Sleep Paralysis: The Scariest Sleep Disorder?

With Halloween upon us, it seems only appropriate to consider for a moment which is the scariest sleep disorder.  We’re not talking about the most life-threatening, of course, but rather which is the one that will frighten you the most?

The first parasomnia, or sleep disorder, that comes to mind is night terrors.  Sometimes called sleep terrors, night terrors are episodes of fear, flailing and screaming while asleep. They are often are paired with sleepwalking, and the victim normally doesn’t remember what dream led them to be scared.  Night terrors are most common in children, who normally grow out of them by adolescence.

As bad as night terrors can be, for pure scare factor one has to consider sleep paralysis as the scariest sleep disorder.  During normal sleep, your brain sends a signal to your body to that essentially paralyzes you while you’re dreaming. This keeps you from thrashing around and possibly hurting yourself or your bed partner. When sleep paralysis occurs, however, the brain either switches on your muscle inhibition too soon or doesn’t switch it off when you wake up.  This can lead to very creepy experiences where you’re awake but unable to move. Even worse, many people who suffer from sleep paralysis will dream while they’re awake.  When you’re asleep, dreaming is normal, but when you’re awake it’s called hallucinating.

The most common hallucinations that occur with sleep paralysis include sensing or seeing another person in the room, being touched, hearing footsteps, floating, or even hearing someone call your name. Episodes of sleep paralysis can last anywhere from 10 seconds to a terrifying 70 minutes.  Sleep paralysis has been pointed to as a possible explanation for individuals who believe they’ve been a victim of nighttime alien encounters and abductions.

Chronic sleep paralysis only affects about six percent of adults. Generally, the disorder is related to jet lag, sleep deprivation, stress or even your sleeping position. It’s believed that supine sleep (sleeping on your back) can make a person five times more likely to have an episode of sleep paralysis than any other position.