A demon perched on the belly of a sleeping maiden dressed in white. Behind them, a horse with a mournful look emerges from some curtains. This is the painting 'La pesadilla', by the neoclassical painter Johann Heinrich Füssl, the most common of the images that is used to illustrate what is known as a sleep paralysis
Have you ever felt an inability to move in the middle of the night, the feeling that there is a presence in the room or the shadow of a figure that watches you from some corner? In that case, you may have suffered, although until now you did not even know what it was called. It is a fairly common phenomenon that surely can happen one or several times in life, and that is not pleasant to judge by its description. Especially if it becomes chronic and becomes habitual, which may end up showing up serious psychological consequences, because the fear that it will happen again causes those who suffer from it to avoid resting at all costs, something so important in our lives and that has a decisive influence on our health.
It lasts little, just a few minutes, which pass slowly because you feel terror and can not move
According to a study published in the 'Sleep Medical Review' in 2017, approximately 7.6% of the world's population experiences an episode of these characteristics throughout their lives, with much higher rates among students and psychiatric patients, particularly those with post-traumatic or panic stress. It can also be the result of a symptom of narcolepsy, a condition that involves feeling excessive drowsiness, sleep attacks or even loss of muscle control, as described by the National Sleep Foundation.
Sleep paralysis has been with us since time immemorial. And by its nature, in the darkest ages of humanity in which science still did not shed light on certain clinical issues, it seems to be a source of legends or contact with the paranormal, which would give rise to multiple divine interpretations or, on the contrary, sinister ones. It is known that the first scientific description dating is the one Dutch doctor called Isbrand van Diemerbroek, in 1674. Then, it adopts the name of "incubus", a word collected from the popular European mythology of the Middle Ages that serves to refer to a moment in the that a demon lands on a sleeping woman to have sex with her. Fortunately, times have changed and today science understands sleep paralysis as a neurological disorder rather than a paranormal phenomenon.
It arises from a dream interrupted in REM phase, that in which there is rapid eye movement and in which dreams manifest with greater intensity. It is a transitory period for the voluntary movement at the beginning of the dream or upon awakening. It lasts little, just a few minutes, which pass slowly because the one who suffers can not move or open his eyes and is full of terror. Many experts see Stress and anxiety as one of the causes, as well as an altered sleep schedule.
To avoid them, get enough sleep regularly, avoid alcohol, nicotine and limit caffeine after two in the afternoon
The hardest thing to cope with is the feeling that there are presences with you in the room where you sleep. A publication in the journal Sleep Medicine found that approximately 58% of 185 patients diagnosed with paralysis felt presence of something "generally not human", and another 22% claimed to have seen an unknown person, a stranger. Therefore, it is very common to have this type of sensations when we suffer one.
"We know that the amygdala is very active in the REM phase, which activates the sensations of fear and emotional memory," he says. Daniel Denis, doctor in Psychiatry from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Israel, to 'Live Science'. "Do you have a part of the brain that actively responds to fear or something emotional, but there is nothing in the environment that explains it. So the brain finds a solution to that paradox. "That's one of the many explanations that the scientific community has wanted to give to such hallucinations, but the real cause is still an unknown.
There are a number of factors that can increase the risk of one of these paralysis. Another 2018 study from the 'Sleep Medicine Review' mentions drug ingestion, genetics, previous traumas, psychiatric problems or poor health and quality of sleep. "This can explain why it usually comes at certain times or in the form of sporadic episodes", explains Denis," since it can coincide with a period of stress ".
Currently, there is no established treatment to reduce their frequency or the effects of experience, but doctors often recommend that those who suffer from it improve their sleep schedules and maintain routines at bedtime. What else can be done? Shelby HarrisNew York specialist of everything related to sleep, advises to sleep enough on a regular basis, avoid alcohol, nicotine or other drugs, especially at night, and limit caffeine since two in the afternoon, as well as keep the electronic devices as far as possible in the bedroom. "If this does not help and you are having more and more frequent episodes, it is best to consult a specialist of the dream to see if there is any underlying medical disorder that may be causing this paralysis, "recommends Harris.