Cortico-thalamic dissociation in Sleep Paralysis

By Paul Mason

Paul Mason is a PhD student at Macquarie University and frequent contributor to Neuroanthropology.  He is well on his way to finishing his thesis, but occasionally shares his insightful columns on a wide range of topics here.  Please note that the former ‘Fattest Man in the World’ is a different Paul Mason.

Have you ever woken up and not been able to move your body? For those people who have experienced this sensation, it is unnerving, surreal, and often quite stressful. Rest assured though, that this condition is benign, harmless, and your body will wake up after a minute or two. People also report that their body wakes up when someone touches them, or even at the sound of a surprising noise. Despite the temporary sensation of uncanny paralysis upon wakening, you can ride the episode out with the knowledge that it has not been associated with any medical disorders.

This condition, known as sleep paralysis, is rare but not uncommon. Funnily enough, in the last year, three of my friends have asked me about this condition—two of them medical doctors. Sleep paralysis is a parasomnia usually associated with REM sleep. Episodes typically last one to three minutes and disappear spontaneously by themselves or by someone else’s touch. Dreams can potentially superimpose onto reality during this period. However, the condition is usually experienced as a dream state without the dreams. In other words, your body has still turned off control of its muscles as though you are dreaming, but your brain is strangely awake. In medical terms, the condition is considered a dissociated REM state where the motor atonia of REM is present in isolation. That basically means that control of your muscles has been turned off but consciousness has been switched on.

When my friends asked me what I thought about the symptoms they described, I was reminded of my undergraduate study in neuropsychology where I learnt about lesion studies in cats that disrupted areas in the brain to do with sleep, dreaming, and muscle control. In this study, researchers performed lesions to areas of the brain in cats that normally inhibit motor control during sleep. The lesion was performed to the ventral locus coeruleus of the Pons (it’s weird what you remember sometimes). This lesion caused the cats to exhibit strange sleepwalking behaviour that allowed researchers an uncanny little window into Kitty dreams.

I’m not sure, but if you google ‘dream enactment’, then you should find plenty of information on the web. Anyway, my first thought about sleep paralysis was that there must be some kind of delay in switching off the area inhibiting motor control during a hypnopomic or postdormital sleep paralysis episode. I’m not suggesting that sleep paralysis is associated with anatomical problems, merely an occasional physiological hiccup—something as simple as say pins and needles in an otherwise healthy organ. Possibly the hiccup can occur in the Pons… Possibly, as recent research indicates, it could be somewhere else…

Of my friends who shared their symptoms with me and asked me for my thoughts, one was doing shift-work, the other was suffering from severe jet-lag, and the third slept odd hours due to an erratic rotation schedule at her job. I’m not a medical doctor, but the suggestion of sucking a melatonin tablet under the tongue before bed for only a couple of nights worked wonders for my friend with jet-lag. But, you also have to consider that episodes of sleep paralysis are rare, so they probably disappeared by themselves. For my other friends I suggested potassium rich foods such as bananas, which are always yummy to eat anyway, (those friends haven’t told me of any episodes since, but then again that is anecdotal as well).

From scant research reports on the subject, it appears that sleep paralysis occasionally occurs in a familial form, affects females more often than males, and has an X-linked dominant transmission. Talking with my Indonesian friends suggests to me that the condition is not as rare as Western medical practitioners think. But then again, I have lived with Indonesians who have some extremely erratic sleeping schedules.

I am fascinated in the phenomenology and neurophenomenology of sleep paralysis episodes. One of my friends reported a hypnagogic auditory hallucination accompanying an episode of sleep paralysis. Not surprisingly, she is not the only person in her family to occasionally suffer from the condition.

In my own experience, I have had a hypnogogic visual hallucination as a child of five or six years of age. Before my teenage years, I also had an episode of what I now understand to be sleep paralysis. I woke up in the morning and could not for the life of me open my eyes. My eyelids were as heavy as lead (Pb), and then it felt like bees were performing the waggle dance all over my closed eyes. It was an overwhelming experience at the time but I can’t recall if I woke up or went back to sleep afterwards. If I’m not making stories up, I was eventually able to open my eyes, but then I shut them again and went back to sleep.

As a sidenote, the word ‘hypnagogic’ says so much to me about medical practice. A ‘hypnagogic hallucination’ is literally just a hallucination that one experiences just before or just after falling asleep. We don’t actually have an explanation for ‘hypnagogic hallucinations’, but we do have a fancy label with two lovely multi-syllabic words. On numerous occasions, friends have shared private stories about hallucinations with me. If they have been stressed by the episode then calming them simply involved asking if they were in bed at the time, which they have thus far always confirmed, and then I merely say,

“Don’t worry, you just experienced a hypnogogic hallucination. It’s not unusual in the slightest.”

On every occasion, labeling the episode makes a friend happy. I have even seen colleagues in medicine calm other acquaintances using the very same words. It’s fantastic, but it really makes me wonder how much people seek a label and how much people seek an explanation.

In research published in PNAS only in February last year (Magnin et al. 2010), researchers have made headway in describing the physiology underlying hypnagogic hallucinations. Using electrodes implanted into the brains of epileptic patients (a common pre-surgical practice to localise the origins of epileptic seizures), researchers opportunistically—but ethically—used the data to reveal what happens in the deepest parts of the brain during sleep onset. The activity of deep structures in the brain is difficult to image because MRI is too slow and EEG is too superficial. This electrophysiology research revealed a surprising finding:

The thalamus (a small but dense deep brain structure highly interconnected to body and cortical regions and involved in receiving sensory information) goes to sleep some ten minutes before the cortex.

When falling asleep, the thalamus shuts us off from the outside world, but the cortex continues to function which could explain, as the researchers hypothesise, how hallucinations can arise when we fall asleep.

A hypothesis about Sleep paralysis:

The finding that extensive cortical regions remain activated for several minutes after thalamic deactivation at sleep onset might explain forms of insomnia associated with lesions to the thalamus, and it also might be the reason that hypnagogic experiences commonly occur during the wake–sleep transition.

In the thirteen people studied, they did not find desynchronisation of the thalamus and cortex during awakening. But that was only thirteen people. If someone who experienced an episode of sleep paralysis was under observation, would we find that awareness with paralysis upon waking was associated with a desynchronisation of the thalamus and cortex? If the cortex reactivated before the thalamus could sleep paralysis be the result?

An episode of sleep paralysis typically only lasts a few minutes. Knowing that desynchronisation of the thalamus and cortex during sleep onset lasts only several minutes, then it is not implausible to hypothesise that there could be a lapse between the reactivation of the cortex and the reactivation of the thalamus in sleep paralysis that lasts only a few minutes. If the cortex wakes up before the thalamus, people might be lucid but unable to move.

The cessation of sleep paralysis by physical touch might be explained by the idea that touch might be igniting sensory systems that activate the thalamus. As an ostensibly benign condition, and one that occurs rarely and unpredictably, sleep paralysis might not be the most accessible or indeed imperative area of medical research, but as a case of dissociative consciousness it is a deeply fascinating research venture into the awareness of who we are.

References:
ResearchBlogging.org

Sudhansu Chokroverty (1999) Sleep Disorders Medicine: Basic Science, Technical Considerations, and Clinical Aspects. Butterworth-Henemann.

M.Co. (2009) Le Cerveau ne s’endort pas tout d’un coup. Science & Vie, May.

Magnin, M., Rey, M., Bastuji, H., Guillemant, P., Mauguiere, F., & Garcia-Larrea, L. (2010). Thalamic deactivation at sleep onset precedes that of the cerebral cortex in humans Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (8), 3829-3833 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0909710107

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67 Responses to Cortico-thalamic dissociation in Sleep Paralysis

  1. Pingback: Cortico-thalamic dissociation in Sleep Paralysis – PLoS Blogs (blog)

  2. dfjpt says:

    This happened to me, once (thank goodness, only once), nearly 40 years ago. I woke up on my back, unable to move. I had just been dreaming that I was riding the cow catcher on a train, and the harsh noise of the train/wind rushing past (probably auditory hallucination) woke me up (as I remember things). Anyway, I woke up and couldn’t move. Finally I was able to roll my eyes to one side (underneath the eyelids). Maybe this was sufficient novel stimuli to wake up whichever bit of brain couldn’t wake itself. No further problems.

