Everyone experiences or will experience what was known in older times as the visit of the incubus in their sleep, where one experiences lucid dreaming but cannot move a single muscle in their body. Sometimes, some people experience a feeling where something is hovering over where they are sleeping or even sitting on their chest. The dream feels something very vivid that some people even in modern times accuse it on the mythical demon.
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon that has frightened many even up to this day. A new study revealed that unraveling the mysterious sleeping disorder and why it happens to everyone will help people become less distressed after their next episode of sleep paralysis and denounce the notion that it is the work of supernatural beings (which makes people more unnerved).
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon one experiences, whether when in sleep or in the progress of waking up, a momentarily freeze up of the body even with slight effort of moving the muscles. Formally, it is the state of shifting between wakefulness and sleep which is characterized by “complete muscle atonia” or muscle weakness. Sleep paralysis may occur during sleep or upon the awakening of the body and often times come with scary visions, usually intruders in the room and/or the infamous “Incubus.” During REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep, which is characterized as muscle atonia, dreaming is more frequent, but the muscles’ of the body are in the state of rest and relaxation to the point of temporary paralysis, that prevents the person from acting out of his or her dream/s. It may happen without any sleeping disorder, so it was confirmed normal to have, though it may also be linked to other sleeping disorders such as migraines, anxiety disorders, obstructive sleep apnea and narcolepsy. Researchers have also recently analyzed that two chemicals in the brain are responsible for the muscle paralysis – glycine and GABA. Some people only encounter sleep paralysis once in their lifetime while others may have it very frequently, if not every night.
Researchers Gordon Pennycook and James Cheyme from the University of Waterloo, Canada surveyed 293 people, most of which are women. They found that the people surveyed were most distressed after experiencing paralysis when the hallucinations felt threatening and realistic. Most of the time, the hallucinations going with the paralysis are as demons pinning the person down on his or her bed or even doing sexual attempts, while the person is frozen, not being able to breathe and then feels helpless. People also may sense that death is looming around them or feel the sensations of falling, floating or being detached from their bodies. These sensory experiences were most likely to distress the people more than the paralysis alone, according to the study published in the Clinical Psychological Science’s online journal. The study found that people with analytical thinking mindsets were less likely to have the supernatural beliefs and were less likely to feel distressed after experiencing sleep paralysis. These type of people were more likely to believe the scientific or naturalistic side of the phenomenon, while the more intuitive thinkers might be more drawn to supernatural explanations, the researchers wrote.
“These results suggest that it is not only important for clinicians to be aware of the implications of supernatural beliefs on SP [sleep paralysis] distress but also sensitive to the likelihood that not everyone will accept or experience relief from naturalistic interpretations,” the two researchers, Pennycook and Cheyme wrote. The survey was done online and was self-selected. Letting the respondents tell their stories may be important, they wrote on the journal, since patients complain that their doctors usually dismiss the fear they feel when they wake up paralyzed.