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