The science of sleep paralysis

fuseli_nightmare.jpgScience News has a major article discussing sleep paralysis, the state in which a person can wake, but remains in the paralysed state used to stop movements during dreaming.

Sleep paralysis, sometimes called ‘awareness during sleep paralysis’, to distinguish it from the normal muscle inhibiting function of REM sleep, is now attracting a substantial amount of research.

One paper by researchers Katharine Holden and Chris French (PDF) even suggested that some ‘alien abduction’ experiences may be due, in part, to terrifying sleep paralysis episodes.

Little is known, however, about the exact brain mechanisms which control sleep paralysis (although parts of the brain stem are known to be important) meaning it is has traditionally been difficult to make educated guesses about why paralysis sometimes remains after waking.

Link to Science News article ‘Night of the Crusher’

15 thoughts on “The science of sleep paralysis”

  1. I’m curious as to whether it is common for people to experience a phenomenon similar to sleep paralysis without the paralysis aspect of the experience. Though sleep paralysis minus the paralysis may seem an entirely different experience, judging by experience I can attest that I’ve witnessed all the same phenomena but have been able to move and, if I so desired, put an end to this state of consciousness. I’ve also noticed that whenever I expereince this phenomenon, my jaw clenches in such a way that an immense pressure and sound builds up in my head and is rather painful.;
    I wonder about what these experiences tell us; chalking them up to mere hallucinations gets us nowhere.

    1. I get what you would call “sleep paralysis” without paralysis these days, but I used to be paralyzed to an extent. I used to have to fight REALLY hard to move and it would be like moving in slow motion and then all the sudden it would speed up and I could move freely and the other-worldly experience part would end at that moment and the room would be normal. Now when I get the SAME EXACT sensations, I can move quite easily and doing so ends the experience immediately. I had paralysis for like 13 years until I had these two “encounters” that was similar to the experience, but I wasn’t paralyzed and I heard an actual logical voice speaking to me (like “God” in a way since “he” was telling me of some weather related events to come (which happened exactly one week later).

      After that message, I occasionally get the sleep paralysis feeling and strange things happen in that state, but I am no longer paralyzed for some reason. I can move at will. If I don’t move, the experience continues until whatever happens plays itself out (usually I hear strange things going in what sounds like another dimension in that the boundaries of the room are not observed; I can hear far beyond them and “voices” are talking, usually only to each other and ignoring me, although on one occasion a voice appeared to walk over and say something to me right in my ear, namely “Thank you” 3 times over one time in a voice that reminded me of that snake talk voice in the Harry Potter films. Other times, I’ve heard music playing off in the distance, but when I “wake” back to reality, there’s no music playing nor could there be from that distance since it would be muffled on the other end of the house if it were.

      I’ve read on some sites that sleep paralysis may actually be a doorway to out of body experiences, that you’re really just sort of changing frequencies or expanding your “soul” just outside your body so some or all of its senses function as they would if you didn’t have a body limiting it (some people have some of these senses active all the time and we tend to call them psychic or crazy or whatever since they can see or hear things around us that we don’t normally detect. I think this may be the case given most of the time, despite it feeling like there’s a pressure on my stomach or chest (used to be my feet when it started so I don’t buy the argument it’s just a feeling of not being able to easily breathe) or a vibration or even a “hug” like feeling (unlike for many, this feeling is very pleasurable to me, sometimes even almost orgasmic, although centered on my solar plexus most of the time. I never feel like I’m unable to breathe or choking or something is sitting on my chest. I don’t “see” things, just hear them, so I’ve never seen a “hag” or anything like that during an experience as some have reported. I have heard machine noises, songs playing and people chatting in the distance and I mean audible not “thought” hearing.

      Once I heard what sounded like electricity arcing and at least one site suggested this was my chance to float out of my body, but I moved and “woke up” when it frightened me momentarily. Once I did feel powerful vibrations running through my body and I did start floating upward out of my body, but that too freaked me out and that resulted in me immediately being tugged back down into my body.

      I think some of us are simply more apt to experience spirit-world activity than others, perhaps a sign of soul development or something. I’ve seen other things while awake before (like faerie lights in my bedroom that looked like red pixies and I once woke up and saw part of my bedroom wall missing and some guy writing by candlelight at a desk in it, but I couldn’t hold my eyes open as they suddenly felt very heavy and then he was gone when I opened them back up. I’ve had prophetic type dreams since then on occasion that have come true (including when and how a relative would die) and that feels different still (more like a dream, but with a different “feeling” to it). Since moving out of that house, the “non-sleep paralysis” activity has greatly gone down, but I still occasionally experience it (twice last night oddly enough). I don’t think there’s anything to fear. Nothing bad ever happened to me during one of these experiences, but it can seem scary if you can’t move when you want to. I also have to consider that much of the time it’s just a dream overlay onto the real world as you wake up in that state as I have had dreams transition into a sleep paralysis state (same feeling starts in the dream, but then I open my eyes and it’s still going on). It may just be development of the so-called “Chakras” of the body. I get strong vibrations out of the center of my forehead sometimes and I can actually make the sensation occur at will as well with just a little concentration. It feels like I’m connected to someone/something somehow.