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  3. Paul Mason says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s amazing that you remember the dream just before you woke up.

    I look forward to reading other people’s stories about their experience with sleep paralysis. There must be an incredible variety of stories to share.

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  4. D.J.Duff says:

    An interesting subject indeed, and a hypothesis that could be investigated I think.

    The main reason I am somewhat skeptical of the hypothesis in its current form is that I think it is unlikely that consciousness as we experience it will be possible without the coordination of important brain-stem structures (which I believe from my reading that the thalamus is very important to?) and so a reactivated cortex alone is probably insufficient to consciousness. Also, as far as I understand, the thalamus is an important early processor of sensory input to the cortex anyway? I know that it has been said that the cortex is the seat of consciousness but if that were true I would take it in the same way that the stomach is the seat of digestion.

    Any thoughts/corrections?

    And yes I “suffer” sleep paralysis on occasion, sometimes with weird hallucinations, sometimes with irrational fear. I often try to overcome it; on occasion I have been successful and got up and walked around, only to realise from the way everything is dark and mysterious, difficult, that I have only dreamt that I have got up and that I’m actually still in bed.

    Generally though I think it’s a cool thing to have experienced.

    Bestwishingly
    Damien

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    • Paul Mason says:

      Thanks for your comments Damien! Like you, I also believe we have some testable hypotheses about Sleep Paralysis based on available data.

      The importance of the thalamo-cortical feedback loop in consciousness is something that is highlighted by Gerald Edelman in his theory of neuronal group selection. So, you may have a point. Should we ask what kind of consciousness people are experiencing during episodes of sleep paralysis? Once we know the physiology of a condition like sleep paralysis, perhaps we could really explore the relationship between consciousness and neurophysiology.

      Alternatively, we could consider that perhaps not all of the thalamus remains switched off during an episode of sleep paralysis. The anatomy of the thalamus is highly intricate with numerous subparts that feed into differing parts of the brain.

      Your comment makes me wonder whether we should seriously consider the role of the Pons. Sleep paralysis is normally experienced while people are in the supine position. Could this position in some people place pressure on the Pons that results in some kind of delayed activation during awakening? Maybe a neurosurgeon, a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, or even an osteopath could answer that question. I don’t see how sleeping in the supine position could have a direct effect on the activity of the thalamus.

      Thank you for the thought-provoking ideas!

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      • D.J.Duff says:

        Paul

        I reckon you’re right in emphasising the Kind of consciousness experienced in sleep paralysis. While I suppose that we don’t need something as exotic as sleep paralysis to investigate different kinds of conscious states (experiences as everyday as having a cold shower, hyperventilating enthusiastically, staring at a speck of dust, or pondering neuroscience are strong enough to alter the way I am in the world for a goodly while), I guess the advantage of sleep paralysis as a starting point is that we would expect it to have an obvious physiological correlate. I guess it can also be relatively reproducible in some people for who it is a regular event (but not that reproducible that FMRI is feasible I suppose) .

        I can’t speak to the pons idea as it’s been many years since I studied neuroscience.

        Keep up the good work.

        Bestwishingly
        Damien

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  5. carissa aldana says:

    i actually just forced myself out of one of those sleep episodes. I am one of those ppl who needs an explanation regardless of the severity of the diagnosis. Ive been looking for answers for about 8 yrs now n i still havent found anything that i feel fits what im going thru. Yet this information does help more than u think. This sleep paralysis episode used to happen more often than not. Now only on occassions. Lease reply. Help figure out whats wrong with me

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  6. Paul Mason says:

    Hi Carissa! Thank you for sharing your experiences with sleep paralysis. Since this hypothesis was posted, a couple of my religious friends have contacted me to tell me that they experience sleep paralysis. On the occasions that they have experienced an episode, they recited prayers until their body eventually woke up. Having experienced the phenomenon a few times, they knew that they would eventually wake up. Reciting a prayer merely relaxed their mind until that time. You might not be religious, but you might want to find a calming mantra, or some poetry, or even simlly try counting to yourself until your body wakes up.

    Incidentally, one of my religious friends is christian and the other is muslim. The religion of the prayers obviously does not matter.

    Researchers might not know a lot about sleep paralysis but they do know a lot about stress. The ‘need’ that you feel to force your body awake is not be necessary. From first-hand
    accounts, you can relax without any consequence and your body will wake up by itself. Would you be willing to give that a try?

    If you were looking to understand your sleep paralysis, record any episodes in a journal. Any and all information is relevant. Simply record info like: what time did the episode occur? how long did it last? what time did you go to bed? what time did you have dinner? What did you have to eat the day before? What fluids did you drink before bed and at what time did you drink them? What position did you sleep in? What position did you wake in? What were your thoughts during the episode? Is there stress in your life at the moment? Any big events coming up? Were you alone in bed? etc etc etc… You can even put info about the detergent you use for your washing; how often you vaccuum
    clean; whether the episode was on a cold night or a hot night; what soubds did you hear; what do you see in your vision during an episode etc… The more you start writing in such a journal, the more you’ll get better at simply placing all your thoughts on a page. No need to edit your thoughts, just free-write!

    I hope you drop by our blog from time to time and let us know how it’s going. I’m sure it’s reassuring to others like yourself to know that they are not alone. You might even

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  7. Hi Paul, Thanks for your wonderful post. I’m curious if you have looked into the ways that different cultures explain this phenomenon. In particular, I know of some SE Asian cultures, other than Indonesians, such as the Hmong and Lao, who explain it as a ghost attack. Coincidentally, there is also a fairly high rate of sleep-related deaths in these groups due to heart arrhythmias, mostly in males, but I wonder whether there is a direct link between the two. Anyway, just throwing that out there.

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  8. Paul Mason says:

    Hi Patrick! Thank you for sharing your knowledge about the Hmong and the Lao. I knew that the Hmong had spread out from China because of oppression, but i didn’t realise they were in SEA. Whereabouts are the communities you are talking about? Their cosmology is rich with supernatural beings so i am not surprised that this phenomenon is explained in those terms. From an internet search, individual explanations outnumber cultural explanations but the individual explanations tend to fit into the cosmology of the cultural context. I have seen a a website from America, for example, linking alien abduction with sleep paralysis. On the other hand, there are a few old paintings from Europe with people sleeping while a garoyle-like creature sits on top of them seemingly holding them paralysed. Due to the rarity of the condition, it is not surprising that indivisual explanations are more common than cultural explanations.

    Regarding heart arrythmia, I would be hesitant
    to suggest a link between sleep paralysis and heart arrythmia. I don’t know the statistics of this condition in the populations you spoke about, but if heart arrythmias affect men more than women, and sleep paralysis affects women more than men, then i don’t see the connection. If there were a connection, which i seriously consider there is not, but if there were, then relaxing the mind so as not to place unnecessary stress on the system would be the best way to deal with an episode.

    I would be very interested to learn more about how people interpret episodes of sleep paralysis.

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  9. Karthikeyan ragunathan says:

    I am 31 years old and these symptoms of sleep paralysis happened to me few times. I would come out of my dreams and i cant move, then i try screaming for help, though i am unable to utter any sound, and then after a minute or so i would get up. I have always thought that this could be probably part of my dream, but after reading this i am thinking it was because of sleep paralysis. After few times of gping through such experiences, i realized that there is no point in trying to fight or scream in such situations and just give it few minutes to wake up.

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    • Paul Mason says:

      Thank you for leaving a comment, Karthikeyan. I’m pleased that you are able to go through these experiences without stress. It lets other people know that they don’t have to worry.

      People who can calm the mind and record their experiences may be able to provide first-hand insight into the phenomenon. For example, it may be possible to count how long an episode lasts.

      May I ask, were you in the supine position when you experienced sleep paralysis?

