Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sleep Paralysis

Bedeekin from the Astral Pulse forum took the time to create the following write-up about sleep paralysis. I have experienced sleep paralysis hundreds of times over the last 20 years. It was only in the last 8 years or so that I began to fully piece everything together in terms of what was occurring during these experiences. Based on my own direct experiences and research, not only is this write-up accurate, but it will no doubt be immensely helpful to those that are currently sorting our their own experiences with sleep paralysis. Many thanks to Bedeekin for his efforts.

The text below was cut and pasted (with permission) from Bedeekin's post at Astral Pulse.

A little Introduction

First off I will tackle Sleep Paralysis (SP) also known as Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis (RISP) from its physical reality side rather than its NPR side. Both are intertwined at equal degree, but the sensations encountered are primarily physical in nature being interpreted by your NPR sensibilities. Put another way; it is a dual-consciousness state. The sensations felt and in turn manifested through NP interpretation can be very overwhelming. The function of this little article is to help you link those sensations to normal functions of the body and hopefully dissipate the fear commonly encountered. I have written about SP several times and therefore researched it for many years and will pull form those writings in order to construct this treatise with objective reasoning and available scientific information. I have also experienced it for a lot longer so can also assess the phenomena subjectively due to many years of experimentation.  

The cultural history of SP

SP comes under several names in modern western culture such as; Second State, Phase State and Vibrational or Vibratory state to name but a few. However our modern terms have nothing on the abundance of descriptions given to it by other cultures throughout history. The term ‘nightmare’ for instance, now used to describe a bad dream or unpleasant situation stems from an old English term of Germanic origin ‘maere’ meaning ‘Goblin’ or ‘Incubus’. It wasn’t until the 1300s that it appeared as ‘nigt-mare’, as a roughly shortened version of the descriptive ‘the mare who comes in the night’. Old English folk-law also used the term ‘The Old Hag” and the process of this as being ‘Hag Ridden’. It is thought that the Salem witch trials of 1692 that resulted in 19 executions and 150 accusations may have been fueled by locals reporting SP. 

The perceived presence that often accompanies SP has been given many names and is often associated with the beliefs of the culture. In Turkey SP is called Karabasan, which means “dark presser or assailant” and the presence referred to as a Djinn, a nighttime demon of Islamic faith that can be banished by reciting certain lines of the Qur’an.  Pakistan culture calls it Bakhtak or the IfritIn and is associated with black magic performed by enemies or jealous people. In Thai folk-law it is the Phi Am. The people of New Guinea refer to it a Suk Ninmyo, believed to originate from sacred trees that requires human essence to sustain its life yet is not thought of as evil in nature. In Hungarian folk culture SP is called Lidércnyomás and the presence is attributed to several entities such as faeries, Wraiths and witches. One is called Ördögszeretö, which means ‘Demon Lover’.

Other cultures describe the crushing or pressing down sensation. In Japan SP is called Kanishibari, which literally means ‘Bound or fastened in metal’. In Mongolian culture it is referred to by the verb-phrase Khar Derakh, meaning, “to be pressed by the Black” or “when the Dark presses”. In Vietnam it is called ma dè meaning ‘held down by a Ghost” or bóng dè meaning “held down by a shadow”. In Bangladeshi it is referred to as boba meaning “Speechless”. In Arabic culture SP is called Kaboos, which means “pressers”, or Ja-thoom, meaning “what sits heavily on someone”. These examples are a relatively small selection of many more cross cultural references. There are probably names for SP and their associated sensations for every culture throughout human history that have been lost. 

So what is Sleep Paralysis?

Many people associate SP with being a necessity for experiencing NPMR. This is a fallacy. True, it is a direct route into the altered state of consciousness that IS ‘nonphysical’, but far too often it is lingered and pondered upon much to the distraction of the uninitiated. It can actually be said that SP is not meant to be experienced. If it were, there wouldn’t be a plethora of anesthetic mechanisms naturally put in place that cause us not to experience it. Usually SP is an unconscious process that happens when we enter REM sleep that inhibits us from acting out our non-physical incursions. It is a natural physical anesthetic. The medical term for this process is REM atonia (atonia meaning a lack of muscular tension). Being aware of this state that the body has put so much effort into concealing is what we experience as Sleep Paralysis. I will add here that sleepwalking isn’t an REM state phenomenon but rather takes place during Slow Wave Sleep State. 

Why do I get Sleep Paralysis?

