, whether it be aliens, spirits, or ghosts. It is estimated that nearly 8% of people experience sleep paralysis, though many only experience it once. It becomes more prevalent when the victim suffers from other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression, or when they have another sleep-related disorder such a narcolepsy. About 5% of people have regular episodes.
The most obvious symptom of Sleep Paralysis is inability to move while awake. People often imagine hearing sounds that range from voices, to static, to humming, to ancient languages, to roars and whispers. People often experience sensations of being moved, sat on, held down, or floating, and the paralysis usually results in a feeling of fear and panic. People have reported seeing shadows moving around them, voices telling them to do things, and some even believe they were abducted by and had their memory wiped by whatever was haunting them.
Sleep Paralysis is believed to occur when at the end of our REM sleep cycle, we become conscious before the cycle ends. We are awake mentally, but we still have no control of our bodily movements. Our body is essentially still asleep. As we know from class, people will often create mental bridges to help them explain the things they experience in their lives. When someone wakes up, can’t move their body, and see nothing physical holding them down, our brain tries to find an explanation. Often, the most realistic belief we can come up with is that there is something supernatural involved, that is preventing us from doing anything. The person suffering from the paralysis may use cues from their environment to explain the paralysis, and may go their entire lives without realizing they had experienced sleep paralysis. As someone who personally suffers from sleep paralysis, I can tell you that the panic and fear of not being able to move is extremely terrifying. It honestly feels like you may about to die, you don’t know what is happening, and our mind is quick to offer explanations. I once had an episode while on vacation in Mexico, and I explained to myself that a Mexican spirit was angry at me for being on his lands and supporting the resort there. I truly feared he was going to kill me. Now as the years pass and I became aware of what I suffered from, my mind has strayed away from such explanations. But I remember clear as day how logical they seemed at the time, and a spirit is not a far-stretch from an alien or a ghost. I try not to judge anyone who has such an “extraordinary experience”, our minds are very good at playing tricks on us, and as I said before people often do not realize they are suffering from sleep paralysis.
It is my belief that sleep paralysis is a strong explanation for many people who believe they have been abducted or encountered the supernatural. A strong initial belief that a ghost wants you dead will inevitably lead to research on ghosts, and leads down the rabbit-hole to real belief in spirits. If you believe you were abducted by aliens, get on google and find hundreds of other experiences similar to yours, it may drive you to believe in them more, or at least establish a narrative that allows a person to believe that is what must have happened to themselves.
Further social contexts and narratives of spirit encounters or alien abductions also drive belief in an explanation other than sleep paralysis for sleep paralysis. While sleep paralysis is rather unknown, and honestly is rather lacking in its study, we see ghost movies and alien stories all the time. Our culture is obsessed with the supernatural, and sleep paralysis is more likely to be identified as an experience of that supernatural rather than what it actually is. I believe someone who suffers from sleep paralysis; especially when they only experience a few occurrences, are much more likely to hear about ghosts or aliens than they are likely to read a story about Sleep Paralysis.
In summary, although these posts are usually about something that is unreal, supernatural, or otherwise impossible, Sleep Paralysis is very real and it is terrifying or even traumatizing to experience. It is listed in the DSM 5 under parasomnias, and is not a joking matter. It is not uncommon for people who suffer from sleep paralysis to explain their experience in some supernatural forum. We must try to understand that these people have experienced a trauma, and their minds are desperate to explain it. It is way more likely that a person who experienced sleep paralysis only a couple times may come to believe in the supernatural, rather than to find out what sleep paralysis is. This does not make them any less intelligent than us, they simply do not have the same information that we do.
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