Have you ever been told that you had been the victim of a ghostly visitation? Ever had the suggestion of an amputated hand pressing on your chest? Well, you could have been experiencing a little known and bizarre phenomenon known as sleep paralysis, whereby, when coming out of a slumber, you find yourself half awake, but unable to move a muscle.
A sufferer, typically in light or disturbed state of sleep, wakes up but finds himself unable to move. There may be a sensation of suffocation or something heavy on the chest. He may still be in a state of light slumber, and may have vivid dreams. These dreams are often unpleasant, the sensation of having someone else in the room, for instance. Slowly, the paralysis passes and he will be able to make some small movements and then finally he awakes with full control of movements.
Exact etiology is unknown. However, it is quite firmly linked to several normal control mechanisms that exists in our brain that prevent us, for instance, from taking a leap of a building if we do so in our dreams. It has been demonstrated that if such control mechanisms are damaged, people can actually act out their actions in dreams, which is not really a desirable thing!
It can be a terrifying experience. I used to suffer from it occasionally as a child and young adult. It does not help that in many cultures, this is deemed to be a super-natural event. When I spoke of it as a child, my grandparents were so horrified and started talking about 'green hands' and the like. Needless to say I clammed up after that and suffered in silence for many many years. It was only in recent years, thanks to the advent of the internet, that I was able to chance upon an explanation for my experience. This is an obscure medical condition, and I would quite possibly gone through life without understanding it. Many sufferers also experience shame, guilt and befuddlement about their condition.
What we can do:
Hopefully, this would raise awareness amongst parents and remove some of the myth and superstition around a relatively normal physiological occurrence. Reassure your kids, if they mention this, that it is not some super-natural event, and save yourself the angst of having 'house-cleaning' and the like.
If you would like further information:
To understand what sufferers feel: