Many of us have had the experience of waking up and feeling frozen for a few minutes, which can be weird at best and terrifying at worst.
If it’s just happened to you once or twice, you’ve probably assumed you weren’t really awake, but sleep paralysis — or more accurately, paralysis you feel just before or just after sleep — is real and can cause serious anxiety in those who experience it often.
Sleep paralysis has likely been around as long as sleep has. Terrifying stories of monsters and demons plaguing people, while they lay unable to move or scream, seem likely to have been hallucinations resulting from the fear of sleep paralysis.
An article in The Atlantic earlier this year explains how people used folklore and stories to explain something they didn’t have the scientific knowledge to make sense of. In Moby Dick, for example, Ishmael is frozen in fear (and maybe experiencing sleep paralysis) when he believes there is a ghostly hand within his.
"Like stumbling across a snake which turns out to be non-venomous, or circus clowns, an episode of sleep paralysis can be truly terrifying but ultimately harmless,” David Wagner, of The Sleeping Expert, tells the Huffington Post Canada.
Evidence shows that sleep paralysis doesn’t cause long-term physical harm and isn’t tied to the development of serious psychological disorders, but it is still uncomfortable.
We have the science now to explain a bit better what happens during sleep paralysis, however, more research on the topic needs to be done. Read on to find out what sleep paralysis is, how it feels, and how it can be treated.