Q&A: Help! I Can’t move!

Ryan Hurd, today’s guest blogger and expert on Sleep Paralysis, sheds light on a sometimes-frightening sleep phenomenon

Q: What if any relationship exists between sleep paralysis, which I’ve experienced when I was 15-40 years old, and dream states?

A: Sleep paralysis is deeply tied to dreaming. In fact, the easiest way to think about sleep paralysis is dreaming with your eyes open, while also experiencing the muscle paralysis that comes with dreaming sleep. Body asleep, mind awake.

Most of the time, sleep paralysis (SP) is a harmless symptom that occurs when the brain does not shift its neurochemical gears all at once. For most, SP comes when sleep is disrupted and we are stressed, bodily and mentally. In these cases, SP can be managed by attending to personal sleep health as well as stress management. However, for thousands of others, SP is not so gentle, and is a symptom of a larger health issue such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea, as well as other health conditions that rob the body of healthy sleep. In these cases, SP is treated clinically to manage the symptoms, although there is no cure.Sleep-paralysis-book-cover-300

The feelings of paralysis, which can also feel like a weight on the chest or throat, generally last less than a minute or two. Dreamers say, “I feel like someone is holding me down!” The paralysis is actually a normal part of REM sleep, which we experience every night unawares. With the big skeletal muscles offline, the sleeper is free to engage in the energetic REM state without fear of acting out a dream, so as not to be a danger to self or sleep partners. But during SP, the sleeper can feel not only the paralysis but is also well aware what is happening, giving the episode a strangely lucid feel that some people say is “realer than real.” Others are adamant, “It was not a dream. I was awake!”

Beyond Paralysis: Fear and the Stranger in the Room

The defensiveness of being awake and aware is probably due to the more unusual qualities of SP that are not really hinted at in the bland medical term.  Many feel terrible and heightened fear, sometimes strong enough to be labeled death anxiety. Others detect a “sensed presence” or stranger in the room, the uncanny feeling that they are not only alone, but being watched keenly by an evil presence. This aspect of SP is no doubt the root of hundreds of ghost stories and folklore.

About 20% of sufferers of SP experience not only the awareness of the paralysis and mental clarity and the fear, but also strange dream-like visions, known as hypnagogic hallucinations. This is where SP really begins to sound more like a vision state than a dream. The hallucination generally is a person, or perhaps I should say an entity, as the personage can be an animal hybrid, an ethereal spirit, or a pale and thin toothed alien other. The paralysed dreamer sees the entity standing over them, and may also watch helplessly as the entity holds them down. The occurrences can get violent, and in fact often are sexually violent.

In Medieval times, the entity was known as the incubus—a male demon that sought out unsuspecting female dreamers. Men were similarly visited by a succubus, who could be alluring but may morph into a terrible form during the sexual act.  Dozens of “supernatural assault” traditions are known around the world today. In the West, sleep paralysis symptoms can be seen in alien abduction lore. What is unclear today is how common are sexual hallucinations that come with sleep paralysis, and indeed, how many of them are nightmarish compared with more pleasurable experiences.

On the Bright Side

In my studies, I have been surprised to discover that there are also completely positive accounts of sleep paralysis-related visitations, including ancestral visits, deceased loved ones, sexually healing encounters, as well as contact with positive healing figures such as angels and medicine men.

By affirming that one is safe within the sleep paralysis encounter, and with an attitude of curiosity and courage, many dreamers have found sleep paralysis to be a portal to several other extraordinary states of awareness, such as mystical guided journeys, lucid dreaming, and out-of-body experiences.

Personally, I have had both the positive and the negative encounters, and sometimes, even after all these years, I get frightened and must resort to ejecting myself from the encounter. At least, I figure, I can try again, as it seems I another encounter with the creatures of sleep paralysis is just around the corner.

For more on this topic, check out my book on the topic: Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions and Visitors of the Night.

About the author:ryan-hurd-headshot

Ryan Hurd is editor of DreamStudies.org, a website dedicated to sleep, dreams and consciousness studies. He is also the curator of Dream Studies Press, where he has published several ebooks and showcases other interesting dream-related products. Ryan lectures internationally, and teaches at the Rhine Education Center. He is also a current board member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and a member of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness.

