Sleep Paralysis Causes Next Day Distress

What about the Next Day? 

What if I told you that this fun little experience of Sleep Paralysis actually did affect you. What if your emotions, personality, and general demeanor were completely altered. While reading Science Daily last week, I stumbled upon a very interesting article on Sleep Paralysis. Two researchers, James Cheyne and Gordon Pennycook, released findings from a study in the Clinical Psychological Science Journal, concluding that Sleep Paralysis affects an individuals’ interactions with the world the next day in a negative way.

The Study

By using an online survey and follow-up emails, the two researchers collected information from 293 people  to explore post-episode distress by measuring a range of items. They measured different characteristics relating to the episode itself, such as amount of fear experienced, vividness of experiences, frequency of episodes. They also looked at factors relating to each individual, such as psychological distress sensitivity, supernatural beliefs about the Sleep Paralysis experience, and cognitive style (either fast/intuitive thinking or  slow/reflective/analytic thinking (Evans, 2008)).

The Findings

Concurring with their proposed hypothesis, the researchers found that the characteristics of the episode directly related to the amount of distress the next day. The more fear experienced during the episode, the more distress an individual felt the next day. The distress was further exacerbated in those who felt fear of threats or assault, such as chest pressure, intruders, and near-death experiences. The distress was also worse for people who felt sensations of floating, falling, or out-of-body experiences (Cheyne, 2013)

The researchers also found that an individuals level of psychological distress (anxiety, depression) had had almost no effect on the amount of fear experienced in the episode, although it still resulted in post-episode distress.

Individuals who held supernatural beliefs about the Sleep Paralysis experience reported increased intensity of both fear and threat/assault experiences as well as increased postepisode distress compared to others. Additionally, those with analytic cognitive styles were found to have significantly less supernatural beliefs about the experience. This makes sense, for people with analytical thinking styles would reach out to others for more information and explanations on the experience, dissuading them from supernatural interpretations (Cheyne, 2013).

Surprising to the researchers and myself, those who employ more analytic cognitive styles of thinking experienced noticeably less distress after the Sleep Paralysis episode. Although the above findings directly show this, these results now show the ability of executive control processes in our brains to inhibit, activate, or manage more automatic processes, such as emotional reactivity after the episode. Therefore, analytic people are more likely to override their postepisode feelings of distress.This is further  supported by the findings that individuals the cognitive style had no affect on the  level of fear experienced during a particular episode (Cheyne, 2013).

What Are The Implications?

There are many important implications of this study. According to a post in the Toronto Telegraph, the researchers believe that “the distressing sensory experiences that come with episodes of Sleep Paralysis could exacerbate people’s fear, creating a feedback loop that enhances memories of experiences later”. This is very well supported from the results presented above, for analytic people must inhibit part of the loop preventing the enhancement of the memory later on.

Although a little far-fetched for the current amount of knowledge on Sleep Paralysis, the researchers also emphasize that studying these carryover effects further could “make a significant contribution to the billions of dollars, worldwide, in costs associated with accidents, illnesses, and lost productivity associated with sleep disturbances.”

I believe them- they’ve definitely found interesting correlations, and I applaud them for what they have found- but A LOT more research from other fields-like Neuro- will definitely be needed to truly achieve this goal.


Chest Demons Revealed- The Story Behind Sleep Paralysis

The Scary and The Truth

The Experience

As you lie in your bed and feel your muscles start to slowly relax, you expect your mind-wandering off into dream land-to shortly follow. All of a sudden you realize that you are still awake, but you cannot move. Everything starts to spin and distort, you start getting hot, your chest starts feeling heavy, and you start freaking out. Human nature quickly begins to scream at you to escape; to somehow wake up and just end the nightmare. So you-in your completely conscious state-try with all your might to move just one finger, kick one leg, or just swing one arm over your body, knowing your success would bring you back from the mysterious hell in which you’ve found yourself. Welcome to the world of Sleep Paralysis.

The History

First like to start off by stating, Sleep Paralysis is NOT dangerous. Yes, that horrifying, mind-altering experience explained above is not dangerous, nor is it the result of little Incubus demons sitting on your chest as you sleep-Yes, our ancestors really did believe this. Sleep Paralysis is actually a protective mechanism used by our bodies to pretty much stop us from doing stupid stuff to ourselves while resting. You might wonder, Well, how does someone sleepwalk, then? The answer, my friends, is they have a problem with the exact same system that causes Sleep Paralysis: Where Sleep Paralysis sufferers cannot move their muscles when their minds are still awake, Sleepwalkers cannot stop moving their muscles when their minds are asleep.

Behind Paralysis

Sleep paralysis occurs when Peripheral Atonia comes into the dreamer’s consciousness accidentally. Peripheral Atonia is basically a lack of normal tension or muscle tone, resulting in the perception of paralysis. This mechanism is the primary means of inhibiting movements during REM and non REM sleep. Originally believed to be the result of the neurotransmitter Glycine, more recent work has shown blocking Glycine receptors fails to affect Atonia, leaving the mysterious mechanism of paralysis unknown (Brooks, 2008). Furthermore, many people report the eyes to be the only muscles unaffected during the paralyzed state, leaving one able to view the 180 degrees of the visual spectrum, but unable interact with the world around them.

The Phenomena 

Not everyone experiences sleep paralysis,  it could happen only once or many times in a persons life, and can occur more than once during rest. 60% of the population has experienced Sleep Paralysis at least once, whereas 6% experience it quite frequently. Additionally, there are two types: Hypnagogic Paralysis occurs when one tries to go to sleep, whereas Hypnopompic Paralysis occurs upon waking up. Overall though, the most interesting aspect of the experience  is what you perceive, and apparently it varies quite drastically.

Some people hear voices, sometimes of a threatening or terrifying nature, reminiscent of the auditory hallucinations of schizophrenics. Some of the more common phenomena are heaviness on the chest and feelings of suffocation. Other experiences are weird alterations of 3D depth perception, strange or familiar smells or tastes, feelings of levitation, tactile hallucinations, feelings of heat, or visual hallucinations of shadows, people, or intruders (Peters, 2012).

Personally, I have experienced a variety of phenomena during Sleep Paralysis. I’ve heard a woman shrieking, felt my entire body

begin vibrating, seen a shadow of a woman moving towards me in the dark, and quite enjoyed  John Lennon-a black-and-white poster  on the opposite wall of my bedroom- kneeling at the side of my bed upon waking one morning.

The position of  your body, and the timing of sleep can also affect the chances of experiencing Sleep Paralysis (Cheyne, 2002). Many find paralysis most common when they fall asleep sitting upright, an experience that kept my childhood Car and Airplane rides personally quite frightening, while rather entertaining for everyone else. When failing to stop myself from sleeping, I quite successfully astounded others who believed me to be asleep, by regurgitating entire conversations after forcing myself out of the paralyzed state.

The Emotional Effect

Although I’ve emphasized Sleep Paralysis is not physically dangerous, there are emotional implications. The frightening, terrifying, life-threatening, feelings experienced during the Paralysis not only affect an individual at that moment in time, but also affect a persons mentality and emotions afterwards. In the post to follow, I will explore a recent study on Sleep Paralysis, finding that the distress experienced during the event might actually carry over to the next day, affecting your personal interactions with the world around you.