MR therapy is an intervention designed for Sleep Paralysis (SP). This disorder is characterized by an involuntary state of muscle paralysis. It can occur at the beginning of the dream or upon awakening. It is produced by a mismatch in the mechanisms that regulate the REM-wakeful sleep cycle.
Whoever experiences it regains consciousness and sensory perception, but not the ability to control muscles. This situation causes anxiety, fear and is accompanied by hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations.
It is a primary sleep disorder and is not caused by another psychiatric, medical or substance abuse disorder. The Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV, 1994) classifies it as a parasomnia, since it is a disorder that affects the quality and quantity of sleep.
This phenomenon occurs between the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleep and wakefulness. According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, it can appear both in an isolated and chronic way. That is why its development can be linked to fully circumstantial factors.
Main characteristics of sleep paralysis
During REM sleep, the electrical activity of the brain is similar to that of wakefulness. In this phase the most complex and emotional dreams are produced. By a principle of conservation, the non-autonomous muscles are paralyzed. Changes in the sleep routine can alter the process of locking and unlocking the muscles.
What physiological mechanisms are involved?
Through the neurotransmitters GABA and glycine the tone of the skeletal muscle is suppressed. This is how the motor neurons of the spinal cord are inhibited.
A mismatch in the sequence of awakening causes the subject to recover consciousness before the ability to move and react. The limbic (emotional) system processes and interprets the situation as a whole.
The feeling of flight
From the amygdala a principle of response based on emotion is elaborated. The most common circumstances, such as being in the dark and unable to react, cause a rapid negative assessment.
That is why the most frequent feelings are fear and terror. This emotional processing causes perceptual alterations, interpreted as visual, tactile and auditory hallucinations.
The feeling of presence
One of the most common sensations in sleep paralysis is being stalked. The inability to move along with the anxiety and imagery proper to the dream increases the expectations of a visual manifestation. The attention is biased to detect possible threats. Thus, the feeling that something or someone is close to us, without having real evidence of that presence, is very common.
MR therapy for sleep paralysis: unmasking the ghost
Few authors dare to formulate a specific psychological treatment. Baland Jalal, from the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), proposes MR therapy (meditation and relaxation) in 2016.
The author argues that the reciprocal increase of fear, anxiety and anguish generates a feedback loop that aggravates the attack and content of hallucinations. Based on this, it draws up its intervention model based on the following pillars:
- Reassessing the meaning of the attack: be aware of the benign and temporary nature of the attack (there is no death or permanent paralysis). Also the meaning of hallucinations, closely related to dreams during the REM phase. This serves to give a new meaning to the episodes and is a crucial step to achieve relaxation and stay calm.
- Psychological and emotional distancing: the subject must understand that worry and fear only worsen and prolong the episodes. Also, it is not a paranormal event, but a response from your body.
- Meditation, attention fixed inward: Meditation is the crucial discipline to develop to obtain a good result. The mechanism that sets in motion meditation seeks a gain over attentional control, so that the person has a valuable resource to ignore hallucinations.
- Muscle Relaxation: physical symptoms, such as motor paralysis or the inability to handle the breath voluntarily, occur best when ignored. Otherwise, they can destabilize the internal focus process. It is necessary to remain calm and relax.
The importance of practice
MR therapy for sleep paralysis requires training. The subject can replicate the position in which the paralysis occurs (usually face up) to practice the steps.
Given the overwhelming nature of the event, the practice prepares the subject without the stress that a real situation can generate.
The objective is to predispose to respond passively and recreate positive images before the threatening stimulus.
According to specialists such as Dr. Ramachandran, the lack or lack of synchrony between the extremities and the motor system alters the multisensory processing. So if trying to flee and mentally execute that action there is no response from the body, self-perception is altered.
In this way the sensation of floating, extracorporeal experiences and somber images appears. Through relaxation as a first response, the impulse of flight and the perceptive alteration are modified.
Characteristics of the intervention
We can classify it as a cognitive behavioral treatment. It focuses on modifying behavior and evading negative feedback. On the other hand, the success of the intervention is sensitive to the attitude of the person.
Second, its success is also conditioned, as we noted earlier, by the degree of attentional control of the person. The ability to concentrate, together with the interpretation of sensations, go in this direction. On the other hand, the model proposes a direct change in attention. Thanks to relaxation, this would move from potentially unpleasant external stimuli to a neutral or positive internal stimulus.
To conclude, curious as the experience may be, we are not talking about a strange phenomenon. In fact, it is not usually worrisome in itself, what worries are its consequences, prioritizing over all of them the degree of anxiety that it can produce. In any case, it is advisable to consult a specialist.