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  10. Liz says:

    I first experienced sleep paralysis when I was about 13 or 14. That was about 40 yrs ago. Since then they have been rare but not uncommon. I had another episode just the yesterday; the previous episode was about 6 months ago. I have never read anything about people being able to speak during SP, but I do, or I try anyway. In my episode yesterday I was shouting for someone to wake me up. It took tremendous effort but I finally succeeded in waking my teenage son whose room is below mine. He ran to my room to find me on my back, eyes open shouting “wake me up”. I awoke immediately and although he told me my eyes were open my first impression was that I was not seeing things exactly as they were. I saw him come into the room, but I also thought I saw my husband (who was away on business) was lying next to me. My husband, by the way, recognizes the signs and sometimes in the mornings he will tell me I had one of my episodes the night before, but all he has to do is touch me and I stop. I don’t recall this in the morning. The previous episode which I recall, six months ago, was when I was in a hotel with my daughter. I was trying to tell her to wake me up but according to her was only making awful noises. I finally woke myself up. She says I awoke with a huge gasp, like someone who had been deprived of air, which I was. In both of theses described episodes I was in the supine position and was having trouble breathing. I normally sleep on my side or stomach. However, I have also experienced SP in those positions as well. I recall one where I was having trouble breathing because my pillow was partially covering my nose and mouth. I thought I had managed to get up and walk around the room but I could still feel the pillow against my face and I still couldn’t breathe. Another common experience for me with SP is a presence in the room, watching me. Sometimes the presence is malevolent but not always. I hope my experiences offer some help. Although I realize that SP is harmless I still find the episodes to be very distrubing and would love to be able to do without them altogether.

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    • Paul Mason says:

      Thank you for your extended reply, Liz.

      Some of the nerves to the face from the brain don’t come directly from the spine, so from a physiological perspective it is interesting that you are able to at least make some movements in your face during an episode of sleep paralysis. This information might indicate to a specialist in neuroanatomy which brain centres might be involved and which brain centres definitely aren’t.

      The experience of lucid dreaming and hypnagogic hallucinations is not rare and the contents often involve familiar objects, people or events.

      If you are able to find a way to relax during an episode of sleep paralysis, I believe you might wake up without the feeling of being deprived of air. If researchers don’t know how we can prevent the recurrence of episodes, then at least relaxation methods can help make them less stressful and a little more comfortable.

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      • D.J.Duff says:

        Gidday

        I recognize my experiences in a lot of these descriptions.

        On a subset of those occasions where I have panicked for some reason, such as wondering if I might forget to breathe while in this state (among the movements that I at least cannot easily initiate while in this state is taking in air), and have attempted to cry out for help, I too have been able to make a noise that my wife describes as an unearthly kind of moaning (very quiet but freaky).

        It is not clear whether the ability to make this sound was obtained through the effort made or whether it was permitted as a part of naturally emerging from the state.

        Paul, regarding your pressure-on-the-pons theory, perhaps it is (more prosaically) rather a simple bodily reaction to shortness of breath of a kind more associated with one kind of posture. Perhaps this theory has already been expounded and I’m just repeating unthinkingly, it but it does seem the more concise explanation, particularly in view of Liz’s experiences with the pillow. From reading here, and my own experiences, breathing does seem to be one of the common concerns associated with sleep paralysis (but then maybe with any similar kind of total paralysis breathing would be a major concern). But further, I am sure body position does influence breathing.

        Keep up the goodly work there!

        Bestwishingly
        Damien

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        • Paul Mason says:

          Provocative thoughts. I think there will definitely have to be some investigation into the shortness of breath and the onset of paralysis before we can draw connections.

          Similar symptoms may have heteromorphic physiological aetiology, so we can’t jump to conclusions, but there are some testable hypotheses there.

          You have also inspired me to think that perhaps basic opportunistic EEG would be a place to start (i.e. willing participants would have to wear a portable EEG record while they sleep for every night until they experience an episode, and then researchers could collect the data from that episode and compare it to a normal night’s sleep.)

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  11. M. Izabel says:

    In the Philippines, we have this sleep paralysis we call “bangung0t” that kills. Bad dreams or nightmares and going to bed full are said to cause it. Medical doctors back home, after an autopsy done on a “bangnungot” victim, usually comes up with acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis as the diagnosis. I think it is interesting to study this medical/neurological phenomenon that is understood culturally in my country. I wonder if indeed bad dreams or nightmares and going to bed with a full stomach cause it. I also wonder if there is a scientific explanation to what I grew up hearing that moving a big toe will help one get out of his sleep paralysis or bangungot.

    An article written by a Filipino medical anthropologist… http://pinoykasi.homestead.com/files/2000articles/08292000_Bangungot.htm

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  12. Paul Mason says:

    Thank you for the link, M. Izabel.

    I’m not convinced that sleep paralysis is connected to bangungot. People with sleep paralysis are able to talk about their experiences because they wake up. During an autopsy of a bangungot victim, we have no way of determining if they experienced sleep paralysis. Furthermore, bangungot occurs predominantly in males while sleep paralysis is more likely in females. Although bangungot is associated with sleep, I don’t believe that we should make a link between bangungot and sleep paralysis. However, the fact that these conditions are connected in the Filipino worldview does tell us something about local medical beliefs. The category of Bangungot is similar in form to the category ‘alzheimers’ or ‘autism’. There are a spectrum of different kinds of alzheimers diseases and a spectrum of autism disorders. Bangungot may actually be a general category for a spectrum of sleep-related experiences. The association of sleep to the supernatural world would naturally attract a supernatural interpretation of death during sleep.

    You may be interested in this blog post:
    http://kevishere.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/killer-ghosts-broken-hearts-the-mystery-of-sudden-unexplained-death-in-sleep-in-asian-men/

    You may also be interested in this book by Shelley Adler:
    http://berkelouw.com.au/browse/all/by/Shelley-R-Adler
    (I only just learnt about it, and have not read it myself, sorry).

    Do you know about the etymology of the word “Bangungot”? It may have a Malay root.

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  13. Owen says:

    Great article!!
    I used to experience this quite often although I haven’t experienced it now in at least a year or so. It came to a stage where I would be able to speak to myself while in this “frozen” state and was able to calm myself down..
    Sometimes however I would start to panic as I felt I couldn’t breath..which as you can imagine was horrific.
    I would always be lying flat on my back and would be unable to move any part of my body. I would be trying to scream but there would be no sound coming out. I would sometimes even be able to “feel” the presence of another person beside me sometimes but couldn’t grab their attention in order for them to shake my body to wake me up. I would also be able to feel myself coming out of this state but only then to drift back to sleep again which is something which I often didn’t want to happen because it would result in another episode again..until finally I would wake up. As far as I know I opften woke up because my heart was beating so fast..which is a little worrying..
    I haven’t thought about this topic in a while but I will record anything in future and repost my findings.
    I hope I have been of some help!
    Oh yea..in response to one of your readers comments about how different cultures explain this phenomenon..I can tell you that in Ireland it is referred to as the “old hag” but since I don’t believe in ghosts I can’t say I agree with that hypothesis.
    In response to

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    • Paul Mason says:

      Thanks Owen! The description of your experiences is fascinating, although I can only imagine the anguish you must have felt when drifting in and out of paralysis and sleep. There would definitely be some interesting recordable EEG states during those different stages.

      So, in honour of the Irish, should I rename this hypothesis: “Cortico-thalamic dissociation in the old hag”?

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  14. Karthikeyan Ragunathan says:

    Hi Paul, thanks for the reply, yes it happened when I was in supine position. I discussed these symptoms to my wife and she mentioned that even she had such ex

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  15. Karthikeyan Ragunathan says:

    Sorry my previous comment was incomplete, anyway as I mentioned these symptoms to my wife and it seems she also had such episodes in the past.

