what happened?
March 24, 2007 8:15 AM   Subscribe

I had a weird experience with briefly losing consciousness last night. Should I be worried and/or do something about it?

Last night when I came home, I could feel (and hear) a "swooshing" sound in my head as my heart was beating, about 2 inches above my ear. This continued as I went to bed.

Then, as I was falling asleep (about 30 minutes later), I had a really bizarre feeling that something bad/urgent had just happened to my body. I wanted to get up and figure out what it was, but I couldn't move, and I felt sort of confused. I don't know if it was a dream or not. But about 20 seconds later I was fine, and at that time the swooshing had stopped. Now (several hours later) I feel completely fine.

I guess I want to know - Is this a known medical issue that can be identified from what I wrote above? Or are there any symptoms of what I described that indicates I should see a doctor?

I hate going to the doctor for things that are seemingly no longer an issue, because they never do anything to investigate or advise me (but send me a bill anyway).. so that's why I'm asking metafilter instead of just going.

Also, I don't know if it's related, but I happened to have had a moderate amount of alcohol and a lot of sugary food last night which is something that I normally would never do (mix sugar and alcohol, that is).
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That sounds exactly like sleep paralysis.
posted by Violet Hour at 8:22 AM on March 24, 2007

Previously on AskMe: 1, 2, 3.

There are others. You can also search for "hypnopompic state."

Have you been under extra stress lately, or been getting less sleep? I've had 3 or 4 of these experiences since having my son. He's 15 months, and I now get very little sleep. I've never had one of these experiences before that.

Mine feel like very light dreams. In one, a train ran through our house and I was stuck under it. As the train rolled over the top of me, I felt really strong vibrations, and they felt very real. Sort of like, if I had woken up and heard there had been an earthquake, I would have said, "Oh, so I really was feeling something move." But it was completely the dream. It was terrifying, but unlike other nightmares, once I woke up, I was 100% fine.
posted by peep at 8:40 AM on March 24, 2007

I am SO thankful you wrote this post. I was reading some of the links and realize that I had this happen to me once in 1999. The experience really freaked me out, I had no idea what it was. I consider myself pretty sane but I started to wonder... it felt like some invisible creature was holding me down or something, and I KNOW I was awake & didn't dream it. I described it to a friend & she acted like I was being crazy. She raised her eyebrows & said she was worried about me, insisting that I was probably just under too much stress & imagining things... so I never told anyone else.

Yay for science being able to explain freaky as Hell stuff!
posted by miss lynnster at 8:57 AM on March 24, 2007

If you're a woman and on the pill, you might have the same problem she had. It went away when she got off the pill.

My advice is go see a doctor.
posted by furtive at 9:12 AM on March 24, 2007

I used to have these all of the time -- it's a truly strange feeling, but nothing to get concerned about. Once you understand them, you may even be able to be aware of what's happening while still in the state, at which point it actually becomes cool.

I found I was most likely to get mine when very tired, or when going back to sleep after having been awake for less than an hour.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:48 AM on March 24, 2007

If you ever lose consciousness while awake and active, that's something to go see a doctor about. When sleeping, though, I wouldn't be too worried about it.

The brain apparently has a circuit that disconnects the body during sleep; this is to protect you from hurting yourself by thrashing around in your dreams. It is possible, although unusual, for you to wake up without that circuit switching off, leaviing you helpless in your own body. It doesn't generally last very long, but it's very distressing.

I've had it happen twice, once when I was a kid and once in my early 20s, when napping in a car. Each time, I woke up and was completely unable to move ANYTHING other than my eyes. As a kid, I summoned all my energy and struggled for what felt like AGES, and finally managed to get out a weak cry for help -- and my father woke up enough to tell me to go back to sleep. I was soooo hurt and angry... I really needed help and he wouldn't come. I ended up crying myself to sleep again, still paralyzed. I was perfectly fine in the morning, although still MAD AS HELL.

As an adult, it happened when I was napping in my car; I woke up and was completely unable to do anything at all. I remembered, though, this happening as a kid, and while it was scary, it was no longer terrifying. I remember it being about five minutes, which probably means it was ACTUALLY about one minute... being stuck immobile tends to play havoc with time sense. :) I don't remember if it was sudden release (like a switch) or slow gaining-of-control, but I eventually did return to normal. Told a friend about it when he got back to the car, and of course he didn't believe me. He thought I'd been dreaming. But I knew better.

So, yes, this can definitely happen to otherwise healthy people, and it's nothing to get too worried about if it's very infrequent. If it happens again in, say, the next year or so, you might want to get it checked out, but I think once a year or less often is probably not worth hassling with all the tests.
posted by Malor at 10:12 AM on March 24, 2007

While it does sound a lot like Sleep Paralysis, I've never heard of SP having any sort of lead up to it while the person is still awake. In other words, what happened after you went to bed sure sounds exactly like an episode of SP, the swooshing in your head before you went to bed does not.

I've experienced SP all of my life and have never had this swooshing or any sort of indication like that while I was still awake and fully conscious.
posted by RoseovSharon at 12:15 PM on March 24, 2007

Sounds like a panic attack. Go see a doctor.
posted by Roger Dodger at 12:52 PM on March 24, 2007

It sounds nothing like a panic attack to me, and I have had them.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:04 PM on March 24, 2007

Sleep paralysis. I've had this happen in the early morning a couple of times that I can remember, and it's extremely freaky.
posted by killdevil at 2:31 PM on March 24, 2007

IANAD, but sounds to me like you had a brief anxiety attack caused by reactive hypoglycemia, the proximate cause being your unusual-for-you mixing of alcohol with a lot of sugar. This messed with the sugar levels in your brain.

I have had several panic attacks/anxiety attacks, and to me it DOES sound like an anxiety attack. They come in many forms and in varying degrees.

I have the whooshing sound in my right ear even as I type this. When under stress, it gets a lot louder. It's a blood vessel sitting against your ear nerve, whatever they call that nerve. Any time your blood pressure is higher than usual for you, as when you're anxious or stressed, you may hear this swoosh. I Googled it and it's apparently nothing to worry about.

It doesn't hurt to see a doctor. But also go read up on the reactive hypoglycemia, take it easy on the sugar, don't stay up late too much, and eat a little more often and healthier. Also, play some calming music and take your teddy bear/bunny/human to bed with you the next few nights and you will be just fine.

We all have two nervous symtoms for balance (I am not making this up, a Google image search should show you how they're set up), the sympathetic one which gets us all keyed up and the parasympathetic one which calms us down. You can find de-stressing techniques all over the Internet, in magazines, everywhere. You need to nurture your parasympathetic nervous system. Go nurture it!!!!!
posted by serena15221 at 7:50 PM on March 24, 2007

Each time, I woke up and was completely unable to move ANYTHING other than my eyes. As a kid, I summoned all my energy and struggled for what felt like AGES, and finally managed to get out a weak cry for help -- and my father woke up enough to tell me to go back to sleep

I, too, have this experience, but unfortunately, it's usually during a frightening dream (maybe I'm trying to wake up from it?). It seems to happen when I've only been asleep for a short time. It's absolutely terrifying being aware and unable to move or speak. I am getting better at focusing on not trying to move or scream, but just make a little sound--it's all I can achieve. Luckily, if I can make the whimper, my husband, who is an extremely light sleeper or is often still awake, will call my name or touch me to wake me completely, which breaks the paralysis.

Thank you, honey. I love you.
posted by Savannah at 7:56 PM on March 24, 2007

Sounds like palpitations, something that could indicate a number of things, some of them serious.
posted by kisch mokusch at 8:05 PM on March 24, 2007

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