The Scary Hallucinatory Condition Called Sleep Paralysis? I Love It
I close my eyes and wait for my thoughts to get increasingly fantastical, a clear indication to me that I’m soon slipping into my Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycle, blissfully checked out until a stressful tomorrow begins. Suddenly, I feel myself being sucked into my own body, while a buzzing becomes increasingly loud in my ears. It feels as though a vacuum is sucking all the life out of me through my head, and I realise I can’t move. This, my friends, is sleep paralysis, and I absolutely love it.
Most of the time, the feeling of being paralyzed is accompanied by a hallucination. For me, it started with a man in a long, black trench coat and a top hat, standing in the corner of my room and staring at me. That, I will admit, was pants-shittingly terrifying. Having been afflicted (now, graced) with this condition for a little over a year now, I have hallucinated different versions of this man, who sometimes walks toward me, or swoops in from a wall right up to my paralyzed face, grinning from cheek to cheek. I, stuck between full mental consciousness and a physically asleep body, let him happen to me, night after night.
An unpredictable sleep cycle, work stress and a self-diagnosed anxiety disorder had already wreaked havoc on my life, which was fueling this sleep paralysis. In turn, these nighttime experiences were making me afraid to fall asleep, thus affecting my ability to be rested and functional in the morning. One night, I had an out-of-body experience while in my sleep paralysis, where I saw myself walk to the window and jump. Terrified and paralyzed, my mind started racing, trying to figure out if my body had actually done that, or if it was just an all-inclusive sleep paralysis experience that had suddenly added perks.
After reading up on the condition and carefully studying other people’s experiences with it, I zeroed in on the most common sensations associated with the experience: buzzing, a certain downward paralyzing pressure on the body, and for me, a slack jaw as I lose control of my mouth muscles, I am embarrassed to report. Forewarned is forearmed: The next time I felt these signals, I dug my metaphorical feet into the ground and focused on my thoughts. I imagined myself going to the window. I intended on jumping, but I did not intend to fall. With my body safely tucked in bed, I could use my sleep paralysis sensations to command my mind to jump — and fly out of the window. I could feel the breeze, a sense of weightlessness and, at the risk of sounding corny, freedom.
Related on The Swaddle:
The next few times, I tried out different scenarios and found I could control them, an experience called lucid dreaming: a game at Emirates, the home of my football team, Arsenal; deep-sea diving; and a flirty conversation with my crush at the time. You know, the priorities. Sometimes, I could feel my brain trying too hard to manifest these scenarios, and I would lose the sleep paralysis sensations that were enabling my adventures. By focusing on the buzzing, however, I could bring them, and the lucid dreams, back.
By exerting some semblance of control over my dreams, I lost the apprehension that had been building every night before bedtime. My busy life wasn’t built to accommodate sleepless, anxious nights filled with strange demons and faux suicide attempts. I had started feeling pretty good about myself for turning this around into what I eventually started looking forward to as an enjoyable experience, almost a comforting nighttime ritual.
The comfort stems not from the initial sleep paralysis, but from the subsequent lucid dreams. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has recommended lucid dreams as a therapeutic instrument for adults who have nightmare disorders. “Other clinical applications for lucid dreaming are under investigation by sleep scientists for depression and to boost athletic prowess,” according to “Scientists Want You to Lucid Dream.”
The article quotes Tore Nielsen, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal and director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory: “It’s like a drug — it’s that powerful. You can try flying, singing, having sex — it’s better than VR.”
And so it is. While my almost-surefire method of transitioning to lucid dreaming from sleep paralysis is one way, scientists are working on inventions that when activated, would help dreamers influence their nighttime visions. Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Dream Lab has a tagline: “Our dream is a future where dreams are controllable.”
I, for one, cannot wait to live the Inception life.