Sleep Paralysis: Experiences and Theories
What Is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a rather frightening occurrence for all who have experienced it firsthand. If you've ever woken up from a nightmare into another nightmare and were not able to move your body, then you've had sleep paralysis. Other signs and symptoms of this condition or experience are feelings of choking, suffocating, and not being able to speak. Generally this sleep phenomenon happens in the sufferer's REM stages of sleep, or just as they are about to wake up.
There are various scientific and supernatural theories that try to explain this terrifying phenomenon. But can science really define sleep paralysis, or is it indeed something supernatural occurring here? We'll explore the theories behind sleep paralysis, as well as the legends surrounding the phenomenon.
Experiences with Sleep Paralysis
Many people experience sleep disturbances and disorders every night ranging from night terrors to sleepwalking, sleep apnea to sleep paralysis. And the list of these sleeping disorders could go on and on. The majority of these sleep disorders can indeed be explained by science and by the body's natural physiological make-up; however, sleep paralysis seems to be a lot more intense and complex than sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. For the people who experience sleep paralysis once or more in their lifetimes, they are convinced it is more than a simple glitch in the nervous system. Here are a few of those hair-raising stories.
"The first time I experienced sleep paralysis was when I was ten years old. I remember it clearly as it frightened the living day lights out of me. I was sleeping in my bed at my grandparents' house, when suddenly I woke up and couldn't move a muscle. There was a creature at the end of my bed staring at me intently...with green eyes and long fingernails. I wanted to scream out for my grandma but I couldn't even talk! I was paralyzed...and gripped with fear. This thing began tickling my feet...which seems like a funny experience but in fact it almost made me wet the bed I was so scared. And the tickling didn't feel good, it actually hurt. But I couldn't move. And then...I really woke up and out of the paralysis. It was one of the scariest things I've ever gone through as a kid..."
"I experienced sleep paralysis when I was about nineteen-years-old and living with some friends in an older house. It was probably built in the 1920s and had a lot of history to it. I swore it was haunted, but I was never scared of it. One night I had what seemed to be a dream but then again crossed over into reality. I woke up in my bed and the blinds on my windows flipped open...I couldn't move. I couldn't get up, run, or even scream. I was completely lifeless but yet my eyes were open and I could see the shadow of a man looking at me from outside one of my windows. It was extremely terrifying...I'll never forget it. And after that dreams, for days I felt that someone was watching me...stalking me..."
And another personal story of sleep paralysis:
"About a year ago, I had a bout of sleep paralysis that scared me beyond words can describe. The hallucination or dream went like this—I woke up in my own bed, next to my husband and young daughter. Something evil was on top of the bed, floating above us. It looked like a demon of sorts, and it picked up my daughter and began to shake her violently. I was paralyzed...couldn't move...couldn't scream for my husband to wake up...nothing. And all I could do was watch as my daughter was shaken to death by this demon thing. Then I really woke up and realized that it was all a horrifying dream...as my daughter was sound asleep in her own bed and had been the whole time. I saged my entire house after that dream..."
Legends Associated with Sleep Paralysis
There are legends all over the world pertaining to the sleep disturbance called sleep paralysis. Some of these legends go back centuries in time. One of the most common legends behind the sleep paralysis nightmare is known as the "night hag" or "old hag syndrome". This was a common belief in England and elsewhere in Europe that a witch (or old hag) would come and sit on the sleeper's chest at night, suffocating and paralyzing them. The term nightmare is actually a term related to this phenomenon, as the syllable mare was actually thought to be a demonic creature in Scandinavian lore that would torment folks in their sleep similar to the old hag.
A similar belief and really the same belief just in a different culture is the belief in the Cauchemar. This is a legend told by many Cajun folks in the Southern United States, but originates in France. It is the same in that a scary old woman will sit on the dreamer's chest, not allowing them to move or scream. A friend of mine actually made an entire video about this Southern and French legend, that I will post below.
Another associated legend and experience that seems to have a tie to sleep paralysis is the sightings of shadow people or shadow men. Many times over, it is not an old woman or creature sitting on one's chest during sleep paralysis but rather a shadow person or shadow man in the corner of the room paralyzing the sleeper with his/her stares and silence.
Have you experienced sleep paralysis?
Science Explains Sleep Paralysis
Just as in any other seemingly supernatural phenomenon, science has found a way to explain the sleep paralysis experience. While logic tells us that sleep paralysis most definitely has a logical and physiological explanation, to those who have actually experienced sleep paralysis this might be difficult to apply.
However, the scientific explanation to sleep paralysis mainly says that sleep paralysis usually goes hand-in-hand with other sleep disorders or nervous system disorders i.e. narcolepsy, anxiety, or sleep apnea. What happens is that your body shuts down physically during REM sleep so that you do not get up and act out your dreams. Sometimes our minds might begin to wake up but our bodies haven't had a chance to catch up...which scientifically explains the feeling of being awake but not being able to move a muscle. But to many people this does not explain the utter feelings of doom nor does it explain the terrifying hallucinations of demonic creatures and invaders in the room.
Is It Something Supernatural?
So if we suppose that maybe sleep paralysis is more than just a sleep disorder, maybe it is something supernatural. Some of the people who have experienced sleep paralysis also have something else in common with their sleeping patterns...they are lucid dreamers and astral travelers. This means they have the ability to be conscious in their dreams...to know that they are dreaming while in their dreams and be able to control their dreams.
Astral travel means that their consciousness literally leaves their bodies at night and travels to another plane of existence. Now, not everyone believes in this but many people who have experienced astral travel certainly do. And it is interesting to note that many of them also have a commonality that they've gone through bouts of sleep paralysis.
One supernatural theory is that there are creatures on the astral plane or on this mundane plane that feed off of a dreamer's body energy while that dreamer's consciousness isn't there to defend itself. This certainly explains the sleep paralysis (as you are just coming back into your body and realize this creature is feeding off your energy) and the awful hallucinations that come along with the occurrence. Would this be a psychic vampire of sorts?
Or is it all in their heads or a simple glitch in the nervous system? Have you ever had sleep paralysis? And if so, do you believe it is scientifically explained or something supernatural?
© 2013 Nicole Canfield