Posts Tagged ‘Sleep paralysis’

MessageToEagle.com – Sleep paralysis is a strange condition when you feel you are awake but cannot move. It happens when you are between the between stages of wakefulness and sleep. It can take some seconds or even several minutes before you are able to speak.

One can say that you are actually awake in your nightmare. If you have ever experienced sleep paralysis, you will know how awkward this condition can be.

Myths and legends about sleep paralysis persist all over the globe. Over the centuries, symptoms of sleep paralysis have been described in many ways and often attributed to an “evil” presence: unseen night demons in ancient times, the old hag in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and alien abductors.

Almost every culture throughout history has had stories of shadowy evil creatures that terrify helpless humans at night. People have long sought explanations for this mysterious sleep-time paralysis and the accompanying feelings of terror.

 

People who experience sleep paralysis often encounter demons in the nightmares.

According to surveys, this strange phenomenon seems to happen to about half the population at least once during a lifetime.

Scientists are now suggesting that it is essential to examine the causes and interpretations of sleep paralysis from both a scientific and cultural perspective.

During a meeting organized earlier this year by the Sleep Paralysis Project Christopher French, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London’s Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit. discussed common symptoms of the experience itself.

“You’re in this state, you realise you can’t move, and you get a very strong sense of presence. You feel certain that there is someone, or something in the room with you and whatever that thing or person is they mean you no good at all. They’re evil, in some cases a pure evil…

Very often these episodes are associated with hallucinations. These might be visual (you might see lights moving around in the room, dark shadows, grotesque monstrous forms); they might be auditory (you might hear footsteps, or voices, or mechanical sounds); they might be tactile (you might feel as if you are being touched, or as if someone is holding you tightly, or as if someone is dragging you out of the bed. Sometimes these can turn into full blown out of body experience,” Professor French said.

 

Filmmaker Carla MacKinnon became interested in the subject when she started waking up several times a week unable to move, with the sense that a disturbing presence was in the room with her.“I was getting quite a lot of sleep paralysis over the summer, quite frequently, and I became quite interested in what was happening, what medically or scientifically, it was all about,” MacKinnon said.

Her research is becoming a short film and multiplatform art project exploring the strange and spooky phenomenon of sleep paralysis.

The film, supported by the Wellcome Trust and set to screen at the Royal College of Arts in London, will debut in May.

MacKinnon has met several psychologists and other experts who offered their opinion on the subject and some have even shared some own personal experiences.

“I looked at my right arm and willed it to move. I commanded it to move. It stayed put. When I tried to sit up or roll over nothing happened. I panicked. On the inside I was a twisting fury, but the shell of my body remained motionless. I gave up the struggle, overwhelmed by an intuition that if I tried any harder I would break through the shell and float away…

I now recognise this as a lucid dream, an hallucinatory state in the hinterlands of slumber where the mind is alert, but the body remains bound by the paralysis of sleep – the intersection of dream life and reality,” said Dr Paul Broks, a neuropsychologist and writer.

 

 

Would you tell people about your “demon dreams”?

As previously mentioned it is very common people who suffer from sleep paralysis encounter demons.

“It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before,” recalls Hannah Foster from Brighton, UK. “After a normal day at work, I went to bed around 11pm, as always, and the next thing I remember is waking up, basically paralysed.

It was terrifying. And the more I panicked, the more it felt like I couldn’t breathe properly.

The second time, I knew what was happening – but as well as the paralysis, I also saw a terrifying black figure.

It looked a bit like a demon – with a scrunched, ugly face, like a gargoyle. I tried to scream and move away from it.”

It is estimated that millions of people have experienced something similar, but many people refuse to talk about it.

“Sufferers may be reluctant to talk of their experiences, for fear of being shunned or ridiculed as “crazy”. This can lead to social isolation and even marital breakdown,” said Professor French.

Some scientists like for example David Morgan, a Psychoanalyst and Psychotherapist are focusing on interpretations of hallucinatory experiences. Dr. Morgan suggests that the content of hallucinations can offer symbolic insights into the patient’s feelings.

