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What It’s Like to Experience Sleep Paralysis

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CUA chapter.

During my third week at college, I faced a lack of sleep due to staying out late partying as a result of overall stress. This lack of sleep caused me to experience one of the most confusing and terrifying situations in my life. It was late in the afternoon and I decided to take a nap so I could recover before heading to another class that night. I lay there, alone in my dorm, with my eyes closed. I suddenly felt an unexplainable presence in my room. This intense fear rushed within me. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream for help. My body was paralyzed from head to toe. My whole body felt some sort of pressure on top of me allowing the sensation of being slowly sinking down into my bed. At the same time, I could see my physical-self laying there. I was having trouble identifying it as a dream or reality since it all felt so real. That presence was unknown, it was a man’s shadow standing beside my bed. One of my deepest fears was becoming true. I knew I was awake because this man placed his hand on my shoulder and left it there. I could sense his touch just as you can feel a touch in real life.  The hallucinations kept going. My conscious presence saw a face, ghost-like, seeing me and saying my name. But still, my body was struggling to move. The only solution that I thought of at the moment, was to pray. Suddenly, I ‘woke up’ coming back to reality and praying out loud. I immediately ran to my suitemate’s dorm and hugged her trying to make sense of this ‘nightmare’.

Curiously, the next day my psychology professor introduced this whole new chapter on lucid dreaming. So, in scientific terms, what exactly is paralyzed dreaming? It is a feeling of being awake while dreaming in REM (Rapid eye movement) but your body is still in a paralyzed state. Along with waking up, the REM sleep paralysis is supposed to end, but that is not always the case. Sleep paralysis is commonly influenced by sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, even by abusing substances like alcohol. Experiencing sleep paralysis, in most cases, can be extremely terrifying. You are stuck wondering if it was all a nightmare or questioning if it really happened due to sleep paralysis being a system indicator of your subconscious mind producing an excess in active dreaming. By remaining too active, sometimes it doesn’t turn off after waking up which explains the abnormal hallucinations. After a short period of time, the brain is able to realize that it is awake, therefore, ending this inhibiting activity.

When the feeling of being paralyzed is present, your mind is at a conscious state but unable to speak or move. This happens because during REM the muscles relax up to the point of paralysis preventing any type of reaction caused by dreaming. The amygdala plays a major role in experiencing terrifying hallucinations during a sleep paralysis. The amygdala is a region in your brain that signals your body of possible threats motivating a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. The amygdala’s hyper-impulsivity paired with our being “trapped” in our consciousness (sleeping) is what then influences terrifying dreams and the horrific apparitions.

Dreams and the subconscious mind are incredibly mysterious and possess a whole new dimension yet to be discovered. But lucid dreaming doesn’t have to be a scary experience, rather we can train our minds to identify when it’s occurring to then have control over them. So, if this happens to you try to remain calm and take deep breaths in order to really feel every part your body. By controlling your whole body, you will be able to control your mind into supernatural worlds through your subconscious. This lucid dreaming is not easy to arrive at, but hopefully one day I wil be able to truly uncover my mind’s unlimited power.

An aspiring journalist from Guatemala!