On Sleep Paralysis And Its Avoidance: Part III, Experiences
This is Part III in a series of four articles. If you haven't already done so, it would be better to start reading from Part I.
For many, the combination of paralysis and hallucinations can be an alarming experience, therefore the descriptions contained in these articles are not suitable for people of a nervous disposition.
Part III provides examples of the sorts of experiences people have during sleep paralysis.
The First Encounter
As is common with sleep paralysis, my first encounter with an unusual sleeping experience occurred when I was a teenager. I remember going to bed on a Friday night. There was a large alarm clock beside the bed but it had stopped. It was clear to see that the clock was stopped but I decided not to wind it up, on the basis that I'd deliberately sleep in on Saturday morning and just get up whenever I woke up.
Next morning when I woke up, it felt like I was completely awake although my eyes were still closed. There wasn't any sensation of paralysis but my ears were playing tricks. I could clearly hear the perfect sound of the ticking clock even though there wasn't any doubt that it was stopped when I went to bed the previous night. It felt absolutely fascinating just to lie there, aware that my brain was generating such a vivid experience even though it obviously wasn't real. I was also amazed at the perfection with which the sound of the clock was being created by the brain.
Eventually, when I decided to open my eyes it felt like time was running very slowly. At each stage, from the decision to open the eyes, to the eye muscles starting to move, to the eye lids starting to part; the sound grew gradually quieter, until when my eyes were completely opened, there wasn't a sound. At that point I looked over and saw that the clock was stopped. It was the first time and the last time that any sleep-related hallucination I experienced was benign.
Subsequent events included paralysis upon wakening and usually a feeling of something else of a malevolent nature being close by.
Footsteps On The Stairs
On one occasion I woke up, still lying on the bed but paralyzed and hearing muffled voices that appeared to be coming from downstairs. The voices continued for a while but were soon followed by the sound of a single pair of footsteps slowly walking up the stairs. The footsteps reached the top of the stairs, stopped outside my bedroom door and then didn't seem to do anything else. But then, the door handle could be heard turning, coupled with the clear sound of the door rubbing against the carpet as it opened, and then very clearly rubbing against the carpet again as it closed (the sounds were crystal clear).
There was another pause for a moment followed by a sensation of my body rolling a little to one side as the bed tilted downwards – it was as if someone had just sat on the bed. That was then followed quickly by the sensation of someone jumping on top of me, wrestling and holding me down on the bed. When experiencing such an attack in bed during sleep paralysis the perceived motivations of the attacker can vary but often it's just to hold the sleeper on the bed.
At such a point it becomes a race to keep trying to move the body to shake off the paralysis. After five or six attempts it works. I sit up in bed and realize it's been another case of sleep paralysis.
The wakening stage involves a mental effort analogous to dragging myself up a beach. The problem is that if I stop dragging, I immediately start sliding back down the beach again. There's no in between, it's either a case of willing/pulling myself out, or sliding back in. Also, after wakening there's a strong feeling that going back to sleep too soon will lead to another slide back down the beach into calamity again.
This example also highlights the point that when people refer to 'wakening' into a state of sleep paralysis, it's not entirely a 100 percent wakening. In any other circumstances, if I woke up and heard the sound of intruders coming up the stairs, I'd leap out of bed immediately and rush to the top of the stairs to gain the advantage of the high ground. But in the wakening associated with sleep paralysis, it seems OK just to lie there and wait to see what happens next.
The Dead Rat
Some people claim that sleep paralysis only happens when they lie on their backs. While that may be more common, I've also had an attack while lying on my front. It involved wakening up to an experience similar to a TV documentary I'd seen several years earlier.
The documentary was filmed in time-lapse and showed a dead rat being devoured from the inside by maggots. The maggots were entirely inside the rat so couldn't be seen, but their effects manifested as waves rolling up and down the inside of the rat. The more of the rat they ate, the larger they became and the larger the waves grew, until the rat ended up just a heaving empty shell.
In my own case I could feel the waves rolling up and down my stomach and chest, all the time pressing against the mattress as they moved.
More Disturbing Experiences
Some people report more disturbing experiences, sometimes having their pillow pulled from under their head, then grabbed by the legs, and swung or thrown repeatedly around the room. Others who manage to open their eyes report seeing “horrible-looking creatures”, with “scrunched up faces”, or red eyes, sometimes looking like gargoyles or even aliens. Sometimes whispering suggestions into the sleeper's ear and often being so close that their warm breath could be felt on the cheek or ear.
I often refer to the need to shake off the paralysis to waken up properly, and Part II includes examples of the techniques some people use to do so. However, it should also be noted that occasionally the wakening process doesn't go smoothly. Some people report 'wakening' into a lucid dream where they think they're awake but then suddenly discover they're not. In my own case I once managed to drag myself out of a hallucination and then sat up in bed. But when I looked around, I saw that the light in the room was on, and the whole room completely trashed as though it had been burgled. I thought, 'surely this can't be real?', so I tried again and woke up properly at the second attempt (at least I think I did).
There are numerous other details and anecdotes of sleep paralysis available on the internet. For more examples try Scientific American magazine.
Part IV brings this set of articles to a close with some conclusions drawn from the full series.
Do You Have Experiences To Add?
If you have any unusual experiences of sleep problems (not necessarily limited to sleep paralysis) please feel free to share them with others in the Comments section below.