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Cultural Interpretations of Sleep Paralysis

The Egyptians referred to sleep paralysis as something caused by a ‘Jinn’, which terrorizes and even kills the victims. Italians refer to this figure as Pandafeche, a giant cat.

South Africans interpret this as small creatures known as tokoloshe, who perform black magic, while in Turkey the creature has another name, the Karabasan.

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Sleep Paralysis

Apparent hallucinations of a dark monster holding the sleeping person, while he or she is unable to move or speak, is a phenomenon that is experienced by one-fifth of the population at least once.

Scientists dismiss these episodes as hallucinations, but cultural beliefs pinpoint towards mythical monsters/demons, black magic and paranormal activity.

Scientists claim a brain glitch blurs the wakefulness and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) modes of sleep, making the dreams come out in the real world, creating a hallucination.

To prevent you from acting out these dreams, the brain paralyses your body. Sometimes this mechanism fails and you see your dream in augmented reality in the real world.

The ‘brain glitch’ explanation does not do justice to what is experienced by many victims throughout history and many fearful of a ‘demon attack’ episode, as it might be deadly to them.

The fear and resulting panic create a vicious circle in the minds of the victim, feeding into the demon, and making sleep paralysis chronic and deadly. People who are under depression or have had a traumatic experience are often more vulnerable to the attack.

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Many neurologists have noted similarities between NDEs and the effects of complex partial seizures. These seizures are localized to specific brain regions in one hemisphere and are accompanied by unusual tastes, smells, or bodily feelings as well as feelings of déjà vu, depersonalization, or ecstatic feelings.

Neurosurgeons are able to induce such ecstatic feelings by electrically stimulating part of the cortex in epileptic patients who have electrodes implanted in their brains. Patients report enhanced well-being and a heightened perception of the external world.

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Recent studies suggest we employ the same neurophysiological mechanisms while dreaming that we use to construct and recall memories while we are awake.

Studies also found that vivid, bizarre and emotionally intense dreams are linked to parts of the amygdala and hippocampus. The amygdala plays a key role in processing and memory of emotional reactions. The hippocampus is implicated in important memory functions, such as the consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory.

Rocking Sleep

Rocking babies back and forth while making them sleep is common as parents try to stop them from wailing and shouting. Even as adults, we can get lulled into sleep in the rhythmic motion of the train compartment or the hammock.

New studies show that our brains are evolutionarily programmed to respond positively to rocking, and it helps us sleep better.