Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon not everyone is aware of, but is experienced by one in five people across the globe.
The reason for it not being such a hot topic of gossip is the controversy associated with it.
Sleep paralysis is essentially the inability to move while being in a state of wakefulness during deep sleep. During this state, the individual is physically unable to move, no matter how much they wish to move, they simply cannot. It could be termed as a sort of paralysis, hence the term sleep paralysis.
It is interesting to note that the individual is actually aware of what is happening in their surroundings. In addition to that, episodes of sleep paralysis are often accompanied by hallucinations, an increase in heart rate, sweating, and general bodily paralysis that does not involve frozen vital organs.
The hallucinations that occur during sleep paralysis are commonly referred to as “sleep paralysis demons” due to the kind of interaction the hallucination would seemingly have with the individual experiencing it.
The activation of the lateral amygdala, thalamus, structures in the pons and anterior cingulate give the individual a sense of intrusion; i.e., this is when the “demon” is about to appear or appears and the individual is left to feel unguarded.
There are two types of hallucinations – hypnopompic and hypnagogic.
Hypnopompic hallucinations are those that are more likely to occur during sleep paralysis and are reportedly more frightening and involve auditory, tactile, and visual hallucinations. There are studies that suggest that there may be a possible correlation between the type of hallucination and the trauma the individual experienced.
One of the most terrifying aspects associated with sleep paralysis is that one cannot brush it away merely as a bad dream as it is experienced in one's consciousness and wakefulness. Sleep paralysis initially had its etiology deeply rooted within the parapsychological aspects.
Cultures across the globe had initially attributed the different aspects of sleep paralysis towards paranormal activities. Furthermore, different cultures across the globe gave in different depictions for sleep paralysis and some of these common assumptions, a few of which are as follows
· Luís da Câmara Cascudo, a Brazilian anthropologist, described sleep paralysis in the terms of a folklore character called “Pisadeira”. He described this experience as an old man or woman who takes advantage of the sleeper by pressurizing their thorax and disturbing their breathing.
· Canadian Eskimos described this experience as shamans who cast their spells on their enemies.
· Japanese traditions call this experience “kanashibari”, in which a summoner uses a spell to summon a vengeful spirit to suffocate their enemies with the feeling of being constrained by metal chains.
· Muslim folklore often attributes this experience to the doings of “Djinns”, who are malevolent spirit-like creatures.
The parapsychological view failed at giving an objective and unanimous cause underlying sleep paralysis without enough scientific evidence to back it up, this is where the controversy kicks in.
However, in more recent years, researchers have been able to discover a unanimous cause underlying the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis occurs when an individual passes through the stages of wakefulness and sleep.
“Sleep paralysis is a brief period of partial or total paralysis that occurs at the beginning or end of a sleep period”.
Recent research on sleep paralysis has discovered that individuals with psychiatric disorders and adolescents have a higher chance of acquiring sleep paralysis.
Individuals with sleep disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Narcolepsy or mental disorders such as stress-related disorders or those who have been exposed to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse have a stronger likelihood of experiencing sleep paralysis.
Current researches have however failed at pinpointing an exact reason or location that was responsible for sleep paralysis. Even though current researches have not completely been able to pinpoint the exact causes of sleep paralysis, researches involving manipulation of transmitters and receptors in the brain, conducted by the University of Toronto were able to provoke sleep paralysis in rats, thus opening a wide area and scope of research into sleep paralysis.