Stress: Among the most common precursors
paralysis are stress and sleep disturbances. These two often occur
Indeed, a reasonable hypothesis is that the effects of stress on sleep
paralysis are mediated through disruption of sleep. In any case our
respondents very frequently mention, quite spontaneously, that they
experienced more than usual amounts of stress during bouts of sleep
paralysis. Some older respondents have mentioned that they had
sleep paralysis many years ago, but had gone for many years without
any problems until they began to experience family-, professional-, or
job-related stress. Knowing that one's sleep paralysis may be caused
stress may seem of limited utility. One is almost certainly already
motivated to reduce high levels of stress and likely would have done
so if it
were easily done. Realizing, however, that the stress may be mediated
sleep disturbances at least affords one some strategies of dealing
stress-related sleep paralysis even if one cannot eliminate the stress
itself. Periods of stress are often associated with insomnias,
difficulty falling asleep, multiple and prolonged waking during the
and early waking. The first likely leads simply to a general sleep
deprivation, while the later two may have a relatively greater impact
sleep and REM sleep. Since sleep paralysis is thought to be a
problem, not being able to remain asleep for sufficient periods to
normal REM may predispose one to enter REM prematurely, as it were,
immediately upon falling asleep and hence cause the person to
sleep paralysis. The most direct way of coping with this is to
regular schedule and maintain one's normal times of retiring and
These are frequently disrupted during periods of stress. Eating large
late into the evening, drinking beverages containing caffeine and
and excessive smoking are common reactions to stressful conditions and
quite disruptive both of sleep in general and of the normal sequencing
sleep periods more specifically. Clearly avoiding any of these,
the late evening, will help prevent sleep loss and hence bouts of
paralysis. A serious Sleep
which tends to take a greater toll on REM, might well contribute to
incidence of SP.
Sleeping position: It has been long suspected, and frequently reported, that lying in the supine (face-up) position seems to be associated with sleep paralysis. In our own work we have found that lying in the supine position is five times more likely during sleep paralysis that it is during normal sleep. If one is trying to avoid sleep paralysis then avoiding the supine position is strongly advised. For people who normally sleep in this position changing may prove difficult. However, sleeping on one's back appears to be relative rarely in our international samples, with only 10%-15% of people reporting that they normally sleep in this position. Since, about 60% of sleep paralysis episodes are reported to occur in the supine position obviously many people who are experiencing sleep paralysis are in, for them, an unusual position. The effect of sleeping position is quite evident in the following figure. The supine position is among the least frequent positions during normal sleep whereas it is clearly the most common position. It is also evident, however, that sleep paralysis may occur in any position for some people (Labelled 'Variable' in the Figure). There are also a few people who appear to have sleep paralysis preferentially in one of the other positions. Nonetheless, a number of respondents, after following our suggestion to try to avoid sleeping in the supine position, have indicated that sleep paralysis episodes have declined or ceased.
These findings should certainly encourage people to try to sleep on the side, especially during bouts of sleep paralysis. Of course, we cannot know yet whether there is a causal relation. It may simply be that whatever state predisposes one to sleep paralysis may also bias one to lying in the supine position. In any case, if I were having difficulty falling asleep because of recurring episodes of sleep paralysis I would certainly elect to lie on my side. The astute reader may have been asking herself, "if so few people lie in the supine position when they are going to sleep how do so many end up in that position during sleep paralysis?" We do change positions frequently during the night, usually during the transitions between sleep stages. When we do so we will sometimes end up in the supine position. Consistent with this speculation, we have recently found that the supine is even more common when SP occurs later in the sleep period than when it occurs at the beginning. One way of avoiding turning over on the back is to use the 'tennis ball technique' sometimes recommended for obstructive sleep apnoea, another condition in which the supine position appears to be problematic. The 'tennis ball technique' involves sewing a pocket (or pining a sock) on the back of one's night clothes and inserting a tennis ball or two. I am not at all sure how well this might work but I would be interested in hearing of the experience of anyone who tries this.
