Sleep Paralysis - Hallucinations

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Offline Student

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Sleep Paralysis - Hallucinations
« on: 04/08/2009 04:12:37 »
Firstly I would like to say I'm far from my area of expertise, (I'm a student studying a masters in physics) so don't expect too much theory in psychology.

I've never had too much intrest in psychology, infact I always tease my friend who is studying it at university saying that it isn't a real science. However since experiencing sleep paralysis I've been deeply intrigued by it. We all know its often caused by stress and lack of sleep. I had two experiences close to my exams in my second year of sixth form (last year of high school for you yanks) and one in my first year of university.

My first one happened at home, I woke up in bed unable to move or shout for help. When realising this I had great difficulty in breathing, this lasted for 30 seconds. My second experience (a couple of months later prior to the release of my exam results) was again in my room, as soon as I woke up and realised I was paralysed I thought to my self 'ah its happened again, and here comes the suffocation feeling, I'll have to wait this one out too'. This one wasn't as scary as the first one as I knew I was going to be alright, but I wasn't so lucky for my third one.

My third one happened at uni, I blame the stress of large amounts of work being dumped on me without warning and a lack of sleep that people tend to take on when they start university. In this one I woke up in my room at university, I tried to call out to my room mate only a few meters away but it was all in vain. I looked up at the ceiling where the orange glow of the lights from the hall reached. Now the difference in this 'episode' was the hallucination that followed. The orange glow began to fill the room, and all I could see was a dimly lit, plain room. I suddenly abandoned the idea that I was in my own room. Having longish black hair, I noticed some strands of my fringe overlapping the centre of my eye creating an image out of focus thin object. Being in an unknown place I stated panicing, and with some distorted logic I convinced my self that the thin blurry object above my right eye was infact a knife. I began to panic and remembered I couldn't move my body. I thought to my self that the knife had been put there so I couldn't escape....escape from what? Then a white figure appeared next to me, it was a man in his 50's with a surgical mask. Suddenly I felt a strange vivid sensation of a thin piece of cold metal sliding/scraping along the right side of my throat (just an inch under my jaw). I paniced and tried to shout stop, again nothing came out. It then occurred to me that I my have been kidnapped and anaesthetised, but something my have gone wrong in the process (my friend had told me that his relative woke up paralysed in the middle of a spinal surgery). As the scrapping sensation grew, I began to move my eyes violently to get the man's attention hoping that he can send me to sleep so that I can die painlessly. My eyes began to grow heavy (at this point I was rejoicing that I wont be awake for my death). My eyes shut, then a few seconds followed and I opened my eyes to see the person and the metallic sensation still there. At this point I bolted out of my bed. The orange glow instantly retreated to the ceiling of the room. I looked around to find myself in my room and my room mate sleeping peacefully in his bed. This was the most terrifying experience in my life, and the first and only time I have ever thought 'I hope I can get to sleep and die painlessly'.

Its been a good half year since then and I haven't had anything like it since. But I wondered why my other sleep paralysis episodes came and went without any terrifying hallucinations. Why was it different? The hallucination began when I thought that my strands of hair was a knife. But if the sense of danger triggered it, then why did I not see someone strangling me when I had trouble breathing the first two times? After looking at a couple of peoples experiences on line, I noticed that alot of hallucinations happen when people sleep in less fa milliar places, for example someone had sleep paralysis commonly, but only experienced hallucinations once sleeping at their friends house and another at university. For me the trigger may have been waking up in a room that was not similar to the one at home. Of course this isn't enough proof for a theory, I was just wondering if anyone had similar experiences and if there is any knowledge on the difference between normal sleep paralysis and sleep paralysis with hallucinations.


Offline carreerslut

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Sleep Paralysis - Hallucinations
« Reply #1 on: 04/08/2009 12:39:37 »
Read your post once over quickly, to put my answer in context, and first a gentle telling off.  Don't assume you know about a subject area unless you are trained or very experienced in it!  As a former psychologist I know how hard the training is, we are more grounded in scientific method than many other subjects, partly because of the now outdated impression that it wasn't a real science.  I have since studied hard sciences, and my grounding in psychology has given me the edge over seeing the holes in research and saving expriments having to be repeated because of omissions in structure.  Believe me, working with the human mind is no easy option.

You claim that everyone knows sleep paralysis is caused by stress.  Who is this 'everyone' I wonder?  I have researched extensively into this area, not least because I have been a lifetime sufferer.  Stress causes exacerbation of any disorder, not everyone who is stressed gets sleep paralysis - there is another mechanism going on.

It is common, rare in its severe form, which I have (had).  Usually connected with narcolepsy but can be isolated from it, as in my case.  There is a lot around the theory that low melatonin levels, a hormone produced when we sleep, but only in darkness, contributes.  Maybe if you are inclined to paralysis and are staying up late etc. you are sleeping with too much light in the room, we need darkness to sleep most healthily.

We dream.  We all are paralyzed when we dream.  Useful, stops us acting out the inner world we experience.  The mechanism goes wrong, some people sleepwalk, others awaken from their dream but the hormone, or whatever is causing the signal to lose muscle tone remains active, so we awake paralyzed.  We panic, wanting to breathe more deeply, the chest muscles too are lacking in tone although allowing us to breathe, hence the feeling of being suffocated.

Two things can happen in this state, we can remain conscious and paralyzed, waiting for the body to wake up, or we can re-enter the dream state we came from, still conscious but without much control.  The second method leads to the hallucinations, the feeling of terror, the common experience of something in the room or evil being around, something stopping you from breathing etc..  There is only one guarantee, you will, despite the feeling of iminent death, not remain in this state.  You will wake up fully, or go back to sleep.  The feeling of eternal paralysis is another trick of the dreaming part of the mind, which does not percieve time the same way as the waking part, and both are active at this moment.

I had a sleep study done eventually, and it was found that I was severely lacking in deep sleep, likely due to my excessive pain issues.  Not a full explanation for me, as the paralysis preceded my pain problems, but at least a sleep disorder was identified.  I was prescribed a slow acting tranquilizer which keeps me down long enough to get that deep sleep in.  Since then I have had just one episode of paralysis, one where I had actually entirely stopped breathing. As is inevitable if you stop breathing, you wake up.  Had the episode repeated I would have stopped the treatment, but it did not.  This treatment is absolutely contra-indicated for anyone who has sleep apnea, as it can cause it, as I found, but my study cleared me of that hence being given it.  No narcolepsy either.  I tended to sleep excessively in the day, but only because I was sleeping so badly at night.  I would go to bed for eight hours and wake exhausted.  The study showed why - I was actually only asleep for under five hours and then only lightly. Likely in my case the rare trip into deep sleep caused me to wake again and hence the paralysis.

It is unlikely you will be offered a sleep study just based on this symptom, but you can ask, or pay for one privately if you can afford it.  But those who assess you will be trained in psychology, so you may wish to rethink if it is worth your while. 


Offline wanhafizi

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Sleep Paralysis - Hallucinations
« Reply #2 on: 04/08/2009 13:23:01 »
I had much of that too...

For me, the best way of stopping it is to turn your head right to left continuously, making it faster and faster, soon you'll able to wake up fully  [;D]