Migraine nightmares, sleep paralysis and freaking myself out

Brain in stormy cloudscape and lightning - conceptual of brainst

I must have been around twenty-two-ish when I had my first sleep paralysis experience, which given my persistent innate insomnia is surprising. I had been told it was because of sleep deprivation, but really how can a chronic insomniac be any more sleep deprived than they already are? Nonetheless, it is a disturbed sleep pattern. A disturbing sleep pattern indeed. In-of-itself it is bad enough. You wake up and you cannot move, you cannot speak and you are trapped there like that for minutes… thrashing without thrashing, screaming without screaming. Not fun. But when it happens a few times and you know that you will shake it off, it is not as bad. Mind you, one of my greatest fears is being in a state like that permanently as a result.

Migraine nightmares are just this occurrence, but instead of in the morning, are at night, usually about an hour or so after falling asleep. And you are not immediately aware of it because at first, you think you are just waking up briefly, as you do a dozen of other times a night. I don’t call them migraine nightmares for no reason… I usually have a whopper of a migraine prior to falling asleep and usually, the pain is the first thing I notice. Then as I try to adjust my position, the lack of the ability to move is next. Sometimes though it is sneaky and this is where it becomes a true nightmare, terrifying in its creeping sensations.

I used to get nightmares when I was younger I called Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde. Dreams of normal situations where a person suddenly changes, becoming this demented insane person who usually then attacked me… I needed no therapist to tell me where they came from and as time passed I stopped having them. These nightmares, or night terrors, are similar in a fashion, although I suppose the psychological cause, if there is one, would be different now. I wake up with a presence there, embracing me, holding my hands or some such thing, which is comforting and normal, usually attributed to my spouse. And then I am not sure if it is the awareness that I cannot move that makes me feel trapped, the presence of a person entrapping me with not ‘evil’ intent but very much ill intent, or it is the irrational fear and terror I feel, that changes everything, but the shift is sudden and dramatic. I usually ‘wake up’ very suddenly, even violently, and unable to get back to sleep because the darkness seems too oppressive and I am freaked out.

I must say that a migraine nightmare without this feeling awake, but not awake, sleep paralysis thing is not nearly as bad. But always during a migraine nightmare, if the nightmare has the environment of reality, opposed to so unreal you are not disturbed, they always have a ‘feel’ about them. Darkness is too dark. It feels like you are being watched, or people are not acting right. That everything feels so wrong, the very wrongness of it is what begins to frighten me, more so than anything that happens, in fact usually, nothing happens except my own awareness that it is not as it should be. One example is a dream I had of my own hallway, but darker than it should be, a creeping darkness that seemed to cling to the walls and a feeling I was not alone… does not seem so bad, but it scared me awake.

Others are violent, vivid, and full of pain… and you wake up in pain. One, my face was melting off. Another I went blind. Another the vertigo was so severe I kept falling down, unable to get to where I needed to be.

Anyway, having decreased my Lyrica and thus that heavy deep sleep, I have been remembering many dreams, as you do when you wake up several times at night. And since my sleep pattern is more ‘normal’ I, apparently, get these freaky nightmares mixed in with the whacky ones. I can totally get how these sleep paralysis hallucinations, back in the day, where considered demons. Common to those stories is waking up with the feeling of someone in the room and the sensation of a crushing pressure in the chest… I have never had the sensation of pressure on the chest, just the feeling of being restrained or trapped, while my mind shakes off the inability to move and supplies me with a nightmarish explanation for why I cannot.

I usually love dreaming because I do get some really vivid ones, usually very so unreal and entertaining, usually with characters rather than myself. I find them fascinating and goofy. Migraine nightmares though are just plain freaky, often just in their intensity, the irrational fear or terror they can have, and their mimicking of reality. Usually, when I have a dream of real life, I know I am dreaming. I can lucid dream quite well, but when I become aware I am dreaming, am even changing the dream, I try not to, because I like the flow of where a dream can take you. A migraine nightmare, even though it is so unreal, it feels real. Only a few times did I know I was dreaming, usually when that sense of wrongness I get made me aware it was not real and I would then try and wake myself up. I remember in one I was talking to my sppuse and brother and telling them it was not real over and over.

“Sleep paralysis is a common condition characterized by transient partial or total paralysis of skeletal muscles and areflexia that occurs upon awakening from sleep or less often while falling asleep. Stimuli such as touch or sound may terminate the episode, which usually has a duration of seconds to minutes. This condition may occur in normal subjects or be associated with narcolepsy, cataplexy, and hypnagogic hallucinations.

Physiologically, it is closely related to the paralysis that occurs as a natural part of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is known as REM atonia. Sleep paralysis occurs when the brain awakes from a REM state, but the bodily paralysis persists. This leaves the person fully conscious, but unable to move. In addition, the state may be accompanied by terrifying hallucinations.

