Sleep Paralysis: It's a Thing That Happens

The thing about sleep paralysis is that no one really seems to talk about it, but a surprising number of people experience it, as I learn almost every time I mention it.
Publish date:
January 9, 2012
insomnia, sleep, sleep paralysis

I had another episode of sleep paralysis the other night.

This hasn’t happened in a while. It used to be very common for me, but a few months had gone by since my last episode. I thought that perhaps it was over, but apparently, I was wrong.

It was early morning; I usually have episodes shortly before I wake up. I was having a vivid dream that I was lying in bed half awake and I heard someone knocking at the door and wanted to answer, but I couldn’t move.

I could feel the force of not being able to move, and then the door opened and someone came in, and I heard footsteps in my hallway.

Terrified, I called out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” in my dream. But no one answered.

When I transitioned into something approaching wakefullness, I still had a frozen moment of being unable to move, and I was still listening for footsteps in the hallway. I could feel Loki next to me, and he seemed calm and relaxed, so I knew there was no one in the house, but I also knew that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t have moved if the house had been on fire.

And then, suddenly, like someone had released the puppet strings, I could move again and I flailed in bed for a minute trying to figure out where I was. I had somehow ended up sleeping sideways, and when I reached for familiar landmarks none were within reach, until finally I found the wall, and oriented myself, and saw the dim glow of the router’s lights in the hallway, and knew where I was.

There was no one there, of course, but I still had to get up to look in the morning darkness before slinking back into bed, noting that the covers were, once again, slick with sweat.

I’ve had sleep paralysis since I was very, very young, usually with vivid and terrifying dreams. I always spend the rest of the day feeling slightly off, and I’m often afraid to go back to sleep the next night, which I was in this case.

I had a big debate with myself as I wondered if it would be better or worse to take sedatives, given that I’d already had trouble sleeping the past few nights.

I was coming off yet another stretch of insomnia. One of the reasons I most hate insomnia is that it’s so boring. There comes a time when you have cleaned everything in sight and paced every which way in the house and done two hours of yoga and you can’t stand to look at a book and there’s no one awake on the Internet and you’ve organized the spice rack and there’s nothing left. Just you, awake, still.

So it was a sort of “Do I want to take sedatives again and NOT be insomniac, or do I take a chance flying without like I did LAST NIGHT and end up having some freaky dream about, like, a rabid stoat eating my feet off while I’m unable to move?1

There doesn’t really seem to be a strong connection between whether I take sedatives and whether I have sleep paralysis, but I’m always a little afraid it might be a contributing factor.

I opted for the sedatives, and sleep, and everything went fine. Who knows when the next episode will occur, or if I’m in for a memorable run of sleep paralysis episodes like I had in 2007, when I had horrible dreams about being unable to move every night for two months and managed to piss myself twice, which was awesome, let me tell you.

The thing about sleep paralysis is that no one really seems to talk about it, but a surprising number of people experience it, as I learn almost every time I mention it.

I don’t know if we all think it’s too weird to openly discuss, or think we’re freaks, or what the deal is, but, like, it’s a thing. That happens.

My medication manager2 assures me it’s actually quite common; around 50 percent of people have at least one episode at some point, and some people have it a lot, especially the form I do, which is known as hypnopompic.

While it can sometimes be a sign of a sleep disorder, it’s usually not, and it just sort of...happens.

There are also some theories that sleep paralysis may have been the culprit behind some popular myths and legends about vampires, succubi and other unsavories of the night. Which is something I can well believe because I often have dreams where something is invading my space and trying to steal my soul/dreams/blood/spare underwear. And I can’t do anything about it.

The thing is, when it’s going on, I never understand that this is what is going on. Instead I am sweating in terror going “Ahhhhh I can’t move I am going to die.” And then I fully wake up, heart pounding, and go “Ah, sleep paralysis, I see. Thanks, brain.”

“Thanks, brain” is a phrase echoed a lot in this household.

1. Yes, this has happened, although I think my most memorable sleep paralysis dream actually involved being eaten alive by a giant almond. Return

2. Doesn’t everyone have one? Return