How to Stop Sleep Paralysis
I have experienced sleep paralysis for a little over 11 years now and from time to time I still have it. I have however learned to stop sleep paralysis from continuing while it happens as well as improve my experiences of sleep paralysis greatly. From what I just said, this guide isn’t about ending sleep paralysis forever but improving the experience so that it doesn’t affect you in a negative way.
If you don’t want to read the whole article here is the Too Long to Read (TLTR) to help summarize what I am going to be talking about:
- I have had sleep paralysis and have managed to overcome the fearful experience.
- Paralysis during sleep happens to everyone: It’s a natural event that takes place every night during sleep. Your body paralyzes you so that you don’t end up acting out your dreams.
- If you experience sleep paralysis you are experiencing a normal event of paralysis, while aware. This is not normal but there is nothing to worry about.
- You’re often terrified from the experience: There is a tiny part of your brain that is super activated during sleep paralysis called the amygdala. Its job is to make you terrified.
- Hypnagogic hallucinations happen during sleep paralysis: You can see some pretty crazy and interesting things that may frighten you but this doesn’t make it real.
- Moving your fingers or toes are great ways to stop sleep paralysis.
- Relaxing no matter how terrifying the experience is a great way to overcome the experience.
- Facing the experience (if it’s a hallucination) and overcoming it with your confidence and self-determination is also a great way to overcome it
- Not sleeping on your back or in places you’re not comfortable are ways to stop sleep paralysis from happening
- Use a sleep mask can also help you by keeping your eyes and the room closed
- See your doctor and ask them about ways that may help you sleep better as well as lucid dreaming pills and reducing foods that induce sleep paralysis
Now that we got that out of the way…
What is Sleep Paralysis?
I have been researching sleep paralysis since in 2006 when I had my first and most terrifying series of experiences. I was living by myself and had a nice little visit by what seemed to be my friend who gladly jumped on my back holding me down. I didn’t know I was paralyzed by normal biological processes, I thought my friend had just gotten really strong. After I was able to move I was instantly released by the paralysis and I then proceeded to look around my room for my friend who may have been hiding someplace. I never found my friend. After a number of terrifying visuals over a series of nights, I managed to stand up to the hallucinations and was able to overcome the fear of the visuals and the paralysis. I did not stop sleep paralysis forever, however.
Knowing is half the battle
Sleep paralysis happens when our bodies are going to sleep but we are still partially awake. This happens because of our brains transition between REM and NREM and dream during those transitions. Most people don’t know that people are able to dream during the Non-REM (NREM) stages of sleep.
Another aspect of sleep paralysis is that the paralysis part of the experience is caused by REM activation. According to Dr. Rubin Naiman a psychologist, clinical assistant professor of medicine and the sleep and dream specialist at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine, REM is emotionally driven. He says that the more that you react with fear the more that it draws us into REM and the worse the experience can get. The idea here is to not react but to relax.
Here is a nice article talking about things we see during NREM that is published by a peer-reviewed source.
Because we are still able to dream in these states we can often experience dreams that are a bit different than when we are fully unconscious. Usually, sleep paralysis is described as a combination of the feeling of being paralyzed and the feeling of a presence or the visualization of terrifying creatures. Being paralyzed during sleep is scary but it’s also natural. Our bodies put us to sleep every night so that we don’t act out our dreams of our significant others or peering neighbor. Sleepwalking is something like this mechanism not working during sleep, and sleep paralysis is being awake while the brain is paralyzing itself naturally or waking up and the brain does not remove the paralysis in time. Scientist even did studies where they removed the part of a cat’s brain (I know sounds horrible) called the pons, and watch the cats essentially sleepwalk as they tore up some imaginary mice. Luckily for us, we still have our pons but unfortunately, sometimes our don’t work right.
Deep inside the reptile brain sits the pons, a hump in the brainstem an inch long. When we fall asleep, the pons initiates dreaming by sending signals through the mammal brain to the primate brain, where dreams stir to life. During dreams, the pons also dispatches a message to the spinal cord beneath it, which produces chemicals to make your muscles flaccid. This temporary paralysis prevents you from acting out nightmares by fleeing the bedroom or taking swings at werewolves. – science writer Sam Kean
While we are in this paralysis state we wake up and also see things around our room. These hallucinations occur because we are still asleep or are going to sleep and are able to dream. They may seem real or more real than normal dreams because we are partially awake and asleep at the same time. It’s like augmented reality for the brain, think Pokémon GO but really really trippy and often terrifying. There are a lot of great movies and stories throughout history that are inspired by the visuals that we can experience during sleep paralysis. If you’re reading this I am sure you could write your own book on the experiences, so we don’t need to go into all of that. The important thing is that sleep paralysis happens every night, and if you are experiencing it, then there is a little breakdown in the process because you shouldn’t experience it consciously.
