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Waking Up And Feeling Paralyzed!

Mon Aug 11, 2003 8:48 pm

I don't know if any of you have experienced this, but for the past few weeks, I've been having these sensations of being paralyzed right before going to sleep and right after I wake up. It's the scariest shit I've ever felt. I woke up this morning around 5AM and I haven't been able to go back to sleep because I'm so freaked out. So I did a search and this is what I found. Anyone else have this experience? What do you do? I've read some things that suggest Sleep Apnea, but what exactly is this disorder? I notice that when I take a sleep agent such as Ambien, the effects are minimal, but if I try and sleep without medicine, it's freaky as hell. What's worse is when I happen to wake up with my eyes facing up, I see shit moving around above me.

Waking Up to Terror

Sleep Paralysis Leaves You Scared, Frozen

About a third of people with severe sleep paralysis say they hallucinate while they're frozen, sometimes picturing a shadowy figure looming over them. (Pam Veenstra/

By Claudine Chamberlain
In the words of singer Sheryl Crow, it’s “a bizarre and twisted feeling where you feel completely paralyzed.” That’s followed by terrible fear — a heart-pounding, sweaty feeling that you could die any second.
The terror that Crow described in a 1996 interview with Rolling Stone magazine is known as “sleep paralysis.” It’s a state of being awake but completely frozen, unable to move or speak. It usually strikes just after waking up, but can also occur just before falling asleep.
Crow described getting to the point “where you are sure you are going to die.” Other sufferers have nightmarish hallucinations. They see dark, hooded figures looming over them as they lie helpless in bed. Some women report feelings of being raped. Others see bright lights and swear they were abducted by aliens.

No Doctors, Please

ABCNEWS' George Strait reports on a simple way to snap out of sleep paralysis.
(download RealPlayer)
Sleep experts have long known about sleep paralysis, but research in the latest issue of the medical journal Neurology offers them a better idea of how common it is and what the risk factors might be. According to a new study, roughly 6 percent of all people have had at least one episode of sleep paralysis, while slightly less than 1 percent have at least one episode a week.
Sleep expert Dr. Maurice Ohayon and colleagues came up with those figures by asking 8,100 people in Germany and Italy about their sleep habits. Ohayon, a researcher the University of Montreal, says he would expect the prevalence rate to be about the same in other countries, too.
Few people report the problem to a doctor. “Probably, the fears of being considered mentally ill are more powerful than the will to know what was happening,” he says.
While some hallucinations may be powerful enough to trigger anxiety or depression, the study should reassure people who worry that their sleep paralysis indicates a brain tumor. Ohayon said that in most cases, sleep paralysis is not linked to neurological disease.

What’s Risky?
While 6 percent of the population may sound small, Dr. Michael Thorpy of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City says that’s fairly sizable for a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea, when breathing stops during sleep, occurs in only 4 percent of adult males. Narcolepsy registers a scant .05 percent.
In addition to finding out how common sleep paralysis is, Ohayon discovered that the problem is about five times more likely to hit people taking anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax and Valium. People on these medications may want to try a different prescription as way of treating the sleep paralysis.
For others, the problem is often tied to sleep deprivation, a consequence of being overtired. The study also found that sleep paralysis often appears as a secondary problem for people with sleep-robbing mental illnesses like severe anxiety and bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive psychosis.
Sleep paralysis strikes during the transition between dreaming sleep — called REM sleep for its telltale rapid eye movements — and being fully awake. During REM sleep, experts say, your body keeps you safe from acting out on your dreams by temporarily paralyzing you.

The Truth is Out There
Sometimes, your brain doesn’t fully switch off those dreams — or the paralysis — when you wake up. That would explain the “frozen” feeling and hallucinations associated with sleep paralysis, says Dr. Max Hirshkowitz, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston.
The effect lasts anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, but it feels like forever.
“The biggest effect is they’re scared to death, and if you add an hallucination, it’s even worse,” he says. “The very first thing to do (in treatment) is let them know it’s not going to kill them. They’re not going crazy, they’re not going to be permanently paralyzed.”
Hirshkowitz says he suspects that many people who claim to have been abducted by aliens were really just suffering from hallucinatory sleep paralysis, since the “alien” descriptions are so similar to what’s described by patients. In an era before Roswell and The X-Files, he says, people would have said they were being visited by spirits or dead ancestors.

