“I know there was someone lurking behind my wardrobe. He was there to harm me. I would at times feel his presence right next to me, and sometimes sitting right on my chest. But I couldn’t scream or move or run; as if I have been seized and chained with a boulder on my chest. My vocal cords, my limbs, my back felt paralyzed. And then I would finally wake up to see nothing and no one! I feel like my body and mind can't figure out if I am starting my morning routine or in somnolence and I end up stuck kind-of halfway!” she explained to her psychotherapist, for whom she must be the 50th patient coming in plagued and distressed with this experience. Of every 10 of us reading this, 4 would have experienced something similar atleast once in our lifetime. Sleep paralysis is indeed a very common experience inflicting 40-50% of human population.
How is it like being sleep paralytic?
If you have experienced atleast 6 out of the following symptoms, you definitely belong to that 50% population:
Before science took over, humans who experienced these symptoms were believed to be taken over by demonic forces! Lack of knowledge and fear of the unknown lead people to practice exorcism over sufferers of sleep paralysis which ended up only exacerbating their already vexing psychological state. It was only later in 1928 that a British neurologist, S.A.K. Wilson evolved the concept of sleep paralysis in his dissertation, ‘The Narcolepsies’, rubbishing the age old version of paranormality and nighttime satanic invasions.
And with several wavering theories around it, two that have been conclusive about pathophysiology of sleep paralysis are:
Sleep paralysis is scary, to say the least. The intense experience of fear of being harmed and the inability to protect yourself while you lie on your bed, feeling incapacitated and breathless makes this an extremely draining experience which can continue even after one is awake and stay on through the day.
Did you know that these common lifestyle factors can make you more prone to sleep paralysis?
1. Consistently insufficient sleep or irregular shifts Sleep well, at the right time and for atleast 6 hours a day. Maintain the circadian rhythm of nighttime sleep and daytime wakefulness to ensure regulated cortisol levels.
2. Eating heavy and sugary meals before bed
Cut down on your meal size at night. And for sugar, a complete NO! it is not just excessive carbs but also too much protein to compensate can be tumultuous on your system. Save them for earlier in the day.
3. Persistent stress or psychological conditions Postpone your visit to a dentist but make sure to fix one with a psychotherapist/counsellor or psychiatrist. Your mental health comes foremost. Chronic stress may lead to undesirable psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, to name a few. These play havoc on your sleep quality rendering sleep paralysis inevitable.
4. Sleeping on back
Trivial as it may sound, your sleeping posture has a big impact on your sleep quality. That does not mean sleeping on back is a direct risk for experiencing sleep paralysis but it increased the likelihood of it, especially if other factors are playing alongside.
5. Substance abuse or excessive alcohol consumption
A leading case study of alcoholics who had a 10 year history of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms had recurrent bouts of sleep paralysis which frayed from acute chronic to mild moderate and eventually to complete absence once they were de-addicted and rehabilitated.
If you already have stress-related issues or even minor sleep disturbances, occasional alcohol consumption too can trigger sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is multifactorial. It is a cumulative consequence of two or more factors affecting your lifestyle. But the good news is that it is completely curable. Once narcolepsy is ruled out, (since it is partly a genetic disorder and requires intense medical intervention) other parameters can be concentrated on. More than often, simple lifestyle changes can complete abrogate your distress, but in acute chronic states, medical intervention (anti-depressants, SSRIs) may be required.
You are your k’night’ in shining armour
Fight the Fear
The alien abductors: many psychotherapists call that apparition sneaking into your bedrooms every night and promising to come again tomorrow. Fear is a natural defense mechanism to face a danger. But when it is constant, it turns crippling. Sleep paralysis is exactly that. It unarms you because your mind is vulnerable, discomposed and unsettled. The devils we experience with our eyes closed trace back to how we dealt with the demons with our eyes open. The demons being our mental health, and lifestyle.
What’s more, once your lifestyle and sleep is sorted, your fortress is ready and the Sleep-Satan can try sneaking through someone else’s door because you will be too deep in slumber to open yours!