When she was just 14-year-old, Julia Banim had both sleep paralysis and night terrors until the age of 20.
Banim would normally keep herself up for hours at a time just to escape the terrifying figures she would see in the dark.
Recently, Banim opened up to UNILAD to describe what one particular sleepless night held for her — which included a horrifying creature.
“My limbs had seized up completely, like an extreme version of sitting on your foot for too long, except the motionlessness ran throughout the length of my body.”
And while Banim could not scream, she was able to sometimes make a humming noise if she used all of her energy or twitch her toes a bit.
As her thoughts were clear and lucid — she would attempt to think up happy moments to quell her rising panic.
That is, until she heard it…quick, heavy, thumping footsteps on the stairs.
“The terror settled around me like a dense, heavy mist, and the only movement I could make was to my clamp my eyes shut. But not before I saw a very tall, enraged figure in the doorway.”
“The next dreadful moments played out as I knew they would. The figure approached the bed, and the mattress sagged substantially as it climbed up, looming over me. I could hear its animalistic rasp, its guttural, unintelligible voice.”
“At times, this being had been an old woman with a mottled, corpse-like pallor and a rictus grin. I came to refer to her as ‘the witch’; to recognize her coarse, matted hair and bloodshot gaze as she leaned over me again and again.”
“This time it was the shadowy, male figure who felt less definable, but stronger. Sometimes he would simply lurk in the doorway, head cocked to one side as he watched me. But this time, he was coming towards the bed, slowly and purposefully.”
“Under the spell of sleep paralysis, I have felt cold, palpable flesh press against me; long fingers tighten around my throat and wet tongues slide against my cheek. I have felt crushed and breathless beneath a body more powerful than my own.”
“And I have run from my own room in terror as soon as I was able, only to see raw, red marks on my neck and arms in the bathroom mirror. Long after waking, I would be too traumatized to peer too closely into dark corners.”
Banim then decided to seek advice, as she wanted a scientific perspective on what was happening in her brain.
Dr. Irshaad Ebrahim from the London Sleep Center revealed that the best way to understand sleep paralysis was to know about the to broad types of sleep.
“We have non-rapid eye movement sleep, which most of our sleep is. We don’t have any perception of the environment, our brain is slowed down, our body is resting.”
“But then we have another type of sleep called rapid eye movement sleep, and that has often been called paradoxical sleep because the brain is very active. But the body, or the muscles of the body, is virtually paralyzed.”
“REM sleep is in essence a very active brain in a paralyzed body. And what happens when we are in REM sleep is that our brain and our spinal chord turn off. We are unable to move. And at that time, the brain stem – the back part of the brain, the posterior part of the brain that connects to the spinal chord – is very active.”
Dr. Ebrahim continued, saying:
“It’s also during this time that we are dreaming. The reason our eyes are moving side to side is because the area that controls the eye movement is in the brain stem. So now that we understand the difference between non-rapid eye movement sleep and rapid eye movement sleep, it’s easy then to understand what happens to people who have a condition of sleep paralysis. In the condition of sleep paralysis, what is essentially happening is that we are waking up from sleep.”
“But that element that paralyses our muscles in sleep, does not follow on by reversing the paralysis. So in essence we are awake but we still have the sleep paralysis that we experience in REM sleep. And that is why sleep paralysis can be terrifying to people.”
And while sleep paralysis episodes usually occur around half a minute to a full minute, it can feel much longer.
Dr. Ebrahim went on to share that while many believe sleep paralysis is a supernatural occurrence, there is actually a lot of science behind what is happening to the brain.
“The abnormality which causes sleep paralysis is based in the serotonin system. So by enhancing your serotonin metabolism, you can treat sleep paralysis. Basic anti-depressant medication for a short period of time can sort it out. So the good news is that sleep paralysis can be treated, and effectively treated, and possibly even cured by using a short course of serotonin medication such as those which are used for depression.”
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