“This is what she sent me this morning: “Like I’d be sleeping but I’m conscious that I’m awake and then I start seeing a ghost and I scream but nothing comes out and I’m completely paralyzed and I try waking up but it doesn’t work and when I wake up I’m crying like crazy”. What does this mean exactly?”
Answer:It sounds like she is having night terrors due to “waking up” in a dream state. The dream state is called REM (for Rapid Eye Movements because your eyes are moving we think the way they would if the dream were actually happening). During REM, you lose muscle tone and are functionally paralyzed from the neck down.
We believe the body loses muscle tone because you would act out the dream otherwise and get hurt. There have been people who did not lose muscle tone during sleep–they were in danger because they were walking and moving while asleep. I believe it is likely that she woke up in A REM state and that is why she could not move. The condition between sleep and waking up is called hypnagogia. It is during this time one can have a hypnagogic hallucination.
Her seeing the ghost is a “dream hallucination” or hypnagogic hallucination. She is actually having an awake dream which can be quite terrifying and is often called “night terrors.” Simply keeping an indirect light on will often prevent the night terrors. I believe this may be because it is more possible to wake yourself up from the dream hallucination.
An alternative may be to instruct yourself before going to sleep that if the dream paralysis/ hallucination happens again, that you can protect yourself by simply closing your eyes and going to sleep. Sometimes by not fighting the dream, you are less likely to induce the fear response. Sleep is, after all, protective.
**The above is not meant to be treatment or advice. Consult an experienced professional who knows you for personalized treatment.
Get information about dream interpretation from my book at http://www.drstevenfox.com