A college student in 1964, David J. Hufford was exhausted after studying for his midterm and fell asleep he then reported “Terror gripped the young man, who couldn’t move a muscle, his eyes plastered open in fright… an oppressive weight compressed his rib cage. Breathing became difficult, and Hufford felt a pair of hands encircle his neck and start to squeeze” (Bower). Our conscious brain slips into unconsciousness as we fall asleep or transitioning into wakefulness. Fantasy and reality blur and people often report hearing or seeing things that are not there. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, where dreaming occurs. We become immobile and would endanger ourselves and our sleeping partners if we were not.Waking up during REM, unable to move, is sleep paralysis (Dobkin).
Sleep paralysis is a type of lucid dream that tends to be a terror/nightmare. Lucid dream is when the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming and have the ability to control the dream i.e. characters, narrative, objects. While in sleep paralysis the dreamer is not aware they are dreaming, but they perceive themselves to be awake and in their bed. Sleep paralysis usually lasts only a few seconds to a few minutes even though it may feel like hours have past (LOVE). When sleep patterns are disrupted, or we are exhausted, REM extends into waking consciousness, our bodies become paralyzed and our brain interferes with the imagery of dreams (Dobkin). For sleep paralysis to occur you must be in REM because during REM our voluntary muscles in the rest of the body are paralyzed.
REM Sleep is 4 stages of sleep that occurs approximately every 90 minutes, marked by bursts of rapid eye movements occurring under closed eyelids; associated with dreaming (Dobkin). There are a total of four stages of sleep that ends with REM sleep, while the others are known as non-REM sleep. Across the four stages we move from a very light sleep to a very deep sleep in stage four. Throughout the non-REM stages the eyes don’t typically move, although the muscles maintain their ability to move.
In REM of course the eyes move frequently, because of the presence of dreams. The muscles that normally move throughout non-REM sleep are paralyzed except for the muscles that move voluntarily. “The four non-REM sleep stages: 1. regular beta waves and slow theta waves, 2. slower waves punctuated by spindles, 3 & 4. deeper sleep, HR and breathing slow, delta waves end of 4. electrical activity increases, reverse order for stages, 1.
fast beta waves, enter REM (10 min) decrease stages, longer REM as night goes on”(Dobkin).Sleep paralysis can be triggered by many disorders, like narcolepsy and Bipolar disorder. Narcolepsy hallucinations and for some sudden loss of muscle control (cataplexy). Terzaghi states, “It affects roughly 1 in 2,000 to 3,000 people, but can go undiagnosed for many years. Narcolepsy, the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness are blurred, causing a person to feel very sleepy and fatigued during the day”, which can lead to sleep paralysis. People with narcolepsy experience various types of day and nighttime sleep problems that are associated with REM sleep disturbances that tend to begin subtly and may change dramatically over time. Sleep paralysis and hallucinations are somewhat less common. Only 10 to 25 percent of affected individuals, however, display all the major symptoms during their illness (Terzaghi).
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder in which the person experiences depression and/or mania, hypomania, and/or mixed states. “Those who suffer from bipolar disorder have elevated mood states and can also involve depressive mood states”(Dobkin). There can then be changes in one’s energy level, sleep pattern, activity level, and social interactions. The changes in a person’s sleep effects REM. Those who develop sleeping problems, experience more of a deep sleep. As time goes on, the stages of REM sleep become longer. This general pattern, “can be disrupted by any sleep disorders many of which have been shown to be associated with bipolar disorder and sleep paralysis is just one of many” (Steinan). Lucid dreaming is waking awareness coming into our dreams, while sleep paralysis is our dream imagery forging into waking consciousness.
Sleep paralysis is sometimes to be believed as just a dream by the person who is affected. If ever find yourself stuck in sleep paralysis try not to focus on the terror in the hallucinations, remind yourself that you have a fantastical space in which you are awake and have some control over REM