      1. Hi.. weird question, but can you perhaps email me?.. I’ve got some questions and thoughts.. And the thing about being connected I feel aswell.

        Plz email me when you got time! Hopefully you’ll see this although it’s been 3 years.

  2. The first thing that came to my mind when I read this article was “It’s DMT!”. I believe it is fairly common knowledge by those involved in this type of research that the pineal gland releases a certain neurotransmitter, nn-DMT, during REM sleep. This substance is possibly one of the most hallucinogenic substances known to man. I know this first-hand, having ingested it during years ago in a psychedelic experiment of my own. The results of inhaling nn-DMT vapor are beyond fantastic, it is an experience that is truely out of this world and defies explanation.
    I’ve long known about the REM-sleep connection with DMT, but until recently it was only something that I’ve read about. Recently, I was lucky enough to experience this first-hand and I can confirm definately that DMT is endogenously produced and released during REM sleep.
    I was woken up quite suddenly during a very intense dream a few months ago, and it was completely apparent to me that in my state of sudden forced conciousness that I was hallucinating and the experience was very very close to what I experienced in my psychedelic experiments years earlier. During this waking REM episode, I experienced visual distortions in the form of moving spirals and a feeling of euphoria. I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the experience immensely. The effect dissipated within about 30 seconds. Without my earlier psychedelic experiences I would have totally missed the point of this waking REM episode. This waking REM has happened to me once after this, and I will welcome it if it ever should happen again.
    I can see how someone unexperienced with psychedelics could interpret this type of experience as horrific or paralysing, though from the article it sounds like some do feel it as euphoric. I can only think that what they are experiencing is a waking REM/DMT experience.
    Incidentally, nn-DMT is said to be released during the experience of death and seems likely as the cause of the ‘tunnel of light’ that people describe after near-death experiences. From my own experience, nn-DMT definately produces a tunnel of light, and an overwhelming feeling of the presence of god. It’s an awesome thing and I feel so lucky to have been able to let myself experience this in a controlled and comfortable setting many years ago during my experimentation with psychedelics.
    See or for more information on nn-DMT.

  3. On Sleep Paralysis

    I’ve had sleep paralysis for nearly 11 years now, off and on. I certainly don’t remember having it very frequently in the last year. But it’s nice to see that it’s garnering interest in the scientific eye. I can tell…

  4. A sufferer for 20 yrs it is only the last few months that i have had sp with sounds and feelings. My sp happens regularly, about five times a week, ten times a night. I don’t see anything but i hear muffled voices, fluttering sounds, and a child running round my bed and blowing cold air on my face while not being able to move. Over the years i have tried to come out of my sp by moving my fingers or toes but that is almost impossible now, and the only way to get out is to put all my efforts in to trying to shout out to my children (only a tiny sound comes out and my lips don’t even move), my son now knows how to ‘shake me free’. All of this can happen without the sp or with it, or the sp can happen alone – there is no rule.

    1. Im 17 years old and sleep paralysis seems to run in my family. I dont know if it is a hereditary thing or not but I would like to know what causes It. It happeneds to me probably two or three times a month randomly. In most my episodes of sleep paralysis it starts off with me being completey freaked out like something terrible is going on… such feelings you would experience in a night terror, I am also in a half awake state but yet i try everything in my power to wake up but i cant. The only thing i can do when undergoing sp is call for someone to wake me up in a very pathetic almost effortless scream.. I have done some research on the drug DMt and there has got to be some connection between the two. If anyone knows any details about this please let met know. SP can be extremely stressfull at times and i would like to know a way to either control it or cope with it.

  5. I am 29 years old and in the last 2 years or so i have experienced sp several times only in the last month have i heard a name for it and every experience was horrible. i always feel as though something is horribly wrong i frantically looked around the room to try and understand what is happening i always feel this pressure or weight holding me down to the bed(now i know that would be the paralysis)my mind starts racing trying to figure out what is happening and what van only be 2 minutes at the most seems like 10. and no matter how hard i try i can not free myself from this state.when i finally come out it it takes awhile for me to calm back down and regain myself. for those of u who have similar experiences you have my sympathy..

  6. i get sleep paralysis once in a while, and when i do im aware as i’ve experienced it quite a few times. I think u stay ‘paralysed’ because ur still in REM sleep state.. but you’re part consciously awake so you can still be awoken if you’re alerted. To get rid of mine i usually tell myself to breath in and out, and sometimes i struggle to get out of the heavy sleep state. In my dreams i feel like im picked up over my body, i cant move much, its just our paranoia like i feel as if someones watching or someone is there and i see people too. I manage to make it to my parents room then i wake up in the state that i slept in.

