- inherited) in some cases. An attack of sleep paralysis is usually harmless and self-limited. It tends to be over in a minute or two as soon as the brain and body re-establish connections and the person is able to move again. However, the memory of the terrifying sensations felt during sleep paralysis can long endure. (Some scholars believe that sleep paralysis may account for some of the old claims of attacks by witches and the more recent "reports" of nocturnal abduction by space aliens.) A rare fatal form of sleep paralysis may, it is thought, underlie the cases of healthy teenagers, mainly in Southeast Asia, who die in their sleep, sometimes after fighting for breath but without thrashing around. Sleep paralysis goes by a number of names, including the "old hag" in Newfoundland (for an old witch thought to sit on the chest of the paralyzed sleeper), "kokma" in the West Indies (for a ghost baby who jumps on the sleeper's chest and attacks the throat), "kanashibari" in Japan and "gui ya" or ghost pressure in China (because a ghost is believed to sit on and assault the sleeper). Medically, sleep paralysis is sometimes called waking paralysis, predormital (before-sleep) paralysis, postdormital (after-sleep) paralysis, and REM sleep atonia.
Medical dictionary. 2011.
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