Making Small Movements: When you find yourself in the midst of a sleep paralysis episode you might try a traditional method for overcoming the paralysis that involves attempting to move one's fingers or toes, or even one's tongue. Although the major muscles are completely paralyzed the smaller muscles, especially of the eyes, fingers and toes are less so. A number of people have been suggesting rapidly moving one's eyes back and forth as a way of bringing a bout of SP to an end. If you are having multiple or repeated experiences at one time it may help to get up briefly and move around before trying to sleep again as it is possible to have multiple episodes in a single night.
Making Mental Movements: If you cannot move your body then perhaps you should dispense with that encumbrance and move without it. I am not suggesting that you truly can move without your body, but you certainly can have the experience of doing so. There are some people who actually induce SP episodes in order to produce out-of-body experiences and engage in what they call "astral travels." When paralyzed they report that they can "sit up" or "roll out" of their bodies. This is sometimes called "projection." They describe this as a kind of "mental" movement rather than a physical one. In other words they appear to try to make the movement effortless rather than forcefully struggling against the paralysis. It strikes me that this might prove to be an effective strategy for overcoming the paralysis. Of course, you might just end up having an out-of-body experience but that might be preferable to simply lying in bed paralyzed. If anyone tries this, or has tried it, I would be interested to hear of your experience.
I had not had more than an incipient SP episode for about 20 years
early in the morning of
Now that I was "out," I decided to experiment further. I first
tried to levitate my "astral" body - which seemed to be complete. I
was unable, however, to rise above about three feet off the floor. I
decided to let myself fall - or rather, sink - into the floor. In this
successful and I passed through the floor effortlessly, noting the
joists as I passed, through the next level and the next floor. I then
realized that I would next sink into the ground and decided that would
unpleasant and so stopped myself from sinking and found myself once
the foot of my bed. I next decided to try floating horizontally toward
window. This worked immediately and I awaited, with some anticipation,
the window. I passed through the window quite effortlessly,
though I felt myself brushing aside a few of the slats of the Venetian
that really do hang in my bedroom window. Then things began to get
I next found myself floating, in the same horizontal position, outside
bedroom window, except it was now outside my bedroom in the house
where I grew up. I was floating over the roof of the veranda looking
edge. I noticed an eaves trough along the roof with Engelmann ivy
it. (I do not remember whether the veranda had an eaves trough but I
that there was no ivy growing at the old house. There is, however,
ivy growing along the eaves outside my window in my present home.) I
hesitated to try to float out beyond the roof of the veranda.
Although, I was
well aware of the fact that this was a dream, I was somewhat
about floating so high above the ground. I thought it might be safer to
down from the ivy. I realized quite well also that the vines of such
could not support my weight in the waking world but felt sure that
in the dream world. I grabbed the vines and swung from the roof. I
swinging back and forth in ever-greater arcs from the house next door
right, which was a semi-detached just as it had been at my old house to
house on the left, which also appeared just as I now remember it. This
the most exhilarating part of the dream. The swinging was rather
but not scary. I did this for a while as the vine gradually lengthened
finally let me down gently on the lawn.
