Definition: A phenomenon in which people, either when falling asleep or waking up, temporarily experience an inability to move. It is often associated with terrifying visions to which one is unable to react.
Sleep and I have a terrible relationship. It’s pretty common for people with depression to either sleep too much or too little. I don’t sleep well at night, sometimes not at all, and then have trouble staying awake during the day because of exhaustion. In high school, I would always fall asleep during math and history class, and people stopped trying to wake me. The last time I was at college, I would fall asleep sitting up. Lately, the trend is to not fall asleep until between 3-5 am. I either lie in bed listening to Chris sleep (he’s pretty chatty), play Angry Birds on my phone, or sit in the living room and watch Baxter play by himself with his paper tubes.
Another trend has been to experience sleep paralysis. I remember having it first at church in the prayer room. I was supposed to be praying (this being the room’s purpose), but I slipped between a wakeful/sleep state and became convinced that I couldn’t breathe or move. I could hear voices around me; voices of people I knew were not in the room with me. I tried flailing my arms, signaling for help, but it was impossible. When I did wake up, I was completely in a daze.
I probably had minor episodes of paralysis during the time I had trouble going to an 830am class. I would hear my alarm and it would take all the strength I had to turn it off. I imagined heaving my body from the bed and crashing unto the floor, but no amount of imagining was enough to actually inspire the reality.
The worst has happened this year. I woke up already terrified, convinced that someone was in the apartment. I could hear their voices, as clear as day. They were even calling each other by name: Katie and Marty. They had come in from the balcony and were rustling around, eating our food and watching “The Twilight Zone” on the TV. In my paralyzed state, I imagined falling out of bed and seeing Marty standing in the doorway. He was more surprised than murderous, but I was completely vulnerable. Sleep paralysis is supposed to be temporary, but this episode seemed to last forever.
The latest was just this past week. I was supposed to meet one of my best friends for brunch, but when I woke, I saw that I had not heard my alarm. My plan was to leave immediately but to my horror and extreme frustration, I was once again immobile. I texted him, frazzled. I ended up not explaining what had actually happened, but in my imagination, I did. I also imagined a bunch of other texts that I later saw never happened. When I fell deeper into sleep/wakefulness, I was attacked by bees. This spell lasted the longest ever – about four hours.
Sleep paralysis is common for people who have anxiety disorders or even separate sleep disorders like narcolepsy. My therapist has recommended I see a sleep specialist. No one has ever suggested that and it seems kind of basic, now that it’s been brought up. A person’s whole health is determined more or less by how much sleep they get and what the quality is. Not getting enough sleep can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and a variety of cancers. Without any sleep, a person can literally die. Literally. Die. It’s as essential as water and food. I’ve always known how important sleep is, and I try to keep a schedule, but maybe there’s something medical about why I can’t seem to get into the REM cycle that determines actual restfulness.
Most people don’t think about sleep as being just as much of a medical issue as stomach pain or migraines. Maybe there’s something medical that explains why YOU can’t sleep.