To understand why a little better we need to briefly discuss the sleep stages. When we go to sleep we enter 4 stages of slow wave or Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Stage1, also called transitional sleep lasts only a few minutes until it evolves into our “baseline” stage 2 sleep. It is from this stage that next 3 stages develop.  Stage 2 takes up approximately 50 – 65% of our sleep time. Within 15 to 20 minutes we have slowly evolved into stage 3 then stage 4, which is marked by Delta Sleep that has the same brain wave pattern as a coma.  After these stages that last approximately 20 – 30 minutes We suddenly slip back into a very brief stage 2 (which is often marked by what can be called a micro-wake) and almost immediately change gears into a the very active brain wave pattern known as Paradoxical or REM sleep. Our heart rate and respiration increases substantially and we lose our ability to use our skeletal muscles known as striated muscles.

Sleep Paralysis occurs when we have previously slept through our slow wave sleep stages and wake for a period before attempting sleep or during REM sleep without breaking brainwave pattern.  This is not always the case and it takes the right amount of slow wave sleep and conditions for SP to manifest.  SP usually follows after a period of wakefulness from slow wave sleep that is marked by Sleep Inertia. Put another way, one will most likely experience SP after waking up from a dreamless nap that leaves one groggy, itchy eyed, likely to want to return to sleep and shivery; this is due to the drop in body temperature during the end of stage 4 sleep. Attempting to go to sleep forces one to instantly enter REM while still relatively conscious. 

If SP is entered involuntarily it has usually gathered enough hypnogogic (subconscious) thought to contain more hallucinatory qualities. If SP is induced by using a short focused meditation the hallucinatory qualities will be less evident and the sensations can be viewed (or ignored) objectively.

So what are all these sensations about?

As we discussed above there are many sensations that bring about the cultural names attributed to SP and those described in the posts on this forum. These can be broken down into four main types.

•   Tactile sensations
•   Auditory sensations
•   Visual hallucinations
•   Perceived presence 

Tactile sensations.

The main sensations felt during SP are commonly a buzzing or vibrational feelings in parts or throughout the body, the uncomfortable feelings of being pushed down or having a ‘lead blanket’  (asphyxiation) over ones body and the inability to move (paralysis). However it isn’t true paralysis. Paralysis is the total blockage of nerve messages sent to and from the brain. The partial paralysis during SP (REM atonia) is a one-way blockage (called neuron depolarization) of receptors turned off going to the muscle; and only striated (bone connected) muscles. This is REM atonia. As mentioned before, This ensures that we don’t act out our NPR activities yet retains the ability to still receive feedback to the brain in case we are in trouble physically; like someone entering the room or a predator attacking us. During SP we are aware of this normally unconscious feedback from our muscles. When in REM atonia the one way signal is extremely low and rather than being a flowing sensation (one that we don’t notice in waking life) it is staccato or strobe-like in nature and feels like an electric impulse. In fact, that is exactly what it is; low frequency electric impulses. This gives us the vibrational sensation. When we are calm and focused these vibrations are very subtle and can feel very gentle – very much like Nitrous Oxide intoxication. If we are fearful of the experience or panic our body releases adrenaline which stimulates the heart, pumping blood around the body causing violent and overwhelming vibrational buzzing. 

The lead blanket or pressing is also caused by the REM atonia.  As we mentioned it’s only striated muscle neurons that become depolarized leaving them unable to be controlled voluntarily. These include the intercostal muscles between your ribs. Involuntary breathing is autonomous during REM and is controlled entirely unconsciously by the hypothalamus in the brain and is carried out by the diaphragm muscles that aren’t bone connected. When you panic or try to breath voluntarily during SP you are in effect fighting your brains automatic breathing system using paralyzed muscles; leading to the sensation of being sat upon or pressed down.   

Auditory sensations.

There are a plethora of sounds heard during SP such as Rumbling, buzzing, screaming, whistling, banging, electronic pulsing, footsteps, babbling, crying, laughing, white noise, ringing, a boing 747, wailing, whispering, words, sentences, marching, breathing, heart beat…. I could go on. While most of them are subjective and may be NPR in nature there are specific physical phenomena that occurs in the middle ear during REM that causes most of the vibratory, rumbling and buzzing noises.

Your middle ear consists of three little bones (the smallest bones in the body) that are hinged to allow for the passage of vibrations into your inner ear or cochlea. These bones have a really clever dampening mechanism that kicks in whenever a loud sound like a clap or bang is heard. 

Go into a quiet room, clap your hands and you should hear a slight rumble in your ear during and after. 

