Did you ever wake up and found you were unable to move?

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  • #1
Linda
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That happened to me once, I was definetely awake but unable to move arms, legs, anything. It only lasted ever so briefly, but it was kind of scary. I've read that this happens to most people, but rarely.

Can anyone explain to me why this happens? Does it have something to do with why you twich a little sometimes when falling asleep (sometimes waking yourself up - very annoying)?
 

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  • #2
Math Is Hard
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sleep paralysis? Oh, yes, it's happened to me a few times in my life. We studied about it in psychology class and it seems to be pretty common. You might want to look at this link:

http://skepdic.com/sleepparalysis.html
 
  • #3
Linda
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Oh, I hate that painting (on the site you recommended) with the woman with the creature sitting on her, it seriously gives me the creeps!!

Reading that site makes me realize that it's happened to me more than once, just the way it's being described, with the feeling that there's some sort of evil precens in the room, and I've known it wasn't real but haven't been able to "pull" myself up into proper awake state. Have been writing that off as nightmares, but I guess that's sleep paralysis then.

Interesting and scary, don't want to go to sleep now!
 
  • #4
Math Is Hard
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Linda said:
Oh, I hate that painting (on the site you recommended) with the woman with the creature sitting on her, it seriously gives me the creeps!!

Reading that site makes me realize that it's happened to me more than once, just the way it's being described, with the feeling that there's some sort of evil precens in the room, and I've known it wasn't real but haven't been able to "pull" myself up into proper awake state. Have been writing that off as nightmares, but I guess that's sleep paralysis then.

Interesting and scary, don't want to go to sleep now!

It's a weird experience, I agree. The main ones I remember were from my mid-teen years - and there weren't very many. There was only one that involved a scary hallucination, but there was no visible "creature" associated with it, I just felt the pressure on my back (I was laying face down) and felt like I was being attacked.

I think it probably came about because of stress and adolescent hormones and such.

I was scared of sleeping so I started doing visualization before I went to sleep. I would envision four powerful angels with swords guarding the four posts of my bed. That seemed to prevent any further problems. Maybe you could use a visualization also - it doesn't have to be religious like mine.

If these are bothering you a lot, you might want to talk to an MD, and just rule out there's nothing neurological going on, but it sounds like you have only had this happen occasionally like I did.
 
  • #5
Leong
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i like math is hard's imagination : 4 powerful sword-armed angels : it boosts your security, doesn't it ? :biggrin:
 
  • #6
Math Is Hard
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Thanks, Leong. It did help a lot. I felt like my only defense to combat against my own brain's distortions was to create a counteractive visualization with the powers of my imagination. Sort of like fighting fire with fire.
What I found particularly interesting about this phenomenon is that people have experienced it for many years, and the way it was interpreted depended on the cultural experiences of the person suffering through the episode.

From some interesting stuff that I read at this site:
http://www.nightterrors.org/paralysis.html [Broken]

It seems that different cultures throughout time have interpreted sleep paralysis hallucinations as different "spirits" or events according to their environment and experience. For instance:

Ancestral ghosts - Southeast Asians
Hag - Irish and Scottish
Cats - Chinese
Spectral foxes - Japanese
Djinn - Arabs
Guilt - Romans and the Egyptians
Witchcraft - Mexicans
Vampires - Europeans
Demons - Medieval Europe

At the root of this, it does appear to be some sort of fairly common brain disturbance. Several of the sources I have looked into reference a relationship to these episodes with narcolepsy. I am curious to find out more about what regions of the brain are associated with narcolepsy and what the connection is with sleep paralysis, night terrors, and other sleep disorders.
 
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  • #7
Leong
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My culture believes it has something to with the creatures from another realm; ghost and spirit. a friend of mine experienced the same thing. can't move for a moment and felt like being pressed from above by something. when we experience this, we say that we are pressed by a spirit.
 
  • #8
Math Is Hard
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That's interesting, Leong. Was there any specific image or "creature" that your friend saw when this was happening - like in the list from my previous post? Or was it just a feeling and then an assumption of what "it" was later on? That is so absolutely fascinating that you even have a term for this: "pressed by a spirit". I am pretty sure it is unknown in Western culture. I would be very interested to know where you (and your friend) come from if you don't mind sharing.
 
  • #9
Vast
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Linda said:
Does it have something to do with why you twich a little sometimes when falling asleep (sometimes waking yourself up - very annoying)?

I was wondering if anyone can confirm this. I’ve noticed that when twitching occurs it’s usually associated with an image in my mind. For example in my mind I saw myself kicking a ball, (which was only very briefly) and at the same time I saw that happening in my mind, one of my legs spontaneously moved. (I was on the edge of sleep and it woke me up a little)

The impression I got was that my mind thought the scenario playing out in my mind was real which sent a signal to me leg causing it to move…
 
  • #10
Monique
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Your body is paralyzed during sleep, if it didn't you'd be walking around: sleep walking. So yes: the twitching is related to vivid dreaming :)

Did anyone ever experience falling asleep while you're still concious? It's a really weird feeling like a cocoon is slowly shrinking around you and you get smaller and smaller.
 
  • #11
Linda
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Been reading a little more about this now, didn't realize how much was written about it on the web!

Anyway, in another forum I read a possible biological explination as to why sleep paralysis occurs... There's something similar going on with some animals, called Tonic Immobility, when they fake being dead as to avoid being attacked by predators. The animal will lie on its back and to avoid being killed it becomes paralyzed. As long as the predator is near, or even carrying the animal, it stays paralyzed.

It does remind a lot of sleep paralysis, don't you think? Since most of the times the person experiensing sleep paralysis is lying on his/her back and there's a strong sense of danger or of "something" preying on you. Some people apparently also feel as if they're being moved or carried.

Also, I read that trying your hardest, like I do, to kick and scream to wake yourself up might defeat the purpose. While sleeping hormones in your body make sure your muscles don't react to whatever's going on in your dreams, and the more you fight to get your muscles working the more at work the hormones are at preventing it. (Can't say for sure this is how it works... it's just what I read.) So best is to try and relax and wait for the rest of your body to wake up.
 
  • #12
Monique
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The purpose of sleep paralysis is to stop you from acting out your dreams. Faking to be dead has nothing to do with paralysis, or does the animal actually loose all control over their muscles?
 
  • #13
Leong
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Math Is Hard said:
That's interesting, Leong. Was there any specific image or "creature" that your friend saw when this was happening - like in the list from my previous post? Or was it just a feeling and then an assumption of what "it" was later on? That is so absolutely fascinating that you even have a term for this: "pressed by a spirit". I am pretty sure it is unknown in Western culture. I would be very interested to know where you (and your friend) come from if you don't mind sharing.


No, he didn't see anything. that was why he assumed that some spirit was playing some games. He didn't relate it to biology because he knew he did feel the pressure above. I think this answer your question : "Or was it just a feeling and then an assumption of what it was later on ? " Yes. He felt the pressure and assumed that there was something in the room. I see some documentary claiming that some people are gifted with the ability to see this kind of creatures. but as you see, it is just a claim. these gifted eyes, we call them "yin yang" eyes. like what you have got in "The sixth sense". and the term "pressed by spirit", i don't exprience it myself but i do hear a lot of cases like this. the persons experienced called this themselves, so whenever i hear this term, i know what it is all about. i am an asian.

i know what vast is talking about. it is like you cry in your dream, and then you wake up realizing that there are some tears flowing down your cheek. but i am not sure if this is the case because they were awake and of course they didn't dream of getting paralysed.
 
  • #14
Marijn
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@monique

You might be right there.
I'm a known sleppwalker (end up in the strangest of places)
I've found with myself it occurs when i'm going to bed still heavily pondering on some probelm or when i go to bed worrying about something.

At times i've ended up as far away from my bed as under my parents appletree, thats around 60 meters away from my bed, 60 meters as the bird flies. Not even accounting for the two stairs in between.

Btw, do sleepwalkers have open eyes or do they walk on memory of their location?
 
  • #15
Monique
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Interesting, the painting in the link hangs at the Detroit Institute of Art: I thought I had seen it for real :smile: Fuseli was a precursor of symbolism and surrealism.. The Nightmare was his most famous painting. Interesting to note is that there is a horse - a mare - in the background :)
 
  • #16
Linda
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Monique said:
The purpose of sleep paralysis is to stop you from acting out your dreams. Faking to be dead has nothing to do with paralysis, or does the animal actually loose all control over their muscles?

