Sleep Paralysis

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I was intrigued by the paragraph about sleep paralysis which describes a phenomenon where a person will not be able to move when they just fell asleep or when they wake up suddenly. However, we now know that sleep paralysis is actually caused by our REM sleep which pretty much shuts down all muscle function while your brain remains very active so that you won't be able to act out the scenarios conjuring in your brain. The mechanism that actually momentarily stops all muscle functions is called REM atonia (aka REM sleep paralysis). Many have claimed to have hallucinations during sleep paralysis. There are two names for these hallucinations: hypnagogic hallucinations happens when you are sleeping and hypnopompic hallucinations happens when you have just awakened. Both are associated with supernatural claims.


Sleep paralysis has earned itself a pretty infamous name in history. People have associated such paralysis to be the work of a demon, ghost, incubi and etc. In fact, this is a big part in my Vietnamese culture. We call it ma đè, which literally translates into "ghost" and "pushed down" or bóng đè which translates to "shadow" and "pushed down". I actually grew up thinking this was a fact for a very long time.

This hit pretty close to home since I actually suffered from sleep paralysis a lot when I was a child. I remember just lying awake in my room with the lights on and just being too afraid to close my eyes because I didn't want to see...something. I still remember pretty vividly my hallucinations. There was always something really dark on top of me, and I felt like I couldn't breathe or scream. I never saw an actual figure; it was just a big blob of blackness all around me and suffocating me. I know this sounds really creepy, and I'm actually really creeped out just writing about it, but that's what I remember. And of course, when you are six years old and just experienced something like that, it sticks with you for a very long time. My mother's explanation was that there was a ghost and a demon haunting my dreams and trying to kill me...which didn't really help. She said it probably had something to do with me doing something very bad in my past life and that a vengeful demon was trying to kill me...which again, didn't really help. I didn't want to sleep for a very long time. And even now, I still sleep with a nightlight on.

I don't really remember when I stopped being scared of going to sleep. Probably in my high school years when I really needed it. But, reading this just brought me back to that experience when I was young and the explanation that I was given. Of course, I don't blame my mom. I think my culture in general is VERY superstitious when it comes to these things so I'm not saying that it was my mother's fault. However, it did cement my thoughts about science and its uses.

When I read about sleep paralysis in Chapter Five, it really struck me how science is very much needed in our world to explain seemingly "unnatural" events that happen in our lives. Without science, we would just give in to our heuristics and biases to lead our lives without any real factual evidence to support it. I feel it is very important for us to gain new knowledge in our world so that we don't go down such a path. Honestly, science would have helped me by explaining why this was happening rather than just believing that I was being killed by a demon. I think when you explain something that "seems" supernatural and basically contradict it with hard evidence that science and research provides, we would not live our lives by such beliefs. And it is because of this that I think science is truly meant to confirm and reject our biases in order for us to understand our world.

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This page contains a single entry by nguy1631 published on October 23, 2011 4:57 PM.

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