Mar 16, 2018

World Sleep Day: What do different religions believe about sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis
Faima Bakar
Metro UK
March 16, 2018

Sleep paralysis is a b*tch. 

If you’re lucky enough to have never experienced it, it’s when you’re conscious but unable to move or speak. It can be extremely frightening to experience. 

Some people have reported feeling like something’s pressing down on their chest, as well as seeing creepy figures in their room who want to harm them, or are unable to breathe. 

So basically, it’s a nightmare on acid. 

Lisa told hers was a horrifying experience: ‘I felt like I was being dragged out of my bed but there was nothing I could do about it. 

‘I had it once before that where I was paralysed and hallucinated that my flatmate was trying to rape me and felt like I was being suffocated and obviously I couldn’t move. It felt so real that if he wasn’t gay, I’d have believed it.’ 

Annabelle has had more frequent encounters. She said: ‘I get this a couple of times a month and have done since I was a teenager! I used to hate it but now it’s part and parcel of my sleep pattern. I also suffer from somniloquy (sleep talking) and I don’t know if the two are linked.’ 

If you’re not particularly spiritual, you’ll look to its scientific explanation. But some religions have different interpretations of what sleep paralysis means, often to do with ghosts, devils, and death. 

If you’re a Muslim, you might have a slightly scarier understanding of it. And it involves devils and spirits. 

‘Sleep paralysis can have a medical cause or a spiritual cause,’ explains Kamal Ahmed. ‘Medically speaking, it has something to do with imbalance in brain activity. 

‘Spiritually speaking it can be caused by an external jinn (intelligent spirit) – meaning a jinn that is not inside the body but outside of the body.’ 

‘My younger brother also had the a similar issue where he would have sleep paralysis and something blowing air painfully in his ear. In this state he is unable to move or speak but he is fully aware of what is happening to him. His solution was to just ignore it and after a few minutes it would stop’ said one user on Kamal’s website. 

So some believe that it’s spirits that taunt you when you’re asleep and potentially attack you. Other Muslims have less terrifying views. ‘I have not been able to find anything in the Qur’an or sunnah connecting sleep paralysis with the Jinn,’ says Islamic scholar Salman Younas, who is studying at Oxford University. 

‘There are certain later scholars that mention it as one of the potential causes for sleep paralysis. However, if this is true, it would certainly be considered the exception.’ 

Muslims who experience it might recite an Arabic prayer, Ayatul Kursi, to force them out of the paralysed state. Similarly, Jewish people have a prayer they say if they experience sleep paralysis. 

‘I have experienced this more times than I can count and I often am frightened and I try to say Modeh Ani to wake up,’ says one user on a Jewish question and answer forum. ‘I feel pretty conscious of what I am doing, I was even surprised that symptoms of sleep paralysis preclude speech because I really thought I said words.’ 

‘When Jews wake up in the morning, they say a short prayer, Modeh Ani, which translates as “I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great”,’ explains Jewish practice website 

‘Jews believe that while they are sleeping, God takes their soul and cleans it, which is why sleep is referred to as 1/60th of death.’ 

Some religious people believe willful sins invite such demons to your sleep. 

‘I could look around the room only as far as my eyes could go because my head and body were immovable. I would hear footsteps and walking around – doors opening and closing while there was nobody else home with me,’ says one Christian. 

‘It was terrifying. I felt an evil presence but unlike many people’s experience with this I never felt anything on top of me or touching me. I believe that the devil was trying to frighten me but since I learned what was going on, the cause and how to stop them, these attacks stopped.’ 

‘Many people who have experienced sleep paralysis say that if they can call on the name of Jesus in their minds that this evil presence leaves them instantly and they are released from the paralysis.’ 

According to the NHS, ‘Sleep paralysis happens when parts of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occur while you’re awake.

‘REM is a stage of sleep when the brain is very active and dreams often occur. The body is unable to move, apart from the eyes and muscles used in breathing, possibly to stop you acting out your dreams and hurting yourself.

‘It’s not clear why REM sleep can sometimes occur while you’re awake, but it has been associated with sleep deprivation or insomnia, irregular sleeping patterns, or even narcolepsy – a long-term condition that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times.’ 

Whatever your beliefs, sleep paralysis is bloody scary. 

Ways to deal with sleep paralysis: 
  • Sleep paralysis tends to get better over time, but you can do some things to help. 
  • Get a good night’s sleep – you’re more likely to experience paralysis if you’re not regularly getting enough sleep 
  • Create a sleeping environment that’s comfortable, quiet, dark, and not too hot or cold 
  • Get regular exercise during the day (but not too soon before bed) 
  • Reduce stress and anxiety 
  • Avoid sleeping on your back 
  • Speak to a doctor if you are regularly experiencing sleep paralysis. They’ll be able to recommend further treatment

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