Yes, I think the animal does loose control of its muscles if it's experiencing tonic immobility. I also think animals more conciouly fake to be dead or injured, but then that isn't proper tonic immobility. Says a little about it on this site, under Limbic system and Tonic immobility:
http://home.webuniverse.net/babette/artglossary.htm [Broken]

It doesn't refer to sleep paralysis though. I'm not saying the one has anything to do with the other, however, they are a bit similar.

I don't see how the purpose of sleep paralysis is to stop you from acting out your dreams, because you are basically awake (not dreaming) in your mind, only your body hasn't followed. Rather, stopping you from acting out your dreams, is the purpose of the hormones and the parasympathetic nervous system, as they make your muscles not react to what's going on in your dreams. Sleep paralysis and its purpose, if it has one, is a phenomenon that I don't thind science has quite explained yet.
 
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  • #17
Evil
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i used to haf some of the sysptoms above....quite often in the past...but now seemed to grow out of it.....but in my case i get to hear some music while my body's frozen....so watcha supposed to do when it happens? relax?
 
  • #18
Vast
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Monique said:
Your body is paralyzed during sleep, if it didn't you'd be walking around: sleep walking. So yes: the twitching is related to vivid dreaming :)

Did anyone ever experience falling asleep while you're still concious? It's a really weird feeling like a cocoon is slowly shrinking around you and you get smaller and smaller.

Thanks Monique! :)

Yes I’ve had an experience of falling asleep conscious before, except it was very different. It was more like a slide show with hundreds of images being displayed very quickly. This happened in a few stages where the images turned into moving scenes, which then transformed into longer dream sequences…

I used a breathing technique which seemed to help me stay conscious during the transition.

An interesting sensation (in regards to paralysis) was felt when I regained normal consciousness though. Kind of like an electric sensation reawaking the body.
 
  • #19
Monique
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Yes, the electric shock awakening is really weird.. I wonder what causes that.
 
  • #20
russ_watters
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Monique said:
Did anyone ever experience falling asleep while you're still concious? It's a really weird feeling like a cocoon is slowly shrinking around you and you get smaller and smaller.
I experience that quite a lot. Its literally like feeling your mind disconnect from your body. Then every now and then something snaps you back (that seems to be mainly when I experience it).
 
  • #21
daveed
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Did anyone ever experience falling asleep while you're still concious? It's a really weird feeling like a cocoon is slowly shrinking around you and you get smaller and smaller.

yeahh its not exactly that, only i feel like the world around's a dream-feel really detached for a bit, and then jolt back occasionally. it happens on road trips and plane rides.
 
  • #22
Monique
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No, that is something else: the detachement and jolting :)
 
  • #23
Loren Booda
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Once I awoke, face up and "paralyzed," on the verge of throwing up from drug withdrawal. Luckily I did not drown in my own vomit.
 
  • #24
cepheid
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Umm...with the possible exception of what Mr. Booda related above, I've experienced what you guys have described in this thread before. I have a related question. A few months ago, a friend of mine related the frightening experience of waking up in the morning unable to feel one of his arms. The effect lasted far longer than usual (for a good 2 or 3 minutes, he said). Strangely enough, I had the same experience a few days later. Obviously I twisted in my sleep so that my arm ended up underneath my body. The circulation to it was cut off. I awoke in the middle of the night with a strange tingling sensation there (but nothing else). At first, I thought I couldn't move my limb, but I quickly realised that it wasn't so much as an inability to move it as an unwillingness. I dreaded to move it because my mind was telling me that nothing was there, and I was terrified at the prospect that this sensation might be "confirmed experimentally" when I tried to move it (lol). When I finally worked up the courage to try and move it (it was more a feeble, panicked attempt at flailing about), I found that the joint at the shoulder was the only one that seemed "powered". The rest hung limply like a jointed stick. Furthermore, when I touched this arm with my other hand, it felt very strange. It was the same feeling that one gets when touching a part of oneself to which a local anaesthetic has been applied. It felt like a strange fleshy substance that was not really a part of me. Question 1: Is this because when I touched my arm, it did not send a corresponding nerve impulse to my brain indicating that it was being touched? Anyway, since both of our experiences were so severe, my friend and I got to wondering: (question 2) Could this experience occur to the fullest extreme? "Deprived of oxygen for an extended period", my friend reasoned, "wouldn't the tissue in your arm simply...die?" I refuted him. Although this had happened to me rarely, I remembered that whenever it had, I had woken up in the middle of the night with the same panicked feeling. So I argued with him that rather than being a coincidence, this was probably a natural defence mechanism. The body roused itelf to consciousness to restore the blood flow to the ailing limb, thereby preventing it from becoming...(necrotic, I believe, is the word?) Is this true? Has such a defence mechanism been proven to exist?
 
