Sleep Paralysis...Usually no ghosts are involved

I suddenly awoke. I could feel the sweat dripping from my forehead, and my heart was pounding fast. I tried to wipe my sweat away, but I couldn't move my hand...wait, make that my arm...actually i couldn't move ANY part of my body! I start to try to scream for help, but nothing came out from my mouth. I wasn't even sure if I was breathing! My eyes start to dart frantically about, scanning the room. I felt like someone was watching me. There! in the darkest corner of the room, right at the edge of my vision, I see it. A dark shadow lurking in mid air. Oh Gosh...is this what I think it is?

What you have read in the paragraph above is called Sleep Paralysis. It is quite common, or at least more common than most people think. In our Malaysian Community, the belief is that "spirits" have "pressed" on the victim (鬼压到), therefore rendering him or her paralysed. It's not so different form the western belief of demonic visitation.

But don't fret, there's actually a scientific explanation to this. Most experts link sleep paralysis with Rapid eye movement (REM) atonia. REM atonia is very normal for ALL living beings who sleep. Think about it--when you dream about running for your life while being chased by a lion, why is it that our body remains so calm and motionless? It turns out our brain cuts off the signals to our body when we are dreaming (making us sort of paralysed), perhaps to protect us from getting harmed if we were to move about in our sleep. This happens usually during the REM phase of our sleep--hence the term REM Atonia (which means weakness of unable to move).

Sufferers of sleep paralysis usually awaken during this atonic phase, and therefore experience the panic of being unable to move. Most attacks last for a few seconds to minutes, but in rare cases, it can last for HOURS. Imagine that.

While we know what is actually happening, we don't really know the reason as to why this happens to certain people and not others. Some experts believe those with sleep disorders like sleep apnea (stops breathing in the middle of sleep), narcolepsy may be closely linked to Sleep Paralysis. 

So what can we do to prevent this from happening? Well, reducing stress (both mental and physical) will help. Reducing your daily coffee intake is also known to reduce the risk of this phenomenon. Some medicine like Prozac and amitriptyline has been prescribed to sufferers, but not all patients were cured. The good news is that despite the extremely traumatic experience sufferers may go through, sleep paralysis rarely causes any health issues by itself.

But what can we do if it happens to us?

Well, according to some repeat sufferers, the first thing that you should do is to remain calm. Once you panic, weird thoughts and hallucinations of "intruders" start messing with your brain, adding on to the already frightening experience. Next, try moving the small parts of your body, like your fingers or toes. Once you get them moving, sleep atonia is usually broken, and that will end your suffering.

So, we hope that by sharing this article, those who are affected will finally understand what really is going on in their bodies.