Lucid Dreaming, Sleep Paralysis, and Other Strange Sleep Experiences

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening by Dali

I’ve had lucid dreaming for as long as I can remember, and in the past lucid dreams were usually positive experiences. If I became lucid during a bad dream I could change it into a good dream instead, and if I became lucid during a good or neutral dream it could be interesting to mess around with my experience. (Can I pick up something cold and feel it as genuinely cold? Can I change the sensation to feel warm instead? Can I fly, or shrink to an inch tall, or eat a piece of cake? Can I be a man? Can I be a potato?*) These experiences felt very real to me, like a convincing hallucination that I had some creative control over.

In the past year or so, however, my lucid dreaming has become unpleasant. What’s happened is that I’ve become more lucid than usual in my lucid dreams, enough to know what room my body is asleep in and enough to be aware of how my arms and legs are arranged in bed. At the same time, I remain asleep enough that I can’t move my real body or open my real eyes. (I can still move my dream body in my dream world, but in this state it doesn’t feel very believable because there’s the competing sensation of my real body asleep in bed.) I also can’t wake up, make the dream world go away completely, or make the lucidity go away—I’m just trapped in this paralyzed, half-dreamy state, for what can feel like very long spans of time. It feels like what I imagine locked-in syndrome would feel like, except with background dreams and (thankfully) the expectation that it will go away if I wait long enough. These experiences are extremely unpleasant, and when I wake up from them I often feel anxious, and with serious reservations about ever going to sleep again.

I’d be tempted to call the above sleep paralysis, but that phrase has historically been used in a very specific way which may not be applicable here. People who have sleep paralysis typically experience paralysis very briefly (a few seconds to a few minutes) while falling asleep or waking up. Regular sleep paralysis isn’t tied to lucid dreaming, and the clear-headedness I feel in my sleep paralysis experiences seems to be absent from regular sleep paralysis. (During my experiences, my perception of the real world, like the bed and room my body is asleep in, are accurate.** I’m clear-headed enough to be aware of the outside world, and to recognize that any dream experiences I might be having in the background aren’t actually real. In contrast, people with regular sleep paralysis aren’t awake enough to tell real from unreal, and often have hallucinations and out of body experiences that feel very convincing to them.) Despite the differences, I wouldn’t be surprised if my experiences have a similar root cause to regular sleep paralysis.

There are a variety of things that happen during normal sleep (altered consciousness, dulled perception of stimuli (sounds, temperatures, etc.), dreaming, paralysis, lack of lucidity, lack of normal memory formation), and it seems like what’s going on with lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis is that there’s some physiological hitch such that some of the normal sleep characteristics occur while others are accidentally absent. It looks like it’s relatively easy for this to happen, because we see it in lots of ways. There are hypnagogic jerks (you’re dreaming without paralysis and your body makes a sudden jerking movement), teeth grinding, sleep walking/sleep talking/sleep eating/sleep sex, waking dreams (“hypnagogic hallucinations” and “hypnopompic hallucinations”), periodic limb movement disorderREM behavior disorder, and of course sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming. While I haven’t found anyone else with my particular weird lucid-dreaming-induced-extended-paralysis-while-clear-headed sleep thing, I suppose it’s not that surprising that something like this could occur considering the wide range of half-asleep-half-not-asleep experiences people have.

*No, I can’t be a potato.

**EDIT: To be clear, I know what room and bed I’m in because I’m clear-headed enough to remember where I went to sleep, what day it is, etc.–I can’t actually see the room, as my eyes aren’t open.

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One Response to Lucid Dreaming, Sleep Paralysis, and Other Strange Sleep Experiences

  1. Pingback: Proprioception While Dreaming | Saner Than Lasagna

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