I began to wander around the old neighbourhood. In the back of my mind, I could not suppress the thought that I might meet a pretty girl in my wanderings! I passed a kind of wall or pillar in front of the driveway of the house where two of my childhood friends lived back then. As I looked at the wall I thought how incredibly real and faithful to the original neighbourhood everything I was experiencing about the neighborhood seemed. Ironically, the wall that engendered this feeling was entirely fictional - perhaps the only inauthentic part of the neighborhood in my dream - for it was quite clear to me that I was now having a full-fledged dream, however lucid. I came to a door and began to open it. As I was doing so I glanced through a window (actually a kind of port hole) and realized that I was going, not inside, but outside, onto the deck of an ocean liner. I could clearly see the water through the glass. When I got outside, I had some difficulty closing the heavy door, which was very like the heavy metal doors on many of the ocean liners on which I have traveled. It was difficult to close, as they usually are, partly because of their weight and partly because to the rocking of the ship. The deck seemed deserted. As I moved along the deck and turned to go around some stairs a pretty girl in a dark overcoat passed me. I attempted to seduce her but she seemed rather coy for a dream girl. Then, just when I thought she was becoming somewhat receptive to my blandishments I woke up. Serves me right, astral travelers usually warn against the distractions of sex during lucid dreams Yet, I did manage to remain lucid throughout the dream, never losing sight of the fact that it was all a dream. In any case, it sure beat the hell out of the typical SP episode!
Now that I have tried and succeeded in producing a voluntary OBE I
now try to do what I have asked others to do: describe how it is done.
it is difficult to describe is not surprising. It is difficult to
because one has no idea how it is done - any more than one knows how
signs one's name, throws a ball, or takes a single step. One does not
describe these things
nobody needs to be told how to do
these things. These are simply things we do without thinking about
simply decide to do them - and we do them. This is also how lucid
things in their dreams: They simply decide to do them. This is as true
floating over cities and it is of making monsters disappear as it is
walking across a room. One decides to do things and automatic
over. My own view of lucid dreaming is that it differs from nonlucid
only in that the frontal cortex has somehow become activated. Hence
planning and decision making ability has returned and we can decide to
in particular acts and even that we will have certain kinds of
and not others. Automatic processes take over - or, . . . sometimes . .
not. If they do not there is nothing else to do except to plan on
something else and hope that the automatic processes for that are
hand. The point is that there is no way that one can voluntarily
automatic processes except by planning and deciding.
I think the forgoing should help us understand why simply trying
harder, that is, struggling to move our bodies is pointless. We have
voluntary control over the mechanisms that block the motor signals
they can activate the appropriate muscles. I think all the other
processes are activated, however, by our plans and decisions. They are
prevented from acting on the body. One must forget the body for the
period of paralysis and trust that the automatic processes, which have
nothing to do with our wishing and willing, eventually release their
inhibitory grip on our bodies. This does not mean that our experience
limited to lying motionless and terrified in our beds.
Recall that my first attempt to roll out of my body was not completely
successful. I got stuck halfway out. Had I continued to struggle to
of my lower body I think I would have been unsuccessful and would have
quickly found myself altogether paralyzed within seconds. Rather than
harder to have the experience of getting out of my body I tried
different. I decided to spin. I do not know how I managed to spin any
than I really know how to sit up or roll over. I just decided to do it
some automatic processes just took over. There was no guarantee that
would do so. I might have got stuck again, though I did not. If I had,
suppose I would have tried to sink out of my body or float out. I am
confident something would have work eventually, as long as I did not
struggle to make something happen that just was not ready to happen.
Lucid dreamers are well aware of the fragile nature of the lucid state during dreaming. It requires keeping focused on one's state to avoid lapsing into a conventional nonlucid dream. Of course, for the individual who is merely trying to end a SP episode this possibility of simply lapsing into a conventional dream from SP might be considered an additional blessing. The majority of SP experients have little interest in exploring these unusual experiences, they simply want relief from SP. Short of preventing SP episodes bring them to an end by using the techniques of astral projectors might be the best alternative available.
Medication: A number of medications, usually those affecting the neurotransmitter serotonin, appear to reduce or even eliminate SP episodes. Although there are no controlled studies that I am aware of, numerous respondents have reported marked reductions in SP episodes when taking SSRI's such as Prozac and, unfortunately, equally marked increases when they stop taking them, or switch to another type of medication. Several who have been both on and off SSRIs have reported corresponding decreases and increases in SP episodes. I should also not that there are also many who report no effect at all. This may depend on dosage which we have not looked at yet.