This is performed by your bodies smallest bone connected muscle (can you see where I’m going here?)  called the Timpani Tensor muscle. Some people can voluntarily tense this muscle causing the rumbling heard when you clapped. 

During REM atonia these muscles naturally vibrate due to the depolarization and because they are part of your auditory system can be actually heard. The onset of SP is usually marked by little spasms of these muscles creating intermittent bursts of tickly rumbling. It can be quite pleasant.

Visual Hallucinations.

Our eyes and eyelids aren’t controlled by bone connected muscles. This is why it’s called REM – rapid eye movement. But although they aren’t paralyzed they cant be moved very efficiently. This is why when one tries to open the eyes it is difficult to focus and indeed keep them binocular. What happens is akin to a ‘magic eye’ picture or any 3D effect. Your eyes naturally grab shadows and patterns that cause your eyes to bring two separate spots of darkness together – like a dark corner in your bedroom and a shadow caused by a cabinet or other object in the room next to it – causing a 3D effect. The shadow literally jumps out, proud of the surroundings. Now, couple this with the fact that you are also being fueled by fear and creating forms non-physically and you have yourself a perceived shadow creature. 

Perceived presence or ‘the intruder’

This is the most commonly reported aspect of SP yet is also the least specific and perhaps the most fundamental.  The terror that accompanies it is extremely common.  It is difficult to assess whether the sense of presence brings on the fear or whether the fear generates the sense of presence. 

There are many variations of the presence… sometimes it is out of sight, just around the corner and sometimes fully realized in glorious HD. It is fair to assume that the latter is a nonphysical manifestation brought on by fear of the unknown. 

To describe the process neurologically would require a bit of knowledge in neuroscience. I’ll try to explain without getting too technical. 

Studies show that when a person is experiencing SP the cortical center lights up like a pinball machine. The function of the cortical center is the synthesis and making sense of available stimuli. This part of the brain is normally on full power during waking life, but when in SP the information received is purely internal and filtered through the Amygdala, which is the raw emotional centre of the brain. The sense of presence is believed to be formed by this stimulation of the Amygdala by bursts originating in the Pontine Reticula formation (responsible for sleep-awake cycle). In normal ‘emergencies fear reactions’ the immediate sense of danger is quickly confirmed or disconfirmed. In the absence of outside stimuli, attempts to analyze the source of the fear will inevitably fail to produce corroboration. But the fear is originating  from within so what would normally last a second or two continues throughout the SP episode as a prolonged and rising sense of fear of your fear.

To put it very basically if you glazed over , you are sensing your fear sensing you sensing your fear sensing you sensing your fear and so on and so forth… a type of biometric feedback.

How can I stop the fear?

The way to fully put an end to the fear is to stop the SP process entirely. To play the 'get out of jail free' card either wiggle your toes, fingers or simply jerk your whole body physically. It takes a bit of willpower but is highly effective. 

If you wish to carry on using SP as your springboard to NPR, You can meditate and focus yourself not to enter SP while you are thinking subconscious or hypnogogic thoughts. Maintain concentration.

Another way to overcome SP is by practice and repeated exposure to it.

There are many members here who can guide you to defeat the fear, whether through your belief or by pragmatic explanation.


SP is not a prerequisite for experiencing the NPR and can be avoided by not trying to phase or practice after a short nap. Although it is a direct root it can be a massive distraction and as I have explained most of the sensations are physical in nature. Your task is to direct your focus away form your physical, almost by performing a mock slow wave sleep (meditation/phasing) exercise.

Please be aware that this article is purely based on the physical phenomenology present during SP and in no way attempts to explain the more sublte non-physical interactions that may take place.

Please feel free to ask more questions as I have only explained the basics.

I will periodically update this post.



Ohayon,M.M.,Zulley,Guilleminault,C.andSmirne,S. - Prevalence and pathological associations of sleepparalysis in the general population.Neurol.,1999,52:1194–1200.

Jean-Christophe Terrillion - Does Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis Involve More Than Cognitive Neurosciences? Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 15, No. 1, p. 97–123, 2001 

Anna Pissiota - Fear, Startle, and Fear-Potentiated Startle, Probing Emotion in the Human Brain. Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of SocialSciences 127

William H. Cooke - Justice at Salem, Reexamining the Witch Trials.

Cheyne, J.; Rueffer, S.; Newby-Clark, I. (1999). "Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Hallucinations during Sleep Paralysis: Neurological and Cultural Construction of the Night-Mare". Consciousness and Cognition 8: 319–337.