haunted by a ghost!

Hi Evelyn—

The first good news I can tell you is I don't think your ex is coming back to haunt you! The second good news is that you most likely are experiencing a very common sleep event, called "sleep paralysis." Sleep paralysis is frightening -- and it gives us all a scare now and then -- but it's never hurt anyone, and no one has ever stayed paralyzed!

Sleep paralysis occurs when we partially awaken from REM sleep (dreaming sleep), only to find that our bodies, somehow, have failed to get the message that they need to wake up too. In this curious "in-between" state, where waking and dreaming are mixed, we often can feel our sleeping -- and accordingly unresponsive -- bodies. If we try to move an arm or leg, or even draw a breath, the response can be terrifying. Our limbs do not respond, and even our breathing can feel labored.

Your dreams reflect several common features of "sleep paralysis" dreams. Because we feel vulnerable to attack when we realize our paralysis, we often dream there is an intruder in the room, hovering near us and about to attack. The "pressure" you sense on your chest and stomach (you dream the intruder causes it) almost certainly is caused by the lack of responsiveness you feel when try to gasp a breath of air. Because your body is still asleep, your waking breathing muscles are not yet active. When you try to expand your chest to bring in a big breath, you feel like you can't get any air at all.

It is interesting that you only have these experiences when sleeping alone. This suggests you are more prone to arousal (sleeping with "one ear open" ) when your husband is out of the room. As you know by now, there never really is an intruder in your room, and you also still are able to breathe during these dreams.

What's the solution to sleep paralysis dreams? Next time this "intruder" comes to visit, remind yourself it's just the same old dream, and see if you can't wiggle a toe or finger to help break the "spell" of paralysis. Some people also recommend sleeping on our sides to make sleep paralysis go away. In the long run, though, the best treatment for sleep paralysis is knowledge. The longest the spells ever last is about 30 seconds. If you count to thirty, and try wiggling your toes and fingers, you'll be fully awake in no time!

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