There is also another aspect of sleep paralysis that produces the fearful experience. There is part of your brain called the amygdala which does a ton of stuff, but it also keeps you alive. It makes you scared when you most need it in order to survive this sometimes scary and violent world. It’s a good thing we have the amygdala because it helps us stay alert when we need to be, and also helps us to be scared during those scary movies we all love to watch. The only thing that isn’t great about this little guy is that when we are in sleep paralysis we are also super activating the amygdala.
Here is an article talking about areas of the brain activated during sleep which can help you see what I am talking about.
This whole process makes for some interesting experiences including being terrified for no real reason which is actually out of your control. Fear not..there is some good news.
Understanding these processes and really seeing this as just an experience that is natural can give people the ability to understand that this is just a normal process that is taking place every night just you are now aware of it. Your heart may speed up during the process because your brain is scared, and you may experience some pretty scary looking things, but those things won’t hurt you and you will be fine when you wake up. How do I know this? Because, again I have had sleep paralysis for a good portion of my life and I am still fine, I would consider myself even better because of it.
Stop Sleep Paralysis
I kind of tricked you by the title. There is no known way to stop sleep paralysis from happening to you. I know that’s pretty upsetting. Not a ton of research has been done on the subject and because of that doctors still are not sure why some people have it and some don’t. I personally have sleep paralysis on and off but I can go sometimes months without a case, and sometimes I will have it for a few nights in a row. I have done everything I can possibly think of to figure out why this happens, and not a lot of consistent things seem to cause it. There are a few things that can be done to decrease the chances to have sleep paralysis. Those things are:
- Don’t sleep on your back
- Sleep in locations that you are familiar with
- Don’t take naps during the day
- Get exercise during the day
- Don’t be stressed before going to bed
- Don’t do, eat, or drink things that can make you excited before you sleep
- Use a sleep mask to keep light from entering your eyes and help to keep your eyes closed
- Get plenty of sleep each night
- Have a healthy diet
There are much more tools that you can easily find on the internet that seems to help people, but these are the ones that worked best for me. If you happen to have sleep paralysis occur there are a few things you can do to stop sleep paralysis from continuing.
- Move your toes or fingers
- Breath heavy breaths of air
- Close your eyes and think about spinning
- Talk to your doctor. I always recommend this because they know best
Again there are lists out there that can help you but these are the ones that worked the best for me and many other people. There are also a lot of people that talk about praying for Jesus and other divine powers to help them overcome the experience and they have said they work. I would like to entertain this concept the most because I believe that it has the most impactful long-term solution to sleep paralysis.
The Power of Sleep Paralysis
This is the part of the guide that you’re going to go, “what?”
Sleep paralysis is terrifying and I fully understand how terrifying it is because I have seen and experienced sleep paralysis in some pretty dramatic ways. I hear people on the internet say that people can’t understand how scary their experience is because it’s just it’s the worst. I get that, but I assure you that others have experienced this level of fear and were able to do something about it. In the worst case of sleep paralysis, I have tried everything I could think about to overcome the events that were happening to me. The only thing that did the trick was to take the power away from the fear.
The power of fear is maybe the strongest thing that anyone can experience, again it’s what kept us alive for all these years, right? It makes us do amazing and terrifying things. We can see it every day in the media and on our planet shaping how our society reacts to events. What sleep paralysis does for some of us is create an environment where we can experience fear at levels that only a few people on this planet can. With that, if you are able to stand up to those experiences, see them for what they are, and take the power away from those things. Because of that, you can overcome so much more in your waking life. Don’t believe this is possible? In Tibetan Book of The Dead, they describe overcoming this same fear. In the Egyptian Book of The Dead, they also describe overcoming this fear. In the more recent text, Carl Jung discusses overcoming the shadow which is a representation of this fear. There is also an alchemical text that talks about overcoming this fear, practices in Masonry, and even religious practices in Christianity that talk about overcoming this fear with the power of Jesus and God. Obviously, it’s challenging to do so as these major religious and societies wrote about it being challenging, but it is possible.
I am not personally a religious person, but I understand that others are and that their religious beliefs give them power. I say use whatever tools you have to overcome this fear because you will be much stronger as a person because of it. Not only will you take back your sleep, but you will overcome fears in your life that normally would not have been impossible. Truly nothing is scarier than sleep paralysis.
