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 can't. You want to scream but you can't open your mouth. You are stuck. What the f*ck is happening?!

Fear due to the unknown

When you are not familiar with the state of sleep paralysis it can be very scary. A lot of people have very 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'.

So we speak of sleep paralysis when you awake before this state of paralysis is over. 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.

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

Is sleep paralysis dangerous?

As frightening as it can be, sleep paralysis is not dangerous. Some people even ask the question 'Can you die from sleep paralysis?'. No, you can't die from it. The experience can be frightening though.

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.