Monday, August 08, 2005

It's sleep paralysis, not a ghost

[started writing on Thuesday]

For the past 10 to 15 years, I have scoffed at afternoon naps just like I ignore the horoscopes, fortune telling or chain mail. Napping was (and still is) deemed a waste of good consciousness.

Over the last year, I finally saw the power of the nap. In the absence of lectures and parental nagging, my sleeping time tends to migrate toward an equilibrium position of 6am to 1.30pm. However, when a 9.30am exam pops out of the quantum foam into existence, the sleep times have to be modified drastically to allow this deformed piece into the jigsaw puzzle. Naps of varying durations could be inserted into the ‘day’ to lengthen the waking hours, thus helping make 9am to 12pm a non-sleeping period. That is the power of the nap.

I took a nap this afternoon due to a prolonged lack of sleep, but it was not very fruitful. My brain kept snapping into consciousness and would erupt into an irrelevant hive of activity before abruptly winking back into nothingness. Not the slightest bit conductive to restful sleep.

  • I woke up to yet another spurt of mental activity.

  • I could not move.

  • I tried to twitch my hands but they seemed to be restrained by some force.

  • I imagined that some sort of phantom hand was pinning me down. A panic starts to come.

  • I strained to move my hands again, this time instinctively trying to exhale at the same time as shoving.

  • I noticed my mouth was firmly in ‘half-open’ position. I could not get it to go to ‘close’. It felt as if the jaw had been rigidly bonded to the skull.

  • The panic had multiplied many-fold; it was overwhelmingly distressing.

  • The imaginary loads suddenly disappear, and I could move.

  • I found that I was still disoriented from the experience.

  • All of the above lasted less than 2 seconds. Despite the short duration, it was a frightful experience. It is very likely that one would immediately point the source of the phenomena at a kuai or succubus. However, a few minutes of post-trauma pondering convinced me that it was not the result of paranormal activity.

  • My hand did not feel any force clamping it down.

  • My muscles did not tense.

  • Hence my hand was not moving to my command not because something was resisting my muscles’ contractions, but because there were no muscle contractions in the first place.

  • The same argument can be applied to the jaw.

  • In general, it appears that the skeletal muscles were not responding.

  • These appear to be in agreement to something I have read in the past about sleep paralysis.

    The below is a cursory introduction to sleep paralysis:

    Sleep paralysis consists of a period of inability to perform voluntary movements either at sleep onset or upon awakening.

    Symptoms of sleep paralysis:
    A complaint of inability to move the trunk or limbs at sleep onset or upon awakening
    Presence of brief episodes of partial or complete skeletal muscle paralysis
    Episodes can be associated with hypnagogic hallucinations or dream-like mentation (act or use of the brain)

    There is no known explanation why some people experience this paralysis. It is not harmful, although most people report feeling very afraid because they do not know what is happening, and within minutes they gradually or abruptly are able to move again; the episode is often terminated by a sound or a touch on the body.

    In some cases, when hypnogogic hallucinations are present, people feel that someone is in the room with them, some experience the feeling that someone or something is sitting on their chest and they feel impending death and suffocation. That has been called the “Hag Phenomena” and has been happening to people over the centuries. These things cause people much anxiety and terror, but there is no physical harm.

    The condition is characterized by being unable to move or speak. It is often associated with a feeling that there is some sort of presence, a feeling which often arouses fear but is also accompanied by an inability to cry out. The paralysis may last only a few seconds. The description of the symptoms of sleep paralysis is similar to the description many alien abductees give in recounting their abduction experiences. Sleep paralysis is thought by some to account for not only many alien abduction delusions, but also other delusions involving paranormal or supernatural experiences (e.g., incubus and succubus).