You're waking up. As you intend to grab your phone to check the time you realize something... You can't move... You are stuck. Immediately thoughts of panic rush through your mind. What on earth is happening? You try to look around your room and feel that there is an intruder. You see a vague shadow figure! Feelings of fear arise in you. You want to run away but can't. You want to scream but you can't open your mouth. You are stuck. The feeling of panic rises. What the f*ck is happening?!

Fear due to the unknown

The above sketched situation happens. When you are not familiar with the state of sleep paralysis it can be very scary. A lot of people have bad experiences with it.

Most of these bad experiences come when someone doesn't know what is happening. When you are familiar with sleep paralysis you can actually enjoy this very strange and unique state.

Let's dive in and answer some frequently asked questions.

What is sleep paralysis?

When you fall asleep you cycle through different sleep states. The last state is called REM sleep. This is the state when most of your dream occur.

Now imagine. You are dreaming and running through a forrest. To prevent you from acting out your dreams your skeletal muscles become paralyzed [1]. This is called 'Atonia'.

We already know this when you see a cat or dog sleeping. When it is dreaming it can twitch or have small spasms. We can see the paws moving a 'bit, the eyes spasm and know 'they must be dreaming!'.

Atonia plays a big part in sleep paralysis. You awake before this state of paralysis is over and can't move, because your skeletal muscles are still paralyzed. You feel awake but you can't move or speak.

Do you hallucinate during sleep paralysis?

Sometimes when you are falling asleep or waking up you see, hear or feel certain thing. These phenomena are called hypnagogic hallucinations. They happen when you are entering, or leaving a state of sleep.

Hypnagogic hallucinations may occur during sleep paralysis. When it does it may involve hearing footsteps, and seeing, hearing and sensing the presence of an intruder in one's bedroom. This is a common theme called 'the bedroom intruder' [2].

Other often occurring themes are feelings where the body is levitating and autoscopy, which is the experience of perceiving your surroundings from another perspective [3]. An example of this is looking down on your own body from above, also known as an outer body experience.

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli (1781), is thought to be a depiction of sleep paralysis

What to do in when you have sleep paralysis

The first thing is trying to keep calm. This new state maybe creeps you out, but there is nothing dangerous about it. You are perfectly safe.

It is good to remember that it will pass in a few minutes, maybe even sooner. Now maybe you just want to get out of the state of sleep paralysis as quick as possible, but it can also be used as a great doorway to lucid dreaming.

Using sleep paralysis to lucid dream

Almost all of our dreams occur when we are in a state of REM sleep. Now in sleep paralysis you are on the edge of this state. From here you can enter a lucid dream quite easily.

Your body is sound asleep and thus paralyzed with 'Atonia'. Your mind is still conscious. You are with one leg in the dream world, while the other on is still in the waking world.

Stephen Laberge is the author of the book 'Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming'. In it he offers an exercise use sleep paralysis to induce a lucid dream[4]. It is called the 'Twin Body Technique':

In your state of paralysis, imagine that you have a dream-body. One that can still move. Imagine yourself embodying this dream body. Imagine what if would feel like to walk around in it. To run or jump. Keep focussing on the details. Slowly this will transition you into the world of lucid dreaming.

References

[1] Jalal, B., & Hinton, D. E. (2013). Rates and Characteristics of Sleep Paralysis in the General Population of Denmark and Egypt.

[2] Jalal, B., & Vilayanur S.Ramachandran (2014). Sleep paralysis and “the bedroom intruder”: The role of the right superior parietal, phantom pain and body image projection.

[3] Ward, D., & Hufford, D. J. (1984). The Terror That Comes in the Night.

[4] Stephen Laberge (1991). Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming.