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Learn How To Overcome Sleep Paralysis
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I don’t mind bad dreams. When you wake up, the dream fades away. What utterly terrifies me, though, is when my brain wakes up but my body cannot move. That’s sleep paralysis, and it affects anywhere between seven and 40 percent of us.
Sleep Paralysis Is Only Scary When You Notice It

Since your dreams may involve you moving and walking around, your brain shuts down communication to your muscles during REM, or dreaming, sleep so you don’t actually move and walk around when you should be in bed. In that sense, paralysis during sleep is totally normal.
The scary kind of sleep paralysis occurs when you are awake enough to be aware of your surroundings, but your body is still paralyzed. It can happen as you are falling asleep, or as you are waking up. Although sleep paralysis is terrifying and can happen at night, this condition is no relation to night terrors. The two are opposites, in a sense: in a night terror, you are asleep but moving around. In sleep paralysis, you are awake but cannot move.
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As if paralysis weren’t bad enough, many people hallucinate during a sleep paralysis episode. Sometimes the hallucination is a specific image that you can see; other times it is a vague sense that someone, or something, is in the room with you. A report in the journal Consciousness and Cognition identifies three common types of hallucinations:

- An intruder that is in the room with you
- A crushing feeling on your chest or back
- A feeling of flying or levitating.
My most vivid memory of sleep paralysis falls into the third category. I had finally fallen asleep, after pulling an all-nighter the night before, and in my dream I was at a party in a strange house. I became able to fly, hovering a few feet above the ground. It was fun, until I realized I was flying faster and faster. I woke up—sort of—but still felt like I was flying and could not stop. Some people who experience the floating type of sleep paralysis find it enjoyable, according to that same report in Consciousness and Cognition, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of sheer terror. After seconds or minutes—I don’t know, but it felt like an eternity—I was finally able to move and fully wake up.
People who experience the lurking or crushing hallucinations have described them as demons, dark clouds, burglars, and other unwelcome creatures. A Dutch woman in the 1600s described her visitors as a devil, a dog, and a thief. In a 2013 study in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, some Danish participants described being visited by a ghost; their counterparts in Egypt put the hallucination in terms of a jinn, a spirit from Islamic mythology. In a group of Cambodian refugees who lived through the Pol Pot dictatorship, the intruders were sometimes attackers or relatives they recognized from their past.
In the study of Danish and Egyptian participants, people in both countries who considered themselves religious were more likely to interpret the hallucinations as something supernatural. Not surprisingly, those who thought they were being visited by something supernatural were more likely to report fear as part of the experience.
Your Best Weapons Against Sleep Paralysis Are Understanding and Relaxation
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