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Monday
Nov232009

Sleep paralysis

It started when I was a kid. I woke up from a nap, my mind fully alert, but I couldn't move my body. I'd be aware of my surroundings, noises and movements, but no matter how hard I concentrated I couldn't move a muscle. I panicked and silently begged someone to notice, to come shake me and fully wake me up. Nobody did.

It was only a few minutes, but it felt like I spent hours like that. Paralyzed. Eventually I made myself relax and tried to drift back to sleep, and suddenly I jolted up, my body mobile again. I exercised every muscle, just to prove to myself it was real.

It doesn't happen every time I sleep, somewhat rarely actually. And usually only when I was napping, not often after a full night's sleep. It scared me, but I never knew what it was. And it happened so infrequently that I never bothered to look into it. This inability to move while fully conscious is terrifying while it's happening, but once I'm mobile again, I tend to put it out of my mind.

This morning I heard the term "sleep paralysis" on a radio show and thought, "Sleep. Paralysis. Yeah that sounds about right." So I looked it up, and sure enough, it really does sound about right. I haven't had  the hallucinations that can sometimes accompany sleep paralysis, but while I'm paralyzed, I have often wondered what I'd do if someone tried to attack me while I was in that state. I tend to think that that kind of action would jolt my brain out of it, but who knows.

The other day I fell asleep on the couch, and when I woke up I couldn't move. I could hear the Giraffe moving around having just gotten out of the shower. In my head I was screaming at him to come wake me up, to wake up the part of my brain that was still sleeping, the part that controlled my movements. He didn't hear me. It was such a lonely, terrifying feeling.

I've always had sleep problems - insomnia, poor quality sleep, etc. - and maybe this is related in some way. I guess I better mention it to my doctor next time I'm there.

Reader Comments (11)

It's so weird that you wrote about this. Drew and I laid in bed last night and talked about this very thing! It has happened to both of us a couple of times. You're right, it's a terrible feeling. Drew, of course, knew all about it already. He told me about the hallucinations, although neither one of us experienced that part. We should talk about this - there's some interesting history behind it.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

That's kind of how I felt when I woke from surgery too soon. In fact it happened each time I woke from surgery, but that's the only time I've ever experienced it.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

This happens to me, too, sometimes when I nap. I haven't hallucinated though. I just try to will my eyes to open, and scream in my head. Then I fall back asleep eventually. Weird, I never really remembered it enough to look into what it was, either. Thanks for sharing!

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

Whoa - that's creepy (not that you are, but it probably is a creepy feeling). I've never had this happen. Definitely mention it to your doctor even if it might be common.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKt

Oh my. I always convinced myself that I must have been dreaming. This is so weird. When I was a kid, I had woke up and was unable to move. I also felt like I was trapped in my room and that it had become this big pinball machine. I was so scared. There were blinking lights, flippers, bumpers and a ball. Another time, there were people in my room. They were there to take me away and I could scream or move or anything.

Wow. This brings back so many memories.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJess

That should say "could not scream or move..."

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJess

I've heard about this in relation to surgery before... a state, where your mind is awake, but you cannot speak or move. This must be such a scary feeling when you cannot communicate.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersan

I've had this experience several times. I've even had it once or twice with the hallucinations--that someone was robbing my apartment while I was lying there unable to move. It was terribly unsettling. Fortunately, it has happened in several years.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrepressed librarian

Dude! That is upsetting. I bet its' a light-sleeper thing because your mind can't go fully into deep sleep but the paralyzing thing that your brain does to keep you acting out your dreams kicks in. Because I have a medical degree and all.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwillikat

OMG, I can't even begin to imagine that! Scary indeed!

November 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commenternanette

Yikes. I only get awful feelings some-what like this when I sleep too much. Usually by going back to sleep after I've woken up in the morning. Instead of waking up fully conscious, I usually dream that my body is too heavy to move. Typically, I'll be underwater and I can't walk because I'm too heavy and the pressure is too great or something. Then I wake up feeling horrible.

November 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErica Johnston

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