This is one of the most common—and disturbing—nightmares that people have. The funny thing is, it’s not really a nightmare!
What you are feeling when you are asleep and trying to wake up is a phenomenon known as “REM pressure.” Your body is trying to keep you asleep so it can continue dreaming. Why? Because you haven’t received your daily quota of REM! (Does your late night clubbing have anything to do with this? You bet!)
When scientists first discovered REM in 1953, they began performing all sorts of tests to see how the body—and the mind—would react. For example, it was popular to believe that dreams released the psychological “pressures” of our subconscious minds. By extension, many people were quite sure that, if we didn’t dream, we all would simply go insane.
Only one way to test a theory, right? :-)
Being inquisitive minds, these scientists soon began recruiting subjects to experiment with REM deprivation. (To be fair, many of the scientists participated in the experiments themselves.) But the question remained: Would a REM-deprived person soon begin to hallucinate—and maybe hear voices during the day—as unconscious pressures began “seeping” into waking experience?
The answer, they soon learned, is no. REM-deprived patients are tired and grumpy, but they are not psychotic. What the scientists did learn, however, is that the body has an exceptionally strong drive to achieve REM sleep. Toward the end of the experiment, over 35 awakenings (per night) were required to prevent people from dreaming! (The body wants—and needs—its REM!!) It is significant to note that the experiment “ended” when the scientists no longer were able to keep their subjects awake. The subjects fell into a deep sleep, immediately began dreaming, and could not be awakened.
What’s the moral of the story? You’re a little bit (maybe a lot!) REM-deprived. If you keep track of when these bouts of sleep paralysis occur, you will note that they almost always are associated with periods of sleep deprivation. Instead of your body waking up when your brain does, it’s asking you (well…insisting, really) that you let it sleep in a bit. The reason why you feel paralyzed is because you are! The body is unable to move during REM—so we don’t act out our dreams.
What’s the good news? You’re not going insane! What’s the bad news? You may have to take a night off of your party schedule…to let your body catch up with your brain!
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