One of the scariest nights I’ve ever had was a little over a year ago. I woke up, but not in a typical way. Despite being alone in my room, I heard a loud voice in my ear. There was also a loud ringing noise building up by the second. My eyes were closed and refused to open. A light seemed to flash behind them, showing blurred imprints of what could have been a face. A sensation only described as floating out of my body started in my hands and moved to my head. I was completely sure that there was some sort of demon in my room, trying to possess my body. I couldn’t move an inch. It was one of the most frightening experiences I’d ever had. When I finally did wake up completely, I needed to know more. This is how I became familiar with sleep paralysis.
Before we begin, it’s important to note that sleep paralysis, like many ailments of the mind, body, and soul, can and will differ in each person. My experience won’t match exactly with another person’s. Sleep paralysis is simply defined as not being able to move when you wake up. In general, this state can cause panic and hallucinations. Common symptoms are similar to what I experienced that night: loud noises, voices, floating or feeling pushed down, feeling an evil presence, flashing lights, and even sometimes odd smells.
Typically, one will experience this paralyzing sensation when they are coming out of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. REM sleep produces very vivid dreams, so our body’s natural response is to shut down the muscles in order to keep the person from acting out dreams. Occasionally, in the case of sleep paralysis, a person will wake up before the REM cycle is over. After about 1-2 minutes, that person will either fall back asleep or wake up out of it.
Causes for sleep paralysis are difficult to find. It could be sleep deprivation (most likely my cause), certain sleeping disorders like narcolepsy, or even genetics. In general, about 8% of the population experiences sleep paralysis, a third of those people having some mental disorder such as anxiety or depression. Treatment isn’t a fully researched part of the sleep paralysis map, but regular sleep patterns and sleeping on the stomach are a couple of suggestions to prevent an attack from happening.
It’s good to be aware of the things our minds are capable of. The world we live in helps us a lot. I was able to look up what was happening to me almost right away. Years back, they didn’t have that luxury, and many even thought the experience might be actual demons attempting to possess their bodies. Some scientists believe that those who think they’ve been abducted by aliens were probably victims of sleep paralysis. I’ll let you decide which you want to believe.
So, my friends, before you sleep tonight, think about it for a little bit. Will you wake up unable to move? Perhaps it will only last seconds, or maybe a minute. You may hear noises. You may sense an evil in the room. At least now you are prepared; you know exactly what you will be experiencing. The best thing to do in the situation is to remain calm and try your best to snap out of it. The human body is amazing, but sometimes has its flaws. In order to understand it, we have to accept it. And that entails knowing that sometimes your body might make you live out a waking nightmare.
Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the paralysis bug bite.
Yasmin Scrabeck is a student at Mabel-Canton High School. She is one of eight area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its eighteenth year.