I first heard of the term 'Sleep Paralysis' when my daughter told me she has been experiencing them since young. \u201cI think I was 7 or 8 years old when it first happened,\u201d she recounted. \u201cRemember you bought me that large pink teddy bear? I woke up in the middle of the night and saw it floating in mid-air in front of me. My eyes were wide open, I was awake but everyone around me was sound asleep at the time. I was petrified and couldn\u2019t scream. So I squeezed my eyes shut and when I opened them again, the teddy bear was back on the shelf\u201d The next time it happened was when she was 14. She said the experience was even more terrifying. When she opened her eyes, she saw a monster with red eyes hovering just inches above her face. Its face was right on top of hers and it was staring straight at her and pressing down on her chest. She couldn\u2019t breathe but she couldn\u2019t push the thing off or scream for help because she couldn\u2019t move. During Sleep Paralysis, a cuddly soft toy could suddenly turn sinister before your eyes. (Image credit: pexels-pixabay) I wouldn\u2019t have known about this had she not experience another episode almost a decade later. This one was last month. She said she suddenly became awake in the middle of the night and felt great fear because she was convinced there was an intruder climbing in through her window. She looked hard into the darkness and thought she saw a shadow crawling in. She wanted to get away but then she felt there was another presence\u2014someone else lurking behind her slightly ajar bedroom door who was staring at her with evil intent. She was wide awake, she said, she was definitely not dreaming and wanted to jump out of bed or shout out loud but found that she was held down and could not move or scream. Luckily she knows this phenomenon for what it really is. \u201cIt\u2019s sleep paralysis,\u201d she told me rather matter-of-factly. \u201cI\u2019ve researched it online and actually, it\u2019s quite a common occurrence." She\u2019s right. Sleep Paralysis Prevalence and Cultural Thought Sleep Paralysis is a global phenomenon. Up to 50% of people experience it at some point in their lives. (Image credit: Pexels) Sleep Paralysis is a global phenomenon and is called many names in over 100 cultures. In many instances, sleep paralysis is interwoven into a culture\u2019s folklore and beliefs. Wikipedia says between 8% to 50% of people experience Sleep Paralysis at some point in their lives and about 5% have regular episodes. Those who don\u2019t understand it say it\u2019s paranormal activity. In Malaysia, as mentioned in a Facebook post on KKM's Portal Myhealth, we too attribute this occurrence to the supernatural such as demonic possession or a haunting. In other cultures such as Japan, Sleep Paralysis is thought to be caused by a vengeful spirit who suffocates its enemies as they sleep. In Eskimo tradition in Canada, it is attributed to shaman spells. In Nigerian culture, it is a female demon that paralyses you, then attacks you when you are dreaming. In Brazilian folklore, it is an old hag with long fingernails that lurks on roofs at night and tramples on the chests of those who sleep on their backs with a full stomach.\u00a0 In modern cultures, they say it\u2019s an alien abduction. In Hong Kong, the Chinese call it Ghost Oppression Phenomenon. A study done on 603 undergraduate students in a university in Hong Kong showed that 37% of the students there said they have experienced this Ghost Oppression Phenomenon. Their mean age of onset was from 17 to 19.\u00a0 Many of them identified sleep disruption and stress as the trigger before an attack. Students then, with their exam and study stress, are more likely to experience it as do people with high anxiety, depression, insomnia, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome and of course, narcolepsy\u2014another chronic sleep disorder causing uncontrollable sleep attacks during the day. What does Science say about Sleep Paralysis? Just like narcolepsy, Sleep Paralysis is also a sleep related disorder or parasomnia. Parasomnia is a group of sleep disturbances characterised by abnormal movements, talk, emotions and actions while sleeping. Other examples of parasomnia are: \tNight or sleep terrors (Nightmares often affecting children from ages 3 to 8), \tSleepwalking (Often affecting children from ages 2 to 13. Affects adults, too), \tSleep-related eating disorder (Eating while sleepwalking, often occurring in girls or women in their teens to early 20s), \tSleep apnea (Breathing stops repeatedly during sleep. Affects more men than women but can affect babies and children, too), Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterised by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden sleep attacks. Because it is difficult to stay awake during the day, narcolepsy can seriously disrupt your daily routine. (Image credit: Pexels) \tNarcolepsy (Suddenly falling asleep many times during the day. Affects both men and women. Symptoms start from ages 7 to 25 but can occur at any age), \tAnd of course, Sleep Paralysis. What is Sleep Paralysis?\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0 Sleep Paralysis happens when you suddenly wake up during the REM dreaming phase but your body remains sound asleep. That is why you are unable to move. (Image credit: freepik) Sleep Paralysis is a temporary inability to move while being aware and awake during the episodes. It frequently involves frightening hallucinations and a sensation of suffocation. Children do get Sleep Paralysis. This parasomnia can start at any age but symptoms often show up in childhood, starting as early as age 7 or during early adolescence. Puberty, being a time of great physical, hormonal and even psychological changes such as an identity, familial, social and body image crisis, can bring on such sleep disorders. If it starts in the teenage years, episodes may occur more frequently in the 20s and 30s. Why is Sleep Paralysis so Scary? The reason it is scary is because you are suddenly woken from sleep and your eyes are wide open and alert. Then you realise you feel pinned down to the bed, unable to move or make any noise. You may also feel chest pressure and difficulty breathing and that may make you panic. But that\u2019s not all. The experience is also accompanied by very frightening hallucinations. These hallucinations are vivid and can be visual, auditory, olfactory and tactile, meaning you see, hear, smell and feel the physical touch of the hallucination, thus making it seem very real. Typically, Sleep Paralysis falls into three categories: In Intruder Hallucinations, you sense that someone has come into your room. (Image credit: Pexels) 1. Intruder Hallucinations: You sense a menacing, evil or threatening presence like a prowler or intruder who is coming into your room. Of the three categories, this is the most common hallucination. 