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What is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which a person either during falling asleep (Hypnagogia) or awakening (Hypnopompia), temporarily experiences an inability to move, speak, or react. It is a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep, characterized by muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It is often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations (such as an intruder in the room) to which one is unable to react due to paralysis, and physical experiences (such as strong current running through the upper body).

Classifications

The two major classifications of sleep paralysis are isolated sleep paralysis (ISP) and the significantly rarer recurrent isolated sleep paralysis (RISP).

ISP episodes are infrequent, and may occur only once in an individual’s lifetime, while recurrent isolated sleep paralysis is a chronic condition, and can recur throughout a person’s lifetime. RISP episodes can last for up to an hour or longer, and have a much higher occurrence of perceived out of body experiences, while ISP episodes are generally short (usually no longer than one minute) and are typically associated with the intruder and incubus visitations. With RISP the individual can also suffer back-to-back episodes of sleep paralysis in the same night, which is unlikely in individuals who suffer from ISP.

It can be difficult to differentiate between cataplexy brought on by narcolepsy and true sleep paralysis, because the two phenomena are physically indistinguishable. The best way to differentiate between the two is to note when the attacks occur most often. Narcolepsy attacks are more common when the individual is falling asleep; ISP and RISP attacks are more common upon awakening.

The fear

Many people who experience sleep paralysis are struck with a deep sense of terror when they sense a menacing presence in the room while paralyzed—hereafter referred to as the intruder.

The Attack

Many people who experience sleep paralysis feel attacked, they can be pulled, choked, hit and scratched, Their bodies are dragged around the room, this is what some call ‘out of body experiences’ or ‘astral projection’, where people believe their inner body ‘soul’ is free from their body.