Sleep Paralysis occurs when the brain is awakened from a REM state into essentially a
normal fully awake state, but the bodily paralysis is still occurring. This causes the
person to be fully aware, but unable to move.
Causes of Sleep Paralysis
Little is known about the physiology of sleep paralysis. However, some have suggested
that it may be linked to post-synaptic inhibition of motor neurons in the pons region of
the brain. In particular, low levels of melatonin may stop the depolarisation current in
the nerves, which prevents the stimulation of the muscles.
There is also a significant positive correlation between those experiencing this disorder
frequently and those suffering from narcolepsy. However, various studies suggest that many
or most people will experience sleep paralysis at least once or twice in their lives.
Some report that various factors increase the likelihood of both paralysis and
hallucinations. These include:
- Sleeping in a supine
position (facing upwards)
- Irregular sleeping schedules; naps, sleeping in
- Increased stress
- Sudden environmental/lifestyle changes
- A lucid dream
that immediately precedes the episode
Sleep Paralysis and hallucinations
Many report hallucinations during episodes of
Sleep Paralysis. The features of these hallucinations generally vary by individual, but
some are more common to the experience than others:
- Sensing a "presence" (often malevolent)
- Pressure/weight on body (especially the chest). See for example the painting in the
beginning of this article, which is due to this phenomenon.
- A sensation of not being able to breathe
- Impending sense of doom/death
- Auditory hallucinations (often footsteps or indistinct voices, or pulsing noises).
Auditory hallucinations which are described as noise instead of hallucinations of legible
sounds, are often described to be similar to auditory hallucinations caused by Nitrous Oxide
by persons who have experienced both.
- Visual hallucinations such as people or shadows walking around the room
- Floating sensation (sometimes associated with out-of-body experiences)
- Seemingly seamless transition into full hallucinations or dreaming, also associated with
- Tactile hallucinations (such as a hand touching or grabbing)
- Falling sensation
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