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Sleep paralysis is an unsettling occurrence of waking up but feeling as though you can’t move. According to the Sleep Foundation, 75% of those who experience it also have vivid hallucinations of a person or creature-like entity in the room. When sleep paralysis happens, it can feel terrifying. But what is it, exactly?
Folklore from around the world gives supernatural explanations, attributing the sensation to witches, demons or jinn, an invisible creature from Arabic mythology. But there is a more straightforward explanation. According to an article in the Scientific American by Baland Jalal, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, sleep paralysis is essentially a “brain glitch.” This occurs when your body wakes up, but your brain is still somewhat in the stages of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The disconnect between these two sensations causes the paralyzed-like feeling, since your body is neither fully awake nor asleep.
While the exact cause of the glitch is still up for debate, scientists believe causes include anxiety, insomnia, narcolepsy and disrupted sleep patterns. Some studies have noted high rates of sleep paralysis among those with post-traumatic stress disorder. An article by psychologist Jade Wu for Psychology Today notes that “students in their teens and early 20s are at four times at higher risk of experiencing it.” Although a variety of factors can cause sleep paralysis, visiting a general practitioner can help determine the root cause. In the meantime, Wu suggests a consistent sleep schedule, limiting drugs and alcohol and using relaxation techniques like meditation.
While the phenomenon can seem otherworldly, it’s more common than you might think. Jalal estimates that one in five people will have sleep paralysis at least once during their lifetime. So, if it happens to you, know that you’re not alone and rest assured that there aren’t any goblins or ghosts lurking in the shadows; it’s just your mind playing tricks on you.
Want to understand how to overcome sleep paralysis demons? Check out this post by the Better Sleep Council, Understanding and Overcoming Sleep Paralysis Demons.