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    • Paul Mason says:

      The supine position is interestingly common among reports. I wonder what other variables contribute to the onset of a sleep paralysis episode. For example, temperature, humidity, stress, the mattress, diet, noise levels, etc…

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  16. Shelley Adler says:

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for the fascinating article, for getting another SP thread started, and for mentioning my book. I completely agree that sleep paralysis is not fatal (despite what it feels like for the person stuck in the middle of it!). After several years of studying the Hmong sudden deaths that occurred in the U.S. around the 1980s, I’ve come to a “bio-cultural” conclusion: the interplay between an inherited cardiac arrhythmia (the Brugada syndrome) and traditional belief in a “sleep paralysis spirit” are at the heart of the sudden deaths. I think sleep paralysis is an ideal phenomenon for studying the mind-body connection. It’s fascinating to track how the experience is interpreted by folks across cultures and over thousands of years.
    Shelley

    http://www.amazon.com/Sleep-Paralysis-Night-mares-Connection-Anthropology/dp/0813548861

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  17. ML says:

    Great article Paul! It’s wonderful reading everyone’s personal experiences with this phenomena. I have been experiencing intermittent episodes of sleep paralysis for the past 10 years now. Each episode occurs when I’m sleeping on my back and mostly – (but not exclusively) – when I take a nap during the day. If I do take a nap during the day, it’s because I’m exhausted, stressed or unwell. This phenomena was petrifying the first time it occurred in my late teens, but since then I have improved my way of dealing with it as I have learnt that: I always wake up. I find the best management is to try and relax and fall back asleep.

    During a typical episode, I wake up, open my eyes, can see and hear, but cannot move my body. I often try to and feel that I do move my hands – only to look down and see them completely still on my abdomen. The two most frightening experiences involved auditory and tactile hallucinations. During the tactile hallucination, I felt a man standing behind me – and experienced the sensation of him holding my hands down (no I wasn’t in a nightclub on special happy pills at the time but was tucked safely in my bed at home). After I woke, I was so afraid that I stayed in my sisters room for the next month. The second hallucination I experience was my most recent episode: I could hear a 1950s transistor radio in my right ear but the voice was muffled and I couldn’t make out what was being said. On top of this, i could actually hear my family talking downstairs but as always I was unable to speak or move to call for them.

    Another sleep phenomenon I frequently experience (to the detriment of my partner’s ear drums) is that I often wake from my dreams seeing a dark shadow floating over me or in the bedroom. It disappears once I scream.

    I don’t have schizophrenia nor any other diagnosis associated with DSM IV criteria. I am completely well in between episodes and have never/seen nor heard anything out of the ordinary during my normal waking hours.

    Both of these phenomenon are experienced by my mother and her mother.

    I would be interested to find a sleep physician or neurologist that can shed some more light on the matter.

    Thankyou so much for addressing the issue in your article!

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    • Paul Mason says:

      Thank you for sharing the rich description of your experiences with sleep paralysis. I am starting to suspect that there is a whole spectrum of different types of sleep paralysis.

      The sound of the transistor radio is intriguing. Did you hear a hissing noise with muffled voices? When I have fainted, I have expertienced a hissing noise upon awakening with the voices of people around me blurred and somewhat distant. The experience has only lasted a few seconds each time. Funnily enough, I have been aware of the sensations which oddly enough leave me with a warm feeling. Your experience seems to last a little longer and it’s localisation to one ear seems to suggest an auditory hallucination. Or could you be lucid dreaming?

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  18. Pingback: Detritus (2/1/2011)

  19. Paul Mason says:

    I haven’t experienced anything like sleep paralysis since I was a kid. But after posting this blog and then reading everyone’s comments, I feel that I may have influenced my wakefulness. I also haven’t slept much this week after working until the early hours of the morning.

    It has been a hot and balmy week with the temperature gauge hitting 40deg celsius frequently. Living in a flat with no air conditioning has meant that I haven’t been sleeping a lot. A few nights ago, I was very tired and went to bed after midnight after reading everyone’s comments on this page. I slept in the supine position. I had not slept longer than three hours when I woke up to an episode of sleep paralysis mixed with a lucid dream and the physical sensation of falling. I tried to speak, but I couldn’t. After a very brief amount of time (less than 1min), I was finally able to move and wake up. I was quite groggy but forced myself awake. Funnily enough, I had that sensation that many people report of not feeling alone. Understanding my experience meant that I did not feel any anxiety. After noting the time, jotting down a few notes, I fell asleep again within minutes.

    Perhaps if I hadn’t written this post a week earlier, I would have gone back to sleep and not noticed this episode. But, I have to say that life is more interesting having paid attention to the little quirks of sleep.

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  20. Michael says:

    Hi Paul,
    I find this really interesting as i have had two episodes in my late 20′s of what i describe as a ‘nightmare’ where i have physically felt something squashing me down, trying to suffocate me in my sleep. It was so graphic i was sure i was awake at the time, and on the first occasion i sort of remember feeling it being some demotic pressence but can’t quite remember seeing anything. I ended up thinking that the house was haunted. However 20 years later i have recently been diagnosed with Brugada syndrome and wonder if i have had any attacks of this syndrome during this time, during my early years. Anyway thought it might be useful to join in this discussion
    Regards M

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  21. deedee says:

    Thanks for the post.

    I only encounter SP when sleeping on my back, and the most predominant effect on me is not being able to breathe. When I do wake up, or sit up, I’m usually gasping for air. I generally only have SP when I’m napping, say on a couch or for a short amount of time.

    Last night I encountered a strong SP episode though (hence my search today); the room was warmer than it usually is, and my sleep the night before was disrupted, so I was tired by the time I went to bed last night.

    I was having a somewhat of a scary dream. I was sleeping on my back, woke up, couldn’t move or breathe, and tried my hardest to scream to my partner to wake him up to help me. In my mind I screamed bloody murder, flailing wildly, but he said it was just a loud groan and he turned over to tell me it was okay. I spent the rest of the night having realistic dreams (same room, same place, same pj’s) but would wake up again. It was if I was fighting recurring SP episodes. I felt the presence of something scary too, (and then my mind wandered to scary thoughts) but I hear this is a common complaint assoc. with SP. My heart was racing and my chest somewhat ached for the rest of the night from being shaken from the episode.

    I’m so tired today from it all, I stayed home from work!

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  22. luciano says:

    These are the most upto date comments on something i would like to say that i have been dealing with. Now my first episode was one i was 17 years old. My most memorable and of course the most scariest. Everyone says that it happens mainly when your laying on your back and that you cannot move. For me its on my side and it feels like i am shaking trying to move, but cannot.

    When i was 17 i was up late lying in bed. Getting ready for bed when i heard a loud pop. Thinking it was a car that had just blown a tire i laid there. So i was laying in my bed half on my side and half on my belly. Out of the corner of my eye i caught a glimpse of what i had thought to be some one standing beside my door way. So i had raised up my body mainly on all fours to see clearly, but to find nothing of course. It was at that moment of returning myself to the complete laying down position is when i froze. I couldnt move nor could i speak, nothing. I was still on my elbows and knees inches from actually laying down, with the last image in my head of what i had thought i had seen near my doorway. Now when i say i froze it was the inability to move yet at the same time i was struggling to move. So i felt as tho i was shaking, as if my muscles were spazing. It felt it had only lasted for about a few minutes. Then when it had ceased i collapse, exhuasted and passed out…

    From then on out it has been the simple laying on my side as i usually do. And when i feel that twing then i know that in split second ill be frozen again. With that feeling of shaking even though i know im not moving, and not being able to see things clearly or even at all. To include that evil feeling that i used to have. It was as i layed on my side and felt this presence that was tugging at my shoulder. Trying to get me to turn around as i was fighting it. Hence the feeling of shaking or bein shaked. But now i know and have lost that sense of evil. but the shake feeling is still there.

