Daniel Love: The experience you are describing is not lucid dreaming, instead it is a well documented state called sleep paralysis, which is quite harmless, although, as you mention, can be very disturbing.
Sleep paralysis is essentially a misfiring of a natural process called sleep atonia. Sleep atonia occurs whenever we dream and is a safety mechanism that inhibits our bodily movements, so that we avoid acting out our dreams and injuring ourselves. In rare cases, this paralysis, our safety mechanism, can mistakenly start before we enter a dream, or last beyond our time spent dreaming. In these cases it becomes sleep paralysis, the experience you've described. You are essentially awake, but your body remains paralysed, it can often also be accompanied by open-eyed hallucinations, overlaid upon your normal view of waking reality.
Generally, such a state shouldn't last more than a handful of minutes; however, often those in the state are prone to panic, which, it is claimed, can prolong the experience. The best approach when experiencing sleep paralysis is to remind yourself to stay calm and to remember that this is a natural state and shall pass shortly.
Also, because our bodies are not completely paralysed during this state, you will still maintain control over the movement of your eyes and breathing. Therefore, one trick to bring this state to an end, is to simply hold your breath, as often this will shock your body into fully waking.
Should you find that you are experiencing sleep paralysis very regularly, I would advise discussing the matter with a medical professional, as in some cases it may be a side effect of a particular medication. Just remember: sleep paralysis, whilst unusual, is perfectly safe. Indeed, it can even be a great platform to launch yourself into a lucid dream!
Rebecca Turner: This sounds very much like sleep paralysis; a natural safety mechanism to protect your body while you are in REM sleep. Without sleep paralysis we would all act out our dreams. Now that would be scary.
Sometimes we begin to consciously wake up while the paralysis is still in effect, and we become aware of it. This can be frightening, but in reality it is not at all harmful. In fact, many lucid dreamers use it as a stepping stone to the lucid dream state, because your body is technically asleep, yet your mind is clearly consciously aware; it's the perfect set up. We do this by deliberately inducing a state of total conscious relaxation during Wake Induced Lucid Dreams (WILDs).
Next time it happens, proceed with a WILD induction: close your eyes and visualize a familiar scene in the daytime - like a favorite beach or park - and imagine the physical sensation of walking, running or riding a bicycle through it. This powerful distraction ends the feeling of paralysis and catapults your awareness back into the dreamworld. Except this time, it's the lucid dreamworld.
Got a burning question about consciousness and dreams?
In Ask The Experts, readers have the opportunity to probe the minds of long time lucid dreamers, Daniel Love and Rebecca Turner. With a combined 40 years of lucid dreaming experience, they aim to candidly answer your lucidity questions on demand.
Note: The opinions expressed here are our own, based on our scientific understanding of consciousness exploration. The pursuit of lucid dreaming often leads to personal interpretations, with which you may or may not agree, but we hope to unveil the most objective and best-fitting explanations available. We hope you find this segment to be informative, educational and inspirational for your dream life.
Rebecca Turner is a science writer, illustrator, explorer of consciousness - and founder of World of Lucid Dreaming. She is currently studying for a biology degree in Auckland and blogging at her site Science Me.
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