I had a dream this morning that made me wonder if there is really all that much difference between sleep paralysis and a lucid (or at least vivid or memorable) dream in which you cannot move, especially in cases where the one turns into the other. I have had more than one wake-initiated lucid dream which started with sleep paralysis and then became a lucid dream in which I could not move or had great difficulty moving. I usually have a very hard time telling where the sleep paralysis ends and the dream begins. I often wonder if some of my earliest sleep paralysis experiences were really wake-initiated dreams which began with sleep paralysis. I wouldn’t be surprised if it just isn’t always possible to tell the difference between the two based only on subjective experience (I wonder if there are any good objective measurements to specifically indicate a sleep paralysis state?). I can definitely imagine someone who has experienced sleep paralysis having a dream (lucid or not) about being in sleep paralysis.
I’ve decided to post the relevant bits of this dream verbatim from my dream journal, even though it includes bad grammar, abbreviations, and jargon, and things are written out of order (it was sufficiently confusing and repetitive that I don’t know what order most of the things happened in, anyway). FA stands for false awakening. That’s when you dream that you’ve woken up. RC stands for reality check. I made extensive use of the nose plug reality check during this dream (if you plug your nose and you can still breathe normally, then you’re dreaming). Extra notes I’ve added for this post are in [square brackets].
Lucid. False awakening. Very convinced I’m awake. In own bed, seeing own ceiling. Check anyway. Nose plug fails [as in, I can still breathe, so I must be dreaming]. Paralyzed, struggle to move. FA. Repeat about a dozen times… Sometimes during, felt like floating- then back in bed. Heard music, but thought nothing of it for a while. Then realized it’s a good sign of being asleep. Try to ‘stabilize’ dream. See ‘stabilize’ write itself in red on the ceiling, one of the times I actually made it out of bed- then back to being stuck. Floated through walls/through floor at least once each, followed by FA. Strong pressure felt on shoulders most of the time. Constantly reality checking with nose plug because it’s so easy to think I’ve just woken, or just opened my ‘real’ eyes. Still wonder how I moved my hand enough to do that, while feeling paralyzed so much. First time, was trying to figure out how to test if I’d just woken up without moving, but did nose plug RC anyway. As time went on, felt more and more like I had a stuffy nose. I wanted to wake up or at least dream something where I could move.
So hard to remember what came before, while I was first lucid [I couldn’t remember at all what came before the false awakenings and paralysis when I first woke, even though I knew I was lucid before the first FA]. Don’t know where I became lucid. Taco Bell. Go to use the restroom. Leave my backpack with whoever I’m with (a lady and her daughter, I think?). I realize that was dumb, because I have no idea what she looks like. When I reach the restroom, I find my backpack hanging on the back of the door. I figure the lady stopped being in the dream, and so the backpack defaulted to another location.
Back at Taco Bell. I had a taco and a burrito earlier, so I order two tacos and a soda (I still have the one taco left over in my backpack) to complete the meal.
At one of the booths. Two people are having an interesting conversation in the next booth. The one I am back to back with is very [big?] and has a mask or something creepy like that. No, a ballcap, and she is a scarily large woman with long blond hair (I am not using large as a euphemism for fat). My point of view doesn’t quite match up with my ‘body’. It’s the point of view I would have if I were sitting next to myself and looking up and back to see the woman.
My shadow! [remembering more about the FA/paralysis stuff now] My shadow was keeping me in place, but I couldn’t even move my head to see it! If only… At times I saw random weird stuff, like a drawing bouncing around on the ceiling. At least it wasn’t spiders this time… My p.o.v. [I got tired of writing out point of view] didn’t match my body that one time. I was trying to edge myself back, lean my body against the headrest, edge myself up even if moving was so hard. It worked, except my p.o.v. remained firmly directed at the ceiling, which was kind of disoriented. It occurred to me at some point to concentrate more on senses other than sight (it was dark part of the time, or my ‘eyes were closed’). So I concentrated on hearing. I don’t think I heard anything interesting, so maybe this was before the music. I don’t remember which songs played, although it seemed obvious at the time. I thought it was coming from my computer until I realized I would have had to get up and turn it on for that, and I hadn’t.
This dream has a great deal in common with my experiences that are more obviously able to be called sleep paralysis. I was in my own bed, looking at the ceiling I look at every morning when I wake up. I could not move (the few times I did seem to be able to move, it was very limited and with great difficulty). I had just “woken up” from a lucid dream before it started, and if I had not managed to reality check constantly throughout, I would have no idea it was a dream (as opposed to being awake or in ‘actual’ sleep paralysis). I felt a strong pressure on my shoulders, as if someone were holding me down. At one point, I felt as if some frightening, malevolent ‘other’ was holding me there (my own shadow). I hallucinated odd things (such as the drawing bouncing around on the ceiling- which I just now realize I didn’t actually write down in the dream journal entry). I may even have been in the same position when I woke up as when I was dreaming (on my back), although I can’t remember for sure. It also occurred on a day when I had overslept (I fell back asleep after waking because I did not get up for a while).
There are only a few things I can think of to distinguish this from most of my sleep paralysis episodes. The most obvious of these was that I was aware throughout that it was a lucid dream, due to constant reality checks, but this is also the first time I have even thought to reality check during something that seemed like sleep paralysis. It also had a suspiciously long duration for sleep paralysis. I’m a little uncertain of how long sleep paralysis is supposed to last, though, and this website suggests that while a sleep paralysis episode usually lasts between a few seconds and a few minutes, a person’s sense of time can be distorted during an episode. Possibly the most telling difference, which I did not even realize until I was mostly done writing this post, was the lack of a certain ‘rushing’ sound or a certain pressure in the back of my neck. While I find this sound/feeling very difficult to describe in words, it is a very distinctive sound/feeling that seems to always happen during sleep paralysis (and only during sleep paralysis) for me.
From a practical standpoint, as someone who is into lucid dreaming as a hobby, it would be really nice to learn how to not get stuck in this pseudo sleep paralysis state. I often having trouble moving and/or being able to see in lucid dreams that start with an episode of sleep paralysis (usually wake-initiated lucid dreams). It’s really disappointing when I’m trying to have fun and explore and experiment in a lucid dream, but instead I spend the whole dream trying to figure out how to move my legs and/or make everything not be so dark. Sometimes I am able to transition from sleep paralysis into a lucid dream that isn’t hobbled, though. I wish I could figure out what is different, between the times that I can, and the times that I can’t. Well, at least I have gotten past the point of being scared by sleep paralysis (knowing that it’s not real and that it will end soon makes a world of difference). Even that one recent time where I saw a spider inches from my face while in sleep paralysis, I didn’t freak out. Though, even when it’s not ‘real’ sleep paralysis, it can get pretty unpleasant when I can’t move, and I can’t wake up, and it seems to last for something like ten minutes or half an hour. I’m still wondering if it was a real episode of sleep paralysis after all. It’s not like I have a polysomnogram (and my google-fu isn’t strong enough to figure out how much that would be able to tell me, anyway, which is kind of frustrating).