“People take symbols from wherever they can… the dwarf, the hag – probably from fairy stories – represent an oppressive force keeping you down. Something in your mind that prevents you from being free,” Dr. Morgan sai

When filmmaker Carla MacKinnon started waking up several times a week unable to move, with the sense that a disturbing presence was in the room with her, she didn’t call up her local ghost hunter. She got researching.

Now, that research is becoming a short film and multiplatform art project exploring the strange and spooky phenomenon of sleep paralysis. The film, supported by the Wellcome Trust and set to screen at the Royal College of Arts in London, will debut in May.

Sleep paralysis happens when people become conscious while their muscles remain in the ultra-relaxed state that prevents them from acting out their dreams. The experience can be quite terrifying, with many people hallucinating a malevolent presence nearby, or even an attacker suffocating them. Surveys put the number of sleep paralysis sufferers between about 5 percent and 60 percent of the population.

“I was getting quite a lot of sleep paralysis over the summer, quite frequently, and I became quite interested in what was happening, what medically or scientifically, it was all about,” MacKinnon said.

Her questions led her to talk with psychologists and scientists, as well as to people who experience the phenomenon. Myths and legends about sleep paralysis persist all over the globe, from the incubus and succubus (male and female demons, respectively) of European tales to a pink dolphin-turned-nighttime seducer in Brazil. Some of the stories MacKinnon uncovered reveal why these myths are so chilling.

Sleep stories

One man told her about his frequent sleep paralysis episodes, during which he’d experience extremely realistic hallucinations of a young child, skipping around the bed and singing nursery rhymes. Sometimes, the child would sit on his pillow and talk to him. One night, the tot asked the man a personal question. When he refused to answer, the child transformed into a “horrendous demon,” MacKinnon said.

For another man, who had the sleep disorder narcolepsy (which can make sleep paralysis more common), his dream world clashed with the real world in a horrifying way. His sleep paralysis episodes typically included hallucinations that someone else was in his house or his room — he’d hear voices or banging around. One night, he awoke in a paralyzed state and saw a figure in his room as usual.

“He suddenly realizes something is different,” MacKinnon said. “He suddenly realizes that he is in sleep paralysis, and his eyes are open, but the person who is in the room is in his room in real life.”

The figure was no dream demon, but an actual burglar.

Myths and science of sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis experiences are almost certainly behind the myths of the incubus and succubus, demons thought have sex with unsuspecting humans in their sleep. In many cases, MacKinnon said, the science of sleep paralysis explains these myths. The feeling of suffocating or someone pushing down on the chest that often occurs during sleep paralysis may be a result of the automatic breathing pattern people fall into during sleep. When they become conscious while still in this breathing pattern, people may try to bring their breathing under voluntary control, leading to the feeling of suffocating.

Add to that the hallucinations that seem to seep in from the dream world, and it’s no surprise that interpretations lend themselves to demons, ghosts or even alien abduction, MacKinnon said.

What’s more, MacKinnon said, sleep paralysis is more likely when your sleep is disrupted in some way — perhaps because you’ve been traveling, you’re too hot or too cold, or you’re sleeping in an unfamiliar or spooky place. Those tendencies may make it more likely that a person will experience sleep paralysis when already vulnerable to thoughts of ghosts and ghouls.

“It’s interesting seeing how these scientific narratives and the more psychoanalytical or psychological narratives can support each other rather than conflict,” MacKinnon said.

Since working on the project, MacKinnon has been able to bring her own sleep paralysis episodes under control — or at least learned to calm herself during them. The trick, she said, is to use episodes like a form of research, by paying attention to details like how her hands feel and what position she’s in. This sort of mindfulness tends to make scary hallucinations blink away, she said.

“Rationalizing it is incredibly counterintuitive,” she said. “It took me a really long time to stop believing that it was real, because it feels so incredibly real.”

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer | LiveScience.com