The nightmare of waking

Photo by CRISTINA DE LA TORREGraphic by BARBARA KOLB and MADELENE BIRENBAUMreshman Irma Nayeli Rondin-Valle, majoring in international studies and a minor in anthropology/sociology, demonstrates the symptoms of sleep paralysis, which includes hallucinations of dark figures.

Photo by CRISTINA DE LA TORRE
Freshman Irma Nayeli Rondin-Valle, majoring in international studies and minoring in anthropology/sociology, demonstrates the symptoms of sleep paralysis, which includes hallucinations of dark figures.

By CRISTINA DE LA TORRE

It’s the middle of the night, and you are awakened by a great pressure on your chest. Your eyes randomly open. As you look around the room, you realize you can’t move your body. There seems to be a great pressure on top of you, as if someone or something is sitting on your chest and holding you down. You try to scream for help but can’t seem to find your voice. You start to hear benevolent laughter, and your heart races. You close your eyes trying to tell yourself to wake up from this nightmare when all of a sudden the pressure is gone.

What you just experienced was not a nightmare but a case of sleep paralysis.

According to the Rainier Biobehavioral Institute, “Sleep paralysis consists of a period of inability to perform voluntary movements either at sleep onset (called hypnagogic) or upon awakening (called hypnopompic).”

Sleep paralysis can be hereditary and is first noticeable during the teen years. Symptoms may include the inability to move one’s body, hallucinations and the feeling of a great pressure holding one down.

According to a study, “Lifetime Prevalence Rates of Sleep Paralysis: A Systematic Review” published on the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website in 2011, “7.6 percent of the general population and 28.3 percent of students experienced at least one episode of sleep paralysis.”

Roxalyn Kaminanga, a 2012 Mount Mary alumna in business administration, experienced this type of sleep paralysis as a student in 2011. “I woke up to feeling this pressure on top of me,” she said. “I tried to open my eyes, but it felt as if someone kept pushing my eyelids down. It only lasted a few seconds, but it scared me.”

People often mistake this type of paralysis as a supernatural experience due to the hypnagogic hallucination symptoms, such as hearing strange noises or seeing dark figures. Different cultures have their own explanations as well.

Thao Giang, a 2011 Mount Mary alumna and nurse, has also associated such experiences with tiredness. “It happens to me numerous times, especially after being deadly exhausted or lack of oxygen (a blanket over the head),” she said. “The movement part of the brain is just too tired to wake up when the cognition part is ready to wake.”

College students with changing sleep schedules may be more at risk for experiencing sleep paralysis.

“People with disrupted sleep patterns or circadian rhythm disturbances experience sleep paralysis,” according to the Rainier Biobehavioral Institute.

Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule combined with controlled stress levels can prevent frightening experiences like sleep paralysis.

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