Blog Post

Sleep Paralysis is Real, Not New Age

KW asks: "Is there any connection between the new age and something called sleep paralysis, where apparently you are sleeping but feel you are awake but can't move any part of your body?  Sometimes you feel you are in danger or that something is standing next to you that frightens you."

Great question, KW!

Sleep paralysis is a real condition that occurs when a person is passing between the stages of wakefulness and sleep. During this transition, they are unable to move or speak for up to a few minutes. People usually report feeling afraid because of this immobility, especially those who claim to experience feelings of pressure or choking. Others are also frightened by what they sense as the presence of shadowy beings around them while in this state.

It might be scary, but it's not uncommon, nor is it dangerous.

As this article appearing on WebMD explains: " . . . (S)leep paralysis is simply a sign that your body is not moving smoothly through the stages of sleep."

Sleep paralysis usually occurs at one of two times:

"If it occurs while you are falling asleep, it's called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis," the article states. "If it happens as you are waking up, it's called hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis."

Hypnagogic sleep paralysis occurs as you are falling asleep and your body is slowly relaxing in such a way that you barely notice the change. However, if you remain awake or become aware while falling asleep, you may notice that you are unable to move or speak.

Hypnopompic sleep paralysis is a bit more complicated.

"During sleep, your body alternates between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep," WebMD explains. "One cycle of REM and NREM sleep lasts about 90 minutes. NREM sleep occurs first and takes up to 75% of your overall sleep time. During NREM sleep, your body relaxes and restores itself. At the end of NREM, your sleep shifts to REM. Your eyes move quickly and dreams occur, but the rest of your body remains very relaxed. Your muscles are 'turned off' during REM sleep. If you become aware before the REM cycle has finished, you may notice that you cannot move or speak."

This is the medical explanation for sleep paralysis, but New Agers have their own definition. Some believe sleep paralysis is caused by a person's "energy body waking up."

In the book, Dark Intrusions: An Investigation into the Paranormal Nature of Sleep Paralysis Experiences, Louis Proud says sleep paralysis is a kind of cousin to mediumship. He posits the idea that the entities people sometimes sense as being near during this state are real beings who live all around us but we're unable to see them until we enter into this state. Some of these beings supposedly "feed on our life energy" and turn sufferers of sleep paralysis into "conduits" of the spiritual realm.

Some New Agers also see sleep paralysis as a kind of portal into lucid dreaming (when one is aware that they are dreaming) and astral projection.

The bottom line is that when it comes to sleep paralysis, ignore the New Age nonsense. There's nothing paranormal or celestial about it. As many as four out of every 10 people may have experienced sleep paralysis so it is not at all uncommon. It usually appears during the teen years and can run in families. Other factors that may be linked to sleep paralysis are lack of sleep, changes in sleep schedule, stress or bipolar disorder, sleeping on the back, sleep problems such as narcolepsy or nighttime leg cramps, certain medications or substance abuse.

If you're experiencing sleep paralysis, you're not losing your mind, nor are you coming into contact with extra-terrestrials. You're just having a rougher-than-normal time falling asleep or waking up.

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