Surprisingly, not many people seem to know much about sleep paralysis—the sleep disorder characterized by a conscious experience of immobility while sleeping, often accompanied by terrifying visions of menacing entities. I hadn’t heard of the phenomenon myself until last summer, when I chanced into living with a roommate, who had recurring episodes of sleep paralysis. My 24-year-old roommate, a bit superstitious, was convinced that these nightmarish episodes were instances of paranormal activity; that, in fact, there may very well be a demon trying to possess or kill him.
Tales of what we now call sleep paralysis have been told in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. These cultures often offered spiritual or paranormal explanations for the phenomenon, although sleep researchers, psychologists, and doctors now recognize it as a natural and harmless occurrence. Still, it’s incredible how similar sleep paralysis experiences are from person to person, and how unbelievably scary they are! Here’s a look at some of the oldest and most well-known (seemingly) paranormal sleep paralysis stories.
The Old Hag
The story of the Old Hag is so prominent that sleep paralysis was sometimes even referred to as Old Hag Syndrome. Although it is believed that the Old Hag originated in Newfoundland, ancient stories from many western countries confirm perceived experiences with the Old Hag. In Old Hag sleep paralysis stories, “victims” first sense an unknown presence of evil. The presence then manifests itself as a witch that sits on the sufferer’s chest, leaving him or her immobile and helpless. The weight on the chest affects the ability to breathe, and the victim strains against the witch to no avail. Suddenly, the victim wakes up and the witch is gone…only to return the next night.
Sleep Paralysis and Demons
In many cultures (possibly dating back to Mesopotamia in 2400 BC!), the elusive sleep paralysis entities have been described as demons. The sleep paralysis demon was sometimes a succubus and other times an incubus, depending on the gender of the person sleeping. According to legend, a succubus is a female demon that mates with a human male while he is sleeping. She may strangle him or otherwise drain him of life (or rather, attempt to). The succubus is often associated with Lilith, the legendary first wife of Adam who was kicked out of Eden for refusing to lie under Adam during sex. A sleep paralysis incubus is a male version of the succubus that attacks and haunts women while they sleep. Scholars believe that these stories originated in ancient cultures as a way to explain pregnancy outside of marriage.
Over the years, many different names and descriptions have been given to similar sleep paralysis demons. In nearly all cases, the sufferers witness a menacing force attempting to possess or hurt them. The demon either sits on them or otherwise causes an unbearable pressure on the sufferer’s chest. In a sleep paralysis demon attack, the victim is completely paralyzed and unable to even yell for help.
Sleep Paralysis Ghosts and Shadow People
Often, the sufferers of sleep paralysis are unable to fully identify the evil being or presence of evil that accompanies their immobility and panic. In many cases of sleep paralysis, the episode starts with a shadowy figure in the corner that slowly advances on the paralyzed person. These sleep paralysis shadow people are sometimes described as ghosts. In these instances, the victims feel pressure on their chest before the shadowy figure ever reaches them, or else the sleep paralysis ghost lies a heavy and menacing hand on the victim’s chest.
Sometimes, the unknown figure reappears several nights in a row and eventually transforms into a demon or hag. Other times, the shadowy figures accompany instances of demon attacks or an old hag episode.
Sleep Paralysis and Alien Abduction
In the United States and North America, it is common to hear stories of sleep paralysis alien abduction. Not surprisingly, these stories didn’t start surfacing until aliens and UFO’s became a popular mania. The alien abduction story is similar to those involving ghosts or demons. Victims “wake up” and find themselves paralyzed, unable to move or speak. They may see flashing lights and hear buzzing sounds. The victim then senses a menacing presence, a weight on their chest, and often a heaviness in their head. The presence manifests itself as an alien, which slowly approaches the victim, whose terror increases as they remain glued to their bed. At this point, sleep paralysis victims often wake up. Other times, they report feelings of levitation, and that instruments and tools are used to examine them.
Most psychologists attribute their patients’ alien abduction and attack stories to episodes of sleep paralysis combined with a very active imagination. However, many patients won’t accept this theory and are angered that no one will believe them.
Sleep Paralysis Spiritual Experiences
Although it’s extremely rare to hear of a sleep paralysis story that involves an amiable entity (in fact, I’m not sure there has ever been such a story), some people actually induce sleep paralysis for the spiritual or paranormal experience. These people often believe the visions are real, rather than just perceived. They sometimes have had so many occurrences of sleep paralysis that they are able to turn their episodes into “out-of-body” experiences. In many cases, they believe they are connecting with “another world.”
Are You Afraid of Sleep Paralysis?
This author is in the camp of people who believe the scientific evidence supporting the claim that sleep paralysis is a natural phenomenon caused by characteristics of REM sleep and a miscommunication between the brain and the body. However, its undeniable that whatever the cause, sleep paralysis is a terrifying experience. If you are suffering from sleep paralysis, take comfort in the fact that sleep paralysis is rarely a chronic disorder, and remember that no one has ever reported actual danger upon awaking from an episode of sleep paralysis. Moreover, in the thousands of years that sleep paralysis stories have been recounted, no related deaths have ever been recorded.
Got Your Own Stories? Tell Us About Them in the Comments!
Have any interesting or scary sleep paralysis stories of your own? Let us know what happened by leaving the story in the comments below. If you get it down on paper it might seem less real and therefore a little less scary should it happen again.