Sleep paralysis: not so uncommon

Although it sounds terrifying, sleep paralysis is a phenomenon that happens to ordinary people at some point in life. If you had an experience similar to what you are about to read, it doesn’t mean that you have a psychological problem, nor that it was only a dream.

I decided to write about sleep paralysis because I have come across many people who experienced it and didn’t know what it was. Many of them were frightened and tried, over the years, to find some explanation for what had happened. And the truth is there isn’t that much material to explain it and help you deal with such an experience. There are little studies on the subject. One of the psychologists that have been interested in sleep paralysis and have written about it is Dr. David J. Hufford. In his book, “The Terror That Comes in the Night” released in 1982, he explains the phenomenon in detail and adds that is actually experienced by many more people than we believe.

Sleep paralysis is a state of both the body and the mind, in which the body acts like it is sleeping, but the mind awakes. This state is usually experienced either right before we fall asleep, or just before we wake up in the morning. Most of the people feel terror when in the state, as they cannot move, or speak. Many of them report having hallucinations during that time and report that they feel a heavy pressure on the chest that is suffocating them. Some people remain in sleep paralysis state for seconds, but for others, it can last up to 10 – 15 minutes.

Scientists haven’t yet figured out the mechanism of the sleep paralysis. It is not known what triggers it, or how it can be stopped. It is not known if it has something to do with genetics, or what kind of activities in the brain makes it more likely to occur. Still, the folklore of a great number of cultures mentions the phenomenon under different names, but with the same descriptions. In the United States, it is described as “the old hag”. In Northern Europe, the people have the myth of the “mara” spirit. In Hungary, sleep paralysis is called “lidércnyomás”, which means “lidérc pressing”, where the lidérc is an evil spirit. In Eastern Europe the phenomenon is known under the names of “Vrachnas” (Greece) or “Strigoi” (Romania).

Dr. Hufford advices that if this is something that you experience, you can try minimizing effects by avoiding sleeping on your back, avoid losing hours of sleep for several days in a row and try to minimize the level of stress you are dealing with on a daily basis.

Most important, sleep paralysis is not a pathological mental condition if not associated with other mental symptoms. In other words, you are not crazy.

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Mara is a life coach and soon, she will be a psychotherapist. She has been involved in several wellness projects and is now here for you. She will give you hints on how to reach that healthy lifestyle you always wanted. Ask Mara a question and she might just answer in one of her articles. To contact Mara, e-mail her at

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