Isolated Sleep Paralysis

Read some crazy stuff around the blogosphere today.  Stuff that turned out to be entirely fabricated, though.  I’m glad that I’m a hermit so that I basically stayed inside all day (well, and because I had an 8pm exam to study for), and therefore wasn’t the target of any of this April Fool’s nonsense.

The other week I learned that my friend Ben has isolated sleep paralysis.  That was really exciting; I’d never met anyone else besides me who has this... condition, or whatever it is.  When people go to sleep, certain stages of sleep (REM stages, iirc) tend to be violent, so the brain paralyzes the body to prevent you from hurting yourself.  You’d never know this, because you’re asleep while it happens.  But people who have this ISP condition are conscious while this happens.  Not all the time, though; for me, sometimes it happens 5 times in a week, and other times I’ll go 6 months without a single occurence of it.

It is impossible to convey this experience in words, but it is simultaneously mysterious, intriguing and terrifying.  It always happens right around the time when I’m falling asleep or waking up.  I try to move, and I realize that I can’t, so I know it’s happening again.  There is almost always an echoing sound that starts quiet and gets very loud, and it’s repetitive, almost like a record skipping but faster.  As I struggle to move I feel my heart start to beat really fast.

At the time, I believe that my eyes are open.  I believe I am seeing the room around me.  But from some things I’ve read, I’ve come to doubt whether they actually are open.  It may be that I only think they are open, and my brain is actually seeing an image of the room from before I closed my eyes and fell asleep.

There is always the distinct feeling of something evil around me.  But that’s something which by its very nature is impossible to quantify.  And it could be that simply being paralyzed causes me to be very afraid; that’s certainly logical.  The article I linked above talks about this, and how it could be the body/brain’s survival mechanisms reacting to what it perceives as the presence of a threat.

The thing is, it’s terrifying, but as soon as I break free from it, I want it to happen again.  I want to understand it.  I want to somehow experience it but without being terrified by the dark presence and that thrashing sound growing louder.  I never even knew that other people experienced this until I found that article one day, and that was after about 2 years of it.

So anyway, it was exciting to actually talk to another person who’s gone through it.

Posted by Anthony on 3 replies


01. Apr 9, 2008 at 03:03pm by Roger Corby:

I have had this disorder for thirty years, and it gets worse as I get older. I do have some mild hallucinations, but I know that’s what they are.

My problem, which I consider severe, is that while I’m paralyzed, I can only breathe shallowly, and I feel like I’m running out of oxygen. I think it must be much like being waterboarded. It scares the hell out of me, because I’m worried that my heart rate, BP, etc., is spiking, and because I’m 70 y.o. I might have a heart attack or stroke.

Over the years, I have "trained" my wife to shake me, slap me, yell at me, and anything else to get me out of a severe attack. When she has to hit me, I can’t feel any pain, just the impact. I feel as if I’m using up my available oxygen to struggle to come out of it.

I have spoken with two sleep specialists. Both said, "Hey, you’re not going to die from this." To which my response is, "I’m not convinced of that."

If anybody who reads this thinks they can help me, I would appreciate it, because the docs don’t know what to do because there’s no data on ISP this severe.

Thanks for listening.


02. Apr 9, 2008 at 03:30pm by Anthony:

Quoting Roger Corby:

My problem, which I consider severe, is that while Iím paralyzed, I can only breathe shallowly, and I feel like Iím running out of oxygen.

Same here, but for me it’s only sometimes; other times my ISP happens with no shallowness of breath.  Or perhaps it’s just that during episodes which are relatively brief, I don’t have time to notice.  But certainly when it does happen, it makes the panic & the terror much worse.

Unfortunately I have no answers, only questions.

03. Oct 7, 2009 at 06:10am by Anthony:

I recently realized that lately -- for the past 1-2 years -- my ISP only occurs when I happen to fall asleep on the couch, not in bed.  The difference is that there’s an AC/fan unit by the bed that’s always running, generating lots of loud white noise.  But out on the couch, it’s nearly silent.  And lately, pretty much every time I fall asleep on the couch, it happens, whereas I can’t remember a single time that it’s happened in bed while living here (past 1-2 years).

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