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Crazy Good: Dreaming of Mom

I had a crazy dream the other night.

I dreamed my mother called me on the phone and we were laughing and talking.

Which might not sound so strange to you. After all, people dream of all kinds of crazy things—like flying through the tree tops, or showing up in high school English wearing nothing but their slippers, or kissing the president of the United StatesIMG_5102.

But this was a crazy dream—because my mother has Alzheimer’s disease and aphasia, and it has been years since she’s known how to dial a phone. Plus, her speech is reduced to just a handful of one-syllable words, and more often than not, even those don’t make any sense.

In the dream, however, I was able to ask my mother questions and best of all, she was able to answer me. We haven’t had a conversation like that in a very long time.

I woke up happy and full of energy

A Freudian might say this had been a wish fulfillment dream. Others would say it was just random neuronal firings—no meaning.

But to me, after seven years of standing by as this disease slowly takes my mother from me, the dream was like a refund. A repayment of funds owed to a dissatisfied customer. It’s a golden coin I slip into my pocket and rub against my thumb anytime I need to be reminded: I still have something precious. Something that shines. Something to hold onto.

So when I say I had a crazy dream the other night, I mean it. For me, that dream was crazy good. It allowed me to remember the cadence of my mother’s voice. It allowed me to experience something I can’t experience when I’m awake.

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What kind of crazy dreams have you had lately? Share them with us in the comments section of this post!

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If you have dreams of your mother…or if you’re a mother who dreams…join me for a workshop on Mothers and Daughters Dreaming at the SOUND center in Newtown Connecticut on Sunday, May 3.

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The Sleep Study Results are In. Hold the Drum Roll. (5th installment in the series)

This post is part of an ongoing series about what happens when an active dreamer goes in for a sleep study. Click here to read the first post in the series.

My doctor ordered a sleep study for me to see if I had sleep apnea or another condition that was degrading the quality of my sleep and leaving me feeling tired and worn down by day. But I had a question of my own: “Is all my dreaming exhausting me?”

The stakes were high. I have always valued my active dream life (recalling several dreams each morning—usually in vivid and abundant detail). My dreams inspire poems, help me make decisions, comfort me in times of despair, and give me fresh perspectives on my daytime experiences. “But what if the solution to your sleep woes is a course of treatment that diminishes your dreams?” one doctor asked me early on. I decided that was something I’d have to risk.

Interesting results–but not in a good way

And now, at last, the results of the sleep study are in. (Hold the drum roll, prepare instead for anti-climax.) Other than a fair amount of snoring (who, me?) it appears I have no sleep-related conditions of concern.

Good news, yes. But was the report satisfying? Not at all.

The process of undergoing a sleep study in and of itself was interesting—but not necessarily in a good way. I found myself immersed in a system that values sleep, but that seemed to devalue dreams, ignoring them except as possible symptoms of sleep disorders.

As the weeks between my initial intake, the study itself, and awaiting the results wore on, I began to question my own thinking and long-held beliefs: Was it possible that the dreams I so cherished, relied on for guidance, wisdom, healing, and comfort, were nothing more than a symptom of some sleep disorder or pathology? I asked this question to myself, and posed it in one of my blog posts as well.

One of my long-time readers and friends replied to that post, saying in a comment what I’ve always known, but needed to be reminded of: “Your dreams are not symptoms of illness nor are they a defect—they are a gift.”

5-pages and an insight

The 5-page report of my sleepless night in the sleep lab indicated that I was asleep for about 7 hours. This didn’t match up with my experience at all, where I noted in my journal that I slept about 3-4 hours in total all night long. When I raised this discrepancy with the doctor I was working with, she said that it’s possible to be sleeping lightly and conscious at the same time. In any case, this twilight sleep, if sleep it was, is so different from my normal sleeping experience that it didn’t seem worthy of too much attention. In fact, I slept so poorly at the sleep lab that I can learn little about my sleep or dream life from the experience.

But from a medical point of view, doctors were able to measure my heartbeat, body movements, and brain waves to determine what they were after: No apnea, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome. No explanation, in short, for my daytime drowsiness.

The doctors can’t say whether the nighttime dreaming I do is affecting my ability to achieve adequate rest, despite getting 71/2-8 hours of sleep a night. I suppose the culprit could well be the multitude of daytime dreams I pursue.

Either way, I’m going with my friend’s advice:

If the dreams do make me tired, so be it! They are extraordinary gifts that add meaning and interest to my life. So if you see me yawning during the day, don’t take offense, and don’t be concerned—I’ve decide that some daytime drowsiness is worth the price of admission to a wonderful world of dreams.

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To read the entire series about a dreamer’s experience in the sleep lab:

Click here to read the first post in the series.

Click here to read the second post in the series.

Click here to read the third post in the series.

Click here to read the previous post in the series.

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Sleepless at the Sleep Center (4th Installment)

This post is part of an ongoing series about what happens when an active dreamer goes in for a sleep study. Click here to read the first post in the series.

My sleep study took place on one of the coldest nights in a historically cold winter. But I didn’t mind, because what better thing is there to do on a cold night than snuggle in for a long night of sleep and dreaming?

I imagined the night being something like sleeping in a hotel room—but with a few wires attached to my head and face for the benefit of the technicians and other professionals who’d be monitoring my sleep patterns for any sign of irregularity. So, as if I were setting off for a mini-vacation, I packed a book to read and my journal, along with my toothbrush and pajamas.

I was still feeling optimistic about my chances of having a pleasant night’s rest when I arrived at the sleep center and my technician, we’ll call him Dr. Z, led me to what looked like an economy grade hotel room, such as you’d find in a Days Inn. There was a double bed facing a wall-mounted large-screen television, a night table, and private bath.

But there was also a bedside console the size of a nineties-era computer tower, and a hefty hank of colorful wires coiled on the side of the bed where I like to sleep.

A rainbow of reasons for insomnia at the Sleep Lab.

A rainbow of reasons for insomnia at the Sleep Lab.

But my hopes for a cozy evening of pre-bedtime journaling and reading were finally dashed when Dr. Z motioned for me to take a seat in the straight-backed chair beside the bed, and informed me that he’d spend the next 45 minutes attaching all those wires—not only to my head and face—but also to my chest, back, legs, and finger. And if that weren’t enough, he explained that a cannula would be inserted into my nostrils.

Wired for sleep.

Wired for sleep.

He also pointed out a camera mounted to the wall above the bed, and a little device that looked like a baby monitor on the bedside table, both of which would be recording me throughout the night.

While I digested all of this, I grabbed the remote control and clicked off the television, where a weatherman was predicting sub-zero temperatures for the night. “You know, watching TV before bed isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep,” I said.

“That’s true,” Dr. Z replied in a flat voice. I realized later, he must have been restraining himself from replying that my comment was way beside the point. After all, within an hour I’d be weighted down by wires and tethered to the computer console for the rest of the night. I couldn’t even walk the few paces to the bathroom without assistance.

The entire room, it turned out, was a collection of sleep hygiene “don’ts.”

As a Dream Therapist, who helps people improve their sleep for a good night’s dreaming, I ticked off in my mind each infraction one by one:

Good Advice: For a good night’s sleep darken your bedroom as much as possible.

Grim Reality: In the Sleep Center little attempt had been made to block out the light from the floodlights in the parking lot. The window was covered only by a slatted blind; there was no curtain or black-out shade. Furthermore, a small glowing red light was attached to my finger, which meant that every time my hand passed anywhere near my face, the red light shone in my eyes.

Good Advice: Eliminate screens from the bedroom. Don’t watch television before bed.

Viewing and being viewed: A large screen TV and a camera to monitor my sleep positions in the Sleep Lab.

Viewing and being viewed: A large screen TV and a camera to monitor my sleep positions in the Sleep Lab.

Grim Reality: In the Sleep Center a large screen TV is mounted across from the bed.

Good Advice: Sleep in loose, comfortable clothing.

Grim Reality: Although I packed a pair of cozy pajamas, my Sleep Center sleepwear also included constricting wires and bands fastened around my ribs and belly.

Good Advice: Your bedroom should be a quiet and peaceful environment.

Grim Reality: In the Sleep Center it was as if I were cozied up to a refrigerator motor, as the lab equipment hummed beside me all night long.

In short, “Sleep Center” turned out to be a cruel misnomer. And needless to say, I slept but little—though I did dream a lot—on the night of my sleep study.

