intruder in my bedroom! (or) REM paralysis

Hi Lori -

When we dream, our bodies actually do become temporarily paralyzed. This is so that we do not “act out” our dreams - actually get up out of bed and start running around our bedrooms. This “REM Paralysis,” while functional and necessary for sound sleep, occasionally is responsible for disturbing dreams. For example, I am sure you are familiar with dreams where an attacker is chasing a dreamer and suddenly the dreamer is unable to move. The dreamer tries to run away, but her feet feel like they are stuck in quicksand. Then she tries to throw a punch, but her arms feel like they are underwater. There is a great deal of evidence that suggests these dreams are not really over-meaningful psychologically. For example, when you try to yell for help in a dream but can’t - maybe it doesn’t reflect a sense of helplessness toward this attacker - or to whatever this attacker represents. Maybe your dream is just representing, accurately, that your vocal cords, mouth and tongue all aren’t moving - because you are laying asleep in bed.

Most cases of REM Paralysis involve people who actually awaken consciously from a dream, but whose bodies remain “asleep,” as it were. In other words, the mind wakes up before the body, and the body still is in the paralysis mode of REM sleep. When this happens - the body feels like dead weight. People also often experience the sensation that their chest is very heavy. When they try to breath - to take a deep breath - the chest doesn’t respond as it normally does. When they try to shout, nothing comes out. These sensations of paralysis often cause the awake/asleep dreamer to panic. Sound familiar?

The second thought I have in relation to your dream is that this experience has happened to you a couple times in a row, and it has made you nervous, so that now you worry about falling asleep. My best advice for you is to re-think the entire experience, and see if what I have said doesn’t fit in with some of what you are experiencing. If it sounds like you have experienced a bit of this REM Paralysis, then in all honesty, my advice for you is just to try and relax. REM Paralysis is very common, and in fact can even be a bit enjoyable once you understand what is occurring in the body. No one has ever stayed paralyzed, and usually a mental effort to awaken works well. The touch of your bed-partner, as well, will always fully awaken you. If you can think of a signal to use with your husband to let him know you are asleep but want to wake up, try it. It sounds unusual, but many bed-partners learn to recognize when their beloved is having one of these episodes, and they know to reach over and give them a nudge awake.

You may also want to try sleeping with a soft light on somewhere in your room - or with a night light that plugs into the wall. That way you’ll always know where you are when you wake up in the night!

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