• Leon Hawthorne Show

Sleep Paralysis


Imagine awakening to the sound of an intruder in your house. You try to jump out of bed, but your body is completely paralysed. You cannot move your hands, your legs, even your eyes. What do you do?


VIDEO SCRIPT:

Imagine being awoken by the sound of an intruder in your home. He enters your bedroom, hovers above you, but you cannot move. You cannot scream. This is sleep paralysis.


Sleep paralysis could be your worst nightmare, but for millions of people - myself included - it's a frequent reality. It happens when there is an overlap in your physiological system between dreaming and waking up.


When you dream, your brain is hyperactive and your muscles are paralysed. When you awaken, both your brain and muscle activity should return to normal, simultaneously. If you have sleep paralysis, you regain consciousness, but your body remains motionless.


PROFESSOR POUL JØRGEN JENNUM. DANISH CENTER FOR SLEEP RESEARCH.

"So, it's a condition where a person wakes up, being conscious, but with inhibited and paralysed muslces. Maybe 5%-10% of all people will experience sleep paralysis. It's a physiological phenomenon. It's not dangerous. You may feel you cannot move and even not breathe. But your breathing will persist because you have another system ensuring your respiratory function."


Sleep paralysis is frightening because you cannot move and you don't know you're still dreaming. This might last ten seconds, but you experience a detailed dream that can span hours, days, even longer. You're conscious and paralysed inside a nightmare you believe is reality.


PROFESSOR POUL JØRGEN JENNUM. DANISH CENTER FOR SLEEP RESEARCH.

"The relation between what you experience in sleep paralysis is very linked to the fact it comes from REM sleep, rapid eye movement sleep, where dream activity is very obvious. So, dreams in REM sleep are often very vivid, very associative and can contain many components, also threatening components."


Sleep paralysis has inspired many works of art and pop culture. 'The Nightmare' painted by Henry Fuseli in 1781 depicts a demon visitation, one of three common dreams in sleep paralysis. The other two: an intruder in the room; and an out-of-body experience. Combine all three and you get alien abduction.


The 'X Files' popularised stories of aliens taking humans aboard their spacecraft, where they would perform surgery before returning the victims to their beds, where no time has elapsed. This fantasy fits perfectly with what scientists know about sleep paralysis.


PROFESSOR POUL JØRGEN JENNUM. DANISH CENTER FOR SLEEP RESEARCH.

"That may be why people have associated sleep paralysis with the risk of being affected by demons or devils or anything like this. Today, we know it's part of the dream content and the fact you cannot move."


Scientists use polysomnography to record multiple brain and body signals of patients while they sleep.


PROFESSOR POUL JØRGEN JENNUM. DANISH CENTER FOR SLEEP RESEARCH.

"Brain activity, muscle activity, submental activity means we can see people snoring".


They can see episodes of sleep paralysis by cross referencing patterns of electrical activity in the brain with eye movement, muscular movement and heart rhythm.


I get sleep paralysis a few times a year, but I haven't been abducted by aliens... yet! Some unfortunate people experience sleep paralysis every night; and there is no cure.


If it happens to you, doctors advise: stay calm, breathe slowly and try to move your fingers and toes until you gain full control over your body.


From my experience, even when you know what it is, it's not easy to persuade yourself the intruder about to strangle you in your bed is a figment of your imagination.


I'm Leon Hawthorne. Sweet dreams.




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