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Click here to read the first post in the series.

Click here to read the second post in the series.

Click here to read the previous post in the series.

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You Don’t Need Dr. Freud—It’s Easier Than You Think

Much has been made of the mysterious nature of dreams—too much, I’d say. We’ve been duped into believing that you need a degree in psychology or a high-paid analyst to understand them. At the very least we’ve been led to believe that we need a dream dictionary or a pile of texts on Jungian or Freudian dream interpretation to get the meaning of dreams.

Everybody dreams!

Everybody dreams!

But dreams are democratic: they come to everyone equally. Everybody dreams! The barista who handed you your chai latte this morning dreams, and so does the person who cut you off in traffic. Your best friend dreams, and so does your best friend’s dog. Even babies in utero dream.

oldmansleep

The average person will have some 200,000 dreams by age 80.

Whether we remember them or not, we dream several times each night, and the average person will have had some 200,000 dreams by the time he or she turns 80.

And remember, these are your dreams. They are speaking the language of your very own memories, personal associations, hopes, and fears. The only book you really need to understand them, is the book you write yourself—figuratively by creating your life anew each day, and literally by journaling your wake and dreaming experiences.

All you really need is an appreciation for and curiosity about the creativity, humor, wisdom—and yes, mystery—your dreams contain. By entering into a dialogue with your dreams on the page, their messages and guidance will be revealed, and you don’t have to sweat a drop.

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Some Questions You Might Ask: Dreaming Up A New Sleep Center Experience

This post is part of an ongoing series about what happens when an active dreamer goes in for a sleep study. Click here to read the previous post about my upcoming sleep study. Click here to read the first post in the series.

Apparently not everyone is as shocked as I am that a sleep study doesn’t necessarily involve an investigation of–let alone an interest in–the patient’s dreams. But when I went for my intake in preparation for a sleep study to determine possible causes of my fatigue and other symptoms, I was not only surprised, but also disturbed by the fact that the only time dreams were mentioned was in the context of sleep abnormalities. (Click here to read more on my first appointment at the sleep center.)

There are literally thousands of Sleep Centers, like the one I went to, across the US–and by all accounts, the number is climbing steadily. People come to these centers to address the epidemic of sleep problems suffered by millions of Americans. But no one is talking about the thing we spend more than two hours a night with: Our dreams!

After writing about the absence of any positive information about, let alone inquiry into, the patient’s (in this case my) dream life, I began to dream up what I’d like to see included in an initial visit to one of these centers. Granted, I’m no doctor–and yes, I am a dreamer in all senses of that word–so I’m not taking into consideration the unfortunate realities of the business side of medicine. Nonetheless, here’s what I wish I’d been asked, and why.

For starters, on the intake questionnaire, along with questions about whether the patient falls asleep on car rides, experiences balance problems, suffers from persistent itching, or pain on swallowing–I’d like to add these questions to the intake:

  1. How many dreams, on average do you remember each morning/each week?

  2. In general, is the overall mood of your dreams pleasant, disturbing, or neutral?

  3. How often do you have nightmares?

  4. Do you have lucid dreams (dreams in which you are aware that you are dreaming)?

  5. Do you have people in your close circle with whom you feel comfortable discussing your dreams?

Let’s look at what we could learn by adding just these five questions to a sleep study questionnaire.

  • Question 1: High dream recall could indicate that a person is waking frequently at night, whether they are aware of it or not. Because our short-term memory is deactivated during dreaming, some scientists suspect that we only recall dreams if we wake soon after the dream takes place. So high recallers could be suffering from a lack of deep sleep and frequent awakenings. At the other end of the spectrum, people who don’t recall dreams at all might not even be sleeping enough to enter REM (it typically requires about 90 minutes of sleep to cycle into REM sleep, where most dreams take place).
  • Question 2: The emotions experienced in dreams might correlate to waking life concerns. If a person is having a lot of negative dreams, there might be an unresolved issue in their life that is contributing to overall stress levels, which is proven to negatively impact health pretty much across the board. Such a person might benefit from joining a dream group or working with a dream therapist or a psychotherapist.
  • Question 3: Knowing that a person suffers from nightmares can unlock a lot of other information. For example, recurring nightmares can lead to insomnia, and treating nightmares with dream therapy (as opposed to medication) has been shown to not only cure the nightmare, but the insomnia as well.
  • Question 4: If a person has lucid dreams, we know that they are experiencing a hybrid state of consciousness that involves properties of REM sleep, as well as waking thought patterns. This might indicate that they are sleeping lightly. In addition, a lucid dreamer has access to great stores of healing energy that could be useful in gaining information about other health issues.
  • Question 5: Research shows that people who share dreams together tend to have strong relationships. Dream sharing indicates a level of openness and trust within relationships, and having this level of closeness in one’s life can help foster overall feelings of well-being and safety in the world. I think this question is more telling than is the standard query about marital status, which I think reveals very little about whether a person enjoys truly nurturing connections in their life.

Having people answer these simple questions or some like them could open up a helpful dialogue between health care professional and patient that would reveal a lot about the conditions in a person’s life that foster health and feelings of well-being.

In my dream of a truly helpful Sleep Center, along with pamphlets about Sleep Apnea and Narcolepsy, like the ones I was sent home with, people would also receive pamphlets about the healing potential of their dreams. This pamphlet could offer a few bullet points about how to improve dream recall, as well as the healthful properties of dreamwork. It might also list the web site of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, or other excellent and reputable sources of information about dreams, as well as referrals to certified dream therapists and dream groups.

If we as a society were really serious about cutting medical costs and encouraging people to incorporate healthy lifestyles, then sharing information about dreams and the sleep-nurturing practices that contribute to having sweet dreams would be promoted as an economically sound way to encourage health and well-being.

Yes, yes, I know, we are a long way from living in such a world. But, I can dream, can’t I?

ZZzzZZzzZZzz…

 

 

 

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Q&A: Can I choose to dream about a particular topic?

Q: I’ve often heard you say that dreams can offer guidance, they can help us heal, solve problems, and more. Can we ask our dreams directly for answers to the questions that are on our mind? Or do we just have to wait?

Signed,

Impatient

A: Dear Impatient,

Life is too short to sit around and wait for the phone to ring–or for the dream to serve up a custom answer to our pressing questions. So, yes, go ahead and ask. Tell the dream what’s on your mind.

I know, most people think dreams are purely random occurrences over which we have no control. But the practical reality is quite different. With even a little effort and practice, most anyone can learn to incubate a dream. The instructions I offer are quite simple:

  • Practice remembering your dreams by taking an interest in them. Start to record them in writing, drawing or even using the voice memos feature on your phone. Even if you don’t remember a dream, record anything at all you do remember, including emotions, a felt sense of having dreamt about a general situation or topic.
  • Once you’ve gotten to the point where you are remembering dreams on a more regular basis, you’re ready to try to incubate the answer to a specific question. Before bed set an intention: “Tonight in my dreams I will learn about …” “Tonight in my dreams I will see what’s in store if I decide to …” “Tonight in my dreams I’ll find healing for …” (Don’t bother with “Yes or No” questions, though. Dreams are better at showing you possibilities–rather than checking off an answer in a little box.)
  • Put a picture or object that represents your intention near your bed, or under your pillow or mattress.
  • Record your dream in the morning and review it for any ways it might connect with your intention. If you don’t remember any dreams, try again until you do.
  • Expect results! Don’t be wishy washy about this. Whatever dream you receive in the morning is the answer to your question, even if you don’t see the connection right away. Consult with a dream therapist or an interested friend to explore the dream and find where it connects to your query.

Incubating dreams by setting dream intentions is a way to focus your attention—a skill that is helpful both awake and asleep. Where our thoughts go our actions and energies go. Where our dreams go, so our consciousness follows.

Setting dream intentions makes us more conscious agents of our lives and our environments.

So, my impatient pal, don’t just sit by the phone. Dial up a dream and see what happens.

Dreamily yours,

Tz …

…zzZZZZzzzzzzz

Want to learn more about your dreams? Contact me to find out about upcoming dream groups in western Massachusetts, or individual dream sessions by phone, Skype, or in person.

Have a Dream Question? Send it along! I’d love to hear from you.

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To learn more about conscious dreaming, dream incubation, and/or how to use your dreams for personal or planetary healing,  contact me for an individual dream consultation. Learn more atwww.thirdhousemoon.com

 

 

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