Sleep Paralysis: How I Made Peace With A Sleep Disorder

I woke up one morning, grabbed my phone and typed out the words “sleep paralysis” on the Google search bar. I had been having nightmares that feel like a real life struggle with some grotesque demon. These dreams are usually intensely vivid and terrifying. I have been looking for an explanation for these rather frightening dreams because I refuse to believe or settle for the only explanation I have been able to come up with – that some black magic business is undoubtedly behind these dreams, and some evil forces are out to get me.

I recounted these dreams to my friends at work who have expressed shock and advised me to pray before I go to sleep. I come from a culture where the belief in the existence of “evil spirits” is big. Sudden and mysterious deaths, terminal illness, even car accidents are seen as attacks from the evil ones. It’s common for you to hear someone say, “This hypertension was sent to him from the village” and the only way we (especially Christians) think we can fight against black magic or any evil force is by praying against them. I just hate to imagine or even believe there are evil forces that can attack us or are sent by other people to do so. Although, I can’t say that I hundred percent do not believe in the existence of evil spirits or demons alike; I just choose to not acknowledge them and I never use the fact that they may exist to explain away anything that seems mysterious or strange. But when I experienced what I later came to know as sleep paralysis, I started having second thoughts and considering the fact that maybe some evil forces were out to get me. I mean, I wasn’t just having bad dreams. These kind of dreams felt too real and left me feeling like I was going to die. I had no other explanation for this.

I am a Christian and my religion teaches me to believe in God who can protect me from any evil force, and as a matter of fact, I have earned this privilege by virtue of Baptism. It’s ironic I think that I need saving from something I have consciously chosen to believe doesn’t exist. I took the advice of friends who said to pray before I go to sleep. There were nights when I wore a rosary around my neck or on my wrist to bed because I was genuinely terrified of experiencing these “dreams” again. I did this mostly on the nights when I still feel shaken or scared from the episode I had the previous night. And to be honest, I have slept well on those nights when I prayed. Over time, I get comfortable and forget to pray or wear my rosary, and then boom! I have another dream episode which is arguably the scariest experience of my life. I find myself suddenly struggling to even wriggle my fingers, speak, breath or do all three while a strangle looking animal is sitting on my chest. I have had to fight off a really misshapen looking baby; on that occasion, I literally threw my Bible across the room in an attempt scare the monster away. Sometimes I just struggle to move, but I can swear there’s something beside my bed. And I just lie there on my bed feeling paralyzed and helpless till everything passes. When the whole thing ends, I wake up, breathing heavily and feeling like my heart is going to jump out of my chest. The fact that these dreams happen just around the time when I start to doze off makes it scarier. I usually thought nightmares or any kind of dream occurs when you are in some deep REM sleep.

During my Google search for the meaning of sleep paralysis I remember looking at one of the pictures in the pictures tab – some weird-looking animal hovering over a girl who looked terrified and like she was struggling to wake up. I knew that feeling intimately, and that animated image was uncanny. When the different links for my search showed up, I clicked on the Wikipedia result, and there it was, a spot on explanation for what I had been experiencing. According to Wikipedia, Sleep paralysis “is a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep characterized by muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It is often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations (such as an intruder in the room) to which one is unable to react due to paralysis and physical experiences (such as strong current running through the upper body).”

It became clear that what I was experiencing was more or less a sleep disorder. And in came the flood of relief. I was relieved because I no longer had to worry about or believe there were some evil forces chasing after me. Even though the cause for sleep paralysis wasn’t given on the website (all they had was a hypothesis), I found relief in the fact that it’s a “thing”, and I was not the only one experiencing it. And more importantly, it had nothing to do with black magic; it’s psychological. Just the simple fact that I was not alone in this calmed me. I told my friends about what I had found out and how my experiences have nothing do with any “evil forces” and that all this time, I was experiencing something called sleep paralysis. I got a look that said, “My friend! Stop deceiving yourself and pray your way out of this”.

The weird thing is, ever since I wrote this particular piece about my experience, I haven’t had another episode. Well, what do you know.

Obinna

I have to edit this soon :)

11 Comments

  • Gee says:

    Good article. But then riddle me this. The same time my mum was having a ‘sleep paralysis’ episode, I had a dream she was dying. She was literally in the room next to mine. The dream was soooo vivid, I had to tell her. And then she told me she had it. Strangely, the time of my dream and her episode matched accurately.

    I used to have episodes myself. But then I realized it was usually when I wasn’t praying before bed or had recently ‘sinned’.

  • Lucia says:

    Similar experience. Mine was in Uni. There were nights I ran out of my room… but after I heard and read about sleep paralysis, that was the end. If it occurs now, I just tell myself ‘relax, sleep paralysis’ and le demon vanishes.

  • Fifi says:

    I experience sleep paralysis. I’m asslmg it’s one of the reasons I’m a borderline insomniac. Maybe I’ve crossed the border. Don’t even know. It happens often, its unpredictable and it is the scariest thing that can ever happen to a person. To have Nigtmare while you are awake and conscious to stuff going on around you is terrible. The feeling of dying while the world moves on around you is frightening. I read it happens when you’re really stressed or anxious. Maybe you should look into that. My solution was to stop sleeping.

  • Fifi says:

    Forgive the typos. My devices revolt from time to time. I blame the creatures on my overactive imagination but it’s actually a medical thing. I hear sleeping pills help too. Knock you off with no memory bank. When there’s no memory bank, you can’t dream. So you’re a blank space till morning. You can check that out too.

  • Onazi says:

    Glad you no longer have the episodes. I honestly think there’s more to “sleep paralysis” than just some simple psychological theory.

  • missjones says:

    You people know that Oyibo people don’t understand jazz, abi? So when they have a demonic attack they find a way to explain it scientifically. Given, our people have a means of spiritualizing everything but in this case, even the people that gave your condition a name do not know the cause. Dear Obinna, you may have been experiencing a spiritual attack. You may need to take out time to gain some Wisdom from the scriptures concerning stuff like this.

  • dd says:

    I used to have sleep paralysis when I was young and yes I also believed it was a demon “pressing” me at that time. After doing a bit of research I realized it was mostly a psychological thing. First I stopped panicking whenever it happened, like i’d just relax my body and let it pass. My episodes became less frequent until it stopped. It’s been more than 20 years now the last time I had an episode of sleep paralysis. However I wouldn’t say I know exactly what causes sleep paralysis all i’m saying is a conscious psychological approach to solving it has helped me.

  • Obinna says:

    Thank you guys for reading my article and for your comments. I just found out today that it was published (thanks publisher). From your responses I can tell that sleep paralysis isn’t rare. glad I shared my experience.

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