Sleep paralysis began to be investigated relatively recently, but there is every reason to believe that it has existed for much longer – just mankind for a long time considered its attacks to be the intrigues of demons and evil spirits that attack at night. “This state is really frightening for a person, especially if he comes across it for the first time. If a person does not understand what is happening to him, then he explains this by various unscientific factors – aliens, otherworldly forces and others, ”says Alexander Kalinkin. Neuroscientist Baland Jalal notes that in such a frightening situation, the human brain tries to interpret what is happening, and can connect cultural attitudes, beliefs and memories for this: “That is why people see ghosts, demons, aliens and even fictions from the past, which seem to want to attack them. ”
In different nations of the world, you can find many examples of what we would explain today as sleep paralysis. For example, the Greek physician Paul of Aeginsky in the seventh century AD believed that Faun jumped on the chest of his victims at night. In German folklore, a mare is mentioned, which sits on the chest asleep. Similar demons ( mara ) that come at night and strangle a person were also believed in other countries – for example, in France, Iceland, Denmark and Norway. There are legends about succubus and incubus – night demons who seek to have sex with people.
The Hmong people believe in the “crushing demon” tsog tsuam . A rather creepy story is connected with it: in the late 1970s, 117 Hmong refugees who emigrated to the United States unexpectedly died in their sleep. Perhaps the refugees were experiencing tremendous stress due to the fact that in a foreign country they could not perform the usual rituals with shamans that frighten off tsog tsuam , and this affected their health. Sudden nocturnal deaths inspired director Wes Craven to create Freddy Krueger , but this is not the only possible cultural expression of sleep paralysis. The most famous illustration of this phenomenon is Johann Füssli ‘s painting “Nightmare”: it depicts a sleeping woman with a demon sitting on her chest, and a blind mare is looking at her next to her. Psychiatrist Jerome Schneck in 1969 considered that the painting depicts manifestations of sleep paralysis – and this interpretation is still adhered to. Director Rodney Asher made a documentary about sleep paralysis, where he wanted to show how people who experience sleep paralysis experience – and this is probably the scariest documentary you have ever seen.
Julia says that a couple of months ago she had especially severe attacks of sleep paralysis – the visions continued even when she managed to regain control of the body. “Quite an eerie feeling: just now you were paralyzed and suddenly wake up from screaming with the thought ‘who is screaming?’ It turns out you are. And at the same time, you have been twitching with your whole body for several minutes, ”she says. After the situation repeated the next night, Julia took action: “I drank herbal infusions, tried to listen to light music, took a bubble bath – in other words, did everything that usually helps me to relax and restore my peace of mind. I can say that it helped: sleep paralysis has not recurred since then . But even if it does happen again, it’s a signal for me that I’ve driven myself out and that we urgently need to launch an unloading operation: nothing bad is happening, you just need to be more attentive to yourself in the near future ”.
Sometimes people find their own ways to deal with the problem. “Over time, I developed a tactic for waking up faster with sleep paralysis – I tried to move the phalanx of my finger, concentrating all my attention only on this. Then I managed to move my whole finger, brush, and I woke up, – says Dasha. “After about six months, my attacks of sleep paralysis stopped as abruptly as they began, and I don’t miss him at all.”
Sleep paralysis attacks are frightening, but they are not dangerous in and of themselves – and often go away on their own over time. Sleep paralysis can be associated with insomnia or sleep deprivation , as well as a violation of the regime – for example, due to shift work or falling into a different time zone. “The factors contributing to the development of seizures are heredity (the presence of the same seizures on the maternal side), sleeping position on the back, changing time zones, sleep disturbances, and withdrawal of psychotropic drugs,” notes Mikhail Poluektov. “Accordingly, if these factors are eliminated – do not sleep on your back, do not disturb your sleep schedule – then the likelihood of developing seizures will be reduced to a minimum.”
Experts advise taking care of sleep hygiene : sleep six to eight hours, try to go to bed and wake up at about the same time, make sure that the room where you sleep is dark, quiet, not too cold and not too hot, try not to eat tightly right before bedtime, do not smoke or consume alcohol and caffeinated drinks before bedtime. Scientists note that sleep paralysis is more common in those who sleep on their backs – so you can try changing your favorite position. “If sleep paralysis is a sign of narcolepsy, then drug therapy is prescribed, which can significantly reduce this condition or eliminate it completely.”