Dr. G, I swear I’m being tortured by demons in my sleep. I can feel them grabbing my arms and legs, sitting on my chest! And I cannot move, I’m completely paralyzed. This happens every night. What is wrong with me?

While the emotional distress my patients experience can be debilitating, nothing is more terrifying than sleep paralysis. While for most of us crawling into bed at night is a calming, welcoming ritual, for my patients suffering from sleep paralysis, bedtime means night terrors.

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Sleep paralysis is a very unpleasant experience and one that may not be easily understood. While falling asleep or waking up, your brain helps the muscles in your arms and legs relax. With sleep paralysis, you regain awareness but can’t move. We do know that it occurs when rapid eye movement (REM)- based atonia perseverates into wakefulness.

In layman terms the awareness, (conscious) part of your brain, wakens up before the motor part of your brain, rendering you being awake (conscious), aware of your surroundings but unable to move or speak, in other words paralyzed.

During this period some individuals, experience ongoing dream activity, multisensorial, horrible frightening hallucinations, feeling that an entity or evil presence is in the room (visual hallucinatins) or even in your bed and/or a heavy weight on their chest (tactile hallucinations) preventing them from moving or speaking. The episode can last for a few seconds to a few minutes before you get out of the state. You can be awakened easily if someone assists you by arousing you either verbally or by gentle shaking. Although I found no evidence of anyone dying from this condition, I would think that someone with a heart condition could be at great risk.

Scattered throughout the literature, I found that there are certain condition, such as Narcolepsy, Sleep Apnea, Dissociative Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychiatric Disorders, and General Anxiety Disorder, predisposed them to this condition. However there is not enough research or evidence to confirm these claims.
Depending on their cultural and religious believes there is also the supernatural beliefs. Alien abductions. These explanations have come to light from patients themselves trying to make sense of it. However, like many other mental issues, patients are reluctant to report their experiences for fear of being judged, ridiculed or misdiagnosed with a mental illness. So this particular condition, many times goes unreported.

The fear that comes from sleep paralysis is very real to the person going through the experience.
It has been my personal experience with the patients I have seen for sleep disorders, including sleep paralysis, demonstrated some level of stress, chronic fear, fear of death, fear of going to sleep, horrific hallucinations, inability to move, The fear associated with sleep paralysis is real to the person experiencing it. First being awake, fully alert but unable to move, must be terrifying when combined with the vivid hallucinations themes of being violated physically and sexually, seeing and feeling the presence of evil malevolent intruders,

However, demonstrated in one research study 8 t0 60 percent of the general poplationn suffer from Isolated Sleep Paralysis (SP) at least once in a lifetime, while an estimated 5 percent experience (SP) on a regular basis. (SP) is surprisingly common.

The fear associated with SP appears to arise not only from individual reactions to atonia, but from the hallucinatory content as well (2, 11). Unnatural involuntary movements (e.g., levitation), autoscopy, the presence of malevolent intruders in the bedroom, and physical/sexual assaults are common SP hallucination themes (8). A patient’s construal of SP hallucinations may lead them to present for treatment in a disoriented and acutely fearful manner, and there are reports in the literature of such patients being misdiagnosed with a psychotic disorder (12). Regardless, the distressing nature of SP potentially places it within the realm of psychopathology and, indeed, preliminary links between the two have been made.

Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that the lifetime prevalence of SP is not well-known. In many available SP resources (1), only ranges of prevalence rates culled from several larger studies are typically provided. Further, our own search of the literature revealed no large scale reviews of SP prevalence rates. This lack of clear prevalence data may lead clinicians and researchers alike to overlook SP phenomena.