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Sleep Paralysis Demons and Other Creatures

Updated on March 11, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

I'm Sam. I enjoy writing about health and mental health-related topics as well as natural ways to prevent disease and stress.

In German, the phenomenon is known as alpdrucken. In pinyin (a dialect of Chinese), guǐ yā shēn. In Hungarian, boszorkany-nyomas. Sleep paralysis and the “visitors” that accompany sleep paralysis are so widespread that almost every culture has a word for it.

The names for these visitors often reflect what the people who speak that language think the visitors are. The Hungarian term, for example, literally means “witches’ pressure.” Pinyin is a little more straightforward, meaning “ghost pressing on the body.” Most recently, in the English-speaking community, these nighttime visitors are blamed for reports of alien abduction, demon possession, and home hauntings.

Sleep paralysis vs nightmare

For those who have never experienced this phenomenon, it is easy to brush it off as a waking nightmare. There are likely incidents that are reported as sleep paralysis demons, which may actually be supernatural experiences. It’s impossible to know which are which. Anyone who has experienced a visitation will tell you that it feels extremely real, confirmed by the knowledge that you are actually awake. A person experiencing sleep paralysis is actually awake—the mind is, the body is not.

Those who take a critical look around their room once the experience is over and they are fully awake and able to think rationally again, often find that what they thought was a figure was actually a coat hanging on the doorknob or a shadow created by a piece of furniture. I woke once to my little sister screaming bloody murder about a man in her room. She told me he was standing in between the two bookshelves on the opposite wall from her bed. What it was, actually, was a shadow, being cast by a combination of the bookshelves a lamp, and a vacuum cleaner my mother had left in the hallway outside of our room.

Our species has a very deeply engrained fear of the dark. It is an evolutionary one. When we were a species that lived in small communities, in caves, the dark was full of things that would kill and eat us. The same is not true of modern society, but the fear remains. So it is easy, with the bedroom light on, to rationalize and to say, “Yes, of course what I saw—what I imagined I saw was this or that—but in the moment, it feels real—too real.”

What are the most common manifestations of sleep paralysis demons? Here are a few that have been reported as early as the middle ages:

Incubi and succubae

This is one of the most common early explanations for sleep paralysis and the visions that accompany it. The incubus and the succubus are essentially demons that first try to have sex with and then attack a person while they are sleeping.


If you’ve read The Crucible or seen the movie, you might recall a scene in which men and women come forward to testify to the court that the accused witches came to them in the night and “rode” them (meaning pressed down on their chest). Like the incubus and succubus explanation, this has been a popular story, especially pre-industrialization, for many people who experienced sleep paralysis. It is even the origin of the word “nightmare.” A “mare” is an old Germanic word for hag.

Demons and malevolent spirits

It is easy to see why this would be an assumption many people, after feeling paralyzed in their beds and sensing and/or seeing a figure looming at their side or pressing on their chest, would make. They often say that the thing in their room feels evil. It feels like it is going to hurt them. When they actually do wake up, the thing is gone. Some people have experiences so vivid that they hear the figure talking to them. Some have even said that the demon will tell them things that are going to happen over the next few days.

Alien abductions

This is a claim that has become much more widespread in modern times. Instead of the dark, looming figure, some report seeing a bright, white figure. It still feels scary, but the circumstances are slightly different. These are often associated with out-of-body experiences or the feeling of being lifted and removed from the bed, returning hours later, having lost that stretch of time.

Wildly differing sleep paralysis experiences

One of the things that makes it difficult to pin sleep paralysis down is the wildly different experiences people even in the same culture can have. While we may know that during our deepest levels of sleep, the deepest troughs of the REM cycle, the body switches off the motoneurons.

It does this so that as we are dreaming, we are not also trying to act out those dreams. We also know that in the dark, in a moment of terror, we are very good at exaggerating sight and sound, so good, in fact, that we can conjure up our own hallucinations. What types of hallucinations and experiences are most common?

Vision of a dark, murky figure

This is surprisingly common and has been reported throughout history, across all populated continents. No matter what it is attributed to (witches, demons, aliens, the brain’s own fears), there is no doubt that millions of people have seen something standing over their beds when they were in a state of sleep paralysis. In the lore of sleep paralysis, they are often just called “the visitor.”

Pressure on the chest

Like seeing a dark figure, feeling pressure on the chest and sometimes around the throat is extremely common. Science tells us that we feel this pressure because we are panicking and resisting the body, which is still technically sleeping, and therefore breathing very slowly. In the moment, however, it does not really feel that way.

Out of body

Some people report actually floating above the scene of the visitor leaning over or actually sitting on top of their paralyzed body. This is not as common as other experiences, but is still fairly widely reported.

Being yanked, pulled out of bed, or scratched

These more physical experiences are much rarer than the visions and pressure. Some will feel a hand close around their ankle and their leg be pulled. Some will actually feel that they are pulled out of the bed. Others will only feel like they are being scratched by something with claws or long fingernails.

