Sunday 18 April 2021
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Sleep Paralysis: A scary phenomenon

Ever went to bed with the hopes of wanting to have a goodnight’s rest, but to your surprise it’s actually turning out to be the worst sleeping experience you have ever encountered in your entire life?


The feeling of a dark shadow, which would sometimes be confused with bad spirits, is something that one can experience during this process.


The process of falling asleep, to having your brain waking up on its own and having your body feel as if it were paralysed; it basically stops your ability to move. This is classified as Sleep Paralysis (SP).


SP usually happens for about a minute when someone drifts off to sleep or when they wake up.


It is common among many people as it occurs in about seven to forty percent of humans on a daily basis, however as terrifying as it sounds and can be, SP is not considered dangerous nor is it a harmful medical condition.


It is usually caused by a lack of sleep and mental conditions such as stress or being bipolar, as well as sleeping on your back and substance abuse.


In an interview with The Lounge, Psychologist Dr. Shaun Whittaker explained that sleep paralysis occurs when humans enter the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep.


“This is the last of five sleep stages namely: Stage 1. Introduction to Sleep where one’s eyes fight to stay open which causes your muscles to begin to relax; Stage 2. Beginning of sleep where one sleeps lightly but does not start to dream yet; Stage 3 and 4 which is the slow wave sleep where human beings get deep into their sleep and then the final Stage 5 which is Rapid eye Movement.”


Whittaker further explained that human beings tend to dream vividly even though the big limbs of the body such as the legs, arms and torso of the body are automatically switched off by the brain which causes the lack in movement while sleeping.


“This appears to be a safety mechanism by the brain so that humans do not act out our dreams for example by preventing them from jumping out of the window. So in this sense we all experience a form of sleep paralysis every night.”


Most times when humans wake up in the middle of their sleep while experiencing paralysis they usually find it to be very disturbing, which jump starts a high inducing anxiety dream which causes them to wake up out of fear, says Whittaker.


Whittaker however encouraged those who frequently experience sleep paralysis to seek help as it can be easily treated with psychotropic medication.


Twenty five year old Sandra Adams who experiences SP a lot describes the situation as frightening at first, however since she goes through it several times it does not scare her as much anymore.


“The very first time I experienced SP, I panicked as I did not know what to do, I thought I was in another phase of life. I basically thought I had died and was seeing life from a different perspective. I do not really know how to explain it but since it happens to me frequently I try not to panic as much.”


At first, Adams felt as if someone was playing with her spirits until she took initiative to research what was happening to her and this is where she later found out about SP.


“After discovering it and having looked online for ways to reduce or get rid of SP, I decided to seek for help from a psychologist who later referred me to a neurologist.”


This is where Adams learned more about SP and was relieved that it was not as dangerous as she thought it would be. However she practises different moving positions whenever she experiences it.


“I have different tips on how to overcome SP, but the one I use a lot which may sound funny to most people, is when I slip in to SP and pull a funny mean face as if I were smelling something bad. Another tip that I try is praying, it always makes me feel better when I slip out of SP and does not leave me afraid as I use to be at first.”


Tips to escape the phase of sleep paralysis:


Don’t fight it – fighting back sleep paralysis only intensifies the experience and increases the fear and triggers the emotional centres of the brain.


Wiggle your toes – Try to move an extremity on your body back and forth such as your fingers or toes.


Clench your fist – This is similar to wiggling your toes, however during this you have to clench and unclench your first.


Focus on your breath – During sleep paralysis its best to try and do some controlled breathing as it keeps you calm and helps you wake up without any trouble. Controlled breathing reduces the feelings of chest pain that come with it. This also ensures that you do not run out of breath during SP.


Coughing for help – Like controlled breathing, coughing can be automatic or consciously regulated. By doing this you can force yourself to wake up.


It is also advised after experiencing SP to always get up, turn the lights on and wash your face with cold water, because if this is not done the chances of slipping back into it are considered very high.

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