My relationship with sleep is pretty bad, all things considered. Especially since lockdown and my sleep schedule has been pinging around like a pinball. So it's no wonder why I experience some weird things while sleeping, such as constant sleep talking (which seems to run in my family), and most notably sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is basically when your brain is conscious, but your body isn't. So you're awake mentally, but nothing registers in your physical body when you try to move it. I'm not sure how many people have experienced it, but I don't think that one-time occurrences are all too uncommon. For me, I've experienced it a few times, but fortunately it doesn't happen on a frequent basis.
The feeling of being unable to move your body isn't in the form of numbness, where you feel nothing. It feels more like your body is really heavy. If at some point you have had trouble keeping your eyelids open when you're really tired, it feels exactly like that, but for your entire body; it's like gravity had ten times the strength and it's constantly pushing your body down.
When falling asleep, you can literally feel your body getting heavier and heavier until you can't move anymore. When your brain hasn't caught up and is still half-conscious, gradually losing control over your body can be really frightening.
Now, there are times when the experience itself isn't too unpleasant. Personally, the type of sleep paralysis when you wake up isn't that bad (i.e. you wake up in the morning and find that you can't move your body). Since I'm already awake and fully conscious, I just find it rather annoying. The fact that it's brighter in the morning also helps. However, the type of sleep paralysis when falling asleep for me has lead to some scary experiences involving hallucinations, and I've gone through two episodes involving them.
The first time I experienced it (around 2016), it was only an auditory hallucination. It's weird because it's not the same as hearing sounds in your head (like when you're thinking and you can hear your voice, or emulate other sounds). It actually feels like you can hear it through your ears, which is so strange.
As for what I heard while hallucinating, it was a mixture of wolves howling and babies crying, which is just the weirdest thing. You'd think that hallucinations would involve at least something that isn't so random, like it would be more relevant to what I heard that day or something, but I guess not. I found it rather off-putting, but I managed to sleep regardless.
The second experience I had (which was very recent as of writing this—July 28, 2022) had both auditory and visual hallucations. I've had some visual hallucations when I woke up in the middle of the night (like thinking that multiple large spiders were crawling over me in my bed; you can very well guess how much thrashing occurred then), but I never had it while experiencing sleep paralysis before.
When the episode happened, my body was already paralyzed, but my brain was in the process of falling asleep, so I didn't experience it immediately, but once I opened my eyes in a sort of half-awaken stupor, my brain immediately went into panic mode when I realized I couldn't move my body. The fact it was dark and I couldn't see anything clearly didn't help either.
First the auditory hallucation kicked in, and it was a rather ominous one: sounds of funeral bells. And then I started seeing a dark static/glitchy sort of effect cover my field of vision, making it harder to see (with added static sounds as a bonus, probably my brain distorting the sound of the air conditioner).
Then the real entrée was served, which was seeing figures in the room with me—two to three of them, their bodies completely pitch black. While they only vaguely took the shape of people (almost like narrow, tapered rectangles), my brain still interpreted them as people nonetheless, which while being unable to move is utterly terrifying. I also started hearing voices whispering, but really fast—almost like the whispers were fast-forwarded. All of this happened in addition to the funeral bells and the static vision + sound I mentioned earlier.
If you're curious to hear something similar to what I experienced, it was eerily close to this insanity ambience in the game Don't Starve (at 1.5x speed), in combination with this audio of a church bell and static. It's practically uncanny. Now imagine that in the dark, with two to three figures staring at you, while being unable to move your body. Lots of fun.
I tried to scream partway through the episode but nothing came out of course, since my body was heavy as a bag of bricks. It's like in my brain the action registered, but my body was completely unresponsive.
The entire experience probably only lasted thirty seconds to a minute at most, but it felt much longer than that. Near the end of the episode I started regaining control of my body and it started getting lighter, and once that happened the hallucinations subsided. I was pretty shaken up though, and I couldn't sleep for a bit after that, because who on Earth would want to sleep with the possibility of that happening again?
After experiencing all of that, I pushed the following status to my status.cafe at like 3AM, while trying to calm myself down:
It makes sense to me now why people who consistently experience sleep paralysis can lose tons of sleep, because from my experience it's not really like an out-of-the-blue experience. In the nights I experienced sleep paralysis, it would happen every time I fell asleep. So you're either praying that just once your brain will fall asleep before your body does, or that you can break out of your paralysis once it does set in. The paralysis itself is already pretty bad, but hallucinations makes it a hundred times worse.
I can only hope it doesn't happen again, particularly to the extent of that second episode. From my experience it only really happens when I'm really sleep deprived, or when I've gone through multiple nights without sleeping very well. So in a way, it can be prevented, but still no guarantees, which sucks.