  • #25
Nim
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Everytime I have ever been paralyzed was after waking up. But one time it happened when I went to bed instead and I saw a creature that looked like it was a 3D shadow. The door in my room was open, and it crawled in from outside. It came up to the head of my bed and stood up. After that it looked like it was bashing me in the head with a blunt object, like a baseball bat or something, but nothing was in its hands. I thought one of my friends was playing a trick on me. It didn't look human, but I figured that maybe my poor vision combined with the darkness of the room was making him look strange. It actually left the room for a few seconds and then came back and did it again. Once it left the second time I could move again.
 
  • #26
hypnagogue
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Linda said:
I don't see how the purpose of sleep paralysis is to stop you from acting out your dreams, because you are basically awake (not dreaming) in your mind, only your body hasn't followed. Rather, stopping you from acting out your dreams, is the purpose of the hormones and the parasympathetic nervous system, as they make your muscles not react to what's going on in your dreams. Sleep paralysis and its purpose, if it has one, is a phenomenon that I don't thind science has quite explained yet.

Sleep paralysis is most probably the same mechanism that keeps you immobile while you are actually sleeping and dreaming. In the majority of cases, the paralysis wears off before one wakes up, but in some instances it continues briefly even after the dreamer has awoken. Or at least, that's the explanation that seems to make the most sense.

The purpose of this paralysis, as stated already, is just to keep the dreamer from acting out his dream. Even under the influence of paralysis, motor signals are sent out to the actual body in accordance with what the dreamer does in his dream. This has been proven pretty conclusively via lucid dreaming, which is a type of dream where the dreamer becomes aware that he's dreaming and can consciously act in his dream world just as he would in the real one. From http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/Articles/si91ld.html :

Dream Actions

As we watch sleeping animals it is often tempting to conclude that they are moving their eyes in response to watching a dream, or twitching their legs as they dream of chasing prey. But do physical movements actually relate to the dream events?

Early sleep researchers occasionally reported examples like a long series of left-right eye movements when a dreamer had been dreaming of watching a ping-pong game, but they could do no more than wait until the right sort of dream came along.

Lucid dreaming made proper experimentation possible, for the subjects could be asked to perform a whole range of tasks in their dreams. In one experiment with researchers Morton Schatzman and Peter Fenwick, in London, Worsley planned to draw large triangles and to signal with flicks of his eyes every time he did so. While he dreamed, the electromyogram, recording small muscle movements, showed not only the eye signals but spikes of electrical activity in the right forearm just afterward. This showed that the preplanned actions in the dream produced corresponding muscle movements (Schatzman, Worsley, and Fenwick 1988).

Further experiments, with Worsley kicking dream objects, writing with umbrellas, and snapping his fingers, all confirmed that the muscles of the body show small movements corresponding to the body’s actions in the dream. The question about eye movements was also answered. The eyes do track dream objects. Worsley could even produce slow scanning movements, which are very difficult to produce in the absence of a "real" stimulus (Schatzman, Worsley, and Fenwick 1g88).

LaBerge was especially interested in breathing during dreams. This stemmed from his experiences at age five when he had dreamed of being an undersea pirate who could stay under water for very long periods without drowning. Thirty years later he wanted to find out whether dreamers holding their breath in dreams do so physically as well. The answer was yes. He and other lucid dreamers were able to signal from the dream and then hold their breath. They could also breathe rapidly in their dreams, as revealed on the monitors. Studying breathing during dreamed speech, he found that the person begins to breathe out at the start of an utterance just as in real speech (LaBerge and Dement 1982a).
 
