Since my childhood, I’ve suffered from nightmare disorder and sleep paralysis. It’s wild but at this point, I’ve gotten used to it—even though sometimes it causes me to avoid sleeping. The nightmares are always different, but they all share a common theme: I often find myself lost only to encounter something terrifying, being chased by something, hiding from something, or wandering aimlessly through a deserted ghost town or forest. Sometimes, I even find myself in the same place I was in a previous nightmare, but with a completely different dream. Then there are the dreams in which I am falling, falling, falling, falling, with no end in sight. Crazy.
One of the most terrifying dreams I’ve had.
I had this dream a month ago. I was lost and trapped in a town that appeared to have been populated by police officers in the past. The town was abandoned, but I still tried looking for help by checking one house after another to see if anyone was still there. At one particular house, I couldn’t find a way out because every time I tried, a wall blocked my way. While I was searching for a way out in the living room, I heard an elderly male voice say “Assalamualaikum…tak jawab dosa” in a way that I couldn’t explain. It was soft and gentle in a scary way, like he was singing, and he repeated it over and over again. I followed the voice and ended up at the gate outside the house, where I saw an old man wearing a white robe with his head bent to the gate. I froze. He had big eyes and a wide mouth with no nose, and he was smiling at me. He said again, “Assalamualaikum” and repeated the phrase “tak jawab dosa”. Somehow, I also heard a voice say, “Don’t answer, run and hide”. I ran and hid inside the house and closed my eyes to pray to find a way out. He kept repeating the same thing over and over again, and the voice became closer and closer until I heard it right next to me. I opened my eyes and turned my head in the direction of the sound, and saw that he was standing right next to me. That sudden shock in my dream was so intense that it jolted me awake around 3:30 AM with my heart pounding, while his voice still echoed in my mind. I stayed awake after that because I was too scared to go back to sleep.
I can remember all of my nightmares vividly. My parents and close friends have suggested that I turn them into a horror book because of some of my nightmares, they have never seen or heard anywhere, but I am currently focused on another writing project. However, maybe someday I will consider it. People who don’t know me well blame the horror movies that I watch for giving me nightmares. The truth is, even if I watch a romantic comedy right before bed, I still end up having a nightmare. I have had nightmare disorder since I was a child, and I don’t need horror movies for it; in fact, horror movies are the thing that helps me cope with my nightmares; it’s a way for me to confront my fears and anxieties—they are a source of comfort and bravery.
But the nightmares are only half of the problem. The other half is sleep paralysis, a condition where I feel completely paralyzed and unable to move or speak while sensing a ‘presence’ looming over me. It’s a terrifying experience that leaves me feeling helpless and vulnerable. At first, I thought that forcing my eyes and fingers to move during sleep paralysis was just a feeling, but when I recorded myself sleeping, I noticed that the video captured my eyelids and fingers struggling to move during sleep paralysis. That’s when I realized that it wasn’t just a feeling and that I was actually trying to force my eyes and fingers to move during sleep paralysis. It’s a scary and unnerving experience that can be hard to cope with, but I try to remind myself that it’s only temporary and eventually, I will be able to move again.
It can be very hard to live with nightmare disorder and frequent sleep paralysis, especially if these things keep you from sleeping and make you feel tired and worried during the day. However, with time and practice, it is possible to cope with these issues and improve the quality of your sleep. Here are some strategies that have worked for me and may work for you as well:
Watch horror movies to build bravery and desensitize you to scary situations.
In my opinion, to overcome your fears, you have to confront them. Therefore, to face a scary situation, you have to learn to adapt to it. Horror movies and shows have helped me a lot to cope with my nightmares. Not only have they helped me to cope with my nightmares, but they have also helped me to be braver in general and remain calm in every scary situation. As a result, I believe that I am one of the bravest people among those around me. I am unafraid of being alone in the dark or in unfamiliar environments, and firmly believe that there is a rational, scientific explanation for everything. Simply put, I don’t scare easily. So, yeah, I highly recommend adapting yourself to the horror genre to cope with your nightmares. I was also very active playing horror video games in 2018-2020, with Outlast being my favorite. I noticed that playing these games helped me feel more in control of my nightmares as if I were playing a video game.
Don’t return to sleep after waking up multiple times to avoid sleep paralysis.
So, I’ve noticed that when I try to sleep again after waking up several times, I tend to trigger sleep paralysis. As soon as my body begins to feel numb and tingly (if you’ve experienced it, you’ll understand), I move my head quickly and get up. If I fall asleep again, I’m likely to experience sleep paralysis. When it does happen, I always try to make my toe move first, followed by my eyes and fingers. Sometimes I recover quickly, but other times it takes longer than 2 minutes to get out of the state of sleep paralysis. Oh, and I’ve also figured out that sleeping on my back or during the day can trigger it too. Additionally, some of my nightmares also caused sleep paralysis; for instance, during one of my nightmares, I knew that I was dreaming and I tried to force myself up, but that led to an episode of sleep paralysis instead.
Practicing relaxation techniques during times of stress.
When I’m stressed, I tend to have more nightmares and sleep paralysis. It can get pretty bad, with daily occurrences, even nightmares that continue when I fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night. To deal with it, I’ve found that practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation can really help. They calm me down and make it easier to fall and stay asleep. Plus, regular practice helps me manage stress and anxiety during the day too. It doesn’t completely get rid of the nightmares, but it definitely reduces how often they happen.
Avoid eating before sleep.
It’s commonly believed that eating before bed can increase the chances of having nightmares. Research suggests that certain foods and drinks, like caffeine and alcohol, can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to more vivid dreams. Personally, I’ve noticed that I can’t have anything sweet before bed, such as chocolate or cake. I’ve also made it a habit to avoid food after 8:00 PM. By doing so, I’ve been able to improve the quality of my sleep and reduce the likelihood of having nightmares.
Establishing a consistent sleep routine.
Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is crucial for managing nightmare disorders and sleep paralysis. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. By following a regular sleep schedule, you can help regulate your body’s circadian rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Although there have been times when I’ve messed up my sleeping pattern, I always make sure to wake up between 7:30-8:00 AM because I’m more likely to experience sleep paralysis if I wake up later than that.
If you’re experiencing frequent sleep paralysis or nightmares that disrupt your daily life, it’s essential to talk to a healthcare professional. They can help determine if there is an underlying medical or mental health condition that may be contributing to your symptoms. While I have considered seeking professional help, I currently believe I can manage my symptoms on my own and avoid taking any therapy or medications. However, I am open to any researcher who is interested to study my condition.
Living with nightmare disorder and frequent sleep paralysis can be challenging, but with the right strategies and support, it is possible to manage these symptoms and improve your quality of life. Remember to be patient and gentle with yourself, and don’t be afraid to seek help when you need it. Despite the fear and discomfort, these experiences are a part of me and have shaped me into a strong, brave, resilient, and determined person. Although the nightmares and sleep paralysis may never go away, I will continue to face them head-on, knowing that I am not alone in my struggles.
Hope this helps. X, Hani. ❤