How I Discovered Lucid Dreaming and Sleep Paralysis

The first time I had a lucid dream was before I had any idea what lucid dreaming was. I just somehow figured out I was dreaming while I was still in a dream. I’ve forgotten most of the details, as happens with dreams, but I remember a few things. I was crawling on the top of these partitions in a room, like cubicle walls. Then I crawled out of that room and into another sort of place. It was red, and fleshy, like the level in a video game where you explore the inside of something living. Then I woke up. Sort of. I was in my bed, my real bed, and I could see the room around me, but I couldn’t move. There was an odd background noise, not quite like a buzzing or rushing, and there was a feeling in the back of my neck, an odd sort of pressure. It was really weird, but I was enjoying the weirdness and novelty of it, rather than freaking out. I drifted in and out of it a bit, being paralyzed a short time, then able to move again, then paralyzed. I didn’t start freaking out about it until I suddenly realized why I was paralyzed. I’d been bitten by a spider. A big brown spider two feet across. I saw it. I freaked out. I tried so hard to move, panicking, but I couldn’t move. After a short time, though, I could move again. I sat up. I was fully awake now. And I saw the spider. It scuttled off into a corner of my room and disappeared. Literally disappeared. I went over there, and it was gone, and there was no space it could have fit through to leave the room. The window was closed, and it was far too large to fit in the gap under the door.

I’d just had my first hallucination. And that paralysis thing was so weird. Was there something seriously wrong with me? Was I physically sick in a serious way? Was I going mad? Surely there must be something wrong with me.

It would be some time before I had any answers to these questions. I experienced that odd paralysis, on the edge of sleep, dozens of times more. There would always be the same weird background noise and the same strange pressure in the back of my neck. This thing would happen every once in a while, at seemingly random intervals. It seemed only to happen when I overslept, if I fell back asleep after waking in the morning. Sometimes I went months without it happening at all. Sometimes it was fun, and sometimes it was incredibly disturbing. I often saw incredibly vivid, dream-like hallucinations when it happened. Sometimes I would wake from it, and then if I didn’t get up right away, I’d fall back into it. The longer it had been since the first time, the less often I would experience this as though I were in my bed. Like, I’d be in the same position that I’d been in when I was awake, but when the paralysis came on, it’d be more like I was in a very odd, very vivid dream state in which I saw incredible visions but could not move. Sometimes, after a minute or two, I could move with great effort, like raise an arm or move my leg, but then when I woke I’d find out that I hadn’t actually moved at all.

With most dreams that I can still remember years or months after having them, the only things I remember are what happened in the dream. With this paralysis thing, every memory I have of it seems to be strongly tied to the location I was sleeping in when it happened. I can usually remember what position I was sleeping in, too. The time I experienced floating slowly down the inside of a giant kaleidoscope (in such incredibly vivid color that it makes real life look drab), I had drifted off while lying on my back on the spare bed at my brother’s place. The time I was in a wasteland and felt a wind blow over me that was a breath from hell (I cannot describe how creepy this was in words), I was lying on my stomach on the couch at my parents’ house. The time I saw the creepy clown face character with the red eyes, I was sleeping on the futon. I was also sleeping on the futon the time I felt an uncomfortable pressure across my stomach while falling in slow motion. I was being pulled down and down, as if by a rope someone had tied around my waist.

When this paralysis thing happens, I am always aware that that is what is happening. It’s not like a dream, where you usually have no clue that it is a dream or, often, even who you are in real life (haven’t you ever had a dream where you were someone else?). One of the times I experienced this, I wanted to wake up in the middle. But I couldn’t. I was stuck drifting along in a weird place that reminds me of nothing so much as the intro to Dr. Who, until I woke up some time later. One time I wondered what would happen if I never woke up. I knew, or saw, that my mom was shaking me, but I didn’t wake up, and she was starting to get very worried. After a minute, I did wake, but my mom wasn’t actually there after all. Another time, I was frightened, and I wished very much that someone would wake me up. My dad poked his head into my room and spoke, which woke me up. Except, after I was awake, I realized that my dad couldn’t have woken me up. He wasn’t there and the door to my room wasn’t even open. Both of those times were while I was staying at my parents’ house between semesters at college, so it would have made sense for my parents to have been trying to wake me.

So, I was having all these weird/fun/scary/uncomfortable experiences every once in a while, always on the edge of sleep. I had no words for it, and I was a little afraid to tell anyone else about it, and I had a nagging feeling that something might be wrong with me. Then one day I suddenly found out that there is a word for it. I was lurking on a particular mental health forum, and someone had posted a thread about sleep paralysis (sometimes abbreviated SP). I read the wikipedia article for it, and poked around a few other wikipedia articles (such as this one and this one), and although the information on sleep paralysis didn’t match up 100% with my experiences, it was a close enough fit that I figured this must be what I had been experiencing. It was really great to finally have a word for it. It was even greater to know that it is perfectly normal and not something to be worried about. Many perfectly healthy people experience sleep paralysis at some time during their lives. Even the hallucination of the two-foot spider I had upon waking is normal. Sometimes perfectly healthy people experience hallucinations while waking up or falling asleep.

I also ended up reading about a certain related topic while I was poking around wikipedia: lucid dreaming. I found out about dream-initiated lucid dreams (DILD) and a wake-initiated lucid dreams (WILD). A DILD is the sort of lucid dream that I described having at the beginning of this post. It happens when you realize that you’re dreaming in the middle of a dream. A WILD is what happens when you transition from a waking state to a dreaming state with no lapse in consciousness. And this WILD thing just sounded so cool that I had to try it. I read about some technique or other for WILDs that involved lying in bed and visualizing stuff. So that night, after I went to bed, I tried to have a WILD. It didn’t work of course. I’d missed the single most important point about how to have a successful WILD- you have to try it when you’ve already had several hours of sleep, not at the beginning of the night. You see, sleep has several different stages, and dreams mostly take place during the REM stage.
Sleep Stages
When you fall asleep at the beginning of the night, you usually go into deep sleep, and, as you can see on this handy diagram of sleep stages that I found on wikipedia, you only go into the REM stages of sleep later in the night. So, a good time to try to have a WILD would be while trying to fall back asleep after having awakened an hour or two before you would normally wake in the morning. The trick here is to remain aware enough that you’ll be lucid when you start dreaming, but not so aware that you don’t fall asleep at all. Another good time to try to have a WILD is during a nap in the middle of the day. A very bad time to try to have a WILD would be at the beginning of the night, like I was trying to do, because it’s a bit hard to transition from waking to dreaming without losing awareness when your body is all set to go into the early, dreamless stages of a night’s sleep.

So, my first few attempts to have lucid dreams on purpose were total disasters. I lost interest in lucid dreaming pretty quickly, without ever having tried very hard. I was mostly just happy over figuring out what that creepy sleep paralysis thing was that I kept having. I obviously got back into lucid dreaming later, or it wouldn’t be one of the major topics on my blog, but that’s a whole other story, and this post is getting much too long, so I’m just going to wait until later to write the rest.

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