It’s the worst feeling. You’re lying in bed and you can’t move. You can hear footsteps coming up the stairs and you know if you don’t get up right now and do something, you’re in serious trouble…
Sleep paralysis (or REM atonia if you want to get all technical) is not a funny thing. I didn’t know what it was at first, but having done some research I was delighted to find that I’m not the only one who suffers from the damned thing. Apparently 25-30% of the general population also suffer from it (including the singer Sheryl Crow).
Sleep paralysis is a greatly misunderstood thing and is commonly linked with the paranormal because people just can’t get their heads around what’s going on. People find they wake up but they can’t move, usually for a few seconds but sometimes for several minutes. The sleep disorder is known under many different names, none of which sound very appealing. ‘Old Hag Syndrome’ is perhaps my favourite description. The term comes from the old belief that a witch or ‘old hag’ sits on the chest of her victims and paralyses them. When you look at the list of symptoms that accompany sleep paralysis you can understand why some people believe they are being attacked in their beds by the supernatural:
- Strange smells;
- The sound of approaching footsteps;
- Seeing ‘shadow people’ or feeling as if someone else is in the room;
- Feeling a weight on your chest as if something is sitting on you making it difficult to breath;
- Hearing doors opening and closing;
- Hearing voices or a loud buzzing noise.
This isn’t an exhaustive list and people are welcome to add to it in the comments section below if they wish.
In reality, I’m pleased to say that sleep paralysis isn’t caused by something on the ‘other side’ on a mission to get you. When you sleep the brain prevents you acting out your dreams – let’s face it, you’re not going to last long if your body lets you re-enact a dream about being able to fly out of your bedroom window. Sometimes when you wake up the brain is a bit late in reconnecting everything again and you find that you can’t move for several seconds or, as mentioned before, sometimes several minutes.
For me, during sleep paralysis, I’m aware of what’s going on around me and those footsteps coming up the stairs are very frightening indeed, so I can understand why people think they’re being haunted.
Is there a cure? Well, some of the contributing factors that cause sleep paralysis are sleeping on your back, having an irregular sleep pattern (taking naps or having long lie ins), sleep deprivation, stress and sudden environment or lifestyle changes. For most people, it would seem that avoiding sleep deprivation is a good place to start. Also, changing your sleeping position so you’re not sleeping on your back helps – perhaps this restricts landing space for that pesky old hag. A quick Google search will also lead you to other websites with helpful information.
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010