So here's a quirky little nighttime oddity that can strike terror into your soul.
Sleep paralysis. It's the mechanism that stops you from acting out your dreams. It happens to you every single time you go to sleep, and you've probably never even been aware of it.
There's a lot to say about sleep paralysis. One the one hand, it's a very normal bodily process. One the other, it can be a terrifying sleep disorder. And on the third hand (yes, that's three hands now) it's the gateway to the lucid dream world. It covers quite the spectrum of emotions.
So, what causes you to become aware of sleep paralysis? What should you do to avoid triggering the horrific hallucinations associated with it? And how might you harness this state in order to enter a lucid dream?
The basic cause of sleep paralysis is REM atonia:
REM atonia is essential for healthy sleep, else you'd wreak havoc in your neighborhood by acting our your dreams on a nightly basis. This is no good for you, and no good for your neighbors.
As you fall asleep each night, the electrical nerve impulses are cut off between your muscles and your brain. Your brain can still tell your body to do stuff (such as run away from Saruman's dark army in yet another orc-fueled nightmare) but your body won't respond.
So far, so good. But what happens if you wake up and the REM atonia remains in place, albeit only for a few seconds? This is when we trip into the territory of sleep paralysis.
Do orcs dream? Yes, they dream of you. Running away in terror.
You can become aware of sleep paralysis when:
The natural reaction to waking up paralyzed is fear. Lots and lots of fear.
Unfortunately, in this borderland sleep state, it prompts the half-dreaming mind to conjure up nightmarish images to "explain" what is happening.
A vivid hallucination can ensue, featuring the sensation of being fully paralyzed while a baddie enters your bedroom and crushes your chest or tries to pull you out of bed. Sometimes the presence may just stand and observe while you float out of bed, as if caught in a tractor beam.
Sleep paralysis doesn't always invoke hallucinations, but if it does, it's common to see witches, ghosts, shadow people, aliens, angels, fairies and even cartoon characters. More in this in a moment.
How common is sleep paralysis? Estimates vary, but it's likely you'll run into sleep paralysis at least once in your life. For those who experience it nightly, it's classed as a sleep disorder.
It's more likely to occur if you're under stress or have disturbed sleep cycles due to shift work, narcolepsy, sleep deprivation, jet lag, and other sleep disorders.
You can also induce sleep paralysis with certain lucid dreaming techniques. But that's a good thing - because with awareness, this state becomes easier to navigate.
If sleep paralysis is just a dream, then why does it feel so real?
Some of the effects ARE real. This state is a merger of waking consciousness and the dream world. It's a bizarre mind trick. Here's what I've found through research and my personal experiences:
This is not a new condition. Sleep paralysis, under various guises, has existed in folklore from many different cultures for centuries - perhaps millennia.
In Japan, they call it "kanashibar". In Newfoundland, it's known as "the old hag" who visits you in the night. In China, they know it as "ghost oppression". Even artists have depicted this ghoulish night-time disorder: see The Nightmare by John Henry Fuseli.
It's no surprise that native folklore shapes the nature of sleep paralysis hallucinations.
In the US, it was only after flying saucers were popularized that people reported vivid alien abduction experiences, where aliens paralyzed and probed them in their beds at night.
In Mexico, more than 90% of teenagers know the phrase "a dead body climbed on top of me" to describe the nightmare entity. And in African culture, it's known as "the devil riding your back" where demons have sex with people in their sleep.
This all tells us that sleep paralysis is a common human condition. What's more, the hallucinations are shaped by your expectations.
Now I'm going to show you how to stop sleep paralysis in its tracks - or to evolve it into a lucid dream scenario. It's good to have both of these tricks up your sleeve.
If you're a chronic sufferer of sleep paralysis, then prevention is going to be better than a cure. You're likely already predisposed to sleep paralysis so try to avoid anything which messes with your sleep cycles. We're talking nightshift work, overtiredness, jet lag and extreme sleep deprivation.
It's also really important to avoid stress and anxiety, particularly before sleep. If you're suffering from chronic stress, attend to that and your sleep paralysis could go away on its own.
If you wake up in the night and already in the throes of sleep paralysis, here are some tips to cut it short:
Maintain these goals for the duration of the sleep paralysis and stay on top of any fear.
Sometimes you will find it wears off in a few seconds. Other times it may appear to get the better of you - but stay strong and focus on those tiny movements. You own this.
As soon as your brain receives adequate signals that you are awake, it will shutdown the REM atonia. You will quickly be able to move your whole body again, and the hallucinations will disappear in an instant.
Did you know that lucid dreamers induce sleep paralysis on purpose as a stepping stone to lucid dreams?
Uniquely, this borderland sleep state acts like a gateway to the world of conscious dream control. You're already halfway to a lucid dream because your body is, technically, asleep while your mind is consciously aware. These are also hallmarks of a lucid dream.
The only difference? You lack full immersion into dream imagery. In sleep paralysis, your eyes are open (or part open) and you're "stuck" in your real physical body as opposed to frolicking through a meadow in your limitless dream body.
So the answer is to focus your awareness on re-entering that dream space. On having your brain coordinate movements with a dream body and experiencing that internally generated dream world.
The actually process of transforming sleep paralysis into a lucid dream is simple - but does require some detailed explanation if we're looking at all the possibilities.
Finally, remember that sleep paralysis, though sometimes startling, can't hurt you. It's a vivid experience of the mind and you can put it to good use. I know I do.
If we're completely honest, lucid dreaming isn't really known for being the most social of interests. In fact, often it's a lone pursuit - just you, your dream journal and the landscape of your mind. But this technique called PAL (or Partner Assisted Lucidity) breaks down that wall and turns lucid dream exploration into a social event.
Members of our lucid dream forum have been asking how to create dream characters in lucid dreams. The most common problem is having characters who look nothing like they should. Or they seem disinterested in your company. Or they fail to show up on command altogether. So, how to combat this? It's a matter of finding creative solutions that bypass logical expectations.
To lucid dream, I recommend being able to remember at least one vivid dream per night. That will boost your self awareness in dreams (making lucidity more likely) and also means you can actually remember your lucid dreams. Which is nice. Here are four detailed tips on how to remember your dreams more frequently. And if you don't think you dream at all - trust me, you almost certainly do. It takes an extraordinarily rare sleep disorder to deprive someone of dream sleep.
It is estimated that these wise and wily Indians have been using mugwort in their healing and ritual practices for 13,000 years, where it is known as the ‘dream sage’. They use the herb to promote good dreams, which they consider an essential aspect of normal human functioning! But that’s not all...
Silene Capensis has been used for millennia by the Xhosa shaman of the river valleys in the eastern cape of South Africa, where it is known as Undela Ziimhlophe or 'white paths'. It's fragrant white flowers open only at night, when they emit a fragrant and almost hypnotising aroma. Also known as African Dream Herb or Ubulawu, Silene Capensis induces spectacularly vivid dreams - yet has never entered the mainstream and remains a fringe taste within western culture.
Experts agree that everyone is capable of having lucid dreams. Dreaming itself is a normal function of the mind. We all dream every night, even if we don't remember. And we all achieve conscious awareness while awake every single day. So what does it mean to combine these states? Why, the amazing ability to have conscious - or lucid - dreams. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why do I keep hearing from people who say they can't achieve their first lucid dream?