Visions of a very detailed figure

Less common even than the sensation of being physically attacked is the vision of a very detailed, fully-formed person, standing near the bed, but some report both the paralysis and the apparition.

Knowing that the brain is generating these sensations provides little relief to those who experience them regularly. No one knows what you are afraid of better than yourself, and sleep paralysis demons (or however it manifests itself) are often a reflection of those deep-seated fears. Some people may actually have supernatural experiences.

They may all be supernatural experiences. Or they may simply be the brain manifesting a communal fear across thousands of years, across thousands of miles.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2016 Shepards


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      Moral Man 

      11 months ago

      I have experienced paranormal phenomena since 1986. It started with out of body experiences while sleeping, and one day in April 2004, while sleeping, I had an out of body experience which was interrupted by a bunch of voices saying in unison, "You are no longer in control." I asked the voices who they were and they replied, "Spirits." Ok, but they refused to tell me what kind of spirits they were. Were they human or non-human? Were they aliens? Were they demons? Were they the spirits of people still living, or were they the spirits of dead people?

      I continued to hear voices on and off while sleeping since 2004. This would be called Clairaudience and is a form of telepathy. On two separate occasions in 2005, the voices became Satanic/demonic in nature and motivation. On one occasion while sleeping, a bunch of voices shouted in unison, "You belong to Satan." On another occasion, while sleeping, a single male voice said that he was a friend or fan of Anton Lavey, the 20th century Satanist, and mentioned the year 1960. These were horrifying, as these voices tried to ensnare me over to Satanism. Its never going to work. I tell them to leave.

      In May 2014, while sleeping, I see the word Saturn and a single voice appears. The voice informed me that Saturn is another name for Satan. Now the issue of Natural evil and Human evil/sin has plagued me for years and has been a threat to my Christian faith. One of the biggest questions I have is: who or what created Natural evils such as centipedes, scorpions, mosquitoes, jellyfish, violin spiders, cancer, stroke, aneurysm, heart disease, ticks, fleas, tooth decay, hurricanes, tsunamis,etc? These horrible examples of Nature are all monstrous, inhuman cruelties causing suffering and death. So I asked the voice if Satan/Saturn had anything to do with these Natural evils. I asked, "Did Satan create centipedes?" The voice replied "No." I asked, "Does Satan enjoy such things as centipedes?" It replied, "Certainly not." I asked, "Who created centipedes?" It replied,"No one." It then proceeded to tell me I'm witnessing something grand. We got cut off before I could ask more questions.

      I believe this experience to be genuinely supernatural because the voice told me something I didn't know up to that point. I didn't know until the voice informed me that Satan and Saturn are the same being. Its also surprising that the voice said that Satan had nothing to do with creating centipedes and in fact doesn't even like centipedes. The voice almost made it sound like Satan is a good guy and there was nothing to be scared of. Yeah right. Was it lying so as not to scare me and to lower my guard?

      So if Satan didn't create centipedes and if God didn't create centipedes, then no one created it. Thats another way of saying that evolution and the blind, impersonal amoral forces of Nature created these horrible venomous pests which have bites that cause agonizing pain and serious sickness. That means there's no Satan to blame, no Devil to blame, and no God to blame for the existence of centipedes. What's very puzzling to me is that if Satan is the personification of all evil and who enjoys murderer, torture, death,and sacrifices, then why would he not like centipedes? After all, centipedes are evil, horrible, repulsive, Devilish critters. I would imagine a purely evil Devil would love something as horrible as centipedes, and yet, the voice told me that Satan doesn't like these horrible critters. How could that be? It just doesn't make sense to me why a purely evil Satan/Devil wouldn't like centipedes just as it doesn't make sense to me why an all good God would create such a horrible, evil, dangerous disgusting animal as a centipede. Maybe Satan isn't purely evil, and maybe God isn't all good. Who knows? I'm still speculating.

      In December 2014, while sleeping, a single voice told me, "You're brilliant. We can use you. Deep down inside, you want me. Let me into you." I knew it was another Satanic/demonic voice. I told him to go away. It got angry and made a threat to me by saying, "Just wait until you die." That is scary. What is it going to do to me when I die? Does it think I'm headed to hell?

      A week ago, in May 2018, while sleeping, I had some kind of attack and knew it was Satanic/demonic in nature. A voice said, "You knew it was me." I replied, "I can sense evil." It seems these voices are able to read minds up to a point. I asked once again if Satan created Natural evils and it said no and then told me to get treatment for phobias! Very strange thing to say for a purely evil being. I sensed the voice to be both evil and with a little bit of good. It seemed to have a Jekyll and Hyde personality. I told the voice that even if Satan had nothing to do with creating centipedes, he could still be evil, cruel, and dangerous in other ways such as forcing his worshippers to conduct killings and sacrifices, and damning people to be tortured forever in hell.

      I have also had poltergeist experiences where my shirt was pulled on one occasion as I woke up, and on another occasion while waking up my blanket was pulled off me. So I live in fear.


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