    These episodes only hit me just as i have laid down to sleep. Just as i find that comfort zone of just falling asleep . And when it happens i become full alert as if i am getting pulled back to consciousnes abruptly, and never making it. And an episode may last a minute or two and may have up to three consecutive episodes at a time. In between epsisodes i am able to move about of course move, and even stand up. Just to lay down and feel it rise up agian……….With this posted maybe someone has some other thoughts or insight…

    these episodes i dont fear anymore, but still feel that more people should become more knowledgeable about it. as i wish i could become more knowledgeable … sorry for the bad grammar or mispellings. please comment thank you for your time

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    • deedee says:

      The “nap time” SP episodes I have are always just as I am falling asleep too Luciano. Then I sit up gasping for air because I was trying to move and breathe and couldn’t for a minute. My first thought is, “Oh no! my brain has forgotten to tell my lungs to breathe; breathe! Breathe!”

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  23. Ali says:

    I just found this website this morning while researching sleep paralysis. I was watching a tv show about alien abductions and it said that more women than men say they have been abducted. I think these alien abductions happen during an episode of sleep paralysis because I know people can hallucinate, and I wanted to see if more women than men suffer from sleep paralysis. I am interested in sleep paralysis because I have had many experiences with it. I’ve read that it usually happens while people are sleeping on their back, but I’ve experienced it in all positions I’ve slept in. For my first experience, I was sleeping on my stomach. I heard “someone” open the door and walk over to me and then all of a sudden I felt them climb on top of me, kind of pressing down on my chest. My brain was very awake at the time because I was trying to figure out what was happening and what to do if it was a possible intruder. I was going to head butt the person, but I was afraid that maybe my roommate was playing a trick on me, and I didn’t want to hurt her. And I also thought that if it was an intruder, the dogs would be barking. So my only other explanation was that it was a ghost. So I never opened my eyes or even tried to move because I was scared. Then I woke up more and saw nothing.
    Another experience: I was sleeping on my back in bed with my roommate’s dogs and I woke up and heard bouncing on the bed. At first I thought the dogs were jumping on the bed, but then I realized that dogs don’t bounce on beds. And once again I was thinking the dogs would bark if there was an intruder. I also had the sensation that my arms and legs were levitating but there was something pressing on my chest. So like usual, I did not open my eyes because I thought it was a ghost. Earlier that night I also had dreams that I was just walking around my kitchen and I was mad at myself because I should have been in bed.
    I thought I was being haunted until my friend told me about sleep paralysis. I felt a lot better afterward. I did some research and i found some really helpful information. I found out that first of all you should try to wiggle your fingers and that will help your body wake up. I have found that to be very useful because I most often suffer from sleep paralysis when I am over tired. My experiences differ when I am trying to fall asleep and when I wake up. Falling asleep my whole body feels pins and needles and it feels like there is some kind of cloud around me. So I’m always thinking “move the fingers, move the fingers” and it helps me out a lot.
    Well that’s it for my stories. I just like sharing them with people who understand.

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  24. Virginia Anderson says:

    Every few months for years now it hits me like a rock and I had the worst episode yesterday. Around 2pm, I became sleepy when I layed down, it felt so good falling asleep. As the day went on I would wake up and everytime I felt a state of sleepiness falling over me again and again. I slept the whole day and that evening around 7pm it started. I couldn’t control the urge to sleep, each time, being pulled into a state of sleep where I had no control. The weird thing about these episodes, is I know where and what’s going to happen, I just can’t stop it. It’s like something is waiting for me, another world another place where I have no control over my body, but my mind knows what’s going on. I changed clothes 4 times before morning from sweats. I fight each episode trying to scream and I can hear moans and groans coming from my own mouth, but I can’t get it out loud enough for help. I have felt being shot, cut and someone touching me. I seem to be totally aware of what’s going on at times. I try and open my eyes , and after what seems to be forever, I finally find the strength to communicate with my body. This morning has left me tired and light- headed. I finally called a friend she mentioned Old Hag Syndrome, and here I am.

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  25. Danielle says:

    Virgina, I’ve had the same thing, but not for 24 h! That’s tough. Old Hag is supposed to only haunt men (Christian gobbledy-goop), so for us, I guess it’s just plain old sleep paralysis. I found this site after my most recent episode too. It’s pretty interesting to return to once you post, you’ll find many posting the same scenario as you!

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  26. RD says:

    I’m Male, 34 yrs and I experienced it for many year in childhood/teenage years. Then for about 10 years or so I didn’t have any episode. recently I again started to have same episodes. In fact I never told anybody as this started when I must have been 9-10 year old. Its only last month that I began searching about it as I was thinking I’m suffering from some ailment. It occurs mostly when I sleep on my back but I’ve also experienced this while sleeping sideways. I feel as if non-stop low voltage electric current is passing through my body and it feels like every inch of my body is being pinched/riddled with needles. There’s a strong hammering kind of feeling (its not actually a sound) which is felt inside the head and the frequency of the hits keeps on increasing like it happens when a timer of a bomb is about to go off in seconds until I wake myself up. This feeling used to be damn scary as a child and I never was able to figure out what would happen to me if it continued. I did continue in this state once and it disappeared for few mins but again resurfaced. After reading about it, I think I might have slept between 2 episodes of SP.

    As the voice never comes out of mouth and eyes won’t open, I struggled to move my whole body ever since it happened, but nothing moved except the toes and index fingures of both feets (may be they have direct connectoin with active part of the brain). I rub the toes with index fingers of both feets vigorously and awake myself to a minor headache at times but mostly just a sweaty body.

    I read somewhere that about 30% of world population suffers from it and 100% have at least 1 episode in their lifetime. So, I inquired from my best friend and he also shared the similar experience. In fact he recalled that once he was so fed up that he left the episode occur for as long as possible thinking worst is death so let’s face it. But when he did that the intensity of shocks (electric current/needles feeling) became so intense that he felt changed his mind and woke himself up.

    My last episode was last week and prior to that 3 weeks back so I’m now calculating it that it occurs about 2 times a month. Because I had read a lot about it, I found it easier to come out of my last episode. Infact I used to think that my brain is only half active earlier but now I realize brain is fully active. The reason for this is, when it occured to me 3 weeks back and I read about it, I came across an article somewhere which asked me to focus on my lower abdomen and control it. While going through this episode of SP, I recalled that and tried it. It didn’t work for me but I knew it was a state which affects 30% of population and thus, I woke myself up rather easily with my regular method.

    Thanks to the creator of this webpage that lets users share their experiences and gain strength in dealing with this problem.

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  27. JM says:

    My experience was a lot more severe than anything I have read so far.

    I fell asleep on my couch at about 5pm. I distinctly remembered the dream: after hazy events, I saw two men in a boat bashing and sexually harassing another man. I was with someone. I forced myself awake (as I always do in nightmares – and never have problems with this I am great at waking myself up). Suddenly I was awake and had a view of the wall and other things behind the cough, I also had a vision of the kitchen, it felt like for a split second I had moved over there. Seeing these things are impossible from the sleeping on side position on my couch however. During this point extremely loud and distorted noises popped into my head unlike anything I had ever heard before. It sounded very much like a chant, a language I could not understand. Then the noises got extremely confusing and jumbled up. I could not move a single millimeter in my body. It also felt like I was outside of my body as if my mind was about 2-3 feet above where my head was rested. I am also confused as to whether I opened my eyes at all during this as towards the end of the 10-15 or so second experience I felt they were closed or perhaps half open somehow. Given the usual nature of these “Sleep Paralysis” episodes that I have read about, you would think that by all logic it would be very unlikely that one could open and close their eyes during this experience as the very logic behind the “expert” theories presume that the mind has awoken before the body has making it impossible for physical movements to occur. Therefore, experts, please explain why I was able to see multiple things whilst having an onset of the most disturbing sounds I have ever heard, even though it is simply illogical for someone in Sleep Paralysis to have such a varied range of observations in the room. My mum was using the computer (a few meters behind the couch) whilst this occurred. She believes she did not hear me stir or move at all. During my episode I was overpowered by extreme vibrating and tingling sensations and felt as if I was aggressively shaking and spinning. I like most others with similar experiences felt there was a strong presence around me. I also feel that this nothing like a dream. I always remember my dreams and for me a dream is just a bunch of diluted and shadowy images that appear in my mind. They probably reflect things on my subconscious, worries, thoughts, and so on. The fact is, I can confidently say that I have complete and utter control over my dreams, I have learned to do it gradually on my own over the 19 years of my life. I sometimes welcome nightmares because I know I can wake myself up from them. Earlier today was the same exact case except in terms of the dream, but instead I was welcomed by something I would describe as shockingly terrifying. When I suddenly came out of the experience I screamed twice in a row feeling relief that I was normal again. The experience I had was completely overwhelming, I can’t stress this enough. I had never felt so alive in my life and the fear and shock I felt was literally speaking, incredible.