Symptoms of sleep paralysis can be either one of the following or a combination:

Paralysis: this occurs after waking up or shortly before falling asleep. the person cannot move any body part, cannot speak, and only has minimal control over blinking and breathing. This paralysis is the same paralysis that occurs when dreaming. The brain paralyzes the muscles to prevent possible injury during dreams, as some body parts may move during dreaming. If the person wakes up suddenly, the brain may still think that it is dreaming, and sustains the paralysis.

Hallucinations: Images or speaking that appear during the paralysis. The person may think that someone is standing beside them or they may hear strange sounds. These may be dreamlike, possibly causing the person to think that they are still dreaming. Often it is reported as feeling a weight on one’s chest, as if being underneath a person or heavy object.

These symptoms can last from mere seconds to several minutes (although they can feel like much longer) and can be frightening to the person. There may be some body movement, but it is very unlikely and hard for a person to accomplish.” Myths and facts

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10 comments

  1. I have very vivid and colorful dreams, but in spite of having migraines so many years, I just can’t connect any kind of dreaming or nightmares to migraine. That’s okay, migraine dreams sound bad. I used to have sleep paralysis and accompanying hallucinations very often, not so much anymore. But I envy your ability to lucid dream. I am a cautious person in waking life and I’m usually cautious in my dreams, too, which drives me crazy! If I knew I was dreaming, maybe I could be a little reckless.

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  2. Hey Emily,I think there is just something about having a migraine at night, or while you are sleeping, that causes some crazy dreams. But why not, eh? I mean I used to get dreams about something painful only to wake up and go, ‘huh, I am in pain.’

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  3. Hey Christy,I think it is more a connection between by disturbed sleep pattern, thus remembering my dreams, and also being prone to a subjective sleep parlysis state, that causes a migraine to influence my dreams so. Or at least, when sleep parlysis occurs without the migraine, it is not the same at all. And dreams I have when I wake with a migraine, often are influenced by the pain in some way. Beats me, dreams are wild either way.Lucid dreaming on the other had, can be very fun. You can change the scene, affect the direction of it, even rewind and repeat. But usually I try to just see where it goes on its own, but even then I must influence the dream by being aware it is such.

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  4. I have these all the time they scare me i thought i was being possessed or something..I recently got into an auto accident and hurt my back. the doctor prescribed my percocet and they seem to make the matters worse is there anyway to get rid of this for good i dont like it…last night i though aliens were abducting me so i stayed awake staring at my door waiting for more to come in.i also get classic migraines a lot. when your awake and half your body goes numb like a stroke and then you migraine follows.

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  5. Some medication will cause hallucination. Especially the percocet since it is Narcotic. So, nightmares are usual for patients taking such medication.

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  6. I had a migraine, it was hard for me to get to sleep. I remember looking at the clock seeing it was past 4 am. Then I don't know how much later I feel like I'm awake, I think my eyes are trying to open up, but I can't move my body. I try moving my mouth but can't and while all this is happening I hear this weird drilling sound in my head.

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  7. OMG! I’m 67 and I’ve had sleep paralysis nightmares since my twenties and migraines since l was 40. The nightmares are mostly evil but once in a blue moon it will be a regular dream. Once, I heard two friends talking right next to me, about me. I wanted them to get me up cause I couldn’t move, so l tried with all my might to move a finger in that “come here” motion. I could feel it move but could not open my eyes. Finally, l burst awake in a situp position screaming and scared my two friends. They had wondered why I was making all those sleep groans, but never saw my finger move. Most of the time it is about an evil force or l keep running from something, stumble and am never able to get away. But, recently, l had another sleep paralysis where I could not get up and again suddenly burst awake. This time I was on my stomach, so I didn’t sit up quickly, but I did start to try and get out of bed and that’s when I saw an actual gray cloud above the foot of my bed. I turned away and stared at a blank wall hoping it would go away. I looked again and it was gone, then quickly got up and ran to my computer to ask if anyone else had such an experience. Many had, but of course with all types of speculations, either ghostly, demonic, physiological or extraterrestrial. This nightmare did not scare me like they usually do. Usually the nightmares are so evil that when I finally burst awake, I am so intensely frightened I have to turn on every light and every device that makes a sound just to get myself grounded and feel myself again. My body aches as though it’s been crunched or squeezed by a device and that in turn becomes part of my migraines with the longest lasting for 5 days. Having tried many medications, nothing has helped. It feels like a curse.

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    1. If I am not on my sleeping pill I get sleep paralysis way too often. But since I have been not so much anymore. Which is a relief. But the dark migraine nightmares that are so freaky and wake me up, only to go back into them again, over and over, are really disturbing.

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