I wake up feeling like my hand is dead (sometimes it seems swollen or somehow diseased). Then I start screaming “MY HAND!!!” While screaming I become fully awake and realise that there’s nothing wrong with me. I quickly shut up and shamefully go back to bed.
The broad term for this experience is a hypnopompic hallucination or a situation in which one experiences a hallucination on waking up from sleep. Apparently a significant number of people admit to having had such experiences. Sometimes it results from reduced brain function on waking from sleep, aptly termed “sleep inertia”. It is considered “normal” and not associated with any form of mental illness.
Thing get a little bit more interesting when there is an audience. The first time having someone else present was in my third year or so in the university. I had only one room mate at this time (thankfully) and it occurred during examinations week. I woke up screaming and flailing my hand and he nearly fell off his bed. When I realised what was happening, I pretended I was still confused and then lay down and closed my eyes tightly. Poor guy couldn’t get any more sleep that night. It took four days (during which I steadfastly avoided any topics that veered towards sleep and dreams) for him to ask me about what happened that night. I told him the truth as I knew it: I had a really bad dream. He recommended I talk to a therapist. I didn’t tell him I’d been there already and I didn’t get any sensible solutions. Since I still wanted to room with him the next semester (he was a good room mate), I felt that letting him think I was getting some help may relieve any lingering ambivalence he may have towards sharing a room with me again, I “agreed” to do so.
The other one which is a lot quieter but far more disturbing is the feeling of waking up and not being able to move. It’s like I’ve been given a drug that prevents all my muscles from even twitching. It’s so overpowering that I can’t even open my eyes. So I lie there silently struggling since it literally feels like I’ll die if I give up and suddenly I gain control of my body. Back in the day (and by that I mean the middle ages) it was believed a spirit called an incubus would sit on your chest and prevent you from moving while he had his wicked way with you. It also had a female variant called the succubus. Sleep paralysis (as it is technically known in circles where spirits are considered more fantasy than reality) also affects a significant number of people. Even though the Grandfather of All Knowledge (Wikipedia) has a wealth of information on this subject, I am yet to meet someone who admits to having experienced this. You’re also expected to relax and go back to sleep but I doubt I’ll be trying this solution anytime soon.
The other interesting thing about the incubus idea was that it was used to cover up sexual crimes such as rape since the community could argue that there was a spirit going around sexually assaulting people whilst they slept. The case would be closed swiftly and the night visitor go free since such “attacks” were often the work of someone close to the victim. When I first read this, I wondered if this was even possible until I recalled another university experience.
I had three room mates and they were very social people and by that I mean their friends were constantly around and it was the designated crash pad after parties. It was not unusual to come back and find some friend or the other in your bed and you’d just tell them to move and make some space for you. Back in those days I was very much in denial and was not really amused by the idea of sharing my bed with another man (sometimes I wish I could go back and relive those moments). However I began to have strange dreams during which I felt like I was being fondled by someone. Well it wasn’t really a dream but more like being some place between dreams and reality. One would think it’d be a pleasurable dream but I hated it. I would wake up feeling disgusted and strangely ashamed and I couldn’t figure out what was happening. It was not until my friend came and slept over that I found out what was going on: while he was asleep, he felt one of my room mates come and unzip his jeans. He immediately woke up and went home – this was around two in the morning – and promptly informed me the next day. I had always been a deep sleeper and I guess that was why I couldn’t seem to wake up while these things were going on. Well I called my room mate and gave him the tongue-lashing of his life. When I was done he was literally shivering. Sure I could have reported him but considering what the halls are like, he probably would have been beaten to death (or close – I’m not joking) and I didn’t see the need. More importantly, he began to find other things to do and would often stay over at his girlfriend’s place which was just fine by me. He recently tried to add me on Facebook (why he would attempt this I have no idea) and I noticed he was married with kids. The event didn’t really leave scars. Well, maybe it did since I no longer sleep like the dead and I have been told I hold onto my belt buckle or the waistband of my shorts when I’m sleeping. Besides, this was not my first time of having this sort of unpleasant experience.
I have had one episode dead hand syndrome and two episodes of sleep paralysis in the past week after being free from them for almost two years. I guess I may be under more stress than I thought…