Have you ever been paralyzed in your sleep? Scientist believe that every person alive has suffered from this horrifying event at least once in their life. You may have heard of this strange occurrence in many folklore. The most famous mythologies of the world namely Greek, Egyptian, Japanese, Mesopotamian, Roman all have their own narrations of this phenomenon. Science call it sleep paralysis and ancient myths have named it ‘Night Hag’. As the victims submit, in sleep paralysis one is awake but cannot move, feeling as if paralyzed, with immense pressure on their chest causing difficulty in breathing. Victim feels immense choking in throat making the experience excruciating. Some people face it once or twice in life while some may experience it regularly. For occasional victims the event is horrifying but for regular victims, they somehow learn to enjoy it. Let’s outlook this phenomenon with both mythological and scientific perspective.
Ancient people believed that it’s the action of a demon who sits on your chest choking your throat and not letting you move a bit. What one can move is their eyeball ‘to watch the dreadful happenings. They call this demon, a night hag. A night hag is an evil creature that people suffering from sleep paralysis have described they have witnessed. They are known for their mercilessness and ability to walk in the dreams of others. This creature is 5 to 6 feet tall as described by the victims and has ugly features, violet blue skin and can even give demon fever. According to believers diseases spread by an evil creature bite like the skin rashes, ringworm, blood cough etc. falls in the category of demon fever. Some of these are so deadly that they kill the victim within a week. The night hag tries to distract people around the victim by involving them in a pleasant dream sending them to deeper sleep. In different regions it is named differently. Russians call it nocnitsa who is believed to be an evil woman who feeds on the happiness of children. According to some folklore, night hags visit when one sleeps on one’s back, with the hands on the chest (a position allegedly called “sleeping with the dead”). According to some folklore, night hags are no substantial creature that we can touch and feel but they are just dark shadows. The devil might also have a horrible screeching voice. She might allegedly also smell of the moss and dirt from her forest of origin. Some people admit that they smell stink when the demon is around, starring them incessantly.
I just realized that these statements above are inflicting my science background, so now I should just switch to the science perspective. According to medical science sleep paralysis is a stage between sleep and wakefulness where a person is not capable to move. It could last upto few second to few minutes. Patient feels pressure on his lungs and sense of choking as their diaphragm ,a voluntary muscle that aids in expansion and contraction of lungs, also rests at the time causing difficulty in breathing. Sleep paralysis usually occurs at one of the two times, 1) while you are falling asleep, called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis and 2) when you are waking up, it’s called hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis. As you fall asleep, your body slowly relaxes. Usually you become less aware, so you do not notice the change. However, if you remain or become aware while falling asleep, you may notice that you cannot move or speak. During sleep, your body alternates between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. One cycle of REM and NREM sleep lasts about 90 minutes. NREM sleep occurs first and takes up to 75% of your overall sleep time. During NREM sleep, your body relaxes and restores itself. At the end of NREM, your sleep shifts to REM. Your eyes move quickly, and dreams occur, but the rest of your body remains very relaxed. Your muscles are “turned off” during REM sleep. If you become aware before the REM cycle has finished, you may notice that you cannot move or speak. This phenomenon is mostly seen in age range of 16 to 43 years. All of us go through this age range but why don’t we experience sleep paralysis frequently. Generally, this phenomenon is not recurrent in every individual. Some typical triggers of sleep paralysis are lack of sleep, improper sleep schedule that changes mental conditions such as stress or bipolar disorder, sleeping on the back, other sleep problems such as narcolepsy (neurological disorder of over sleepiness where one loses control over his sleep) or night time leg cramps and use of certain medications, such as those for ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder- a neurological disorder where a person lose his concentration and becomes overactive and restless).
So, how one may overcome this problem? Improving sleep habits ,such as making sure you get six to eight hours of sleep each night. Using antidepressant medication if it is prescribed by your doctor to help regulate sleep cycles. Treating any mental health problems that may contribute to frequent sessions of this sleep paralysis.
The sleep paralysis has been defined by factions differently. They have left it upto you what to believe in, a bodily malfunction or an activity of a demon.