Picture it: you’re in bed at night, when suddenly, your body wakes up. However what’s different this time is that you’re unable to move, with the exception of your eyes. You can’t talk, unable to call for help. You might see a figure approach you, a faceless man in black. He has claws like Edward Scissorhands and he’s moving closer. Your heart is racing, and you’re not sure what’s going on.
This is sleep paralysis.
Southern Miss Nursing student Blake Meranto describes his first experience with sleep paralysis, which started when he began high school. He said he was unaware of what this affliction was, or that it even happened to other people, until he started college. Now a university student, his sleep paralysis has faded into a distant memory rather than a regular occurrence, but the memories are still frightening.
Meranto says that he can usually tell when he’s going to dive into sleep paralysis when the lamp light in his room begins to dim, so then he knows to convulse his body as to not go into sleep paralysis. He describes this as a “tell” that lets him know what’s about to happen. In learning this, he hasn’t experienced a true sleep paralysis in quite a while.
So why do people such as Blake experience sleep paralysis? The American Sleep Association reports that during REM sleep, your muscles are relaxed, but when this is disturbed, sleep paralysis takes place. It is also commonly linked to mental health problems, which may be a genetic case – if someone in your family experiences sleep paralysis, your chances for experiencing it are higher. If you’re not doing well mentally, these chances also go up. Sleep paralysis is also linked to sleep deprivation, which can be a single incidence or can continue, based on whether or not sleeping patterns improve.
Meranto reports that when he was having mental health troubles in high school, that’s when his sleep paralysis began. Now that he is doing better, he hasn’t experienced it in a while.
Sleep paralysis can last from a few seconds to several minutes. Some people see shadows or creatures, and others don’t. Sleep paralysis heightens the body’s response to anxiety, because it is terrifying not to be able to move, which may explain why people see these creatures.
Those with sleep paralysis often report that they feel like something is sitting on their chest, and they are unable to breathe or move. This is also common. This is how Blake Meranto feels, which he describes as utterly terrifying..
The best thing to do when experiencing sleep paralysis is to talk to your doctor. You may have to go into a sleep study, but in dealing with sleep paralysis, this may be best.
What Meranto faces is a common occurrence, but it is still is a terrifying experience nonetheless. You never get used to it, he says, but you sometimes learn “tells” of when it’s going to happen, which can limit these experiences.