OK, we have all been there. A frightened friend tells us of how they woke up, pinned to the bed by an invisible entity, struggled to speak or move but could not — or worse, saw the THING sitting on their chest… and I’ll avoid all the obvious jokes about ex-girlfriends and move on to the point.
We say, “don’t worry dear, it was just sleep paralysis”.
And we sound all content, smug and scientific. But are we really talking sense, or just spouting hot air?
Is “sleep paralysis” actually meaningful as an explanatory hypothesis? We all know what it is I’m guessing, and most of us would classify certain experiences as it, but as we lack any actual empirically testable hypothesis as far as I know, or even probable physiological mechanism with supporting evidence does it actually mean anything? It’s a hypothesis, not a theory?
People often say it is REM atonia. As far as I know REM atonia is just the medical name for sleep paralysis. Yes we have a vague idea that the body paralyzes in REM sleep, and that the even some ideas as to how – but no actual description of the mechanism. That is what interests me.
Someone says “I had this weird experience”.
I say “oh that s sleep paralysis”.
They say “cool, whats that?”
So I respond “it’s REM atonia persisting after you wake up.”
Person “oh cool, er, how does that work?”.
CJ –”er, the neurological mechanism is not known or currently demonstrable. We have a few ideas, but no accurate description of the mechanisms involved.” Person – “oh so it’s psychobabble woo?”
Hence my concern. When we say these experiments are sleep paralysis, we are really just answering with a set of symptoms, and a tentative hypothesis – but we sound dead medical and scientific so people don’t normally question.
Obviously I don’t think sleep paralysis is aliens, ghosts or witches! I’m just saying that honestly we don’t actually really understand it yet. And so, really, honestly, what does telling someone it was ‘sleep paralysis’ mean?