Sunday 26 April 2015

Sleep Paralysis: annoying, maybe frightening, but harmless

You wake up in bed, only to find out that you can't move. Not a single body part obey you, apart from your eyes. Your mind is partially clouded. Are you dreaming, have you been drugged, is something horribly wrong with your body? Something at the edge of your vision catches your attention. A tall, dark shadow stands between you and the window, slowly moving closer to your bed, not making a sound. You can't take your eyes off this threatening vision, and you try to scream, but no sound comes out...

Shadow hallucination in sleep paralysis
Shadow hallucination. Bedroom photo by Aphoticbeauty

What is sleep paralysis?

If this sounds familiar to you, you have experienced sleep paralysis. The experience is most common immediately after waking up, and usually lasts for a few seconds. Because of the fear that can accompany sleep paralysis, those seconds can feel horribly long.

To understand what sleep paralysis is, we need to know a couple of things about sleep. Sleep is divided into several different phases: NREM 1, 2, 3, and REM. Every time we sleep, we cycle through those phases roughly once every 90 minutes. REM sleep is the phase where we usually dream. In this stage, the body (except the eyes) is completely paralysed. This is called REM atonia. If this paralysis didn't occur, we would have acted out all our dream, and potentially injured ourselves. When we wake up quickly, and directly from REM sleep, consciousness may return before we regain control over our muscles. This causes conscious sleep paralysis.

Hallucinations in sleep paralysis

It is common to hallucinate in this state. The scientific word for hallucinations upon waking up is hypnopompic hallucinations. Several theories try to explain where these hallucinations come from; some say that they are a result of natural brain processes during sleep which imitate stress and fear reactions, and some say that they are simply background noise from the brain. A common hallucination is seeing, hearing or otherwise sensing an intruder in the bedroom. As soon as we wake fully, the hallucination dissolves. Seeing a dark, humanoid shadow is an especially common hallucination. I used to experience this often in my youth. Now, I usually hallucinate footsteps, the doorbell, or a cat curled up on my bed.

Simply knowing that this is a hallucination helps against the fear. It is good to know that this isn't real, it is harmless, and will go away at least a few moments after muscles start working again. Most people experience this at some point. Some people experience it as much as once a week, and that can be a sign of an underlying sleep or anxiety disorder.

How do I get rid of it?

It is common to experience sleep paralysis more often if we are stressed or anxious. I have also heard stories of this happening after overuse of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, or other psychoactive substances. Keeping a healthy sleep schedule and otherwise treating the body well may help prevent it.

Apart from the eyes and face, the first body parts to regain control are often fingers and toes. It can be effective to focus on them. When control comes back in a finger, the rest of the body should follow within moments. I have often made the mistake of focusing on my voice first, and that has just added more stress.

If the hallucinations aren't too distracting, simply going back to sleep is also an option.

Sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming 

It is possible to experience paralysis both while falling asleep and while waking up, even if the latter is far more common. For people who are familiar with the WILD technique, sleep paralysis can be used as an easy way into a lucid dream. The brain is already close to REM sleep. Some people have described how they simply roll out of bed, stand up, and find themselves in a fully formed lucid dream. It is probably a good idea to at least make it a habit to do a reality check after every sleep paralysis experience.

Further reading

LD4all's SP FAQ

Wikipedia article

Friday 24 April 2015

How I got my first lucid dream

I am a natural lucid dreamer. The ability to be conscious in a dream runs in my family. I don't know if this is genetic or cultural inheritance, it is probably a combination. The first time I experienced and remembered a lucid dream, I was maybe five years old. It's difficult to pinpoint the exact age and time, because of the way memory works in a small child. From the memory of which bed I slept in, I was definitely older than three and younger than six.

It was early morning, and I had just had a pleasant dream. In the dream, I was walking in a beautiful park. It felt free and safe, and the only person in the park apart from me was an old man. Both of my grandfathers died before I was born, but this dream character felt as safe and magical at the same time as I imagine a grandfather does. He told me that it was easy to come back to this place. I just needed to fall asleep again after waking up, and I'd be back. Shortly after that, I woke up.

It was still dark, and quiet, so it took me a short time to fall asleep again. To my delight, I was back in the park! This time, I knew it was a dream. I can't remember if the "grandfather" was still there, but I spent several minutes exploring the dream park. It felt like I had just made a great discovery.

Today I know that this is called a lucid dream, and the technique that gave me the lucid dream is known as dream re-entry or DEILD. LD4all has several topics on it, this is a FAQ. It has continued to be one of the most reliable ways for me to get lucid through the years.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

About this blog and me

Hi, I'm Siiw, and this is my personal blog.

The reason why my Blogger profile is called "Tante Rose" is that my first blog, Plantehjelp, is in Norwegian. I wanted a profile name that would fit the theme of the blog. Plantehjelp is mostly an instructional site for growing plants. This is a personal blog, where I'll simply write about things that I find interesting. This is also a convenient place for me to post photos, so my English speaking friends can see them.

Some websites may be promoted here. That doesn't mean that they sponsor me, or that I am affiliated with them, just that I like the sites. I can be quite passionate about some, such as LD4all.

The title "Inner Worlds" reflects one of my interests: lucid dreaming. Many lucid dreamers have regularly recurring dream places, some have elaborate worlds! I'll post about that, but not only that.

I apologise in advance for my English. My first language is Norwegian. If there are any errors in the blog, and there certainly are, I appreciate feedback on them so they can be corrected. The posts are written as they are, directly into the Blogger editor, so the language is far from perfect. This blog is after all a training project, for me to practice writing English.

Monday 6 April 2015

Why do thoughts flow so freely in the shower?

This thought came to me, of course, in the shower. I was happily showering, with the lights off as usual (because that improves the state of creativity even more), and the question popped into my head.

It is well known that thoughts and ideas come easier into the mind in the shower or bath. It wouldn't surprise me if important inventions have been first thought of there. There is even a subreddit dedicated to shower thoughts. Browsing through it is entertaining, but it doesn't solve the question.

I have a theory that it is related to sensory deprivation. Basically, when the brain stops receiving clear signals from one sense, it compensates by cranking up the signal from other senses. This is why blind people often  have unusually good hearing, for example.

When there aren't any clear signals from *any* sense, for example in a sensory deprivation tank or simply half asleep in bed, the "background noise" of the mind gets cranked up. This is why we can hallucinate coloured blobs and static noise while we lie down in a dark room. A shower blocks the senses of hearing and touch effectively, by overloading them with noise signals. Turn the light off, and the sense of vision gets deprived too.

Some people have said that they have experienced actual hallucinations while showering with the light off. I haven't experienced that yet, but I certainly get more creative. Not only weird questions pop into my head, ideas for art and music frequently do.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Did you know...that humans can see polarised light?

Light can be defined as a waveform. In normal light, the waves swing in all possible directions. When light is filtered so that all the light waves have the same direction, it is called polarised light. This is how polaroid sunglasses work, for example. Scientists use polarised light for studying mineral structure, and some say that animals may use patterns of polarised light in the sky for navigation.

This is what it looks like to me
Computer screens emit polarised light. This is a side effect of the way they work. The outer layer of a LCD screen is a polarising filter. It is possible to see this with our own eyes. This effect is called Haidinger's Brush.

It is easiest to see this if you stare at the screen for a few moments, then quickly tilt your head to the side. To me, the effect usually looks like a yellow, butterfly-shaped pattern, about 2 cm/1 inch wide. Once you have seen it, you can't unsee it!

Some people can see this effect also in the sky, especially close to the horizon where the daylight is most polarised.