    The previous night I had a similar experience. I was lying on my back trying to relax and fall asleep. I kept imagining that a girl I care about terribly was beside me, as if she was a presence. I kept creating mental images of her until the point that I felt I could make her swim around me. The thing is, I always feel a presence around my neck, especially at nighttime, like a slight touch. So I felt like I was stimulating that presence in my own way and I felt as if I was making her image in my head somewhat divine and I truly felt like I was transcending any kind of distinction between myself and the rest of the world. My toes all of a sudden became warm and numb at the same time. The more I induced the thoughts, the more I became relaxed and the more the warmth/numbness spread throughout the rest of my body. My heartbeat got faster, it also got harder to breath, but I still felt comfortable. So comfortable that I became relaxed unlike never before. I then became both curious and fearful. I felt as if my mind was separating itself from my body and I was floating above my body, then I became extremely fearful as I did not want to allow myself to let the numbness reach the rest of my body and overcome me. I feared for my life and then I forced myself to move abruptly and I felt as if I dropped back into my body. I then eventually fell asleep but I kept moving myself slightly so I would not get the onset of warmth in my body. The next morning I filled out a survey on these types of experiences. It was later that I had the terrifying experience explained above while I was having a nap on the couch.

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    • Riley says:

      I have had an uncannily similar experience to yours. See my comment to Danielle below.

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  28. Jodi says:

    Hi Paul,
    I read your article with great interest after experiencing SP last night. I realise now that I have had these experiences before but just didn’t know what they were. They are the most terrifying experiences I have ever encountered. I always feel the presence of “someone” in the room and my whole body becomes “frozen in terror” and I am unable to move or scream. It feels as if all the air between myself and the doona becomes sucked out and the doona wraps itself tightly around my body! Last night I also experienced a hypnagogic auditory hallucination where this particular person (?) whispered in my ear. I was too scared to open my eyes and it took an enormous amount of effort to scream for help. Subsequently only some weird primal noise escaped from my mouth and it was at this point that my body returned to normal and I was able to move again. I was lying on my back at the time.
    This experience seems to be familiar with some of the other accounts that I have read, and I am curious to know why there is an association with feeling helpless and terrified.

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  29. deedee says:

    Hi Jodi,

    A voice in my ear is what always wakes me up from my sleep, only for me to realize I’m paralyzed. Sometimes it sounds like my mother or father, yelling for help. The same primal noise came from my mouth to wake my partner up to help me, but I ended up screaming very loudly once I was able to raise my voice from the moan to regular speech.

    It is very interesting how similar our SP experience is.

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  30. Christina says:

    Answer me this Paul, if this is a random sleep condition then why do I get a bad feeling BEFORE I go to bed and it happens?

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    • Paul Mason says:

      Your question provides an interesting space for research hypotheses.

      I’m not a medical practitioner, but I am interested in bringing an analytical perspective to your question. Do we recall premonitions more often when they come true? For example, if a sense of foreboding goes by without any consequence, then do we simply forget that we had the feeling? If I predicted that a certain horse will win a race and it did, am I more likely to remember the name of the horse years down the track. And, if the horse lost, under what conditions will the memory fade inconspicuously away?

      Sometimes when our premonitions are realised we recall them more often. I suspect that in some people, though not all, a certain susceptibility is aroused for them to be aware of sleep paralysis while others who may experience sleep paralysis may simply forget it. Not everyone remembers their dreams so perhaps not everyone remembers an experience of sleep paralysis. It could be possible that everyone is predisposed to experiencing sleep paralysis but that only some people are predisposed to being aware of it and remembering it. Cultural factors may alert us to a sleep paralysis phase such as myths about ghosts and night-mare spirits. Although we know sleep paralysis to be benign and not really a disorder, some myths might add anxiety to the event.

      Having written this response to your question with no particular structure and no firm answer, I am led to entertain the possibility that your premonitions could be predisposing some part of your mind to consciously look for the sleep paralysis phase. Once your mind finds a crack in the desynchronisation of the cerebral cortex and the thalamus, is the mind able to widen that crack and bring on an episode of sleep paralysis?

      Of course, there is always the possibility that your premonitions are like the aura some epileptics feel before a seizure. If, however, you are clairvoyant, then could you please send me the winning numbers for an upcoming lottery?

      Thanks for the interesting question and I hope you don’t mind my inquisitive and light-hearted response.

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  31. anonymous1741 says:
  32. Most people hallucinate demons.. how come no one hallucinates… leprechauns, unicorns, santa clause or any other fictional entities? does this imply that Demons are real? Movie in the Making on #SleepParalysis

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89_4zRWw_IE

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  33. Maria says:

    Reading all of these posts leave me amazed. Amazed because I am 38 year old and I have been having these types of “nightmares” ever since I was a little girl, maybe 4 or 5, maybe earlier. They always happen when I am sleeping supine, and I always thought I was the only one out there with this, and have never told my doctors for fear of them not believing me. Sometimes, I can see things in my dreams that feel real, I wake up, and realize I was dreaming. BUT, then that event will occur in my day, or something very close, like a premonition. Sometimes I can see myself lying asleep, but I can’t say I honestly believe in astral travel. I’m a skeptic, but reading all of these posts make me feel the need to find a reasonable explanation. I also talk myself out of these dreams, and tell myself I am only dreaming. Sometimes I feel something evil, and I pray in my dreams, and I wake up. It almost feels like some sort of anesthetic state. I happens to me often, several times per month. I also grind my teeth when I sleep, and constantly fall asleep shaking my feet. I could go on and on. My culture is from Mexico, and I am Catholic. The only thing I ever heard growing up from my parents was not to go to sleep on a full stomach because it’s dangerous, and not to sleep on my back because I’ll have nightmares. Any thought would be appreciated.

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  34. Shelley Adler says:

    Sharing a link to an article in the Atlantic Monthly that does a nice job of summarizing my research on sleep paralysis:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/09/the-dark-side-of-the-placebo-effect-when-intense-belief-kills/245065/

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  35. Cody Couch says:

    I share a lot of similar symptoms to those that have posted above. For myself, SP has only just become a part of my life (that I am aware). My dreams and SP episodes both are seeming to become more profound as I get older. I’m 24 now, and my first SP experience was only just beyond a year ago. The first time I experienced SP I was on my left side, facing the back of a friend’s couch. At first, I thought I had fallen asleep in an awkward position and caused my extremities to go numb. It did not take long before I realized I was paralyzed. I could see the fabric of the couch and hear my friend doing her dishes as I tried calling out for her, but to no avail. Eventually I awoke. No sinister feelings or presences other than the paralysis itself.

    All of the episodes following the first have been in the supine position; which is not surprising to me since I have always felt a sort of ‘trippiness’ while sleeping on my back. At this point I have educated myself quite well in this condition, and even exchanged experiences of SP with my girlfriend, who enlightened me on the matter even further. In addition to the SP phenomena I’ve had multiple episodes of some form of night terror where I would wake myself crying, or rather a sort of moaning; which ties in to my next story. I was lying asleep next to my girlfriend in our tiny little twin-size mattress and woke myself once again from a terror doing that moaning/crying thing. Aside from the fear of embarrassment I realized her daughter was asleep in her crib just a few feet away and quickly came to my senses so I would not awaken either of them. Feeling a bit scared, I snuggled up to my partner and then immediately fell into paralysis. As the effect deepened, the sound of our traditional “sleeping fan” became something that of a banshee’s scream, and I felt a great evil presence. It wasn’t long before I came to, but I did think this episode odd that I fully awoke and THEN slipped into SP.

