Sleep paralysis, that is.... this morning...
Not that it was the first time I had it. It was pretty common when I was at IIT. In fact, there was a time when it was almost a daily occurence. For about 5-10 minutes (or at least thats what it felt like) just before being fully awake (or just after, depending on how you define being "fully awake"), I could not move any part of my body. Not a single muscle.
It was frightening at first. I had no idea what was happening. I used to put ALL my energy into trying to move my hand, or trying to turn my body (I don't think I remember ever being in this state when I wasn't directly facing the roof). After a while the fear went away. It was so common, that I sort of learned to not panic and just keep trying to slide a little to one side so that I can fall from the bed as that seemed to work the best.
For some reason this stopped happening since coming here to the US. But today it came back. With a vengeance. I don't remember ever having so many hallicunatory experiences in my sleep paralysis as I had today. It was almost as if I had 4-5 separate sleep paralysis episodes crammed within half an hour, some of them being truly horrifying. Or maybe I am hyping it more than it deserves. Maybe not "horrifying", but I really did panic more than once. The first time I didn't realize that it was sleep paralysis (out of practice, see!) and REALLY thought that there was someone in my room and I can't really see who he/she/it was because I was face-up and could not turn my neck even a little to the side. After some time, even though I could swear that I could see the hair on the head of the person who seemed to be pulling me by my legs, I began to realize that this is just a sort of dream even though my eyes were open (I thought so then, and after reading a bit about it I think I was right... my eyes must really have been open). Still, it was pretty disconcerting to not be able to move a single muscle even after trying my best for what seemed like 20-25 minutes AND having hallucinations about some presence in my room, and my window being open with a snowstorm surging outside (I actually thought I saw snow coming inside the room by the window, I could hear the wind, and I actually thought I felt a little cold from the wind!). It was exciting and unnerving at the same time. Unnerving because if it is a symptom of me not sleeping properly, then maybe I should do something about it. Specially when I DO know that I've been having some problems with my sleep over last month or so.
Anyway, I took an appointment with my doctor and went about googling for what it might've been really. It doesn't take long nowadays (specially with the advent of wikipedia!) to find anything about anything. Turns out what I was thinking to be a "lucid dream" till that point is more accurately termed as "sleep paralysis". Read the article about it on wikipedia, here. They also talk about the accompanying hallucinations and its amazing how accurately it describes what I felt.
Experiences like this make one understand why exactly do people in almost every society believe in ghosts/spirits etc. In the absence of any knowledge of what the phenomenon was, its only natural to believe that whatever one saw/heard/felt was real. In fact, in a sense, it seems "more real" than reality itself. As in, if someone grabs my leg in real life, it probably won't "feel" as much as I did then. Its almost as if the nerve endings on my skin have increased by an order of magnitude! The wikipedia article also talks about cultural references of sleep paralysis and if we go by the chinese belief, I can say that my body was "possessed by forces from the dead" this morning! :)