Sleep paralysis

Meriel, one night pre-2012…

I am slowly opening my eyes to find myself lying down on my bed, with my head in a straight position, and my arms running alongside my body. I think I am awakening because the natural light of the day is visible through my room’s window. My big comfortable room. It has always been a place of comfort, but on that night, or rather, that morning, it became a place of terror. I have often had nightmares taking place in my room, including a recurrent one in which my bed would move all by itself, and take me to some dark and frightening places. But this time, I certainly was awake, but I could not move. I am paralyzed. Completely paralyzed! Even my respiratory muscles are! How dreadful… I am only able to take small and jolty breaths, and when I try to take a deep one, my body doesn’t answer anymore. I can still move my eyes though, but I am frightened as hell…! Someone is on his way to enter my room, that’s for sure! I can feel it! Nobody comes, but I can feel it! I feel it so strongly that I am sure that person has already entered without touching the door. Yes, just like a ghost! I don’t see anybody, but I know someone is about to come in. There she is! My mother comes in like a maleficient shadow. I was never afraid of her before that experience, but I do see her coming slowly towards me, bypassing the foot of my bed to then kneel down to my left, next to my night table, and tilt her head towards mine with an intense blank stare. I felt like my guts were falling out! I keep trying with all my strength to move and to beg my body to let just one single scream or sound of distress come out so she can help me and reassure me, but nothing comes out. I am paralyzed. I even try to hyperventilate for her to notice in my breathing a sign of abnormality. All I can do is look at her, hoping she would understand my suffering and touch me to wake me up from this hell of a situation, but she does nothing. Sorry. Yes she does! She stares right at me, and my eyes are wide open as well. In the end, the only remaining thing to do is to close my eyes and wait, without having to look at her. After a while, it was over. “You just had a nightmare, that’s all!” my mother told me.

Montreal, one night post-2012…

There it starts again! After several years during which I’d forgotten all about it, I immediately recognize that same phenomenon as I am waking up in my room, but in Montreal this time. My mother is going to come in! I am scared to death! Go on! Come in! I’m ready now! I won’t be scared this time. That is what I say to myself, but the same fear is there. The only difference is that nobody comes in this time. I beg my brain to make me hallucinate, and make someone enter my room. Anyone. Because I know that seeing someone enter my room is way less terrifying than waiting for it to happen. Anyway, I can simply close my eyes again and wait… After all, living such experiences can be exciting! But why my mother? I could trust her more than anybody else!

The natural phenomenon of human sleep has always intrigued me. Not so long ago, I already used to read tons of articles on the Internet coming from reliable sources or not (I really did not care!), and dive into those forum discussions in which the questions asked and comments stated, as well as the debates that it provoked, are so immature that I did become addicted to that guilty pleasure of the Internet during my self-imposed spare time. Every natural fact about sleep interested me, and still does. I enjoyed reading articles before going to sleep, and I even wished I could experience all the sleep disorders listed, whether I already had experienced some of them or not. It is when reading the description of a disorder called “sleep paralysis” that I realized I did have experienced it, and that the human brain is truly an incredible machine. To provide a simple definition, this disorder happens either when falling asleep, either when awaking (which was my case). The sleeper believes he is awaking in the middle of a nightmare, when instead, he does wake up in the real world, but too early, meaning before the substance naturally produced by the body, which prevents the sleeper from hurting himself or other people during the rapid eye movement sleep (the cycle of sleep during which the brain produces dreams), fades out. Unused to maintain consciousness in a paralyzed physical body, the brain tries the ultimate solution: producing scary auditive and visual hallucinations with the unique aim of reassuring the sleeper (very ironic!) in order for him to believe he is just having a nightmare, not being paralyzed in real life, and all that in just enough time for the body to rectify its mistake. So what looks like a horror phenomenon has a completely scientific explanation. The human brain and body are indefeasible.

The Nightmare (Rodney Ascher, 2015)

I fell upon the description of Ascher’s documentary The Nightmare while having a global look at the available films on the television on that evening, when after noticing the term “sleep paralysis”, I immediately decided to play the film. An excellent documentary that is way scarier than a horror film! One witnesses the various testimonies of people who have all experienced the phenomenon, and the interviews are followed by an onscreen reconstruction of each and every experience. Apart from the horror and drama that is added in the documentary in comparison with my own experience, the true feeling of fear is there, and represented in the exact same way the brain experiences it! This documentary speaks to everyone, whether they have experienced sleep paralysis or not. A cinematographic triumph which does succeed in digging into the skull to create that psychological fear onscreen which, speaking of horror, is worth millions if one compares it to horror films. And since that day, nothing…!


Author: Margaux Soumoy