April 5, 2021 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Googling has claimed this impossible, but... Do any of you have any tips for waking up during a bout of sleep paralysis? Or at least successfully calming yourself down during it / continuing your sleep without forcing yourself to wake up? How?

Sleep paralysis usually manifests for me as an awareness that it is happening after some struggling with breathing and creepy dreams of things lurking in my room / bed. Then ensues the struggle of trying to jerk myself awake while trying to catch deep breaths, but the realization of not being able to move and inability to breathe deeply sends me into distress. Eventually, if I jerk my limbs hard enough I wake up. Surely there's a better way.......
posted by blueberrypuffin to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I used to have sleep paralysis when I was younger and this whole phenomenon was always culturally understood as a spiritual attack. So in my case, i had in my mind, a strategy in response: which is to recite specific prayers/religious verses (non-verbally then eventually verbally). Psychologically that gave me the understanding that i was doing something. That really helped a lot in bringing me back up to full wakefulness. Maybe you need to develop a similar habit of waiting out the episode? Some kind of song or monologue to help you focus and reduce your distress?
posted by cendawanita at 10:29 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]

I wrench myself out of sleep paralysis the same way, though I don't try to take catch deep breaths in the moment, I just focus on jerking my limbs hard enough to escape the dream. It happens often enough that I can kind of dimly recognize that sleep paralysis is what's happening within my dream, even though it is mostly overshadowed in the moment by feeling of panic and desperation to move.

I still wake up in an alarmed jolt, but at least I'm not confused, because I can immediately identify what just happened as sleep paralysis. I form the words "sleep paralysis" in my head, take a sip of water to keep from sliding back into the dream, breathe deeply, and can usually calm down fairly quickly and go back to sleep.

(To go back to sleep, I turn to the familiar collection of images/scenarios/memories/mental movies that I regularly use to give my ADD brain something to do while I'm falling asleep.)
posted by desuetude at 10:50 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]

What helps me is to take a moment and try to calm myself (usually with deep breathing) and recognize the situation (because usually I get worked up and freaked out before I realize that I'm having a sleep paralysis episode), and then to try to picture whatever thing is terrorizing me in my dream as something that's not in my nightmare wheelhouse, or something cute or goofy - a feeling of oppressive force becomes a nonthreatening pile of kittens, the void of dread emanating from the corner of my bedroom becomes a door to a surprise bonus room in my house, etc. This doesn't always work, but usually the internal strategizing to direct the dream gets me in my head enough to derail whatever nightmare scenario is happening and either allows me to wake up normally or get back to restful sleep.
posted by quatsch at 11:08 AM on April 5

When I had worse sleep habits, my sleep paralysis used to be pretty bad. It was often a nightmarish dreamscape mixed with my real physical surroundings. If the TV was on or there was any other conversation in the room it would be part of of my experience (this is what freaked me out the most). Eventually I was able to consistently recognize it for what it is, I'm generally lucid enough to talk to myself but can't move and cant wake up. These days I either try to get myself to go back to sleep fully or I ride out the dreamscape if it is interesting. Other than talking to myself, I never have been able to exert any control over these episodes, I am always a passive participant. It is much rarer these days for me to experience this and now the dream is usually less of a nightmare and occasionally fun.
posted by jmsta at 11:47 AM on April 5

I try to move just the tip of my pinky finger, and then just my pinky finger, and then my pinky and ring finger... and then all of my fingers, and then my hand, and then my wrist, and then my arm...

Starting with small movement and gradually 'growing' my sense of movement will often be enough to break me out of a sleep paralysis phase.
posted by many more sunsets at 11:50 AM on April 5 [3 favorites]

Small movement yes. Try touching the roof of your mouth with your tongue.
posted by vrakatar at 12:11 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]

Second hand, I've heard of using eye movement as a starting point for breaking out. Something like looking left, right, up, down repeatedly.
posted by Dmenet at 1:14 PM on April 5

I've never been able to wake myself up through movement. If I realize what's going on, I tell myself, you can't get out by pushing forwards, you have to go back(wards) to sleep and wake up the right way.
posted by adventitious at 2:05 PM on April 5

Lately whenever I have an episode I recognize it for what it is and try not to fight it too hard because that throws me into panic mode and once you get into that it's hard to back out. I'll instead try to focus on an awareness of my body and autonomous breathing. Often I can get back to sleep this way or at least ride out the episode in relative calm until I wake up properly.
posted by Ferreous at 2:13 PM on April 5 [2 favorites]

Mine manifests as being unable to breathe and being convinced devils and/or murderers are here to kill my partner, me, or sometimes the dog (It was just me before I moved in.) One really helpful thing was swimming laps-- I have misjudged my swim stroke often enough to be in an actual no-air situation and get myself out of it. Another was mentally going over the sounds I would hear if someone got in my apartment (it would be distinctive and loud.) Also, having the dog here would mean barking, as he is a light sleeper due to napping all day.

I worked out the logic of what would happen in an actual situation of being unable to breathe and/or intruder alert. I figured it out awake, then rehearsed it, then used it while having an episode:

a) I am freaking out because I can't breathe and something is here to hurt us
b) Wait, if I were actually drowning/choking I wouldn't have any thoughts other than "air air air" and here I am, like, reflecting on the situation
c) If I can think about the evil presence, I have enough air to be safe
d) Therefore, I will maximize my air with gentle breaths
e) If something were really wrong the dog would bark
f) Also, supernatural evil isn't real and I'm having a dream
g) Man this is stupid can we please be done here
h) zzzzzzzzzzzz

Boring logic just helps me a lot. I have also found there's a specific pillow/neck combination thay makes it more likely. So does being more than 2 drinks' worth of drunk when going to bed, so I avoid that. Good luck.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:32 PM on April 5

Response by poster: Wow, really enjoying each and every one of these responses! Please keep the strategies coming! Happy to have lots to try.
posted by blueberrypuffin at 3:20 PM on April 5

Try to scream. I never produce more than a wheeze but it's enough to wake me.
posted by lloquat at 8:07 PM on April 5

I used to have really scary sleep paralysis, and now I don't, and i kinda miss it cuz once I read up on it I was able to surf it and fly around my Brooklyn apartment a few times. If you lucid dream sometimes, or have flying dreams you can control, you might be able to surf it.
posted by vrakatar at 9:07 PM on April 5

I feel for you OP! I have had sleep paralysis since I was a child, but mine is the totally banal kind. I don't see demons. I see my family or co-workers walking around, oblivious to my distress.

desuetude's method works for me. I'm curious to know if there's a better way too. If hubs catches it, he shakes me awake. I usually don't go back to sleep after it happens because surprise! It can happen twice in a row for me.
posted by Calzephyr at 6:20 AM on April 6

> I usually don't go back to sleep after it happens because surprise! It can happen twice in a row for me.

That is THE WORST. In times of unusually severe stress, I do occasionally have a really bad episode where I keep cycling back into paralysis repeatedly. If that happens, I sit up until I feel safe and steady enough (and absofuckinglutely sure that I am really awake this time) to get out of bed and walk down the hall to the bathroom, where I'll get a drink of water, look in the mirror, and otherwise remind myself that everything is ordinary again.
posted by desuetude at 2:35 PM on April 6

I hate the experience, but I understand it now. It used to happen when I slept at odd hours and not in bed, e.g., afternoon nap on the couch. Now I usually have it mid-sleep in bed. My partner is always next to me so I just scream, moan, gurgle, whatever to wake him up to shake me. He's usually unhappy about the whole thing.
posted by namret at 3:03 PM on April 6

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