Ever wake up and it feels like your mind woke up but your body didn't? Now that's a nightmare in real time, and it can happen to anyone. And one that a team of film producers has made the subject of their documentary.
The phenomena is called sleep paralysis, which is characterized by a waking from REM sleep but the body remains paralyzed (it is supposed to be paralyzed in REM-so you do not act out your dreams!). People who've experienced this, as chronicled in the film, report seeing or hearing a shadowy presence entering their room and approaching their bed. Feelings of dread descend but they are unable to cry for help. Some experience choking or chest squeezing to the point they think they are going to die. Not good.
Examinations into how and why this happens have turned up some interesting findings. People who experience sleep paralysis share a few things:
• They are often under the age of 25.
• They are usually sleep deprived.
• There appears to be a connection between sleep paralysis and post-traumatic stress.
• Improving sleep hygiene can help alleviate reoccurring sleep paralysis. So can talking about their experiences. Prayer and positive thinking also seems to help.
• It happens to almost everyone!!!
What do I think? I think this is an area that deserves more attention and study. It's a shame that some doctors whose patients are brave enough to report their sleep paralysis can brand them as having a schizophrenic or psychotic episode.
Maybe this film will offer some observations for researchers to use. Good thing it wasn't spun into a horror flick, though that probably could have made more money.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor