Waking Nightmares

Sleep paralysis: What it is and how it haunts us.

The nightmares projected during sleep paralysis can take on many forms; they can be docile or menacing but it is important to remember that they aren't real.

By Walker, Charles: The encyclopedia of secret knowledge. [S.I.]: Limited Editions, 1995, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1345027

The nightmares projected during sleep paralysis can take on many forms; they can be docile or menacing but it is important to remember that they aren't real.

Sleep paralysis is a state of consciousness in which someone is awake and aware of their surroundings but is unable to move or speak. It is common with people who have narcolepsy but is not exclusive to them; anyone can experience sleep paralysis. It typically occurs, first, during early adolescents. Some people experience sleep paralysis frequently, while others may only experience it once. Most people never have sleep paralysis, however. If someone doesn’t know what it is, it can be alarming, but it is nothing to fear and usually wears off after a few minutes.  

The most iconic portrayal of a sleep demon, as depicted here, is a gargoyle-like creature that sits on the victims chest.

So, what causes sleep paralysis? According to Sleep Education, “Normally your brain causes your muscles to relax and be still as you sleep. This is called “atonia.” Sleep paralysis seems to be when this atonia occurs while you are awake. It can happen as someone’s falling asleep, waking up, or if woken up during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Sleep paralysis can be brought on due to stress, irregular sleeping habits, sleep deprivation, or waking up abruptly. Statistics provided by the National Center for Biotechnology Information reports, 7.6% of the general population, 28.3% of students, and 31.9% of psychiatric patients experienced at least one episode of sleep paralysis. Of the psychiatric patients with panic disorder, 34.6% reported lifetime sleep paralysis. Results also suggested that minorities experience lifetime sleep paralysis at higher rates than Caucasians.” 

How does it haunt us? What is a sleep demon? Sleep paralysis demons are a sort of side effect. It is a mental phenomenon that, when unaware of it, can be terrifying. Many people that have sleep paralysis encounter a demon. They can take on many forms and can be so vivid that people not only see them but feel and hear them as well. The classic sleep demon is a shadowy figure that is sitting on the victim’s chest, covering their mouth, and keeping them from moving or screaming. These demons are sometimes referred to as the night hag. While seemingly very real and terrifying, these “demons” are no more than a hallucination of the mind. If jolted awake out of a nightmare, with sleep paralysis, the mind will keep projecting the nightmare, leading to hellish hallucinations. Throughout history people have reported seeing different versions of these demons. Some people believe that the surge of alien abduction stories throughout the later 20th century could be linked to sleep paralysis. People have also confused sleep demons with ghostly encounters and other supernatural phenomenons when, in fact, it is quite natural.

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Lafayette senior who wishes to remain anonymous describes their experience with sleep paralysis: “I remember feeling like something dark was watching me and then something grabbed my arm and said, ‘come with me, you’ll be safe. I woke up and all the air left my body and I had chills… it felt like a heavy weight on my chest, compressing my lungs.” Other occurrences are described by people on Thought Catalog in their article, 15 People On Their Experience With The ‘Sleep Paralysis Demon’. One particularly frightening encounter is described as, “…I was lying on my side with my back to the door and it felt like someone got into bed behind me. Under the covers and put their arm round my waist. Then it felt like they were cuddling into me and I could feel breath on my neck. It felt like they cuddled me for about half an hour. All this time I’m trying not to show that I’m panicking because it feels like I’m getting cuddled by a skeleton with claws. It was only about the second, maybe third time I’d had sleep paralysis, so I nearly had a heart attack when this thing feels like its moving in closer to kiss me behind the ear. Worst of all it whispered “Not yet. You’re not ready yet. I’ll come back when you are.” To me it sounded disappointed and excited. It felt like it was silently telling me it meant that it was coming back when I was about to die.” Another encounter described in the article was much more comical, “… I saw a couple of surreal looking penguins walking around my bedroom. It was amusing and funny.”

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If you do experience sleep paralysis frequently, you may want to contact your doctor or see a sleep specialist. No matter what kind of sleep paralysis one might have, demon-less or otherwise, it can still be a very scary experience, even when informed about it. To hear a mistaken sleep demon experience click HERE and watch from 21:32-34:14. We want to hear from you, answer the polls embedded in this article!