A Bad Dream Turned Reality
A Writer’s Book of Days (01/08) – What I Do In The Middle Of The Night
The middle of the night is slightly more unusual for me than it is for most people. I get something called sleep paralysis. In a nutshell, my conscious awakes, but my body is still in a sleeping state. Many people experience it at least once in their lifetime – you feel like you’re awake, but you’re frozen and can’t breathe (even though you’re really still breathing). Sometimes it comes with hallucinations, perhaps feeling a presence in the room with you (which partly explains incubus and succubus folklore), and often times a feeling of flying or body detachment.
I first started getting sleep paralysis when I was 12. I was home sick with a fever, napping on the living room couch. Suddenly, it felt like there was a vise on my head. I couldn’t breath or move. I struggled to scream out, but nothing was coming out of my mouth. Suddenly, I awoke. Grandma and Mom were in the room with me, but not reacting to what just happened to me. They couldn’t see from the outside what I had been feeling in the inside and dismissed it as a bad dream.
It would then happen once in a while – sometimes I’d feel like someone was in the room with me, but I couldn’t scream out to anyone to come and help me. When I finally snapped out of the state, it was obvious that no one had been in my room. As my teenage years progressed, they began happening on a more usual basis – sometimes as much as every other day. It worried Mom to the point I was shuffled to a neurologist. He suggested an MRI and sleep study since he couldn’t immediately pinpoint what I was feeling.
It was 1999, and we had finally just got our first computer and a subscription to America Online. So I started to Google (which wasn’t called Googling back then) to see if this new-fangled Internet had anything to say. After a bit of searching, I found my answer via a Usenet group, and decided not to proceed with the medical tests. I breathed a sigh of relief: I wasn’t a psycho, I didn’t have a brain tumor, I wasn’t just making things up… yes, I’d thought of everything.
My research also came up with some solutions, albeit not permanent. I learned that it was often triggered by my going to bed late and sleeping on my back. I figured out that I could snap myself out the state by concentrating hard on trying to wiggle my toes. Once I was able to move them, I was out of the sleep paralysis episode.
The sleep paralysis episodes started to die down when I was in college. I now get them about once a month, but know how to control them. I know that I’m breathing, although it feels like I’m not. Sometimes “flying” episodes feel like a high without drugs and are slightly fun to keep going. Most importantly, I know how to snap out of them within seconds of an episode coming on.
But I really do wish it were other things keeping me up in the middle of the night.