I found a new word the other day that I’ve really taken a liking to because it seems to fit me so well. An ultracrepidarian is someone who babbles on endlessly about things that they know very little about. That’s me. . .just ask Mrs. BG. At the very least, it’s good to know that there’s a name for people like me that sounds better than windbag.
Sleep paralysis is the subject I’m demonstrating my ignorance about today, but even though I didn’t know a lot about it before I began working on this post, there is one thing I definitely did know: I’ve had instances of it many times myself. It hasn’t appeared in years, but when I was younger I was getting visited by the sleep monster on a regular basis, and it was a scary experience.
Apparently there are a lot of variations in how it affects people. In my case I’d be sleeping normally and then suddenly feel like I was awake, but unable to open my eyes or move. Naturally enough, I’d immediately go into panic mode and frantically try harder, which would eventually result in me being able to wiggle just one foot. I would then put all my attention into it and move it as hard and fast as I could to try to wake myself completely up. Of course, I had no way of knowing if everything was a dream or I really was wagging my foot, but I’d usually wake up pretty quickly. After calming myself down I’d be able to go back to sleep normally. I never had it consistently — maybe once a month at the most — but it did get familiar enough to me that my half-awake self would think, ‘what, this again?’. And I wouldn’t be quite as panicky as with the earlier bouts, but I still wasted no time in starting the foot bounce thing because it was still an unpleasant state to be inhabiting.
In an effort to better understand it I’ve looked into the subject and have discovered a few things. It’s most common in young adults (hooray, a good reason to get old!) and usually when they’re tired and/or stressed, just like many other sleep disorders. They say it’s caused by a sort of short-circuit in how your brain normally handles things. When you’re deeply asleep your brain tells your muscles to not move — a state called called atonia — so that you won’t flail around and hurt yourself, or worst-case scenario, become a sleepwalker. But sometimes you begin to wake up and it doesn’t quite make the right connection, so your body remains in atonia. Panic ensues.
At that point, the experience varies widely and it sounds like my bouts are among the milder ones. Luckily I don’t remember ever experiencing the extremes some people have reported. Many feel they can open their eyes and they then hallucinate scary creatures lurking nearby, or in some cases feel pressure that translates to a monster sitting right on their chest. In earlier years it was thought to be caused by demons and the like, and in fact a common name for sleep paralysis is ‘old hag syndrome’ — but they weren’t talking about a crazy old lady but rather the ancient name for a certain type of evil creature. In modern times, many people imagine they are being abducted by aliens, especially those sleepers who also feel that they’re levitating. But I’m still undecided about one thing I read. It seems that a lot of people can sometimes twitch fingers or toes, or a foot like me, but experts don’t think it makes a difference in how soon you wake yourself up. How would they know?