    Tonight’s episode, that which lead me to this site, was even stranger. I was taking a casual nap (yes at midnight, strange sleeping habits I know) lying supine. Dozing in and out, I was aware of my body falling into a sleep; I say it like that because I was still awake but could feel a numbness spreading throughout my body (SP does have a particular feel, or an aura, about it). I thought to myself that I better roll to my side or I might provoke SP, but then decided to experiment with it and ride it out. At that point I’m pretty certain I fell asleep. If I had fallen asleep at all, it wasn’t long before I awoke enough to experience a hypnogogic hallucination of a friend sitting on my bed telling me something about a video game. As he walked away (presumably deciding to let me sleep) I tried calling his name so he could wake me. I’m not sure if I made any sound at all, and if I did, it was probably completely incoherent. Now, adjusting my story here to present tense, I’m fully aware that he didn’t exist, I am at home in my bed, and I’m experiencing SP. Even though I’d consider myself a veteran victim of the phenomenon, I still experience a bit of fear, or I fixate on trying to re-establish control. So, I’m wiggling my toes. It’s becoming easier… I can move them. I want to see them move. Can’t quite move my head yet, but I’ve re-established movement to my arms and hands. My arms are to my side, so I feel my hips and waist first. I still cannot move my head, but I want to see that I’m moving (for comfort I suppose). I draw my hands to my face, but they are not there!!!! I am deeply disturbed by this. I’ve completely restored feeling and movement to my entire body, I FEEL completely awake. I run my foot up the opposite leg, I can feel every detail of my face, and even pat myself on the cheek; alas, I am motionless. I’m feeling details that I’m almost certain that my mind could not have fabricated for me. I can feel my sheets, my hair, my clothes, I can completely control my movement but yet, I am motionless. I start to recall my girlfriend telling me about a similar experience she had where she rolled out of her body and had a full blown OBE. So, the trooper that I am (mind you, this experience, as beautiful as it is, is absolutely horrifying) I wanted to experiment. I begin to roll to my left, now seeing my computer monitor and it’s screensaver. I get just pass that point of center gravity where I feel like I’m falling and I jolt myself back, much like tipping a chair back too far. This jolt instantly woke me, and I’m lying on my back. The whole time I hadn’t moved a muscle, but it seems as if my eyes were escaping my physical body, gaining a different vantage point as I rolled toward the rest of my room. I have no idea what to make of this experience, it was quite moving, yet terrifying. I had to share. I’d be thrilled to get some feedback of any sort. Thank you.

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  36. Lauren Elizabeth says:

    For a few years now, having come to the conclusion that I experience Sleep Paralysis, I have searched online for anyone having had common experiences as I. Alas, I never have read of another who only experiences Sleep Paralysis EVERY time she falls asleep on her stomach. I have just tonight, upon reading more about the “disorder,” begun to realize that, being that I only experience paralysis while on my stomach, nestled into pillows that obstruct my vision, I haven’t been able, if you will, to experience the associated hallucinations, other than the falsity of an inability to breathe. My first cousin, a male around my same age (mid-twenties), experiences Sleep Paralysis only while in the supine position and only while falling asleep (whilst mine exactly the opposite). He hallucinates but does not experience the sensation of an inability to breathe. I am wondering what all of these things mean, if anything. Is it an odd thing to consistently be paralyzed only on one’s stomach? Are there others who are affected this way? Could it be that, faced toward the ceiling, I would experience the hallucinations that plague my cousin? Every time I am paralyzed I know exactly what is happening, yet every time, I am certain that I will die. Is that, itself, a hallucination?

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  37. Danielle Golfieri says:

    I have had sleep paralysis sporadically over the last 15 years. (I’m 34.) I’ve learned to “not panic” when I can’t move or cry out, but I have trouble dealing with the feeling of weight on the bed. I sleep on my side, and lately I’ve been having insomnia and paralysis more often than usual. It always starts now with a feeling of someone crawling on the bed and spooning me. I can literally feel the knees of the person sinking into the mattress, and this is far more disturbing than not being able to move, which has been pretty much explained. Last night I had an experience to trump them all. The usual feeling of someone climbing on the bed, spooning me with increasing pressure/squeezing, inability to move…but then, I felt a tremendous pressure on my face. Not a hand covering my mouth as I see other people write about, but instead a force trying to OPEN my mouth. I had to use all the strength I had in my face to keep my lips pursed against this “thing” trying to pry open my lips. And I kept thinking that I would no longer be myself if it “got inside of me”. It was accompanied by a severe tingling/prickling on the back of my neck. As I mentioned above, I have learned to not freak out during these events, but this time it was so different, and so creepy (what on earth would something want with my mouth?) I still can’t shake the fear, awake, rational, and with it hours and hours behind me. Has anyone else experienced a feeling of your mouth/lips forcefully being pried open? And does anyone have any theories how this pertains to regular paralysis? Last night was just AWFUL.

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    • Riley says:

      I have experienced SP like three times, though one differed from the other two. I am religious and in my religious tradition (Mormonism) spirits are real and the bad ones are deprived of opportunities to live mortally embodied lives, which is utter misery to them. Generally I interpreted these experiences through that lens, but can intellectually grant that they most likely are empirically biological occurrences (ie not natural occurrences caused by other worldly beings)

      The first two were like most SP experiences: asleep on my back,; wake up and only my eyes can move.; feeling of fear that some evil spirit is causing this (though I never see anything).

      The last one was very much like what you and JM (above) describe: I am laying on my back; am awakened by the strangest sound (sounded like a recording of a bunch of people talking all at once – but distorted, like it was digitalized and screeching from being fast forwarded while still playing); seized upon and violently shaken along with some kind of electricity (it’s sharp/dull/intense, but not necessarily painful, just utterly imposing) permeating my whole body; it subsides, and then starts and stops again; though I don’t see anything, I am aware of a presence – of multiple entities – hovering above my chest, just in front of my face; I can hear their thoughts, not with my ears but in my head, as though our thoughts are united, and several say to the others in unison, “ok, enough of this, let’s get inside him”; With my thoughts I respond to them, “oh no you don’t – you only have as much power over me as I allow”, while I simultaneously reject and repulse them with my will, all the while calling out to God, in the name of Jesus Christ; everything subsides and I regain movement and am drenched in sweat.

      It’s been 9 years and luckily I have had another episode since. That’s not to say that my religious handling of the situation is the factor, but just to point out that for whatever reason, SP has ceased with me for the last 9 years.

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  38. Marie says:

    Hi i just got sleep paralysis this morning. Im 33 years old, female and i have gotten through the years sporadically. Im filipina and my sister gets it also. My symptoms is that i am sleeping then i wake up but i sort of still feel sleepy so i decide to sleep some more (and thats where the trouble arises) i try to wake up now but my whole body is paralyzed, heavy and i cant move. Most often than not i hallucinate – that my mom or sister is in the room or somewhere in the house and i try to call out to them to help me and wake me up. When i do this “calling out for help” i have to concentrate because i cant breathe. I have to stop calling out and breathe then try again. (of course poor me doesnt realise theres no one around) there have been times when my sister or husband was somewhere or beside me when i have these occurences and they wake me up. Ive told both of them that if i ever get sleep paralysis they must forcefully shake me or even slap me lol. Unfortunately there have been times ive been alone so when no one is there to wake me ive had to stop calling out concemtrate then super duper forcefully force my body to move even though it feels my whole body is like lead and that usually works. Ive been told i mke grunting sounds when i call out (yay) my poor sister has the silent sleep paralysis. I dont get sleep paralysis all the time and i noticed i get them when i oversleep.

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  39. Paul Mason says:

    You may be interested in a newly released book called “Sleep Paralysis” by anthropologist Shelley Adler. I have written a review of the book in the Journal of Anthropology and Medicine:
    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13648470.2012.675042

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  40. Rob says:

    I am 44. I have had sleep paralysis episodes for the last 30 years, very intermittently, but averaging about 10 times per year. I’ve experienced this prone (my normal sleeping position) and supine (my normal napping position). The supine episodes are more frequent, but the prone ones seem to last longer.