    1. That’s how I “break” the paralysis. I breathe as hard as I can, then I can move. I have to get up and walk around or it happens again.

  7. oh btw im 20 and my dad told me this can happen when ur asleep and u dont get enough oxygen, .. like in my uni dorm or room i sleep in at home is closed n windows closedi can probably experience it then and usually when i do wake up from sleep paralysis my face is stuffed in a pillow or under the duvet close to the wall away from the rest of the room and likely not good enough oxygen supply

  8. Hi,
    I recognise many of you people preposting me and I have been on a search for answers of my own experiences for many years.

    I have been hallucinating during sleep since I was a child, the difference from sleep paralysis and similar is that I am fully mobile and I interact with the hallucinations. The most weird case was when I woke up and saw this odd type of insect next to me in my bed (that is not the weird part) and I even had a name for it. It was a “Skrö”. I tried to catch it with my bed cover about three times but it just passed through the textile like it was nothing. So i rushed up from the bed and out of the room, slamming the door shut, then the weird part; I actually went to sit down by the computer and started googling on how to kill a “Skrö”. Somewhere therearound I “realised”, as so often before, that this is too weird to be true, so I rationalised (as so often before) until I came to the conclusion that I must be hallucinating again, and eventually went to bed again, as so often before (the insect was not there anymore). Do anyone recognize this type of sleep hallucinations? I even had semi-“real” sex with a girl once whom I was hallucinating while being “awake”. I would very much appreciate if anyone recognize this!

  9. im 29 and I have experienced sleep paralysis for 10 years. First being scared of the experience but now it’s old news. I am actually at the point of studying my own body with the experience. I have found that if I take a nap in the day for approx 2 hours and then go to bed quite late it will almost happen everytime. if I have a slight nap in the day 30min/1 hour , and go to bed at normal time 10pm/11pm the chances are relitively high but its a mild form of the experience. Without going into the full scientific reason (which you should be doing the research for anyways)I believe it’s due to how your melatonin is produced and released and by disturbing your sleep cycle it allows this experience to happen by stimulating the pineal gland. The game changer for me though is that all you need to do when having one of these experiences is think of something positive and the experience becomes explosive! Even say to yourself “think positive” helps but I tend to think of myself walking through a field which is calm and then the experience become enlightening.I believe that this is the real experience with SP but for some reason the negative thoughts plays havoc on it and must be distinguished. Now the interesting thing is once you embrace the experience and allow yourself to go through the buzzing noise in your head (which sometime feels like electricity being created in the body) and it almost slightly feels like it’s hurting but this turns into an orgasmic feeling and it opens up a gateway for me to go into an out of body experience or the beginning of a lucid dream(Everytime without fail!!) Great stuff and I don’t for one minute believe the negative story’s about hags on the stomach and all. I mean it might be ture but since I first read up about this from my first incounter yes it was not nice but the story’s that was common reading only made the experience worse, as I now created the thought of a presence of something bad. Maybe we are being prep in this way to be directed away from doing it because it does play a positive part in our lives. I’m not a spiritual person at all but this experience really does make me think otherwise and it’s just funny to me how this is not being perceived as “good experience” amd when they are its made out to be some weird over the top religious person or someone who had taken drugs all there life! Its all still working progress and I intend to keep my feet firmly on the ground with the whole experience. My next stage will be to try and bring this experience on naturally through meditation. Oh, may I just add that I have made big diet changes to more wholefood/organic blah blah over the last 4 mo ths and this has only increased the intensity and frequency of the experiences. I also have had all my amalgam feelings out and do not indest flouride(water filters and flouride free toothpaste). All contributing to the calsifying of the pineal gland which inhibits the ability to have this type of experience. Now I read up about this and thought it would be a load of crap but honestly with the obvious fact of feeling much more healthier I am having more episodes of SP and I believe that if the pineal gland is playing a big part in all this then decalcifying it is the key. It would be interesting tohear similer peoples views who are at this “positive” stage of the experience and are willing to learn more about it. Those people who are still thinking of this experience as a bad thing and a defect I really do understand you but please take my experience into consideration it will helpI don’t for one minute thing this is a gift but as a normal experience we may have lost contact with.

    1. Don’t sleep on your back. That was the advice given to me by a doctor years ago and it nearly eliminated my episodes.

      It can be a symptom of narcolepsy (with or without cataplexy) but obviously, not always.

  10. I ask myself if our bodyown dmt is responsible for the sleep paralysis? I know sleep paralysis very well, I experience it often. I also have several experiences with Ayahuasca. Aya also induces sleep paralysis. The way the body feels during sleep paralysis and during the beginning of an Aya-experience is very similar, so maybe the dmt is the source for sleep paralysis? Also small amounts of consumed dmt, that is not enough to produce visions, is causing a pre-paralysis state with tingling legs and hands.

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