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  • #27
Nim
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I don't think people are paralyzed when their asleep, because then, you would wake up in the same position that you fell asleep in. And some people move around in bed a lot. Like the sort of people whose foot sometimes ends up in your mouth.
 
  • #28
hypnagogue
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Nim said:
I don't think people are paralyzed when their asleep, because then, you would wake up in the same position that you fell asleep in. And some people move around in bed a lot. Like the sort of people whose foot sometimes ends up in your mouth.

You're not completely paralyzed-- otherwise you wouldn't be able to breathe. :wink: The point is just that motoric signals sent to the muscles are inhibited. As the study I mentioned above shows, even 'normal' dreamers literally act out their dreams, albeit much more subtly than sleepwalkers.

It is a bit curious to consider how tossing and turning during sleep fits into all of this. My guess is that the majority of such activity occurs outside of REM sleep, where presumably the paralysis is relaxed since there aren't any dreams to act out. Or, perhaps such movements are closer in nature to automatic motion (such as unattended breathing) as opposed to volitional motion (such as planning to raise an arm).
 
  • #29
Nim
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hypnagogue said:
In the majority of cases, the paralysis wears off before one wakes up, but in some instances it continues briefly even after the dreamer has awoken.

The paralysis that you say "continues" is the kind that doesn't allow you to move at all. That statement suggests that you can't move when you sleep, since you said sleep paralysis is a continuation of the paralysis that occurs during sleep.

I don't doubt that "motoric signals sent to the muscles are inhibited", but I don't think that sleep paralysis is the continuation of the paralysis that we experience when we fall asleep.
 
  • #30
LURCH
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Math Is Hard said:
Ancestral ghosts - Southeast Asians
Hag - Irish and Scottish
Cats - Chinese
Spectral foxes - Japanese
Djinn - Arabs
Guilt - Romans and the Egyptians
Witchcraft - Mexicans
Vampires - Europeans
Demons - Medieval Europe

And in the modern world, a lot of these instances are probably the cause of "alien abduction" experiences. Most abductees report a sense of an evil presence in the room, accompanied total paralysis.

Owl, it is my understanding that most animals which "fake death" to confuse a predator are not making a conscious decision to lie still, but become paralyzed when threatened. A form of "fainting".
 
  • #31
Monique
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LURCH said:
Owl, it is my understanding that most animals which "fake death" to confuse a predator are not making a conscious decision to lie still, but become paralyzed when threatened. A form of "fainting".
Ah really, I didn't know that :)
 
  • #32
Nim
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The possum does it. Im not sure what else does.

From: A Moment of Science
"Possums are famous for "playing dead" when threatened, but this isn't quite accurate. They are not "playing" dead at all: the possum goes into shock when particularly stressed. While not dead, it can be found lying on its side with its legs extended and is, in fact, limp and unconscious during this time, like a person who has fainted."

From: America Zoo
"It is thought that the opossum actually goes into a deep sleep, so that even if an animal bites it, the opossum does not react at all. A great many predators do not eat dead animals, so they just walk away."
 
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  • #33
Math Is Hard
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Nim said:
The possum does it. Im not sure what else does.

I've done it to get out of an exam once or twice. :rofl:
 
  • #34
Philocrat
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Linda said:
That happened to me once, I was definetely awake but unable to move arms, legs, anything. It only lasted ever so briefly, but it was kind of scary. I've read that this happens to most people, but rarely.

Can anyone explain to me why this happens? Does it have something to do with why you twich a little sometimes when falling asleep (sometimes waking yourself up - very annoying)?

Maybe they are more, but this is by far the funniest thread I have ever read on this physics forum! Every posting just cracked me up........please keep it coming, guys! You've just made my day!
 
  • #35
crystal_mccy
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Omg I Just Did That Today!!

i was on here looking up why that happened. i guess thats what i did was woke up to fast i walk in this dark room and i knew someone was gonna hurt me but i went in anyway.(lol) and someone yelled from the back don't turn the lights on (too late) and i just woke up my eyes were fixed on the wall and i couldn't move and i couldn't talk, i got scared and then couldn't really catch my breath. it weirded me out so much. i need to get more sleep i guess.
 

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