    These are always terrifying episodes, though I have never experienced the “presence” that some have. My dreams in this condition are all about inability to move and suffocation, even as I try unsuccessully to move. I have dreamed, for instance, that I was pinned under a truck, chained by the neck to the floor, and that I was being held under water. These dreams are very vivid, though I am sometimes also aware that I am in my room, in bed. In this state, I do not perceive any contradiction between the dream and the reality. There are other episodes where I simply awake paralyzed– and there is no dream overhang whatsoever.

    All online sources I have consulted insist that this condition is harmless. It must be, I have survived a few hundred of these episodes. Even so, I wonder: What if breathing is obstructed due to a bad cold or being face-down on one’s pillow? How long must one be deprived of oxygen before there is a chance of a stroke?

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  41. Sunny Gans says:

    hey paul i just loved your post it helps me to learn more about sleep paralysis..i am 24 years girl i have started experiencing sleep paralysis since i was 20 yrs..i experience sp thrice,,one thing i have to ask during my all three episodes of sp i felt heavy chest as if some one is pressing my chest and difficult to breath..please can you explain it so that when ever it happens again i will be more alert…
    thanx.

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  42. Fender says:

    Heya. To whoever this might concern.

    I had sleep paralysis happening to me throughout 2011, i have always been in good shape and never had any kind of illness. During 2011 i was not experiencing any major changes in my life, not that i think this relate to any disorders, illness or life style change because i’ve been through a lot before 2011, why didn’t i get praralyzed during puberty then? or when i lost my job and or when economy was toughest? i was 24 years old when this happened, and 2011 was not that different to any other.
    SOme people never experience it, some people once in a life time, some more often then others, why? Sometimes i got paralyzed two times the same night during the worst first months. It is the most weirdest and scariest i have experienced in my life, why after so many times u still feel frightened? I didn’t know this was happening to other people before i started google it. But this is how it was for me.

    When it first happened i always felt some kind of evil presence suddenly was in the room because u feel frightened. I felt this picking on my legs moving up my body before it totally shuts down. I only saw something once, but i will not go into detail about that in this post, the last time i was paralyzed there was a unknown voice that jelled at me when i was fighting the paralyze. Between that there was nothing unusual.
    I was in fear. It’s Not the same kind of horror when u are watching a scary movie or when somebody sneaks up on you behind during the day. i mean this was the worst feeling u could possibly get and it’s real because you’re aware of it. Like when somebody is holding a gun to you’re face that real, you get the same feeling i guess. Like i’m afraid something will happen if i don’t fight back.

    My girlfriend must have been even more frightened because she thought i was going to die. I can not imagine how it would be like watching my girlfriend struggle to breath, eh?? and there is nothing i can do about it. and then for a year.
    In this article the author say it is gone when somebody touch u, that’s not the case here, she could slap me and get no respond, she could slap as hard as she wanted or shake me, i would not feel it anyway. no it is a fight to gain control, alone u stop it. That’s how i see it.
    The toughest period is in the beginning, but once u know how to deal with it and get more knowledge it will go away. U have to find you’re way to deal with it do not give in to the fear, don’t let it in. U find no help in doctors, believe me they will just give u a receipt for something u don’t have, because u obviously are dealing with a disorder of some sort, well that’s what they call everything we can not explain.

    It could be a supernatural thing i have talked to people that believe they are being stalked by demons and after i saw some documentaries on how this can affect people and who they love, i became open minded that it was a possibility, this is not something to take easy on. I turned to God for protection even i have been atheist my whole life i thought it couldn’t hurt. this paralyze sleep have made a scars that needs to be healed or it could get worse. somehow when i became aware about the exterior being, the evil presence in my room, was the reason behind all this, i then understood it slowly decreased the amount of events to days, then weeks then months, until it was eventually gone. I have never experienced it since im glad :D. Maybe this evil being or whatever it was, lost interest in me. once i found peace with god the events slowed down. Everything that happened until the last months is a strange coincidence with my faith that became stronger.

    Well Nobody knows how this happen in the first place, so i guess u have to find a solution on you’re own. There are a lot of theories, Mine does not have to be correct to you but it was a year like no other in my life, and to me it made me a stronger person. Take care who ever took time to read this.

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  43. John Wilson says:

    I’ve never had sleep paralysis but Chris White has loads and loads of testimonials on his site from people who have been cured of it for good. There’s a good film on it too. It’s here if you’re interested…

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  44. Cypress says:

    ASP happens to me several times a month. I had my first one when I was 14. I assumed that it was because of my facination with the supernatural because I bought crystals and other new age items. For years thought that I “cursed” myself. lol I went through a rough bout of depression and was on anti anxiety meds and they came back in full force. I have not been on medication for at least 10 years, but the episodes still happen. What’s the most you have heard of people having these experiences in say, a month’s time? Should I be worried about the frequency of my experiences?

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  45. Cypress says:

    Oh, BTW, I am 39 now.

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  46. John Wilson says:

    Hi Cypress

    You were actually dead on when you associated your experiences with your fascination with the supernatural. Seriously, check out StopSleepParalysis.org and you’ll see testimonials on there from people just like you who have stopped their experiences for good.

    Like this one:

    “At the age of 15 I started some new age stuff. I didn’t know what I was doing. I wanted to be a genius and the products said they could do that. [...] I suffered from sleep paralysis from ages 15-21 [...] I am now 23 and have had not one episode since!”

    In fact the first story on that page by a lady called Diana sounds very similar to yours.

    All the best

    John

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  47. Paul Mason says:

    Sleep Paralysis is a BENIGN experience. Sleep paralysis by itself does not harm your body. Shelley Adler points out in her excellent book on the subject that sleep paralysis is only harmful when people confound it with stressful cultural beliefs. I personally would not advocate a treatment for a benign condition. People who advocate a cure for benign conditions are merely trying to make a dollar off people’s vulnerability and gullibility.

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  48. paul says:

    this happened to me a few times in my life but not recently. im 45 now and the first time this happened to me was when i was 17. i remember falling asleep in the front seat of my car with my girlfriend. i woke, opened my eyes but couldnt move or breathe. i desperately tried to move to wake her and i was terrified because i couldnt breathe or move. the way i was positioned was that i was leaning on her and could barely see over the dashboard. suddenly i saw a bright light and a perfect circle of faceless men in black suits. i finally was able to break free and breathe again. it was as if i was pushing on a closed door with all my might and someone opening the door without me knowing and me falling through. i got my breathe back at the same time i could break free to move and pushed her while i was gasping for air and then it was over.

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  49. lorena says:

    I’ve had this since I was 18…now going on 34. My mom has them as well although not as often as me….i once thought it was due to over sleeping but it doesn’t always apply….sometimes when I feel I was extremely exhausted….but other times just simply cause I accidentally sleep on my back….i have found that if I sleep on my back I will definitely have an episode….doesn’t fail…it could be literally 5 min into my sleep..and boom there it is….i personally don’t enjoy them,don’t like feeling helpless and paralyzed . I can often see everything around me and hear everything but no one can hear me. I usually call upon people I know are home to come wake me…but of course no one hears me… I’ve just excepted it….dont enjoy it….but it is …what it is.. my husband thought it was silly at first but he has seen a couple episodes and just notices that I look like I’m in distress in my sleep…so now he knows to wake me…if he notices that I accidentally sleep on my back he wakes me to turn to my sides.. Glad I stumbled upon this forum…never even knew they’re was a term for this…lol….very helpful

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  50. Anna says:

    I came across this while researching SP, and thought it was insightful and very well written. I experience SP and/or hypnagogic episodes almost every night. They continue to get more frequent and more intense as time progresses. It helps me to understand more about the science behind what happens to me. Lack of insurance has kept me from seeing a doctor about the problem, but I will have insurance soon and will seek treatment. Is there any advice you have in the meantime for constant occurrences?

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