Norma Young

Bedtime is usually when people can relax and unwind after a long day at work but this isn't always the case for me. I started experiencing sleep paralysis when I was only 16 years old. At first, I knew nothing about it and thought I was some kind of anomaly. It still affects me and I often wake up feeling somewhat traumatised the next day.

What happens is: I wake up in the middle of the night to my heart pounding, my breathing heavy and unable to move my body. I feel awake, though I can’t move my arms or legs. It’s as though my whole body is paralysed and I have no control over anything. I usually fight and shout for help, or force myself to wake up.

When the body is asleep, rapid eye movement happens which is when the brain is still active, but the only part of my body that I’m able to move is my eyes and muscles. It can occur because of all kinds of reasons, for example, shift work or sleep deprivation. It isn't harmful, but it does leave me feeling quite frightened.

It often makes me hallucinate and when I looked into it, I read that most people see demons. The most common is usually a figure who appears at the foot of the bed which is quite unsettling. It’s an older woman, or a shapeless, black shadow. I have to force myself to wake up at that point, or else I’ll start to feel hands touching my legs or a heavy weight sitting on my chest, even though nothing is there. My husband is very aware of it and knows what I'm experiencing so he helps me to wake up if he hears me making noises or taking deep breaths.

It occurs once a month, though in the past I’ve experienced it more frequently. It can last anything from five to several minutes. When I was younger and training to be a nurse, I used to work a lot of long shifts which made it more frequent. I remember I used to be really spooked out about it, but now that I’m older and I know what it is, it doesn’t worry me as much. I know it’s not real.

My sister has experienced it too which made me question if my sleep paralysis is hereditary. I can gauge when I’m going to experience sleep paralysis, it happens if I’m particularly tired. Sometimes a ten-day stretch at work can trigger it or if I return home from holiday after being in a different environment.

The worst part is trying to rationalise what’s going on when I’m asleep. I realise now that a lot of people suffer from it and so I’ve learned ways to deal with it. I just tell myself that it’s all a dream and count to three as I take deep breaths. At night, it usually takes two or three attempts to wake me up and even then it doesn't always work. It’s completely out with my control, I just have to try and stay calm. Even though it’s horrible, it does eventually pass.