Imagine this. You’re peacefully sleeping when suddenly you wake up but find yourself unable to move. You will your hand to move, but it doesn’t respond. Okay, so that didn’t work. Next, you try your feet, but the same thing happens again. What’s happening?
Breakdown of Sleep Paralysis
This is called sleep paralysis. It normally occurs around the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, which is the stage where we dream. Normally, our body “locks down” to prevent our muscles from moving, so that we can’t physically act out our dreams. This ends as soon as we wake up, so we never realize that our body is locked down and prevented us from moving.
During an episode, everything happens as normal, except for one thing. While your muscles are locked down, you wake up. You’re awake but you can’t move. It is basically a mixed state of consciousness. You’re both awake and dreaming at the same time. Because you are awake but also still in the dream realm, something called a “sleep paralysis demon” takes shape. A lot of times during sleep paralysis, people feel threatened by something. They might feel suffocated or see a dark and shadowy figure in the corner of their room headed straight for them. Since you’re awake but also dreaming, it feels like you’re actually seeing something when in reality, it’s just your brain conjuring images.
As someone who has experienced sleep paralysis before, I thought I’d dedicate a section of the article to talking about my personal experience with sleep paralysis. For me, I would wake up and feel suffocated, often by the blanket I was covered in. It was as if something was restricting my ability to breathe or some weight was on my chest making it hard to inhale. I would will my hand to move so I could remove the blanket, but it wouldn’t budge. It felt like it was asleep and numb, but at the same time I could still feel it there. Eventually this episode would run its course and I would either wake up and be able to move my hand or I would fully fall back asleep.
Establish a sleep schedule, including (or for some of us, especially) on weekends. This will help your body get in a set routine, and it’s not just beneficial for sleep paralysis.
Don’t consume caffeine before bed. Come on guys, this one’s obvious. Caffeine is a drug that messes with your ability to fall asleep and keeps you awake and energized for much longer than you need to be before bed.
Limit screen time before bed for at least half an hour. Screens emit blue light that can affect how long it takes you to fall asleep. If you absolutely need to use a device before bed, turn on the night setting to make the screen warmer and easier on the eyes.