The Mystery of Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a subject that fascinated me long before I was ever diagnosed with narcolepsy. The commonality of experiences just perplexes me to no end. This is in relation to both people with and without the narcolepsy condition.

I have so many questions regarding this subject, and I am positive that many others do too.

What is sleep paralysis?

“Sleep paralysis is a period of inability to perform voluntary movements at either sleep onset or upon awakening.”1

Sleep paralysis is a common symptom of narcolepsy. However, it can also be experienced by people without narcolepsy but with lesser regularity. Isolated sleep paralysis is the term described for people who experience sleep paralysis in the absence of a narcolepsy diagnosis.2

Most sleep paralysis experiences have been reported to usually be frightful and distressing experiences.

Common sleep paralysis experiences

I have spoken to many people with narcolepsy regarding their experiences with sleep paralysis, and what I find truly curious is how many shared experiences we all have.

One of the most common I have found and experienced myself is either hearing a break-in or glass breaking. Another extremely common experience is feeling an evil, paranormal presence in the room that evokes wishes of wanting to cause you harm. I have also personally experienced this particular ordeal and can genuinely attest to its terrifying nature.

Last but not least are the various testimonies of people feeling as though someone (or something) is suffocating them by sitting on their chest, usually what people describe as “the old hag.”

An article in the Journal of Sleep Research corroborates this by revealing that,

Episodes are often accompanied by a wide range of bizarre hallucinations comprising three categories: intruder hallucinations, which involve a sense of an evil presence and multi-sensory hallucinations of an intruder; incubus hallucinations, characterized by the feeling of pressure on the chest, suffocation and physical pain; and vestibular-motor (V-M) hallucinations, which feature illusory-movement and out-of-body experiences.1

Intriguing questions about sleep paralysis

There are countless things that intrigue me about sleep paralysis. One of them is the question as to why exactly so many of us share these same experiences.

As humans, we all have our own individual fears, and although there are some which are collective, it is still difficult to understand why these particular experiences are shared by so many of us.

Additionally, a particularly intriguing question related to paranormal experiences. Depending on whether or not you believe in the paranormal, there is a significant amount of people that genuinely believe that these experiences are proof of its existence.

Lastly, why do people with narcolepsy experience sleep paralysis more than the average person? There is, of course, a known link between sleep and its numerous effects on the brain, but how can we explain those who do not have narcolepsy and yet suffer from other sleep problems...and yet have no significant increase in sleep paralysis?

More research is needed

Sleep paralysis is undeniably an extremely intriguing phenomenon for most of us and definitely a testament to how little we know about the brain.

For me, this is a subject that requires much more research that maybe, could help us also come to understand much more about the narcolepsy condition itself.

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