After a good night’s sleep you wake up but you find out that you can’t move. Your body is stuck on the bed. You can move your eyes but nothing else. You are conscious but your body can’t move. You try to move your legs and hands but nothing happens.
You are scared now. What is going on? You try to scream for help but your voice isn’t coming up. At some point, you feel a heavy presence on you like someone is sitting on your chest. You begin to panic and struggle inside of you.
Having a sleep paralysis attack is very scary
When you begin to think this paralysis is permanent, you break free and are able to move again. Everything is fine now. Your breathing is back to normal as you wipe the sweat off your forehead.
What just happened is what is known as sleep paralysis and a lot of Nigerians go through this. According to research from the College of Medicine, the University of Ibadan, more than 1.5 million Nigerians suffer from sleep paralysis.
What is the cause of sleep paralysis? Science has an explanation for this and it is called REM sleep which stands for rapid eye movement sleep.
Science claims sleep paralysis is biological
REM sleep happens when the brain is in between the sleeping and waking up phase. In layman terms, your brain is conscious during this period but your body is not. Your voluntary muscles don’t know you are awake yet that’s why your muscles don’t work at this time. An involuntary action such as breathing is not affected during this period.
Popular among young adults, there is no specific reason as to why sleep paralysis happens. Science suggests it has something to do with poor sleeping habits.
Religion and myth differ about this. The popular theory is that sleep paralysis is a demonic attack. You can find this theory on many chat forums in the country.
“My dear forget oyibo theories. they call it sleeping paralysis buy i call it “being pressed by a demon”. if it was sleeping paralysis how come when you Shout JESUS it stops?? it happened to me so much as a child, but its has kinda stopped now, u need to be more prayerful and believe God to deliver you from the hands of demons…. Pray before you go to bed and commit yourself in the hands of Jesus. this world is desperately wicked and only God can save us” wrote one Nairaland user.
A painting of sleep paralysis
Nigerian Christians hold on to this theory as proof that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but principalities and powers of the dark world.
It’s not only Christians that believe paralysis is a spiritual attack. In other cultures around the world, demons are believed to prey on souls when they sleep.
Sleep paralysis in Mandarin is known as Guǐ yā chuáng (ghost pressing on body). In Arabic countries, it is called Ja-thoom – what sits heavily on something. In Turkey, it is known as karabasan which can be translated into the ‘dark presser’. In ancient Western cultures, there are paintings and statues of demons sitting on a sleeping human being.
An ancient painting of sleep paralysis
When sleep paralysis occurs people claim they see shadowy figures in their rooms which are said to be demons. Scientists don’t think so. According to science, there is a tendency for people to hallucinate during sleep paralysis.
“People freak out because they can’t move, and it’s this extreme anxiety which causes people to be very fearful of their surroundings” Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist told Buzzfeed in 2015.
Sleep paralysis is now a battle between science and religion. Do you think your sleep paralysis is caused by bad sleeping habits or demons?