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What if you suddenly wake up at midnight but can’t move your body?

There are many times we suddenly wake up at midnight, but we can’t even move a single finger in our bodies. We feel something heavy on our chests; even we breathe difficultly, as well as; we can’t utter a word. Sometimes we feel someone’s presence in our room. Furthermore, even very low sounds might be very terrifying for us. 

People have various opinions about this phenomenon. I have asked my family and friends about it through writing it on social media statuses, and some of them have replied as follows:

My mother said, “I have experienced it many times, and at times it takes more than 10 minutes. I feel someone or maybe something is coming towards me and press my chest. I can’t speak, and can’t move my body. The night becomes the most horrible night for me.”

One of my friends said, “I heard about it that some people believe when Jinns (Spirit able to supernaturally influence mankind) are passing, they might be hurt by placing under feet of a person so that Jinn will frighten that person all the time.”

manOne of my friends asserted that one night when he was in school’s dormitory, he felt that someone was playing guitar, and that person was coming from the hall towards him. In addition, he said that the person sat on his chest, and he couldn’t breathe.

Moreover, there are some people who didn’t experience it. To make it clear, my cousin is 12 years old, but she doesn’t know about it while my brother is at the same age and has the experience of such terrible feelings and symptoms.

Apart from what people say and believe about this phenomenon, it has a biological logic behind itself. All the symptoms stem from a strange sleep phenomenon is called Sleep Paralysis

Daniel Denis, a cognitive neuroscientist, and researcher at Sleep Paralysis Project describe the whole situation perfectly:

“When you’re experiencing sleep paralysis, you become conscious. The idea is that your mind wakes up but your body doesn’t” (Business Insider).

  In fact, sleep paralysis is interference of dream world into the real or waking world, experienced by half of narcoleptics and millions of healthy sleepers. 

Generally, there are two main types of sleep:

  1. Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) – also known as quiet sleep
  2. Rapid eye movement (REM) – also known as active sleep or paradoxical sleep

Although dreaming in all stages of sleep is possible, dreams in REM are seemed to be more vivid. When we are in REM sleep, our brain is exceedingly active, but our muscles are paralyzed. The scientists claim that the reason is to prevent living out of our dreams and to don’t hurt those beside us while dreaming an exciting adventure (slaying the dragon). But sometimes the REM is continuing while we wake up, and that is the time of happening Sleep Paralysis.

During sleep paralysis we are experiencing the followings:

  • Something heavy on our chests
  • Unable to move our bodies
  • Unable to speak
  • Horrible sounds
  • Extreme fear
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Presence of someone else in our room

Among all the mentioned points, the last one is somehow most terrible. It might seem like horror stories or movies. Imagine, you slept lonely in your room, but wake up with the presence of someone unknown, pressing your chest or throat. According to the researchers, there are two reasons. First, that unknown figure is the attempts of mind to create the movement that it can’t do in reality. For instance, the brain says, “I can’t move your legs, but here is the illusion of your legs moving.” Second, there is a part of the brain called amygdala, responsible for fear, so it becomes overactive, and Denis explains the consequence:

You wake up with your amygdala screaming, “There’s a threat! So your brain has to invent something to fix the paradox of the amygdala being active for no reason” (Business Insider).

The Three Types of Sleep Paralysis:

  • Incubus: In this type, we feel pressure on our chests, and we feel that we can’t breathe.
  • Intruder: Experiencing this type, we feel a presence, fear, horrible sounds and visual hallucinations.
  • Unusual Bodily Experiences:  In this type, we feel flying around the room. 

My Experience

I have experienced sleep paralysis most of the time even three times on the same night. At first, I was afraid; I thought what is that? Is here someone frighten me? Is this a ghost? Later on, I realized that when I sleep straight on my back, or whenever I put my hand on my heart this happened to me. Now, when I wake up like this, I just keep calm knowing it is natural, and soon it will be finished. I try to wiggle my fingers or toes. In addition, as I am Muslim, I try to say “بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم” so that I can get rid of being unable to speak.

Don’t afraid, accept it as a natural and harmless phenomenon and try to move.

Written by: Fakhria Dashnah

August 24, 2019

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