The Comprehensive Guide to Sleep Paralysis
A Collection of Information and Tips
Table of Contents
Alright, so this post probably looks insanely complicated and long, but I promise you that it's not. It's basically just a bunch of easy-to-understand information related to sleep paralysis (abbreviated "SP"), one of the gateways to a wake initiated lucid dream (WILD).
Sleep paralysis really isn't really a huge deal, but it can help immensely if you know the basics, then dig a bit further to learn more. Myself, I've learned this content from my experiences with SP; I hope it will help you in deciding whether you want to try out the WILD technique, improve your existing methods, or simply get some peace of mind about your own experiences with SP. This guide was made to educate you about SP and what it entails, unless of course you're already an SP expert!
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So what exactly is SP?
You're in bed, about to nod off. Eventually you become unconscious as your body starts the process of sleep. There is just one problem, however: what happens when you begin dreaming? You could be running around, fighting, or jumping off buildings, so what does this mean for your real body? Your brain recognizes that unless it does something to prevent your real body from moving, you'll mimic what you're dreaming about, which probably isn't a good thing. So, it sends out a certain message to your body, telling it to stop muscle movement. This is called sleep paralysis, and it may also be referred to as REM atonia.
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When does it occur?
Sleep paralysis happens every time you fall asleep. It is part of a a completely natural process that everyone goes through once they're unconscious and asleep.
More specifically, SP happens during "REM" (rapid eye movement) sleep, one particular part of your sleep cycle.
Occasionally, someone may accidentally wake up one morning to find themselves paralyzed and unable to move, and they may also hallucinate. This can also happen if one is just on the brink of falling asleep at night. The term "sleep paralysis" is more commonly used to identify this type of occurrence, and not the natural times it takes place every night, although both are correct. Not everyone will experience this accidental type of sleep paralysis in their lifetime, but it can always be induced (we'll get to that later).
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What are the symptoms?
If you experience SP like everyone normally does, there are no discernible symptoms because you're sleeping when it happens!
But if someone is still conscious when it happens, they may experience the following common hallucinations.
- Seeing swirling, shifting colors/shapes behind one's eyelids (called hypnagogic imagery, or "HI"). This most often happens before the onset of full-on sleep paralysis.
- Vibrations, either isolated in one part of the body or traveling from one point to another.
- Feelings of floating or falling.
- Seeing shapes, fully-formed objects or other entities in one's room.
- Hearing sounds like banging, crashing, knocking, beeping, people talking or whispering... The list goes on.
- Feeling like it is more difficult to breathe, as if something is lying on one's chest (usually only occurs if lying on the back)
- Having a rapid heartbeat.
- Feeling other tactile sensations such as being dropped through one's bed, or even feeling someone lying next to or touching them. This is a fairly uncommon type of hallucination; I happen to experience it almost every time but a vast majority of people do not.
- Feeling pain. This is a very rare hallucination. I experienced a very painful SP episode a few years ago, but I've yet to hear from anyone (including very experienced WILDers) who has gone through the same thing, so although it's possible, I wouldn't consider it anything to worry about.
There's also the possibility that you may not see, hear or feel anything at all.
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Is it dangerous?
No, sleep paralysis is not dangerous in any way, shape, or form, regardless of whether you experience it while awake or asleep. If it was dangerous, a lot of us wouldn't be waking up in the morning! The hallucinations experienced during SP while one is conscious are no different. It can be inferred that you still get them when you're unconscious, but you simply aren't mentally present to actually experience them.
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What causes waking SP?
Maybe you've experienced sleep paralysis for yourself, where you try to move but you can't. You're essentially awake, but your mind is firing off dream content because it believes you're asleep. SP is almost like a "hiccup" in your natural sleep cycle where, instead of the SP duration being directly in line with unconsciousness, it is moved over a little to create a slight overlap with the waking state. There are various causes for waking sleep paralysis, some of which include the following.
- Excessive tiredness - not getting enough sleep.
- An inconsistent sleep schedule - going to bed at 10:00 one night and 1:00 in the morning the next, or waking up at fairly different times each morning might set you up for getting SP a bit more often.
- Stress - stressing out about your job, school, or having difficulties with family members, not being able to relax.
- Sleeping on your back - sleeping in the supine position, or on your back, may cause you to experience more SP than normal. It hasn't been determined why this is.
- Narcolepsy - a sleep disorder characterized by sudden episodes of falling asleep, daytime tiredness and cataplexy.
Although it can be frightening if you enter SP without any prior knowledge of what is happening, once you know how it works, being in sleep paralysis can be an interesting (and maybe even fun) thing to experience.
Sometimes, though, an episode may be a little too uncomfortable or intense. So...
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How do I get out of SP?
Sleep paralysis occurs when your brain thinks that you're asleep. Knowing this, here are some tried-and-true methods of breaking out of the paralysis.
- Change your breathing pattern - speed up or slow down your breathing to something different than what you were doing when the SP started happening. You can also try taking a deep breath, then a short breath - an irregular pattern of breathing.
- Open your eyes - granted, opening your eyes might not work if you're in a super dark room, but if your room is decently light, the visual stimuli will snap you out of the SP in no time. Know that before it stops, you might have some visual hallucinations because you're looking around the room.
