Written by: Nivedita Sanjai
Tired from a long hard day, you snuggle into your bed, under the warmth of your comforter. The day’s activities and your tiredness slowly fade away as you stretch and yawn and are finally pulled into the haven of sleep. Closed eyes though suddenly terrify you, when suddenly you are unable to move. A heavy object on your chest seems to constrict your breathing and your hands and feet are frozen, as if suddenly not yours, suddenly not in your control.
This phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis and it is rarely due to some disorder or psychological problems. It is a temporary paralysis that occurs during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) period of our sleep. However, due to its unexpected nature and the temporary paralysis, it can cause panic and fear.
Though noticed first in the teen years, it can happen to both the genders and at any age. It can be triggered due to lack of sleep, change in routine, sleeping on the back and can sometimes also be linked to mental or sleep disorders.
Sleep paralysis has found its roots in almost all cultures of the world and in fact, Samuel Johnson in his A Dictionary of the English Language has defined it as nightmare, which has now become a common word for us all. The phenomenon is also mentioned vividly in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
In folklore it is explained by the term Night Hag which refers to a supernatural, evil or demonises presence that causes immobility by sitting on the person’s chest.
In the Kashmiri mythology it is referred to as a sayaa. One experiences this if they have not been worshipping god, not been cleaning their house or been doing something of evil nature. In Tamil Nadu, it is known as Amuku Be or Amuku Pei which means “the ghost that forces one down”.
Often people who have had sleep paralysis say that focusing on breathing and wiggling your fingers and toes is the best way to snap out of it. Trying new positions of sleeping also helps. If anxious about it, it is recommended to get a check up done. Though, once again, most people do not need a treatment for it.
When mastered, some people use sleep paralysis as a gateway to lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is when one is aware of dreaming and is able to control. Experts of it have been able to fly, eat fire and dance among the stars and call this experience extra ordinary. Since sleep paralysis happens during the REM period, it is easier to lose the paralysis and enter the world of dreams by becoming aware that the body is dreaming.
While this phenomenon is a terrifying one, it is also quite ethereal to the possibilities of our mind. If conquered over, it can open the dreamland and help in gaining self awareness.