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First let's talk about the sleep cycle.
When you lay down, your heart rate slows, your temperature drops, your body starts releasing sleepy-chemicals. Sometimes it can take a while to wind down, other times you're so exhausted you pass out instantly. Some of us need a little help getting to sleep.
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Me on the other hand, I toss and turn all night unless I take some melatonin or some chamomile, so I usually take one of these two pills (the dosage is two, but I only take one. Just enough to keep me asleep).
Now staying asleep is important because it's really annoying to wake up in the middle of the night. But also because when my sleep cycle gets stopped, interrupted, or thrown off drastically, I have some not-so-great side effects, and it's worse than being drowsy.
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When your body goes into a REM cycle, (meaning Rapid Eye Movement) or Dream cycle, your brain releases chemicals that paralyze your body so you can't act out your dream. Some people don't have enough of that, and end up sleep walking or talking, or flushing whole rolls of toilet paper down the toilet (that was my sister, not me). That is one form of REM disorder, and is significantly more common.
I, however, sometimes find myself laying in bed, and that paralysis chemical comes into my bloodstream while I'm almost asleep, but still lucid... and sometimes while I'm fully awake.
What happens? Well, I'm awake, paralyzed, unable to control my breathing or my body, and if my eyes are open, whatever I see in front of me becomes part of my dream. It lasts between 45 minutes and 2 hours, and once it starts there's no stopping it.
I can't wake myself up because I'm already awake. I can't fall asleep because I'm already dreaming. I just have to lay there and wait it out.
It can lead to some really wacky dreams.
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It feels like chemicals seeping out of my brain, down my ears, slowly burning into the rest of my body. If I catch it early enough before it gets too bad, I can stop it. I get up, walk around, keep myself moving, etc until the feeling passes, then I can try to go to sleep again like a normal person.
Sometimes I can't stop it.
Sometimes it happens while I'm trying to fall asleep, other times it happens while I'm at work.
The only way to cure it? get regular sleep at normal times. Don't stay up super late and throw my cycle off.
The real killer is naps. If I take a nap, I'm toast. Guaranteed REM cycle while I'm awake, and it'll last 1.5 hours exactly.
Which sucks because I love naps.
Unfortunately there is very little research about the kind of REM disorder I have, most of it is about the other kind where people don't get paralyzed. So there's not much I can tell you about it aside from my personal experiences, and that it sucks. It does tend to run in families though. My dad has it and he has the same issue: it only plagues him when he throws off his sleeping routine.