Whilst this blog has absolutely nothing to do with cycling, it has everything to do with life or, more to the point, sleep – a fundamental requirement for life.
Sleep Paralysis – Anyone who has suffered from this will no doubt recognise what it is from the title, even if you never knew it has a specific medical name. For those lucky enough to have never experienced this terror, it’s basically a trapped state between dream and consciousness where the sleeper is still under muscle paralysis and vulnerable to their imagination, yet is also conscious but unable to wake up.
I’ve suffered from these since I can remember. Whilst I know it’s to do with the brain lagging behind on releasing the muscles and imagination on waking, I have no idea what causes this to happen. Some research suggests it can be made worse by irregular sleep patterns or generally poor sleep. Personally, I’m guaranteed to get them if I fall asleep during the day, which fits with the irregular sleeping theory.
One of the most frightening things about them is that even if you do manage to escape one you can easily be dragged back in. Since you are actually physically paralysed, you are unable to call for help or move any limbs. The imagination remains intact though and can let you believe/experience that you ARE screaming, or awful things are happening to you or around you. When you allow fear and panic to creep in like this it is the most terrifying experience – you basically experience your worst nightmares in a conscious, yet paralysed state. Since they are unavoidable to sufferers, the only thing you CAN do is recognise the situation, try to stay calm and work on controlling your breath as distraction until it passes. After so many years of these this is only something I’ve managed to do more successfully now, and it’s been a difficult behaviour to re-learn. Some people may experience just one or two of these in a lifetime. Others, like myself, have them on a regular basis.
I dreaded sleep as a child and would try anything to stay awake. When I explained these dreams they weren’t taken seriously, or given the appreciation they deserved for how traumatic they are. I’ve rarely mentioned them to people as a teenager or adult, since it’s embarrassing to confess that I’m afraid of sleep – I’m afraid of the dark. Besides, they were dismissed as nonsense or ‘just dreams’ when I mentioned them as a child, or once questioned as if it could be an outer-body experience, which terrified me further.
Unfortunately I recognise the same behaviour in our daughter – a little girl who is outrageously courageous and literally afraid of nothing – yet is desperate to not fall asleep and exhibits the same panic and gasp of air sometimes when she awakes. I’ve always tried to put her hatred of sleep down to other things – typical behaviour of a baby? a toddler? a preschooler? But what if she is genuinely afraid of sleep like I was? I see her struggle to wake sometimes and I wonder if she is being dragged back into one of these terrors as happens to me. Other nights or mornings she wakes with a rambling panic, desperately needing to get to and protect her favourite cuddly toy. Of course I try not to put my own fears onto my child – this cannot be a common condition – but my word her behaviour seems too coincidental now. What if these sleep experiences could be genetic?
Over the years I’ve noticed they are made worse by the following things:
– being too hot during sleep
– sleeping during daylight
– high stress levels/insecurity
They are lessened when sleeping next to someone since you know they will be able to protect you if needed, and they would wake you if there really was a fire burning, obscure creatures in the room or someone attacking you, just for example. And, since you are conscious (as well as asleep) you do have awareness of them being there, even if you can’t notify them of your need to be woken up. I’m finding it very difficult to leave my daughters side because of this, because of a glimmer of hope that by being there I’m providing at least a tiny bit of reassurance if she is indeed suffering from this weird transition from sleep to wake. However, this is not a conventional family set-up, and we have another baby due in four months – I have no idea how this will be accommodated… perhaps we just need a room covered wall to wall with bed and bedding where we can all sleep and snuggle down comfortably together!