Chronic sleep paralysis elicits fear of waking up

Evelina Gaivoronskaia | Staff Writer

Imagine not being able to move a muscle as your worst nightmare inches closer to you.

This can be a reality for students with sleep paralysis, a disorder in which the brain wakes up before the body. The condition makes people unable to move or speak, and also can cause victims to experience hallucinations.

A couple years ago, freshman Riley Badertscher said she had sleep paralysis for the first time. She said she was unable to move while hallucinations moved around her room, rendering her virtually paralyzed. 

“You can’t move, it’s like being tied down,” Badertscher said.” I see shadows moving, I feel things touching me even though they’re not there. It lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes, but it feels like an eternity.”

According to, sleep paralysis occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) when the brain is having vivid dreams. The body is unable to move in order to stop the person form moving and acting out the dreams with their body. 

Hallucinations can be increased by sleep deprivation, which senior Hannah McCollough said is the cause of her sleep paralysis.

“I’ve had it three times in two weeks, because they’ve been so crazy,” McCollough said.” It happens only when I have a very irregular schedule. I got it my junior year when my schedule became irregular. I was sleeping during the day and not getting a lot of sleep at night.”

McCollough looked her symptoms up online to find out what was happening to her. She realized it was sleep paralysis after reading people’s experiences with it. She describes her usual episodes include her being paralyzed and seeing dark figures. 

“I’ll wake up and I see my room but I can’t move and I can’t blink,” McCollough said. “It’s like in a dream when you want to pinch yourself, but you can’t move your limbs. Sometimes I’ll see that menacing figure in my room or something that you’d imagine seeing in a nightmare. It is really scary while it’s happening.”

Badertscher tried talking to doctors, but said she was never told anything helpful, and she continued to have nights of terror.

“I saw things that weren’t there,” Badertscher said. ”My sisters were up and I was just laying there and I couldn’t move. I said there’s something standing next to them.  They saw nothing, so that made me want to go see someone because I was scared and nervous because I didn’t know what was happening.”

Some people have no idea what sleep paralysis is when they first experience it. Junior Cade Moon, who had his first encounter with sleep paralysis in eighth grade, said he had to do research on the topic because his family didn’t know what he was experiencing.

“The first time I was getting it I only had it like once a week,” Moon said.” This past year probably I had it every night and since school started, now that I have a sleeping schedule I have it four times a week. The first couple of days after I got it I was paranoid about how I should sleep in order to avoid it.”

Because there is no clear way to stop the visions, some students find that the only way to escape the nightmares is to avoid sleeping. Badertscher said the most she can do is just wait it out, hoping that the visions will go away.

“It scares me to go to bed,” Badertscher said. “When I first found out that I had it, I would literally stay up for days because I didn’t want to go to bed and have it happen to me again. It was very scary. It’s like being in a nightmare but in reality.”

Illustration by Ryan D’Souza.