Sleep Paralysis: New Review Discusses This Real-Life Nightmare

First Posted: Oct 11, 2016 05:31 AM EDT

For hundreds of years now, sleep paralysis has frightened a number of people around the world. Also called 'real-life nightmare', this phenomenon refers to episodes of waking up unable to move; not to mention the presence of creepy creatures in people's bedrooms. Various people made different interpretations on this happening; and just recently, a new review tried to explain it.

According to Live Science, there are numerous cultural explanations about the experience of waking up feeling paralyzed with strange creatures sitting on people's chest and occurrence of alien abduction. Frontiers in Psychology published such explanations of the real-life nightmare.

José F. R. de Sá of the Jungian Institute of Bahia in Brazil led the researchers for the review. They summed up stories that show how societies can make different interpretations of a single phenomenon. For instance, some parts of Brazil have folkloric tales of a creature having long fingernails and lurking on people's rooftops every night. The creature called "Pisadeira" likewise tramples on the chests of people asleep.

Spain, on the other hand, has the tale of a black animal or the "Pesanta". It invades people's homes and sits on the chests of those who are asleep. These and other similar stories explain why people experiencing sleep paralysis talk about having heavy chests. Other countries with stories like these are Canada, Mexico, Japan, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.

From a psychologist's perspective, sleep paralysis is a biological phenomenon. According to Brian Sharpless of Argosy University in Washington, D.C., dreaming and paralysis are two aspects of rapid eye movement or REM sleep. But at times, they occur while a person is awake; hence the feeling of paralysis and having a real-life nightmare. Sharpless is a clinical psychology associate professor. He was not involved in the review.

Moreover, Sharpless said sleep paralysis happens more often than most people think. Also, it normally happens when a person is waking up. It is also important to take note that during REM sleep, dreaming occurs and the brainstem inhibits motor neurons; hence paralyzing the body. Normally, dreaming and paralysis take place when people are unconscious.

During sleep paralysis, these two things happen while a person is conscious. For this reason, the real-life nightmare is technically a hallucination. It is as vivid as something people would see and feel when they are awake. In the documentary "Devil in the Room", people explained frightening episodes of this phenomenon.

Meanwhile, CBS News reported about the possible treatments and coping strategies for sleep paralysis. Basically, it occurs alongside a disrupted sleep and in people with sleep disorders. Experts say that good sleep hygiene is the best way to prevent it. Avoiding excessive alcohol and nicotine as well as food intake before sleeping can likewise help.

The review shows different interpretations of a single biological phenomenon. The researchers stressed that the aim of the review was not to belittle spiritual explanations for having the real-life nightmare, but to enhance one's knowledge about the experience and its cultural and psychological aspects.

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