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RE: Waking Up And Feeling Paralyzed!

Mon Aug 11, 2003 9:26 pm

Last time I took a reality check, I discovered that doctors generally knew a bit more about disorders than your average person (including me!!!!). So go see one, and if necessary get a referral. If you are studying and generally overloaded, it can cause all sorts of emotional responses, so stop trying to self-diagnose, or internet diagnose, and go talk to someone who can help. (Having said that, I appreciate that just talking to people in a forum such as this can give you some comfort - but if you are freally freaking, go see a professional for your own peace of mind. I bet you are fine and just a bit overstressed, but don't take chances.
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RE: Waking Up And Feeling Paralyzed!

Tue Aug 12, 2003 4:58 am

This study would be a good start to explaining why people 'jump' in their sleep too. You know, the dream where you think you are falling and you wake up just before you hit groud. Some people wake up but end up 'jumping' anyway. This explains a lot.

But it does not explain how someone with little stress can have the feeling of being paralyzed. Here I come, doc!

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RE: Waking Up And Feeling Paralyzed!

Tue Aug 12, 2003 7:42 am

That same thing happened to me every once in a while when I was younger, it sure was scary because if I did not fight to wake up I would fall back into another nightmare.
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RE: Waking Up And Feeling Paralyzed!

Tue Aug 12, 2003 8:16 am

I just got up from the most amazing sleep ever, thanks to some Klonipin and Ambien.......I probably won't sleep tonight, now, but I feel so much better. I have ALWAYS had high anxiety, sometimes terrible anxiety. I called my doctor this morning and told him what was going on. He said it sometimes happens in REM sleep. He said the things we dream, or rather experience can seem most vivid at this time. A lot of people have reported they feel paralyzed, especially when they have been overstressed and extremely tired. He attributed it first to my anxiety, then to my sleep deprivation I've had for the past few weeks. He up'ed my meds that I take at night and says it should help me fall to sleep better. But Damn, that's scary.
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RE: Waking Up And Feeling Paralyzed!

Tue Aug 12, 2003 1:53 pm

I am by no means a doctor, even though I don't play one on television (OK old paraphrased TV ad) but at my old age I've experienced this, and other terrors. Woody Allen has nothing on me in terms of neuroses.  Smile/happy/getting dizzy

What I think you are experiencing is simply the fact that your body is asleep for a microsecond while your mind is awake. Sounds weird but that's exactly what a doctor told me once. Anyhow, you can train yourself to enjoy it. And you are quite right, you do jolt yourself awake. It's a fear response quite similar to a step on a creaky board during the night. It will go away as you get older and is not terribly uncommon in men your age.

PS: Sleep Apnea is waking yourself up by snoring. If you have that, you've got a problem indeed. It's a case of waking up every few minutes during the night. And cut out the drugs. You were not designed to need them for any purpose.
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RE: Waking Up And Feeling Paralyzed!

Tue Aug 12, 2003 1:59 pm

I've had a similar problem on and off for a lot of my life.. I sometimes would wake up, can "tell" what is going on around me, like if the radio is playing a song, but I can't see anything and can't move my body.. To get out of it, I have to kind of force all my energy into a large spasm and I fully wake up.. It's really really scary..

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RE: Waking Up And Feeling Paralyzed!

Tue Aug 12, 2003 3:17 pm

I take certain drugs as prescribed by my Psychiatrist for certain things. Unfortunately, as with my case, I will probably have to take these drugs for a while. I'm completely a wreck if I don't have them. They are not addictive however, and I stated that I didn't want addictive drugs. Some people unfortunately HAVE to take certain medications to deal with problems.


[Edited 2003-08-12 08:18:45]
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