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  • Frits Westra
    About.com News & Issues Paranormal Phenomena with Stephen Wagner http://paranormal.about.com/library/weekly/aa112000b.htm The Old Hag Syndrome (Part 2/2)
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 31, 2003
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      About.com > News & Issues > Paranormal Phenomena
      with Stephen Wagner


      The "Old Hag" Syndrome (Part 2/2)

      The Scientific Explanation

      The medical establishment is quite aware of this phenomenon, but has a
      less sensational name than "old hag syndrome" for it. They call it "sleep
      paralysis" or SP (sometimes ISP for "isolated sleep paralysis").

      So what causes it? Dr. Max Hirshkowitz, director of the Sleep Disorders
      Center at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston, says that
      sleep paralysis occurs when the brain is in the transition state between
      deep, dreaming sleep (known as REM sleep for its rapid eye movement) and
      waking up. During REM dreaming sleep, the brain has turned off most of the
      body's muscle function so we cannot act out our dreams - we are
      temporarily paralyzed.

      Rock singer Sheryl Crow is a victim of sleep paralysis, as she revealed in
      a 1996 interview with Rolling Stone magazine. "It's a bizarre and twisted
      feeling where you feel completely paralyzed. You are sure you are going to

      "Sometimes your brain doesn't fully switch off those dreams - or the
      paralysis - when you wake up," Hirshkowitz told ABC News. "That would
      explain the 'frozen' feeling and hallucinations associated with sleep
      paralysis." According to his research, the effect only really lasts from a
      few seconds to as long as a minute, but in this half-dream half-awake
      state, to the victim it can seem much longer.

      In her article, "Help! I Can't Move!," Florence Cardinal, About.com's
      Guide Sleep Disorders, writes: "Sleep paralysis is often accompanied by
      vivid hallucinations. There may be a sense someone is in the room, or even
      hovering over you. At other times, there seems to be pressure on the
      chest, as though someone or something perched there. There may even be
      sexual attacks associated with the hallucinations. The sound of footsteps,
      doors opening and closing, voices, all can be a very frightening part of
      sleep paralysis. These are known as Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic
      Experiences and they are what make people dread an episode of sleep

      For all their explanations, however, the sleep experts still do not know
      what causes the brain to screw up like this, or why some people experience
      it more than others. But there are some theories:
      "Episodes of paralysis can occur when the body is in any position, but
      happen most frequently when the sleeper is lying flat on his or her back.
      Intense fear is common, but sometimes other strong emotions, such as
      sadness or anger, are present," says Florence Cardinal in "The Terror of
      Sleep Paralysis."
      For some, SP is often brought about by not getting enough sleep or being
      Likewise, disrupted sleep schedules or circadian rhythm disturbances can
      produce an episode of sleep paralysis.
      It is more common in people who suffer from severe anxiety or bipolar
      Some research shows that SP is five times more likely to occur with people
      who are taking such anti-anxiety drugs as Xamax or Valium.
      A study found that 35 percent of subjects with isolated sleep paralysis
      also report a history of wake panic attacks unrelated to the experience of

      How can you prevent sleep paralysis? According to clinical research, you
      may be able to minimize the episodes by following good sleep hygiene:

      get enough sleep
      reduce stress
      exercise regularly (but not too close to bedtime)
      keep a regular sleep schedule

      "For some people this may not be possible, however," says Florence
      Cardinal, "so instead let's look at ways to escape from the grip of sleep
      paralysis. The best remedy is to will yourself to move, even if it's only
      the wiggling of your little finger. This is often sufficient to break the
      spell. If you can manage it, scream! Your roommate may not appreciate it,
      but it's better than suffering through a long and fear-filled episode. If
      all else fails, seek professional help."

      Sounds like good advice. The bottom line is that you really have nothing
      to fear, in a paranormal sense, from sleep paralysis. That old hag you
      feel perched on your chest may be nothing more than the anxiety of living
      in a stressful world.
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