I’m sorry in advance if this topic is a little strange, and even a little scary. It’s definitely frightening when it happens, even though sleep paralysis isn’t that uncommon- I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but after the first time I experienced it, I did some research, and found plenty of stories online where others had posted similar stories to mine.
Here’s the most basic explanation of what sleep paralysis is: your mind wakes up before your body does.
The First Time
The first time this happened to me, I was in college. I hadn’t started on anxiety meds yet, and was stressed over the change in my daily routine. I was stressed over classes, and getting to my new school on time. I used to take a lot of naps during the day in high school, and when college started, it wasn’t long before I got back in the napping habit. I was living at home and commuting to school, so I kept sleeping in my own bed. My younger sister was in the bedroom next to mine.
One day, I took a nap after a particularly busy morning full of classes. My mind was buzzing with information, exam schedules, and all the homework I had to do. I huddled under the covers fully clothed, and was asleep within seconds. I had forgotten to set an alarm.
Suddenly, I woke up. I remember being aware that I was in my room, and soon realized that I couldn’t move a muscle. This freaked me out big time. I couldn’t even scream for help. All I could do was breathe heavily, and soon began hyperventilating. I tried desperately to move a finger or a toe, but I couldn’t break free. I imagined I heard my sister through the door and tried to call for her to come help me, but nothing came out. I then tried falling back asleep, but I was too panicked.
Finally, after what felt like ages, I managed to wake myself up. I remember taking a deep breath, as if I had been underwater and was now gasping for air. The effort it took to wake myself up was incredible, and I was afraid that if I hadn’t, I would have been stuck in a paralyzed state forever. Amazingly, the desire to go back to sleep after that was very strong, but I was too scared. I felt groggy, and decided to write off this incident as a one-time thing, never mentioning it to anyone.
I soon began having regular sleep paralysis episodes about twice a week. They always seemed to correlate with whether I had a lot on my mind, or if my schedule required me to wake up at a different time that day. Naps were now out of the question, as they almost always occurred during a nap- like my unconscious self knew that I shouldn’t be sleeping in the middle of the day.
I tried researching the scary symptoms online, and that’s when I found the term “sleep paralysis.” The sensation of having your mind awake, but your body still asleep, matched my symptoms exactly. However, other people reported sensing a dark presence or shadow in their room, as well as the feeling of a demon sitting on your chest.
This has never been the case with me- I’ve always known where I was, and I’ve never sensed that an evil presence was near. However, I’ve always imagined I heard others either right outside my door or in my room. I thought either my sister, friends, or other family members were nearby- it was never anything or anyone terrifying. I soon came to realize that whenever I felt like there was someone else in the room, it was just my imagination- I was always alone in my bed, far removed from everyone else.
I told my parents about what was happening, for the most terrible part was the feeling of being paralyzed. I hated not being able to move or make a sound, and even though the episodes only lasted for a minute or two, it felt like ages. I went to the doctor and I got put on anxiety medication for the first time in my life. This helped somewhat, as I could let my mind and body fully relax before bed. Sometimes, however, my nerves were just too much and my mind kept waking up without giving my body time to catch up.
There is no exact way to stop sleep paralysis from happening, and no one knows what causes it. Nevertheless, I eventually learned to live with it, and to make it (almost) go away completely.
How to Cope
Things got better as I finished college, moved out of my parents’ house and in with my boyfriend (now husband). Sleeping next to a comforting presence helped greatly- just knowing there was somebody there who could help wake me up if I needed it was wonderful.
Now, I would occasionally get sleep paralysis on weekends (when my body clocked changed from having to wake up early for work, to getting to sleep-in). I would wake up and be aware that I was in my bedroom at home, and knew that my husband was next to me. Even if I couldn’t turn my head or call out, I could breathe heavily enough that he would hear me start to hyperventilate, and then shake me awake. I always woke up instantly after that, shaken, but alright. If he hadn’t been there to hear my heavy breathing, I would have been stuck until my body eventually learned to move.
Luckily, with the help of anxiety meds, I only experience sleep paralysis once every few months or so. Here are some things that help me sleep better:
• Always Set an Alarm
A loud alarm will always force my body to wake up, and even better, it just gives me peace of mind knowing that I have an alarm there to either wake me or my husband up. Usually, I wake up before the alarm and can turn it off.
• No Laptop 30 Minutes Before Bed
I usually read a book or listen to music for a little while right before bed, instead of being on my computer. It helps my brain to relax.
• Stay Calm
If sleep paralysis does happen, the important thing is to remain calm. Nothing is happening to you, even though it may feel like you’re stuck in the same position for eternity. Nothing evil is in the room with you. Try moving one little finger or toe at a time, and take deep breaths. Eventually, you will wake up.
• Buy a Dreamcatcher
This may sound silly, but ever since I hung a dreamcatcher above my bed, I haven’t experienced sleep paralysis much at all. I look at it as a protector, and plan to buy a bigger one for my new apartment.
• Keep the Room Cold
It’s always better to sleep in a cold room (for me, at least). Warm air can cause me to wake up before I’m ready, due to sweat.
Of course, there are other things you can try, such as essential oils meant for relaxation or taking prescribed anxiety medication. Just be aware that everyone is different, and some anxiety medication will make you even more tired and lethargic, so that you have increased difficulty waking up when you need to.
If this has happened to you, know you that are not alone. It is terrifying and unpleasant, but not harmful. I’m always here to talk about it if you need someone.
Does anyone have their own sleep disorder stories to share?
Hugs and Fishes,