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Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Dark Side of Lucid Dreaming: Sleep Paralysis

Freaky Sleep Paralysis: Being Awake in Your Nightmares | Wired Science |
You wake up, but you can’t move a muscle. Lying in bed, you’re totally conscious, and you realize that strange things are happening. There’s a crushing weight on your chest that’s humanoid. And it’s evil.

You’ve awakened into the dream world.

This is not the conceit for a new horror movie starring a ragged middle-aged Freddie Prinze Jr., it’s a standard description of the experience of a real medical condition: sleep paralysis. It’s a strange phenomenon that seems to happen to about half the population at least once.

People who experience it find themselves awake in the dream world for anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes, often experiencing hallucinations with dark undertones. Cultures from everywhere from Newfoundland to the Caribbean to Japan have come up with spiritual explanations for the phenomenon. Now, a new article in The Psychologist suggests sleep researchers are finally figuring out the neurological basis of the condition.

“This research strongly suggests that sleep paralysis is related to REM sleep, and in particular REM sleep that occurs at sleep onset,” write researchers Julia Santomauro and Christopher C. French of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, at the University of London. “Shift work, jet lag, irregular sleep habits, overtiredness and sleep deprivation are all considered to be predisposing factors to sleep paralysis; this may be because such events disrupt the sleep–wake cycle, which can then cause [sleep-onset REM periods].”

In other words, you experience just a piece of REM sleep.

As David McCarty, a sleep researcher at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center’s Sleep Medicine Program, explained it, humans tend to think about the elements of the different stages of sleep as packaged nicely together. So, in REM sleep, you’re unconscious, experiencing a variety of sensory experiences, and almost all of your muscles are paralyzed (that’s called atonia).

“But in reality you can disassociate those elements,” McCarty said.

In sleep paralysis, two of the key REM sleep components are present, but you’re not unconscious.

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lucid dream girl said...

That happened to me before and I had NO IDEA what was going on. Once I was lying paralyzed in my bed in the small apartment in which I lived by myself in Japan, and I heard someone come into my apartment and walk through the whole place, banging cupboard doors and scraping chairs across the floor. I was expecting him to burst into my bedroom at any moment -- it was terrifying.

... Took me a long time to figure out it was actually a dream because it seemed so incredibly realistic.

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