Sleep Paralysis: Harmful or Helpful?

Maya spends time in this article exploring this crazy phenomenon called sleep paralysis and how it actually can be turned into something that might benefit your lucid dreaming goals. Take a look....

You went to sleep. Now you wake up. You’re conscious and aware. Your mind is telling your body to move. But you can’t move. You can’t speak. You are frozen. You are experiencing sleep paralysis. It will probably last for a few minutes. From an outsider’s perspective this isn’t very long, but for you it is an excruciating eternity. 

If you’re having trouble breathing, it’s because sleep paralysis is panic-inducing. And sometimes it catalyzes hallucinations. These hallucinations often take the form of demonic presences at the foot of your bed, in the corner of your room, or on top of you. Accounts of demons sitting on people’s chests and preventing them from moving are commonplace throughout many folkloric traditions. The pandafeche of Italy, the bakhtak of Persia, and the dab tsog of South-East Asia are all explanations for sleep paralysis. 

The few minutes have passed. Your sleep paralysis is over. You probably have a lot of questions about what you just experienced. Firstly, why did it happen? Sleep deprivation and irregular sleeping patterns are the most common causes of sleep paralysis. Other causes include stress, anxiety, trauma, and things that incite recurrent awakenings, including substance abuse/withdrawals, nightmares, and chronic pain. 

Your next question is probably something along the lines of “Should I be worried?” and “Can sleep paralysis hurt me?” Well, according to Aneesa Das, MD, isolated occurrences of sleep paralysis are not harmful to you. However, recurring incidents of sleep paralysis can be connected to damaging sleep disorders, like narcolepsy. If sleep paralysis is a regular event for you, you should consult your doctor. But if it’s more of a rarity, there really isn’t anything to worry about. In fact, sleep paralysis is proof that your body is functioning exactly as it should. 

What is Glycine?

Using a neurotransmitter known as glycine, your brain temporarily paralyzes your voluntary muscles during REM sleep to prevent you from moving wildly while dreaming. This protects you and/or your bedfellows from injury. The frozen state of sleep paralysis is just your body doing its job. Because you were abruptly awoken from your REM sleep, your body needs a few minutes to register what’s going on before it releases your muscles. 

With any luck this brief explanation helped you understand the mechanics of sleep paralysis and made it less scary for you. Sleep paralysis doesn’t have to be a fearful experience, and there are some people who actually find it to be a very helpful one.

Sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming, and astral projection

In an article on the website Seize the Night, Neil Brown provides a tutorial for using sleep paralysis as a gateway to lucid dreaming. Brown says that if you want to trigger a lucid dream while you’re in a state of sleep paralysis there are two steps to follow:

  1. Remain calm. Don’t let the frozen state freak you out; remember that it’s perfectly natural. Think positive. Be grateful that sleep paralysis happened so you could have the opportunity to lucid dream. 
  2. Visualize the scene you would like to inhabit and focus on details in that scene that engage your five senses. Doing so will shift your awareness from your physical body to your dream body. Once you have dissociated you can enter your lucid dream. 

Brown also soothes readers’ concerns about phantoms they might feel and figures they might see during sleep paralysis. Brown assures us that these are just hallucinations that cannot physically harm us. He reminds us that these hallucinations stem from the same neurological roots that dreams do. It should bring you peace that sleep paralysis hallucinations share a similar origin with the dreams that you welcome and enjoy. Dreams don’t last forever. Dreams end and so too will the hallucinations. 

If you’re intrigued by lucid dreaming, do yourself a favor and read the deeply fascinating essay “The Terror and the Bliss of Sleep Paralysis” by Karen Emslie. In this essay Emslie shares her experiences with sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming, and out of body experiences (OBEs). Like Brown, Emslie discusses harnessing the power of sleep paralysis and using it as a stepping stone to lucid dreaming. Waking and dreaming overlap in both sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming, and that’s what makes them so similar and connected. Psychologist James Cheyne says that they are inverses of each other. When you lucid dream, the awareness that comes with being awake enters the dream space. When you experience sleep paralysis, the imagery of the dream space enters the awareness of wakefulness. 

By utilizing sleep paralysis as a portal to lucid dreaming, Emslie has created a world that she revisits and adds to every time she lucid dreams. Her world is filled with neighborhoods, transportation systems, and recreational centers, and she is constantly expanding it. These lucid dreams are exhilarating for her. And sometimes she takes the thrills beyond dreaming. 

Emslie doesn’t explicitly label her OBEs as astral projections, but the fact that her OBEs are intentional makes them astral projections by definition. During astral projection, Emslie separates from her physical body, leaving it behind on the bed while she floats up to the ceiling and moves through solid walls and closed doors. She twirls and flies with the freedom of dreams and the consciousness of waking. 

The same freedom and joy that Emslie has is available to you too. You might not ever experience sleep paralysis, and that’s okay. It’s really not something you should seek out. You should never intentionally deprive yourself of sleep or purposefully stress yourself out in an attempt to experience sleep paralysis. That is not healthy. 

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to endure sleep paralysis in order to lucid dream. Pursuing lucid dreaming on it’s own is a much more innocuous process. Visualization exercises, sleep masks, and herbal supplements such as Dream Leaf are all safe ways to make yourself lucid dream. But for those of you who have encountered or will encounter sleep paralysis, hopefully the information here brings you knowledge and comfort.

Is Dream Leaf right for you?

If you are looking for a way to support your lucid dreaming goals you might be interested in the Dream Leaf supplement. Two capsules, a red and a blue, prepare your body and mind at night to lucid dream. If you are interested in taking your sleep to the next level, visit Dream Leaf at

If you would like to read Karen Emslie's article go here.

For more on Neil Brown, find him @Neil_Brown



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