(Today you'll hear from my friend, Susan, who tells about a very scary experience she used to have quite often, and how she finally broke out! If you've ever gone through this or know someone who has, you'll be so thankful for this simple solution…)
It used to happen often.
And every time it did, I would curse myself for having put tile throughout my house. Tile? What was I thinking? I could hear the footsteps so clearly on that darn floor. And they were getting closer to my bedroom. My head would be swirling with so many thoughts. I knew I was awake; I had to be! I could hear the footsteps. I scolded myself about the tiles. I had to move, scream, grab my husband; but I couldn’t. My body wouldn’t move. I was awake enough to know I heard the footsteps, I was awake enough to know how much I hated my saltillo tile in this very moment, I was also awake enough to know the most important thing of all: The person making those footsteps was getting closer to me and my body was completely frozen.
When I would finally come to and snap out of the dream, I would lie in bed petrified.
What just happened to me? I knew it was real; I knew it with every fiber of my being. I heard it so clearly; it couldn’t have been a dream. Sometimes when I awoke, I would be soaked in sweat, my heart was always pounding and my adrenals would be racing like I had just outrun a saber tooth tiger. Calm would eventually come after I sat and listened to my husband’s rhythmic breathing for a while. Of course there were times I wanted to hit him over the head and ask him why he hadn’t saved me from the footsteps, but once more rational thoughts came to me, I realized the reason he was still sleeping like a baby was because there was no footsteps after all, I had only had a nightmare.
But why did I feel like I was awake the entire time?
Of course I would always share the footsteps dream with others, but no one ever got it. I’d get lots of “Oh yeah, that sounds awful”, or let-me-tell-you-about-my-bad-dream type responses. I could never get anyone to understand that I was awake, I’m telling you, I was awake, and I heard footsteps! Sorry but your dream of rowing a boat naked down Wall Street while others cheered doesn’t compare — I heard footsteps, darn it!
I eventually grew complacent in sharing my story, and although the dreams happened often and became increasingly scary with each passing one, garnering any response from people I told became difficult, and soon I just accepted these horrifying dreams as completely normal.
Until one day I called to check in on my mom.
She didn’t have the usual music to her voice when she answered her phone, but quickly apologized, saying she had just gotten up from her nap and had such a terrible nightmare. I encouraged her to tell me about it, and almost wept as she began to explain how she heard a man enter her room and stand over her bed, but that she was frozen and couldn’t scream for help or move her legs to get up and flee.
We commiserated over how frightening these experiences are and she shared that she had these dreams often throughout her adult life. Neither one of us knew the other one suffered from it, or what caused it, or why it happened. We basically agreed it was terrifying and then simply moved on with our conversation.
Months went by and one night I found myself flipping through the TV to find something interesting, and I landed on one of those news magazine type shows. They were just beginning a story on something that didn’t sound all that interesting, but there was nothing else on so I stayed on that channel, and boy am I glad I did. It was a piece on sleep paralysis, and as they delved deeper into the story, I began to realize they were talking about me! I called for my husband to come and listen.
I felt ecstatic to know what I was experiencing was a real thing!
I’m not crazy! Mom’s not crazy! This is a real thing that has been documented! When it was over my husband said, “Wow. That must be really, really scary”. I responded with a common comeback that involves Sherlock and went to bed happy knowing this was a thing. A real thing!!
But of course, no real relief came from my sleep paralysis because the program I saw didn’t really offer any solutions from the experts they interviewed. They mentioned prescription sleep-aids, but I didn’t see the point in taking something every day (and dealing with the side effects) for a phenomenon that happened a couple times a month. Beyond that, I didn’t do much more researching because I saw this program well before being connected to the internet was a household normality.
What is sleep paralysis exactly?
There are tons of sites with explanations on sleep paralysis, and some of them have accounts by actual victims of sleep paralysis which makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. In an interview with Buzzfeed Life, Michael Breus, Ph.D., a psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, explains the state the body/mind is in during a sleep paralysis episode:
When you enter deep REM sleep, your brain tells the body’s voluntary muscles to relax and go into almost a state of paralysis, which is called atonia. Atonia actually helps protect the body from injury by preventing you from acting out the physical movements in your dreams. In other parasomnias, such as sleepwalking or REM sleep behavior disorder, atonia does not occur properly and the voluntary muscles move while the mind remains asleep, which is why people can sometimes do crazy things in their sleep and be totally unaware of it.
In sleep paralysis, the body remains paralyzed in REM atonia while the brain awakens and the eyes start to open, explains Breus. Sufferers become alert in a transient conscious state, but they are unable to move voluntary muscles or speak. Although involuntary muscle movement, like breathing, is not affected, there is often a sensation of chest pressure, which is why many people wake up from sleep paralysis gasping to take a deep breath. Episodes can last anywhere from 20 seconds to a few minutes.
