Keywords: Sleep paralysis, REM sleep, hypnogogic hallucination, hypnopompic hallucination, neurotransmitters, Nigeria.

Introduction.

Sleep Paralysis or Spiritual Attack in Nigeria. What is Sleep Paralysis (SP)? Is it a spiritual attack? Do Nigerians suffer from SP? What actually causes sleep paralysis? How does it present? Is sleep paralysis dangerous? Are there remedies for it?

Sleep paralysis is one of the sleep disorders that have not really been in the limelight in the past. But recently scientists have begun to pay more attention to it. . Over the centuries, mankind has given it a lot of interpretations, due to its frightening nature. In this write up one will be able to clarify if the sleep phenomenon is a sleep paralysis or spiritual attack in Nigeria.

What is sleep paralysis?        

Sleep paralysis is one of the sleep disorders that can occur when someone is waking up from sleep. For some people it can also happen they are when falling asleep. In actual fact, it is a problem of sleep that comes up during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. It is a temporary paralysis of the body or involuntary immobility. And it prevents the person waking up from sleep from being able to move his/her limbs, to talk, etc. There could be accompanied hallucinations. When the hallucinations accompanying SP occurs while the person is falling asleep, it is called hypnogogic hallucinations. If the hallucinations occur when the person is waking up, it is called hypnopompic hallucinations.

The SP happens when the person is lying down on the bed and unlikely to come up is sitting and sleeping. It especially happens when the sleeper is lying face up. Actually it is not likely to occur when the person is sleeping in an uncomfortable position.

Is sleep paralysis a spiritual attack?

Over the centuries mankind has attributed SP to be caused by many things including supernatural beings. Many have considered it a form of spiritual attack. Let us see the historical perceptions of SP round the world.

In Europe:                  

Among the Europeans in the 1500s to the 1700s, they believed that SP was due to witches. And thought that it was due to sex crazed demons.

At Americas:

In Newfound land, an island at the northern part of Canada, it is called old hag. This is because they believed that SP is caused by either the person is working too hard, i.e. stress or blood stagnation. They also believed that it could be due to a hostile feeling from another person.  But the Inuit in Canada also believed that SP was due to a malevolent spirit or shaman. 

Among the people of St. Lucia, an island in the Caribbean sea, they call SP kokma, because they believed that it was due to the spirits of unbaptized babies.

Among the Asians:

The people of Hong Kong called it ghost oppression. This is because they then believed that the person’s soul can be influenced by spirits while the person slept.

In Japan, SP is called Kanashibari which is related to the Buddhist gods. So they believed that the Buddhist monks make use of magic to paralyze people who were sleeping. They also believed that SP can be due to evil spirits.

In Cambodia, the people believed that it is a spiritual attack. They actually performed rituals to free the person from the bad omen.

In Africa:

Among Nigerians, even among the present day Nigerians, they believe that it is due to the intrusion of the enemies. They believe that these enemies or evil spirits are introduced into the sleeping person. So they to counter these some read the Quran, the Bible, or visit religious or traditional leaders.

Do Nigerians suffer from sleep paralysis?

In one research in Nigeria, 28% of healthy people had SP, while another has documented the prevalence of 35.5%. In a study among medical students in Nigeria 26.1% had SP, and of these 32.6% had hypnogogic hallucinations which were mainly visual. And it occurs in people of all ages.

Sleep paralysis usually first occurs during the teenage period and increases in frequency as one gets older. It peaks at ages between 20s and 30s and may continue later.

What causes or triggers sleep paralysis?

The under listed are causes and risk factors to having SP. 

Neurobiology:

There are genetic predisposition to SP. Genes have been reported to cause about 50% of sleep paralysis. So it is inherited and runs in the family.  

Brain chemicals such as orexin, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, GABA, glycine, etc. all play their roles in SP. And acetylcholine is also involved. Actually the glycine and the GABA neurotransmitters are responsible for the paralysis.

