My Irish friend Sarah periodically suffers some strange symptoms first thing in the morning:
Sometimes, maybe every month to 6 weeks or so , this really horrible thing happens to me. I wake up, but I’ve been dreaming so I’m still paralysed–you know the way when you are dreaming you can’t move so you don’t act your dreams. Sometime my husband’s arm will be around me and the weight feels like it is completely crushing me. But I can’t speak or shout out and I can’t breathe. I lay there struggling for what feels like minutes desperately trying to both breathe and speak. Eventually, just before I burst, I manage to explode and I ROAR out gasping for air and shouting at him. The poor man who has been sound asleep gets the fright of his life and scurries over to the far side of the bed convinced, that yes, he did marry the scariest woman in Ireland.
Our bodies are so weird, eh? These terrifying episodes are known as sleep paralysis:
Sleep paralysis occurs when the brain is awakened from a REM state into essentially a normal fully awake state, but the bodily paralysis is still occurring. This causes the person to be fully aware, but unable to move. In addition, this state is usually accompanied by certain specific kinds of hallucinations. This state usually lasts no more than two minutes before a person is able to either return to full REM sleep or to become fully awake, though the sense of how much time has gone by is often distorted during sleep paralysis.
If I’ve immediately rendered the hypochondriacal among you totally petrified (hi, Imo!), this graph may allay your fears. It indicates that if you haven’t suffered sleep paralysis by the age of 25, you’re unlikely ever to do so. That graph comes from this fairly exhaustive site on sleep paralysis, including discussions of the common hallucinations paralyzed people experience..