The Echoes

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Sleeping with Shadows

Students share traumatic experiences with sleep paralysis

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For junior Jazlyn Gonzales it all began four years ago. One night during her 8th grade year she woke up in the night unable to move.

“I had to pull myself out of bed and I walked to the door but it felt like I had a lot of weight on me and then I got back in bed,” Gonzales said. “I did this a few times before I couldn’t move at all.”

Gonzales discovered she had experienced an episode of sleep paralysis. She became  familiar with this feeling as it began happening every night.

Sleep paralysis is a frightening form of paralysis that occurs when a person suddenly finds themselves unable to move for a few minutes when falling asleep or waking up.

“One time I was in a brick room with a window and an old tv in front of me,” Gonzales said describing her worst episode. “The TV came right at me and there was a loud screaming noise in it. The noise got louder and louder.”

Unaware she was having an episode, Gonzales tried waking up to pull herself out of the nightmare but could not move.

Sleep paralysis can also cause recurring hallucinations. Gonzales describes her demon as a tall hooded man.

“This one time there was a body floating above me and it was looking at me,” Gonzales said. “It felt like a lot of weight, like 200-300 pounds sitting on my chest.”

Senior Serena Carabajal, who also suffers from the disorder, describes her demon as tall faceless black figure.

“I opened my eyes and in the corner of the room was a demon kind of figure,” Carabajal said. “Then I heard thumping, like footsteps coming to my bed. Then I felt pressure on my chest like there were two hands pushing so I didn’t open my eyes.”

Carabajal began experiencing sleep paralysis when she was 14 and has not had another episode since last summer.

Both Carabajal and Gonzales had an episode every night for a period of time. Each episode lasts about five minutes but feels much longer.

“I was trying to yell,” Carabajal said. “I remember I opened my mouth but nothing would come out.”

A mumble can be heard when this happens but no actual noise comes out. The body begins to shake as the person is trying to move but is unable to.

Senior, Andrew Lopez has experienced sleep paralysis about twice a month since age 13.

“It feels almost like you’re tied up in ropes and you cannot move at all,” Lopez said. “And you can’t speak.”

During one of Lopez’s episodes he had a dream where he was watching himself sleep through a window and when he woke up he couldn’t move his body. He sensed someone in his room but did not have the ability to move his head to look at what it was.

“You can feel the presence of someone watching you and the room gets cold and you get goosebumps but you can’t do anything about it,” Lopez said.

Sophomore Anselmo Camacho has also experienced sleep paralysis since the 5th grade.

“I’ve had many hallucinations both audio and visual. I’ve seen people with horns, babies with half faces, and the reaper,” Camacho said. “I’ve heard church bells, demonic screams that either literally scream or scream words at me and whispers in my ear.”

Camacho has experienced enough episodes that he’s taught himself to wake up from it and can even feel it coming before he falls into it.

All four have not been able to find something that could help prevent them from having these episodes. Gonzales has been to the doctor but the only thing they suggested was a sleep study and dismissed her without any real diagnosis or treatment.

“They told me I would grow out of it,” Gonzales said.

These episodes are caused by a number of things.

Gonzales says it happens when she falls asleep on the phone or while watching tv or when she thinks about it before going to sleep. Lopez noticed that his episodes are more likely to occur when he is sleep deprived.

Sleep paralysis has caused each one of them to develop a fear of falling asleep due to the terrifying experience that can come with it.

Carabajal has also noticed she is more likely to fall asleep in class or take naps during the day because she is worn out from not sleeping at night.

Approximately 8% of the general population has experienced sleep paralysis. While it’s most likely to occur in the teen years, it can also affect adults.

A sleep study can track one’s sleeping patterns to measure the amount of time spent in each cycle. Sleep paralysis occurs during REM and causes REM atonia (relaxed muscles during rapid eye movement sleep.)

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Sleeping with Shadows