There are brain structural issues. There is problem at the junction between the temporal lobe and the parietal lobe of the brain.

Psychological:

There are psychological risk factors such as stress, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, fatigue, etc. Those who had been sexually abused as children run higher risks. And the abuses of substances such as alcohol, etc. are risk factors.

Neurological and physical:

These include Sleep deprivation and disruption in the normal sleep wake system can predispose to SP.  Other include insomnia, sleep apnea narcolepsy, etc. And the use of certain medications can also bring it up.

The position one places self while sleeping is also a risk factor. Sleep paralysis usually occur when the person is lying on the bed, lying face up. It most often will not occur when the sleeper is lying in an uncomfortable position, like sitting up and sleeping.

Physiological:

Sleep paralysis is a problem that occurs at the REM sleep stage. Normally, at this stage of sleep, the blood pressure, the heart rate and breathing increase. The brain neurons or cells fire as if the person is awake.

This is also the stage that emotionally charged or dreams that are easily remembered occur. To keep the dreamer from acting out his/her dreams, the brain, will temporarily paralysis the muscles from head to toe.

The person is supposed to be asleep, but for unknown reasons, the person will wake up at this stage. And because the muscles are already temporarily paralyzed, the person cannot move any of the muscles. He or she feels trapped or held down. Sometimes dreams occurring at this stage can be so terrifying, waking the person. This is the hypnopompic hallucinations.

So the SP is due to the mind or brain becoming conscious during the REM sleep stage. So during stress for example, the person can be woken up during the REM sleep stage. This brings together the real world and the dream world.

The disruption at the temporal-parietal junctions makes the person unable to distinguish between the real world and the dream world. So he/she cannot tell the difference between the body and the rest of the environment. He may see his body projected in front of him as out of the body experience. He may believe that his is doing astral travel, or that he is seeing a ghost.

What happens during sleep paralysis?

Actually during sleep paralysis, for unknown reasons some people will begin to wake up during the REM sleep stage. This is actually when the muscles are actually paralyzed. The symptoms of the sleep paralysis only last for a few second to a few minutes. And they can terminate on their own or when the sleeper is touched physically by another person in the room. Someone talking in the room can also terminate the SP.

Imobility:

The symptoms include the feeling of pressure on the chest area. It feels as if someone is pressing or sitting on the sleeper on the chest. So the sleeper finds it hard to breath.

The pressure is not only on the chest, but also on the limbs. Thus the sleeper is unable to move. The rest of the body and head are also immobilized, and he/she cannot speak.  

Hallucinations:

The REM sleep stages is known to be the sleep stage where dreams that can be remembered occur. It is also known to be stage when frightening dreams occur. So as these dreams are actually occurring, the person who is awake may believe that these are real happenings.  This is hypnopompic hallucination. The person may then believe that he/she is seeing someone, a ghost or an intruder in the room. He or she may also believe that the intruder he/she is seeing in the room is himself or herself. This is called out of the body experience.

Sometimes these sleep paralysis and hallucinations can take place as the person is trying to fall asleep. And in such a case, he/she may see self sinking into a bottomless pit. This is hypnogogic hallucination.

These hallucinations can occur via any of the senses, visual, somatic, auditory, etc. And all the symptoms of sleep paralysis are described as frightening.

Is sleep paralysis dangerous?

The simple answer is no. It may be very frightening for the sleeper and can reduce a good night’s rest and cause daytime fatigue.  But it cannot cause death from sleep. One can now easily answer the question of if it is a sleep paralysis or spiritual attack in Nigeria.

Are there remedies for sleep paralysis?

Prevention:

There is need to limit naps taken during the day. But one must get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. And stick to a sleep schedule, ie. going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. There is need to follow the sleep hygiene.

Avoid taking stimulants like coffee, tea, chocolate drinks from afternoon period. These reduce the quality of sleep.  

Treatment:

There is no specific treatment for SP, but the causes such as stress, anxiety, depression, etc. should be treated. If the person is suffering from narcolepsy, this should be treated also.

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