Ever since I was a young child I have suffered from recurring sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome. The combination of these two sleeping disorders can be very frightening and disturbing to a child and even to adults.
I remember my first encounter with sleep paralysis as clear as it was yesterday. I was around 10 years old. We had just moved into a new house which was relatively close to a railroad track. One night I woke up to my bed shaking. My body was completely paralyzed. I could move my eyes, but nothing else. My entire body was tingling and it felt like some heavy unknown force was laying on top of me, holding me down. I tried with all of my might to move my arm, lift my leg or scream for help. All of my efforts were futile. I could not move or make a sound. I became very frustrated and tried harder to move any part of my body that I could, and I couldn’t. I remember being absolutely terrified thinking I was either being abducted by aliens or a ghostly presence was trying to get inside of me. After what seemed like hours (but was probably more like minutes), the bed stopped shaking and finally I was able to move. I immediately ran into my brother’s room and told him what happened. He laughed at me and said I could sleep in his room if I was scared.
I later figured out that the bed shaking had to do with the train going by. It happened every night at the same time. I felt a little silly after realizing that but that still didn’t explain what had happened to my body.
I suffered with sleep paralysis often after that. Many nights it would happen just as I was falling asleep. I would start to feel the familiar tingling through out my body and I would “wake up” unable to move or make a sound while my body tingled and felt like it was being held down. Often, it happened over and over in the same night. I would wake up from an episode only to doze off again and feel the familiar tingling kick right back in and the paralysis started all over again. This eventually caused me to keep myself awake to avoid the terrible feeling of helplessness this sleep disorder was causing me. In the end it led to a pretty serious case of insomnia.
After a few years, I started to get another frustrating and unnerving symptom during sleep. It was what I now know to be called exploding head syndrome. What happened was that instead of being woken up by a tingling numb feeling in my body, I started to wake up to a loud ringing in my ears. As I slowly wake and realize what is happening, the ringing gets louder and louder and my head and ears fill with pressure. The ringing and pressure gets so loud and hard, I brace myself, literally thinking, “My head is about to explode”. Only, right when it feels like my head is about to pop, the feeling abruptly stops, and I am conscious and able to move again. It’s not a pleasant experience by any means.
I eventually brought this up to a doctor during a routine check up and found out what I was suffering with. Sleep Paralysis and Exploding Head Syndrome. He explained how these conditions were more common than one might think and that there was nothing physically dangerous about either disorder. At that point, I was relieved that I wasn’t being possessed by spirits, but I was still dealing with the condition on a rather regular basis. There was nothing to be done for it, according to the doctors.
Over the years I got used to it. Though each time it happens it still makes me feel very odd and incredibly frustrated. I started to just accept it for what it is. I knew that even though it may feel like it, my head would never actually explode. After I learned to accept it and stopped trying to fight it when it happened, it started happening less. It’s been decades since my first sleep paralysis experience and the episodes have finally cut down significantly. I only experience them a few times a year now, which I am thankful for. Though I know I am safe and nothing is going to happen to me, it’s still always a very uneasy and scary feeling to have to deal with.