Sleep paralysis: Deadly nightmare or horror story?

Sleep paralysis, although terrifying, will not kill you. The position in which you sleep can be the cause of nightmares.

Sleep paralysis
Picture for representation Facebook/Arts From The Darkness

Imagine waking up and finding yourself unable to breathe. You feel a dark presence near you, you want to scream but your chest is so tight that no sound comes out. The presence hovers around your bedside, you fight to break out of it, but you feel helpless. This weird phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis.

When we dream, the brain switches off our ability to move so we don't injure ourselves acting out those dreams. When we wake up, it switches back on again. Sometimes the switch is out of sync and we wake up paralyzed.

"It's often a terrifying experience not only because of the paralysis but also with the hallucinations that come along with it," says Brian Sharpless, Clinical Psychologist of Pennsylvania State University who specializes in sleep paralysis research. He says that hallucinations vary but come in three general types.

The first is said to be "The intruder", an approaching evil presence, the second is "The Incubus", something pressing on your chest, choking or assaulting you. Finally, there is levitation, the sensation of being lifted off the bed and being transported elsewhere.

Sleep paralysis is thought to be responsible for numerous terrifying night time experiences which people believe to be visitations. They find witches, demons, and ghosts as an explanation of these experiences. Many times, the conclusion of reported alien abductions have been related to a sleep paralysis experience. IBTimes Singapore brings you 5 facts that will tell you a little more about sleep paralysis.

You will wake up.

Sleep paralysis and the terrifying experience may make you feel like this is it, but you will wake up. It is only temporary and causes no physical harm to the body. Neither are there any clinical deaths known to date.

It can happen to anyone and everyone.

Most people have at least one episode at some point in life but aren't even aware of it. However, the severity and degree of consciousness vary greatly. When it does happen, it's highly individual and rarely the same experience for everyone, said Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist. A Pennsylvania State study found that the highest prevalence rates were in students and psychiatric patients.

Every time you go to sleep, there is some risk of waking up in sleep paralysis, says Breus. But severity and degree of consciousness vary greatly — most people have at least one episode at some point in life but aren't even aware of it. When it does happen, it's highly individual and rarely the same experience for everyone.

An opposite disorder.

If the brain fails to induce muscle atonia in a sleeper, they might physically act out their dreams. This is known as a rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder. Unlike sleep paralysis, this can cause injury to the sleeper or anyone in their way.

Sleep position matters.

The position in which you sleep decides if you are likely to experience a nightmare or not.

Professor Shelley Adler writes in her book, "Since lying in a supine position is five times more likely during sleep paralysis than during normal sleep, people hoping to prevent the disorder are advised to avoid sleeping on their backs."

A 2004 study conducted by sleep researchers at Turkey's Yuzuncu Yil University found that 40.9 percent of people who slept on their left side suffered nightmares while only 14.9 percent of right-side sleepers suffered the same.

Paralysis might just serve a purpose.

Whatthefat explains a theory as to why this may be true. During dreams, the brain seems to actually simulate scenarios and respond to them as though it were awake. Various hypotheses have been put forward, e.g., this allows the brain to simulate and explore scenarios or ideas that it could not easily do or which could potentially be dangerous to do during wakefulness.