Quickies

Skepchick Quickies 9.13

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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  1. Big Ugly Jim’s article on sleep paralysis is very well done.
    I get sleep paralysis quite often and even with the knowledge that nothing is actually happening, it is always a struggle for the rational part of my brain to calm me down.
    The worst is when it happens over and over again in the same night. I’ll wake up and have some terrifying experience much like Jim describes and then when I’m fully awake I’ll turn myself over, calm down and drift off only to have the same thing happen seemingly seconds later. Sometimes I’ll even get up, check the locks on the door, walk through the apartment, eat a cookie, have a smoke and go back to bed after a bit only to have it happen again. And it’s just as frightening each time.
    There is a small part of me that thrills at the idea that our brains do this; the complex mechanics that keep us still as we dream about running, flying jumping off of things, being abducted. And I find it more amazing still that, even though we may tell ourselves in that moment that what is ‘happening’ to us is not real, know it’s not real, that we may still be scared shitless even as we repeat over and over to ourselves “it’s not real, it’s not real, just move your hand, just turn your head, nothing is there, it’s not real…”

    1. Holy cow, me too! Not often, but maybe once a month or so, and it always happens as I’m about to fall asleep. Like I’m in that very comfortable, relaxed, nearly asleep zone, then my brain goes into half-REM mode where I’m paralyzed but still awake, and then somehow I come to realize that I’m awake. Usually only lasts a minute or less (as far as I’m able to account for time in that state).

      For me though, I don’t hear noises or feel non-existent sensations. And thankfully I had read about the phenomenon before experiencing it, so when it happened, I figured out what was going on and was not so terrified. It’s really disconcerting, but mostly just annoying :-)

  2. When I saw Hemant’s post about why women should leave faith, my first thought was “And they should join the atheist community instead?!” But decided not to raise the issue in the comments there. Another commenter claimed the difference between Christians and atheists is that atheists don’t claim Dawkins is infallible…a claim I find dubious based on Elevatorgate…

    1. Short-form reply:

      1: There’s a difference from “becoming an atheist” and “joining the atheist activism community”–the latter was where the problem with Elevatorgate lay.

      2: There’s been ample disagreement with Dawkins. Yes, there are some folks who have foolishly succumbed to the Appeal to Authority fallacy, but it’s not like there weren’t LOTS of people, within the community, who also disagreed vigorously with Dawkins on Elevatorgate (and supported Rebecca) even while acknowledging his status as scientist and skeptic. Compare that with the percentage of conservative Christians who would say they disagree with some portion of the Bibble, and you’ll get a quick demonstration of who is more prone to false claims of infallibility.

  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnagogia

    What he and a few commenters are describing is actually a combination of sleep paralysis and Hypnagogia.

    ransition to and from sleep may be attended by a wide variety of sensory experiences. These can occur in any modality, individually or combined, and range from the vague and barely perceptible to vivid hallucinations.

    I experience this every few months. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s freaky as all get out. I tend to feel someone spooning me and whispering creepy things into my ear. Creepy.

    1. Yeah, add me to the list of oh-so-lucky regular sleep paralysis/hypnagogia sufferers. Thanks to skepticism it’s gone from a truly horrifying “I’m going to be murdered in my bed” sensation to “Why the fuck are there giant spiders on the ceiling? That’s impossible.”

      1. I have some ambien a friend gave me (I have severe insomnia sometimes) but I am afraid to take it, because I hear it can cause sleep paralysis and hallucination sand whatnot and I ALREADY “suffer” from them on occasion. Plus I’m pretty sure I’d probably go running around my apartment complex naked or something haha.

        1. While, of course, everyone’s reaction to medication is different, I’ll let you know that I don’t hallucinate on Ambien and my wife does, however her hallucinations are while she is still semi-conscious, as opposed to waking up in the middle of the night.

          I would try taking the meds with someone around who can see if you act strangely (or at least more starangely than normal), just in case.

  4. I’ve had a few instances of sleep paralysis / hypnagogia. It’s pretty awful. I’ve usually gotten then during naps rather than proper deep sleep, though. That’s led to some creepy “daylight horror” scenarios!

    Just like the author, though, the fact that I had read about sleep paralysis before ever experiencing it made it a whole lot easier to handle. I knew exactly what was happening. “I can’t move my hand or turn my head? Oh! This is sleep paralysis!” And as much as I’d be terrified, there’d usually be one little part of my brain that would always be a bit fascinated by it. It sucks that you’re lucid enough for it to feel real, but it’s nice that you’re also lucid enough to tell yourself it’s not.

    I’ve also had lots of the other kind of “near-sleep” experiences… the euphoric ones. Those can be amazing. Where you’re hovering just under the threshhold of consciousness, and you’ve got some lovely music playing, and you can smell the cool night air coming in through the window, and you just lie there curled up in a comfy happy ball of peace and happiness… it’s almost good enough to make up for the occasions with the sinister shadow men creeping along the edge of your bed, stretching and contorting your extremities.

  5. Late to the party again….

    I suppose this experience might be similar to when I woke-up during surgery… no pain, and a pretty clear mind, but I couldn’t even move or focus my part-open eyes. I recall being fascinated by what I could see (bits and pieces of me being placed on a tray), and the weird position my body was in. Very warm air, but cold where my abdomen was open. There was little sound, just occasional mumbled instructions, and then I was back out.

    Since the paralytic drug affected my eyes, I suppose there is a difference (as I understand it, REM atonia doesn’t affect the eyes), and I had no emotional activity I can recall, but I can understand how terrifying it would have been had I had had pain sensation and emotional awareness (lawsuits have occurred because of this).

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