What if you woke up and found yourself completely unable to move? You’re lying in bed and sense there’s something wrong with your room… Suddenly, a dark and spine-chilling entity approaches your bed, looking straight in your eyes and smiling threateningly ; it knows you can’t move. It slowly climbs your bed, staring at you malevolently. It moves over your chest and you feel its extreme weight preventing you from breathing. You desperately try shouting for help, but no sound comes out of your mouth. Sounds like a nightmare? No. This is a documented medical condition known as sleep paralysis … and it’ll happen at least once to half of you!
What is sleep paralysis?
According to most people who’ve experienced it, sleep paralysis is one of the scariest episodes someone can go though. In history, it has been labelled as ghost attack, demonic possession, or even extraterrestrial encounter. Having experienced it myself, I can definitely understand how people may have been led to believe such things.
Typically, people will experience a sense of being “imprisoned” in their body and “feel” a malevolent presence in their room. At this point, most people start panicking, which strongly aggravates their sense of fear. Moreover, they often get terrifying auditory, visual and even tactile hallucinations. Strangely, the most commonly reported experience is that of being asphyxiated by a demon or witch strongly pressing on their chest. I find it very intriguing that this episode has been reported by the majority of subjects who’ve experienced sleep paralysis. The painting on the left depicts this very scene, with the black horse representing Satan.
Fortunately, sleep paralysis has been studied by scientists and a satisfying medical explanation has been found. When dreaming, the brain naturally paralyzes the body for safety reasons so that, for example, our legs don’t move when we dream about chasing a rabbit. However, in rare circumstances, your brain can keep paralyzing your body although you’re mentally awake. You thus find yourself lying in your bed, fully conscious, yet only able to move your eyes, as they aren’t paralyzed during sleep. Since you’re still technically asleep, you experience the same hallucinations that you would in a nightmare, only with your eyes open. Obviously, the panic created by the paralysis creates a mental state much more prone to create very, very scary scenarios. Sleep paralysis can occur before falling asleep or upon waking up, the latter being by far the most common.
A misknown fact is that your eyes are indeed physically open during the experience, so what you see is indeed your “real room”, but mixed with the hallucinations created by your brain. I initially thought the room I saw was created by my mind, but recently, someone sleeping next to me noticed my eyes being open during an experience. Pretty freaky, isn’t it?
Why sleep paralysis is awesome
Clearly, at this point, you probably wish you’ll never experience sleep paralysis! I’ve actually had the “chance” to experience sleep paralysis more than a hundred times and thus have had the opportunity to study it extensively. I can say with strong confidence that although it may merely seem to be a frightening phenomenon to the inexperienced, if approached and understood properly, sleep paralysis can actually be used an an invaluable tool to help achieve altered states of awareness as well as a vast array of unconventional and fascinating experiences. For those of you who are curious, the surprisingly high occurrence of my sleep paralysis experiences is due to my alternative sleep pattern and the very high frequency of my lucid dreams.
So, what can you actually do besides getting scared out of your wits? The main two things I really love using sleep paralysis for are meditation and lucid dreaming.
Using sleep paralysis to meditate. Since most meditation techniques usually involve starting out by relaxing the body, we can definitely use the fact that our body is asleep to achieve much deeper meditative and trance-like states. Indirectly, most these meditation techniques initially aim to reduce your brain wave frequency. When awake, your brain will usually be in a “beta” state, which ranges from 13 to 30hz. Most relatively inexperienced meditators will achieve at most an “alpha” state, which ranges from 8 to 13hz…
But when you enter sleep paralysis, your brain automatically enters the “theta” state, which ranges from 4 to 8hz. This state allows for a much more profound meditative experience. given that you can tolerate the initial hallucinations caused by sleep paralysis. Personally, I simply close my eyes, ignore the hallucinations and start meditating. After experimenting with many, my favorite meditation technique is Vipassana, but feel free to try your own! You’ll likely get auditory and perhaps even tactile hallucinations for a little while but keep focusing on your meditation and trust me, they’ll quickly fade away if you don’t panic.
Using sleep paralysis to lucid dream. One of the fundamental goals when trying to enter lucid dreams consciously is to relax your body to the point where it is asleep while your mind is awake. These types of lucid dreams are called WILDs (Wake-Induced Lucid Dreams) and this technique requires you to relax your body very deeply before entering your dream. The hardest step is performing a WILD is definitely the relaxation phase, so when you are in a sleep paralysis state, 95% of the work has been done for you since your body is already as relaxed as it can be! The only thing left for you to do is to close your eyes, imagine a dream and enter it! Personally, I’ve had great success imagining myself “sinking” in my bed and emerging in a new world of my choice.
Moreover, sleep paralysis will help you fight your fears since everything you’ll be experiencing is created by your own mind. With time, I have become less and less freaked out by the hallucinations and they have become less scary. Most of the time, I’ll just see random people looking at me, sometimes even friends of mine! They often talk to me, which is a great opportunity for me to “communicate” with my subconscious mind.
Easily escaping sleep paralysis
Although I rarely want to escape sleep paralysis voluntarily since I prefer using it to meditate or to go back in a lucid dream, it is still useful to know how to break this state. This knowledge will also help you not panic and maintain a calm mind during the experience.
Most tips I have read about involve trying to move a toe or a finger to break the paralysis. Personally, I find this method’s efficiency to be very limited as, often enough, you won’t be able to move even the slightest inch of your body.
The key to getting back to full wakefulness is to send a signal that will get your body to realize that your mind is actually awake and that it should stop the paralysis. Since the only two things you’ll be able to control in a full sleep paralysis are your eyes and your breath, we will take advantage of the latter and escape sleep paralysis by altering our breathing pattern. The idea behind changing your breathing pattern, for example by taking deeper and longer breaths, is that your body will notice the change and respond to it by stopping the paralysis. From my experience, it will usually take less than 30 seconds to escape sleep paralysis with this technique.
Sleep paralysis is scary at first but it proves to be a fascinating phenomenon once you transcend the frightening stuff it induces. Hopefully, you’ll get new experiences that will blow your mind!