It may take you a few times to overcome the experiences you have during sleep paralysis (initially it took me 3 times to finally get enough gumption to overcome it) and it may continue to happen (I still have sleep paralysis time to time), but one thing will be true, you will never look at fear the same way…
How I Was Able to Stop Sleep Paralysis
Though this may sound confusing to most, accepting the experience for what it is is a large part of overcoming sleep paralysis. Often we fear the unknown and accepting the unknown and trying to understand it often removes the scariness of the situation.
Imagine yourself if you went to a scary movie, and you knew all the parts of the movie including the ending. It wouldn’t be nearly as scary for you to watch it in this way, it even may ruin the fun. The same goes for sleep paralysis. If you accept that the experience is going to be strange, scary, and odd, you can accept that there will be scary parts but that those experiences are simply because you don’t understand them. If you choose to make the effort to understand the experience, it removes the power of fear from the equation. This in results removes your fear.
Another example is to imagine yourself having a conversation with someone you don’t like. You may be fearful of the conversation because you don’t understand how that person will react to what you have to say, or you may be fearful of violence etc. If you simply took the time to hear that person out rather than impose your views onto that person and try to win the argument, then you would learn that the person may have the same fears as you and you both are reacting to the conversation with fear.
Overall what I am getting at here is that when it comes to sleep paralysis and the fear behind it is that we are simply reacting from a misunderstanding, something that can be overcome by simply accepting the experience or listening rather than reacting. The initial reaction is to react in fear or anger, but resisting that, taking the higher ground, and becoming a mediator in your dream experience, will result in the fear going away. Don’t believe me? Well, it worked for me and many others who have had these same experience. Why not give it a try?
Here is another sleep paralysis based dream that I had:
I found myself in sleep paralysis and knew I would see something horrible, but this time I didn’t react. Instead, I came at the experience from a point of view to try to understand what it wanted and with compassion. I asked the creature that appeared what it wanted and noticed that the creature turned into a clone of myself. It responded back telling me it was unsatisfied. I then merged with the creature and it disappeared and I awoke from the dream. After I felt uplifted and positive from the experience.
You may be surprised to hear that there is more after sleep paralysis. There is a whole lot more after sleep paralysis that most people don’t really know about. I know I didn’t.
What happened to me may not happen to everyone else but it seems to be true for a lot of people, especially after some practice. After I was able to overcome sleep paralysis I was able to have lucid dreams. I am still on the fence about astral projection and all that, but I can say without blinking an eye that I have experienced those things. They all came after sleep paralysis. Why is that?
Sleep paralysis, as we discussed, occurs during the time when we are just starting to go to sleep. That means that we are awake and asleep at the same time. Because of this we can be awake and be dreaming at the same time. Lucid dreaming is being awake and dreaming at the same time. You are aware that you are dreaming. Pretty cool right? Well because we are already in that perfect little area that people who practice lucid dreaming try to get at (being partially awake and sleeping at the same time), we can easily transition into a lucid dream, or out of body experience (OBE). This is done by relaxing during the sleep paralysis phase, overcoming the fearful experience, and continuing the journey. There are tons of guides online on how to experience a lucid dream through sleep paralysis and I suggest you search for them… or just click here to listen to a podcast about sleep paralysis.
In a Different Light
Unfortunately for me, sleep paralysis doesn’t happen as often as I would like. That’s right I said, unfortunately! When I have sleep paralysis now I often feel energized when I wake up. I feel like I just saw the scariest movie adventure money could buy, and for free. If I am lucky enough I was able to have a lucid dream and do some pretty amazing stuff. Sleep paralysis allowed me to have a passion to help people with dreams and consciousness, it helped me to overcome aspects of depression, and it gave me the ability to react to terrifying experiences in the waking world. Sleep paralysis totally changes my life for the better, but it was one hell of a ride to get here. Sleep paralysis isn’t easy to deal with and sometimes you just want to stop sleep paralysis from continuing, but I assure you it’s possible and the benefits will be numerous. In the end, you will feel blessed that you were able to be one of the lucky few to take charge of your life and tell some amazing stories to friends and family on Halloween. Good luck on your adventure!
Lee is the creator of taileater.com as well as author of a number of published articles that deal with sleep, sleep paralysis, and lucid dreaming. Lee has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and is currently studying at John F. Kennedy University for his Masters in Consciousness and Transformative Studies.Lee Adams
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