2. Incubus Hallucinations: You feel and may also see someone or something pressing painfully on your chest or abdomen or trying to choke you. In Vestibular-Motor Hallucinations, you feel as if you are floating or flying in the air. Unlike the first two categories, this hallucination makes you feel on top of the world. (Image credit: Pexels) 3.Vestibular-Motor Hallucinations: You think you are floating or flying or moving and may include out-of-body experiences where you think your spirit has left your body and you can see yourself and everything happening from above. While most people report Sleep Paralysis as being terrifying, here is one exception to the rule. Vestibular-Motor Hallucinations with its sensation of flying or floating in the air, often produce feelings of bliss. What\u2019s Really Happening? Sleep Paralysis has been called a Nightmare in Reality, when you are in that fine line between dreaming and wakefulness. It happens to children, too. Sleep Paralysis often happens during the dream phase of sleep called REM or Rapid Eye Movement. During this phase of sleep, dreams are most vivid and seem very real. The brain is also very active at this time, comparable to during the day but the skeletal muscles are paralysed. It is a bodily mechanism called REM Muscle Atonia which prevents the person from acting out their dreams. A person with Sleep Paralysis waking up at this stage in sleep will become aware and alert but REM Atonia will continue. In other words, the mind wakes up while the body continues to sleep. Why you may feel fear such as sensing an intruder or an incubus (demon), is because the part of the brain called the Amygdala responsible for fear or a sensed threat among other things, is in overdrive. You are in fact hallucinating. The midbrain is in a hyper vigilant state, aware of every little sound, so it is inventing a vision to solve the paradox of the body which is in a super vulnerable paralysed state. Why you may feel you cannot breathe at the time is because of your altered perception of respiration. In REM sleep, breathing is often shallow. Breathing is reflex-based and actually, you are breathing as per normal. But when you become conscious of the fact that you cannot take deep breaths at will, perhaps to shout and scream, then that can add to the terror. Fortunately, Sleep Paralysis lasts for just a few seconds or minutes and things always return back to normal after the episode. It is not life threatening nor is it a serious health risk but it is good to know it for what it really is so you may appropriately deal with it or help your child deal with it. In the end, Sleep Paralysis is a disconnect between the body and mind, with both components going to the extreme end of opposite directions at the same time. How to Prevent Sleep Paralysis Sleep deprivation, being overly stimulated just before sleep or sleep disruption have been linked to Sleep Paralysis. Playing with the phone or playing computer games all night long? Blue light emitted by digital screens messes up the body\u2019s natural Circadian Rhythm or sleep-wake cycle which is why you may get sleep disorders. (Image credit: freepik) Lack of sleep due to jet lag, shift work, or even scrolling the phone or playing computer games into the wee hours have been identified as some of the causes of Sleep Paralysis. For children, an episode can be more emotionally distressing than for adults as they may not understand the science behind it, and hence will have a harder time dealing with the aftermath. However, the prevention techniques can be the same for both adults and children. Some pointers on how to avoid another episode are as follows: Keep your sleeping and waking times consistent to help your body regulate your sleep. (Image credit: Pexels) A. Keep a good sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene means adopting habits that help you have a good night\u2019s sleep. This also applies to your child. Keep bedtimes and waking times consistent, even during weekends and holidays. Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet and relaxing and at a low temperature to ensure a comfortable night\u2019s sleep. B. Avoid blue light prior to sleep. Blue light emitted by artificial lighting and especially electronic screens of computers, tablets, smartphones and other digital devices trick your internal clock into believing that it is time to stay awake. Therefore, you will find it hard to go to sleep. All TV, lights and electronic devices should be switched off at bedtime. C. Exercise regularly but not close to bedtime. D. Try not to sweat the small stuff. This is to help reduce stress in your life. The same applies to your child. Try not to stress out or be too anxious around him pushing him hard to get better grades in school. All these translate to anxieties for him and you. To prevent a Sleep Paralysis episode, do not sleep on your back! Sleep on your side instead. (Image credit: freepik) E. Avoid sleeping on your back. Studies have shown that the supine position is linked to getting Sleep Paralysis. Sleep on your side. F. Do not eat too much or get too full just before bedtime, and then sleep on your back. You will only invite an episode. G. If you are on medication, keep a track of the side effects and interactions of your different medications as they may be the cause of hallucinations and bring on a Sleep Paralysis episode. H. Do not drink alcohol excessively. I. Despite all of this and if you find that you wake up in the middle of the night feeling paralysed and scared, focus all your energy into wiggling a toe or a finger. If you can move one muscle, this will break the paralysis \u201cspell\u201d. For other really useful family health tips and advice, stay tuned to Motherhood Story!