Your dream is not unfamiliar to me—nor, I suspect—to many readers. You are experiencing what is known as Sleep Paralysis—a common occurence where the paralysis of the body that occurs during REM (Dreaming) sleep lingers into waking experience. As you describe in your report—you wake up mentally—but your body apparently isn’t tuned to the same alarm clock: it stays asleep. For the record, so you don’t worry, be aware that Sleep Paralysis is entirely benign and usually lasts only a few moments—occasionally for a minute or two.
What is interesting about your case of sleep paralysis, of course, is that despite your “awakening,” you still are very much in REM sleep—as you continue to dream. It can be a confusing mix. Moments of waking awareness are interspersed with dream sequences, and you can dream that you have awoken, that you have called someone for help, even that you have gotten up, showered, etc., only to late really awaken in your bed.
You have noticed that Sleep Paralysis occurs more frequently when you are very tired. Your body requires a certain amount of both dreaming and non-dreaming sleep each night. When you feel the paralysis of REM sleep—encouraging you to stay asleep—you can rest assured that your body is trying to make up for some lost sleep. The reason you feel difficulty breathing is because your chest muscles also are paralyzed—you are breathing with your diaphragm only. This causes you to feel like you can’t breathe—but the reality is that you are breathing fine.
If these occasions of Sleep Paralysis bother you, try to get an extra 30-60 minutes of sleep per night. The extra sleep should satisfy your REM sleep needs. On the other hand, occasions of sleep paralysis often are useful as clues to ourselves that we are asleep and dreaming. If you have a few extra minutes, you can experiment with that awareness to begin to consciously explore your dreams—also known as lucid dreaming. To do this you will want to keep your mental awareness relaxed but alert, and at the same time allow yourself to settle down—relax physically—into the dreamscape. You want to quit worrying—for a few minutes—about waking up physically, and concentrate on waking up mentally in the dream. Good luck!
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