- Imagine yourself moving - imagine the sensation of moving your toes, or fingers, and imagine yourself getting up out of bed. Willing this to happen could stop the SP.
Antidepressant medications, or SSRIs (such as prozac) have been known to suppress REM sleep and are sometimes prescribed to people experiencing frequent bouts of sleep paralysis.
Those are a few ways to end or stop SP. How about intentionally entering an episode?
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What is a WILD?
A WILD, or wake initiated lucid dream, is a type of lucid dream induction technique that involves entering SP as one falls asleep, remaining conscious through the falling asleep process, and entering a dream without ever becoming unaware. It is done by remaining very relaxed and still for a period of time to trick one's mind into thinking they're asleep, after which they will enter SP and then a dream.
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How do I go about inducing SP?
There are various methods of doing so. The universal method of inducing an SP episode involves remaining motionless and as relaxed as possible for a period of time (there is no magic number when it comes to timing; people who relax extremely well will enter SP faster than those who relax less, or more slowly). The person inducing the SP is awake the entire time and doesn't fall unconscious.
The best time to induce SP is either 4-6 hours after falling asleep (in the middle of the night), or 4-6 hours after waking in the morning (during a nap). This is when our REM cycles are. Some people may stray from these numbers and try it after 3 hours, 7 hours, or go even further. I personally like WILDing during naps, after staying awake for around 3 hours, as this is the time when I'm still sort of waking up so I could fall asleep easily, yet I'm mentally awake enough to stay conscious. It may take a couple tries to find the time that's right for you, but it's worth it.
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What are common problems when inducing SP?
So, you're going to try reaching sleep paralysis, or maybe you've already tried a couple times and failed. Here are some common problems people face when trying to enter SP.
- Falling asleep too easily.
For those new to the WILD method, the main problem with trying to reach SP is accidentally falling asleep in the process. Actually, the term "falling asleep" isn't the right one to use, as the goal of a WILD is indeed to fall asleep, but you want to do it consciously. So maybe "going unconscious" would be a better word set. Although they aren't used by everyone, anchors can be helpful when it comes to staying conscious. An anchor is anything that is used to help one retain their awareness while their body falls asleep, and is most often a sound of some sort, such as white noise or the ticking of a clock.
- Spit, spit, spit.
Since the goal of SP is to stay still for some time, it can be irritating when you're so relaxed that you're starting to build up saliva - after all, you're not swallowing. This problem seems to be worst when lying on one's back, but it can be a nuisance in any position. You have three simple options here:
1. Drool. If you're on your stomach or side, tilt your head so that your mouth is more towards the pillow. While it may not be pleasant, it's an easy way to solve the saliva problem.
2. Swallow. This sounds counterproductive, but if you don't think about swallowing at all and just do it automatically or without much thought, still staying relaxed, it is much more beneficial than stressing out or constantly worrying about saliva building up.
3. Prop your head up. Especially if you're laying on your back, saliva can tend to pool up in the back of your throat. Increase the incline of your head and neck so that you're slightly more upright, and the saliva may naturally go down your throat without you feeling it.
- Being uncomfortable.
The first time you attempt a WILD, you may become uncomfortable rather fast, as you're probably not used to lying still for long periods of time. You could get a horribly annoying itch, or your limbs could feel like they're falling asleep. When WILDing, however, you should take your attention completely away from your physical body. In my opinion, the mental aspect - trying to keep your mind as calm as possible - is just about as important as physically staying still. I've found that getting to SP is easiest when I'm just on the brink of falling asleep, but I have that small bit of awareness still. As I mentioned in the How do I induce SP? section, I like to induce it when I'm in a certain mental state, not just a physical one. When you completely relax your mind and let it wander just enough to keep your attention internalized, not focused on your body, it can help tremendously in taking attention away from discomfort.
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Tips and tricks for reaching SP
Hot water bottles help.
If you find that your limbs are getting numb and stiff from being still for too long, put a hot water bottle near or against them.
Studies show that being in a cool room helps facilitate sleep faster than being in a warm one: our core body temperatures naturally become cooler when we're asleep. Whenever I'm in a cooled-down room (around 60 degrees Fahrenheit), I hit sleep paralysis within a matter of minutes... I even reached SP while sitting almost upright on a couch.
Meditation and stretching.
It's a very good idea to meditate, relax, and stretch before a WILD attempt. This can help reduce the time needed to reach sleep paralysis because your mind can be cleared of many intrusive thoughts, and your body will not be as stiff - stretching is especially recommended for WBTB (wake back to bed) WILD attempts in the middle of the night.
If you're impatient waiting for the SP to set in, imagine yourself walking up a set of stairs, counting each step you take. Imagine feeling the ground beneath your feet, and "look around" at the location you're imagining. There are many different variations of this, like imagining yourself running along a road and hitting numbered question blocks, mario-style.
Another way to daydream is actually start thinking nonsensical thoughts. When you're close to falling asleep or very tired, do you ever suddenly catch yourself thinking strange things? This means you're about to drift off. Thinking weird thoughts can help speed up the falling-asleep process, but don't think them forever - you don't want to go too far and end up going unconscious! For more info on how to do this effectively, have a read through Jeff777's guide
While still on the topic of guides, Mancon's
has a lot of tips as well.
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Thanks for reading!