I have periodic episodes of sleep paralysis. They have become more frequent as I have gotten older and my health has declined. Web MD defines sleep paralysis this way:
Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions, you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes. Some people may also feel pressure or a sense of choking. Sleep paralysis may accompany other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is an overpowering need to sleep caused by a problem with the brain’s ability to regulate sleep.
Sleep paralysis usually occurs at one of two times. If it occurs while you are falling asleep, it’s called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis. If it happens as you are waking up, it’s called hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis.
What Happens With Hypnagogic Sleep Paralysis?
As you fall asleep, your body slowly relaxes. Usually you become less aware, so you do not notice the change. However, if you remain or become aware while falling asleep, you may notice that you cannot move or speak.
What Happens With Hypnopompic Sleep Paralysis?
During sleep, your body alternates between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. One cycle of REM and NREM sleep lasts about 90 minutes. NREM sleep occurs first and takes up to 75% of your overall sleep time. During NREM sleep, your body relaxes and restores itself. At the end of NREM, your sleep shifts to REM. Your eyes move quickly and dreams occur, but the rest of your body remains very relaxed. Your muscles are “turned off” during REM sleep. If you become aware before the REM cycle has finished, you may notice that you cannot move or speak.
I had my first episode of sleep paralysis as a teenager. My latest episode happened last Friday. I had a rough night the night before (a common problem with gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis). I had a hard time staying asleep due to leg pain, muscle spasms, and nausea. I spent the night falling asleep, waking up, falling asleep, waking up — and that’s with taking multiple medications for pain, spasms, and insomnia. Some nights, these medicines don’t work very well.
I got up at 2:00 pm, moved to the living room couch, and promptly fell asleep for two hours. Then, shortly before 4:00 pm, I had an episode of sleep paralysis — the worst episode ever.
Before falling asleep, I turned YouTube on our big screen TV. Viced Rhino (an anagram for young earth creationist Eric Hovind), one of my favorite atheist video makers, had posted several news videos, so I thought I would watch them. So I started playing the following video:
Then minutes into the video, I fell asleep . . .
Viced Rhino invites me to a party at his house, a ramshackle one-story building. I drive there in a burgundy Chevy Lumina (a car we owned in the late 1990s). I arrive at Viced Rhino’s home and park in the gravel driveway. I walk into the home, only to find that the “party” is actually an audience for a taping of one of Viced Rhino’s videos.
After listening to Viced Rhino for a while, I decide to leave and go to a whore house (I am currently watching Underbelly season four — an Australian TV show featuring two underworld women in the 1920s and 1930s. One of the women runs whore houses.) So I walk out to the driveway, only to find my car is missing.
I am in a van with an attractive young woman. Suddenly, the van stops, the back door opens, and I fall out into a park. People are picnicking. I say to a woman, “I need to help.” “My blood sugar is low,” I say to myself. The woman gives me a warm bottle of Red pop.
I walk to a big town, going through a long, painted white cement tunnel, with adult entertainment businesses on both sides of the tunnel. (This part of the story reminds me of my visit to Underground Atlanta in 1976 as an eighteen-year-old boy.)
I stumble into a firehouse, asking a burly black fireman to help me. I tell him my blood sugar is low. Then, suddenly, I hear a banging noise in the distance (Polly is making lunch in the kitchen, 20 feet away) and hear Viced Rhino talking.
I started screaming HELP ME! This what I typically do when trying to come out of an episode of sleep paralysis. Of course, these screams sound like faint mumbles to those outside of my mind. Fortunately, Polly heard my “screams” and, as she always does, helps me to gently wake up.
I am trembling and speaking with a high-pitched staccato voice. It took me hours to gain some sense of normal. Polly was so worried for me that she thought about calling off from work — something she has never done in her 25-year career at Sauder Woodworking. Knowing that she already had one employee call off for the night, I told her I would be okay. I wasn’t, but I didn’t want her to miss getting her perfect attendance bonus.
I spent the rest of the night on the couch, only getting up to use the bathroom. This was the most terrifying experience I have ever had with sleep paralysis. Throw in Ambien-induced hallucinations — is it any wonder I don’t want to go to sleep? Sleep paralysis typically follows a sleepless night. Most of these terrifying episodes occur when I am lying on the couch or sitting in my recliner. While sleep paralysis won’t kill you, it can do a number on you psychologically. I was still having problems the next day.
I still love Viced Rhino, but I hope he doesn’t invite me to any more “parties” at his house. 🙂
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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