Living in Honolulu, Hawaii in an area called Palolo Valley, an experience arose during the night. This event occurred 30 years ago, but it seems like just yesterday. A sleep paralysis episode occurred.
Sleeping paralysis produced a feeling of being “frozen in space.” The condition occurred immediately prior to waking up. While positioned on my back in the bed, my head, arms and legs would not move. A vivid dream about trying to complete homework and loosing needed papers preceded the episode. In the dream, my body raced around looking here and there for my lost papers, but upon attempting to awaken, I became immobile with nary a muscle moving. My heart raced, as I felt destined to fail to wake-up. My stress level reached a maximum threshold as my breathing muscles took forever to resume with an intake of air. Finally, my breathing apparatus functioned and my rigid extremities relaxed and moved. This episode remained in my memory all these years and I shared the phenomenon with no one.
A dreadful experience arose with similar sensations during the beginning of anesthesia for a necessary surgery ten years after this episode of sleep paralysis. The anesthesiologist instilled a paralyzing agent before the sleeping medication for anesthesia. I could not move or breathe for over a minute until a nurse noticed my open eyes. The nurse grabbed an ambu bag and gave me several breaths of oxygen. The doctor, subsequently, infused some sedation mediation and my mind drifted off to sleep. Those terrifying moments linger and produce nightmares on occasions. I imagine that people who are smothered encounter this sensation of terror. No one should ever have to suffer such fear.
According to Stanford University, sleep paralysis occurs in 20% of the population with most people experiencing one episode in their lifetime. Research by M. W. Otto et al. from Harvard Medical School found an association between anxiety disorders and sleep paralysis. Looking back, my life during that time overflowed with the stress of work, raising children and going to college.
The University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada explored in depth the subject of sleep paralysis. Individuals who experienced an episode of sleep paralysis may find extensive information on the University of Waterloo’s web site.
Stanford University: Sleep Paralysis http://www.stanford.edu/~dement/paralysis.html
“Journal of Anxiety Disorders”; Rates of Isolated Sleep Paralysis; M. W. Otto et al.; 2006
University of Waterloo: Sleep Paralysis http://watarts.uwaterloo.ca/~acheyne/spdoc/Techreport.pdf