Sleep paralysis is quite well known in the general populace and within the paranormal community, some believe it is attacks whilst sleeping by spirits or evil demons even alien abduction or visitations from loved ones who have passed!
Fortunately for those involved this isn’t a paranormal experience and is actually quite normal and is found to be a common occurrence for a few people.
What is experienced?
Now imagine you have woken up and you can’t move, that’s pretty terrifying in itself! Trust me I’ve been there myself a few times!
But on top this the person experiences a varied amount of symptoms.
These can range from full blown hallucinations of something either comforting or completely terrifying,
For example a shadow man standing at the foot of the bed or in a dark corner, the incubus/Succubus as explained in my previous post (Here) a similar demon like creature, an alien abduction or experiment, an old hag sitting on your chest or an unknown presence in the room with you!
The presence is not always necessarily scary, some people experience visitations from loved ones who have passed or even people who are still alive!
This example is taken from Oliver Sacks book ‘Hallucinations‘ shows how terrifying it can be for an individual –
“I had just lain down in bed, and after a few rounds of changing positions I ended up face down. Almost immediately I felt my body go more and more numb. I tried to “pull” myself out of it, but i was already too deep into the paralysis. Then it was almost as if someone sat down on my back, pressing me deeper into the mattress…the weight on my back got heavier and heavier, and I was still not able to move. [then] the thing on my back got off and laid down next to me…I could feel it lying beside me, breathing. I got so scared and thought that this couldn’t be anything other than real…because I had been awake all along. It felt like an eternity before I managed to turn my head towards it. Then I laid eyes on an abnormally tall man in a black suit. He was greenishly pale, sick looking, with a shock ridden look in the eyes. I tried to scream, but was unable to move my lips or make any sounds at all. He kept staring at me with his eyes almost popping out when all of a sudden he started shouting out random numbers, like FIVE-ELEVEN-EIGHT-ONE-THREE-TWO-FOUR-ONE-NINE-TWENTY, then laughed hysterically….I started feeling able to move again, and as I came back to a normal state the image of the man became more and more blurry until he was gone and I was able to get up”
Now consider how terrifying that would be? To almost anyone without an understanding of what it is would label that paranormal, they would easily believe something had visited them or the house is haunted by something evil! It can cause a cascade of thoughts that will make a person feel uncomfortable in their own home!
You see I chose this example as it shows a complete set of hallucinations, auditory, tactile and visual! It also shows just how real these can seem to the person experiencing them!
A lot of people also experience a buzzing noise that can be heard as a hum of a space ship, a growl of something ‘evil’ or even screaming or laughing, this is purely an auditory hallucination nothing more.
Sufferers also experience a difficulty to breathe or a pressure on the chest which has helped bring forward the idea of the old hag sitting on the ‘victim’!
So what is really happening?
This is a psychological phenomena where your brain and your body kind of slip off tune with each other, this tends to happen during REM sleep which normally is estimated around 90 minutes into falling asleep, a person suffering from an attack will drop almost straight into REM sleep, as we drop into REM sleep our brain releases 2 chemicals glycine and GABA these chemicals are the brains way of stopping us acting out our dreams and nightmares whilst sleeping!
It essentially paralyses you during sleep, the problem appears when the brain becomes more conscious in its REM state but is still releasing these chemicals, we become aware of our surroundings without being able to move, this allows our mind to stir up wonderful images that seem to be in the room with us but are actually just part of a dream!
This can be common place for sufferers of narcolepsy or sleep deprivation to experience these hallucinations as they can easily drop straight into a REM state sleep, but it is not limited to just these sufferers, it has been found by James Allan Cheyne of the university of Waterloo that between a third and half of the general population have suffered from a sleep paralysis attack or as its labelled isolated sleep paralysis if it is only the odd time it is experienced this is based on vast Internet surveys and direct contact with over 300 students.
The Amygdala plays its part in this as it remains active whilst the person is having an attack, the 2 small regions in the brain are designed to protect us, it is our fear centre, it is, if anything giving the dream/awake state the fuel to make the situation completely terrifying!
These terrifying projections can be based on belief or even suggestion over years, and to be fair as above there is a lot of varying examples.
Now sleep paralysis should not always be confused with hypnagogic and Hypnopompic hallucinations (I have explained them in detail in part 2 of the series) they have similarity and can interact but Sleep paralysis causes extreme hallucinations in some cases the sufferer cannot tell if it is an hallucination or not!
As for the struggle to breathe it is noted that the muscles that require breathing to become fast paced and shallow are ‘deactivated’ during an attack, this mixed with the rise in heart rate creates a feeling of pressure on the chest and a difficulty to breathe, having that difficulty can be a catalyst to why a lot of sufferers hallucinate something sat on them restricted breathing!
From these small examples you can easily see how people believe that this could be a paranormal occurrence, heck it’s where the word nightmare originated, but fortunately it is quite normal and easily explained.
What should an investigator do?
If an investigator came across a case where this is occurring it is the most responsible and ethical thing to do is advise going to see a local Doctor if you discover it is a regular occurrence then narcolepsy could be to blame, especially if it occurs outside of usual sleep patterns, high levels of stress or sleep deprivation if the ‘attacks’ are less common can also be a cause.
You should explain that you indeed believe what is happening to them and explain its commonality and how easily it can be perceived as a paranormal experience, most people will struggle with the concept to begin with but with patience and time you should at least persuade them to try this approach first!
You would quite rarely come across anyone who has been diagnosed with narcolepsy and feel the need to contact a paranormal team as they tend to have a good understanding of why and what is happening to them, it is only if their belief system pushes beyond what is medically diagnosed then, It is a responsible move to explain that indeed this isn’t a paranormal experience and refer them back to their Doctor as soon as possible.
What an investigator should NOT do!
It is not the best idea to go into an investigation of this kind with an instant idea that this is an evil entity attacking individuals, this will only solidify the idea for the sufferer and has huge potential to make the situation much worse, the sufferer will struggle with sleep even more feeling like this really isn’t in the mind and with that they will become more deprived of sleep which in turn will cause the attacks to become more frequent! (This is the point you hear “the attacks are getting worse because I’m trying to get help we are making it angry”) this isn’t the case but a spiritual approach would agree and in turn make things worse once again for the individual!
Please as investigators be responsible and ethical!
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I invite any corrections to research that may have updated since the time of the original post or I am not aware of and I will update once I have confirmed the research is valid
Thanks for reading and I look forward to your feedback!
1. The Journal of Neuroscience,18 July 2012, 32(29): 9785-9795; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0482-12.2012
2. Morton, K. “Paralyzed at Night: Is Sleep Paralysis Normal?” Stanford Sleep & Dreams. 2010.
3. Oliver Sacks. “Hallucinations” 2012
4. “All in the mind?” – Paul Chambers (ASSAP journal Anomaly 25)
5. Christopher C.French & Anna Stone – “Anomalistic Psychology exploring paranormal belief and experience”
2. Oliver Sacks. “Hallucinations” Here
3. Christopher C. French & Anna Stone. “Anomalistic Psychology” Here
Part 1 - Sleep Paralysis in the Paranormal
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