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Busting the myth of ‘ghost arrest’

- Aruna Kunwor

Sep 13, 2017-Have you ever woken up in the middle of your sleep and wished that you hadn’t because now you are aware but you can neither move, nor speak to ask for help. It feels like you are arrested in your own body. It is often believed that it is because a ghost is seated on your chest. It does feel like so. You feel choked and anxious.

If you have never been through the experience, I hope you never have to go through it. If you have been through it, there’s good news—it’s not ghost arrest. There is no ghost sitting on your chest. So, the next time you feel haunted in the middle of the night, you can keep calm and fight the paralysis.

Did you know it is called Sleep Paralysis?

The word ‘paralysis’ linked with ‘sleep’ might frighten you more, but worry not. It is temporary and doesn’t even last a minute. It can happen to anyone and it is not a disease as such. But the question remains, if the phenomenon is not a disease and it is not so dangerous, why is it so scary? Why does it leave us gasping for air at odd hours? 

Yes, the few minutes of extreme terror and anxiety, one goes through, and a paradoxical state of wakefulness in sleep is horrifying. The more your urgency to bring back the mobility in your body increases, the more likely you are to remain helpless.

To learn about the mechanism of sleep paralysis, it is more important to know about the sleep mechanism of our body at first. In human’s sleep, there are two phases.

- nREM (non Rapid Eye Movement) sleep

- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep

During sleep, we continuously shift from REM sleep to nREM phase. Our body muscles are fairly relaxed and we remain dreamless at nREM sleep.

We visualise vivid dreams in REM phase and it generally lasts for about 90-120 minutes. The longevity of the phase depends on age. REM accounts for 80 percent in the newly born child while only 20-25 percent of adults’ sleep. REM sleep defines a rapid side to side intermittent motion of eyes. There is high energy and oxygen consumption by brain, often higher than when we are awake or solving complex problem. Our muscles remain totally inactive at this stage. Naturally, the body’s mechanism to keep our muscles inactive during REM sleep is to make sure that the person won’t be able to act out dreams as REM is all about dreams and dreams are all about actions and emotions. If we wake up before going to REM sleep or before completion of REM sleep, we become unable to move as muscles mobility hasn’t turned back yet. This actually is the point when sleep paralysis occurs.

The major factors governing the sleep paralysis are believed to be sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety and even sleeping in supine position.

However, there are different myths and superstitious beliefs in different parts of countries which existed even prior to identification of this disorder as ‘Sleep Paralysis’. In some country, it is taken as attack of evil witch and often interpreted as Space Alien abduction.

In fact, there are no medical treatments to the disorder. By reading the experiences and feelings of large number of sleep paralysed and myself, what I can suggest to the sufferers is that, the more we tend to force ourselves to strike it off, the more it persists. So we need to take it as light as possible. Just love the way it comes, gets over your body and then leaves in tranquility. You need to believe that it doesn’t kill you. Some even suggest that since it attacks chest and throat, all you need to do is shift your focus to somewhere else, like a toe. Most of the sufferers tell that wiggling your toe gently, works sometimes. So, trying to remain as calm as possible can work best to get rid of it much quicker.

Kunwor is a student at Khwopa College of Engineering, Bhaktapur

Published: 13-09-2017 11:03

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