Unlike the visuals in nightmares or lucid dreams, which occur when the eyes are closed in REM sleep, these hallucinations occur in the state between sleeping and waking when the mind is alert and the eyes are open. True visual and auditory hallucinations during sleep paralysis are relatively rare, according to Breus, but many patients report feeling an undeniably strange or scary presence in the room.
Plus, sleep paralysis is just super frightening to begin with, so it often triggers a panicked response with increased heart rate. “People freak out because they can’t move, and it’s this extreme anxiety which causes people to be very fearful of their surroundings,” says Breus. (Source.)
What are the causes of sleep paralysis?
The article goes on to offer several suggestions for the causes of sleep paralysis episodes, as do many of the other articles posted online.
Most often sleep paralysis is associated with stress, sleep deprivation, medication side effects, or even sleeping on your back has been blamed. While others believe, because demons are often seen during a sleep paralysis episode, that it’s a sign from God to get yourself right with Him. But given that sleep paralysis episodes have been documented for hundreds of years, the above suggestions for its cause seem like mere guesses to me.
If you’ve suffered an episode of sleep paralysis and want to learn more, there is a ton of information out there at your fingertips. It seems to be a heavily sought after subject, as a search brought up well over a million suggestions. There is even a documentary-horror film, The Nightmare, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, that documents several patients’ experiences. Directed by someone who has himself suffered through sleep paralysis episodes, Rodney Ascher thought intertwining people’s dreams with re-enactments would be the perfect way to not only teach movie-goers about the phenomenon, but to scare the hell out of them at the same time.
I won’t be seeing this movie, thanks, I’ve already lived it, but here’s the movie trailer:
I found what works for me and how to make this stop for good!
It wasn’t until years later that I was given a piece of simple advice that have kept all of my sleep paralysis episodes at bay and it has easily been 7 or more years since I’ve had one. I know it works, too, and here’s why: most experts agree that sleep paralysis is most likely brought on by stress, but I find that too hard to buy as a blanket cause, because in the past 8 years my husband and I have suffered through severe financial stress that would bring most people to their knees. It has been a nightmare that makes a sleep paralysis episode look like a kid’s birthday party. The stress of it all has destroyed my health and I now suffer from adrenal fatigue and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. I am a billboard for stress. And yet: no sleep paralysis episodes.
My mom hasn’t had any either since I shared my tip with her and she has also had unimaginable stress: she’s a 4-time cancer survivor! Her mind/body has been through all sorts of stress, yet she is episode free.
So, what is this miracle tip?
Well, when my adrenals first crashed, I was under the care of famed adrenal guru, Dr. Michael Lam. When he told me I must sleep as often as I could, including naps, I remarked that doing so was not always easy as I sometimes was afraid to sleep after having a sleep paralysis episode. He told me to have a snack before bed or naps. A snack!
He went on to explain that he believes that sleep paralysis is most likely caused by low blood sugar.
He said to make sure my snack was balanced with some protein, saturated fat and carbs. Cheese and crackers were his suggestion. Or something like what Kelly gives her kids before bed would be even better.
Low blood sugar is a big no-no for those of us with adrenal/thyroid issues so I snack pretty regularly, and if I happen to doze off in the afternoon, I don’t hear the footsteps. And I always make sure to nibble on something before bedtime, too. Don’t get me wrong, I still have the occasional nightmare, but I have not had one episode of sleep paralysis since Dr. Lam shared his snack secret. And neither has my mom.
Is this the answer for all sleep paralysis victims?
I obviously can’t say. Many sleep experts actually believe that eating before bed exacerbates sleep paralysis, but for my mother and me, eating before bed has been the magic key. Because, believe me, any night of sleep without a sleep paralysis episode is total and complete perfection.
How about you? Have you ever suffered a sleep paralysis episode? If so, have you found a way to abate them? Share your story in the comments.
Thanks Susan! Will all of you please share this (using the share buttons) in the hopes of helping someone else who may think there's no solution?!
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About Susan: I live in Fallbrook, CA (Avocado Capital of the World!) with my handyman husband and our 2 dogs. I am the mother of one, but a mom to many. I love that my daughter’s friends come to me for advice, support, love and laughs. And when they do, I always try to feed them something nutritious or get some cod liver oil in them! Nothing makes me happier than when any of the kids I’ve preached to call me from the grocery store wanting to know which choice is better or what an ingredient is! I’ve worked as a medical assistant, an interior designer, and most recently, as a freelance writer for a local paper. I’ve also guided and mentored students through their college application essays. I love learning and reading about all things real food, nutrition, and natural healing, so it is a real blessing and treat to help Kelly around the Kitchen Kop site.