SkepticblogSkepticblog logo banner

top navigation:

Sleep Paralysis

by Steven Novella, Jul 11 2011

Recently I received the following e-mail:

Thank you so much for your show. The other night your podcast saved me from a night full of stress and fear. I woke up in the middle of the night after a nightmare not being able to move and started hearing voices. My eyes were wide open, I could see that everything was normal but kept hearing a voices asking me to go to bible studies. After five minutes of freaking out I remembered sleep paralysis stories from you show and realized what was happening to me. I rode the strange voices out for an hour just realizing my mind misfiring and not having a spiritual awakening.

I have heard similar stories from other readers/listeners and also my patients. I have also had similar experiences myself (always when sleep-deprived). They can be quite frightening and unpleasant. A typical episode of sleep paralysis, or hypnagogic (when falling asleep) / hypnapompic (when waking up) hallucinations includes the feeling of being paralyzed combined with a sense that there is a malevolent presence in the room. Often there is also the sense of pressure on the chest, as if it is difficult to breathe or even that something is sitting on your chest. There may also be auditory and visual hallucinations to complete the package. The situation is scary enough, but there also appears to be an element of spontaneous terror as well.

Now imagine you are a typical person living in the middle ages or in any similar culture – without the benefit of modern neuroscience to help you make sense of this event. It is a profound experience, outside of our normal everyday experience. It is no surprise that pre-scientific cultures developed myths to explain these occurrences, especially since about 15% of the normal population will at times experience sleep paralysis episodes. (They are also common in sleep disorders, like narcolepsy).

In Scandanavia they have a legend of the “sea hag” who visits people at night to steal their essence. In Europe there are stories of the succubus or incubus- demons that visit people in their sleep to engage in unholy conjugal acts. In more modern times ghosts are more common than demons. I have heard it argued that ghost steal energy from you while you are sleeping so that they can manifest themselves, and that is the reason for the paralysis.

Another modern explanation for these episodes is alien abduction. The little gray aliens paralyze their targets before either bringing them aboard their ship, implanting devices, or probing various orifices.

Again – it is not surprising that such fanciful explanations develop to explain these episodes. We are used to assuming that our brains are accurate recorders of external reality. Our first assumption when we experience something is that it really happened, as we experienced it, not that our brains are malfunctioning.

Now, however, we have knowledge of the brain’s function and many of the ways in which it is flawed and can generate false experiences. Sleep paralysis is just one dramatic and common example. In normal sleeping a center in our brainstems will inhibit the descending motor pathways – they will paralyze you below the neck. This is so you don’t physically act out your dreams. Your eyes can still move, however, so you do exhibit rapid eye movement (REM), which has become an important marker for dreaming.

While in the dream state you are also dreaming – your brain is generating an internal story which can be quite compelling and seems real, at least to our dreaming selves. What I have described above is best understood as a waking dream, a fusion of the dreaming and waking brain states. The body is still paralyzed and the brain is still generating a dream, but it is mixed with reality – so the experience can seem real, as if we are awake. It is a waking dream.

Understanding this is empowering, in that we do not need to be afraid that we were just visited by a demon or hag or that we are being probed by aliens. Some people who experience sleep paralysis think they are going insane. I have had several patients who were very happy and reassured to hear that they were just experiencing a known and benign neurological phenomenon, not something supernatural and not a sign of mental illness.

The waking dream phenomenon is an excellent example of how understanding the world, and in particular ourselves, through the process of science gives us tremendous explanatory power. This reduces the need to invent superstitions or supernatural explanations for seemingly weird occurrences.

Further – waking dreams are yet another example of why we cannot fully trust our brains. Our brains are capable of distorting, filtering, and interpreting sensory input, of altering memories and even generating false memories, and of generating false experiences. While it is good enough for everyday activity, our brains have many flaws. We cannot rely upon our memories of our experiences to understand the world, especially when those experiences are unexpected or unusual. We need external verification, objective measurement, and careful recording of data.

In other words – we need science and skepticism to compensate for the flaws and pitfalls of our neurobiology.

37 Responses to “Sleep Paralysis”

  1. QuestionAuthority says:

    I have had hypnapompic paralysis before, but mostly when I was a child. I never had the sense of any “presence,” but the fear was definitely there of course. Being awake and paralyzed is a frightening thing to happen, especially to a kid that has no idea what’s going on.

    The few times I’ve had it as an adult, I’ve remembered just to wait it out.

  2. Max says:

    A couple days ago, I was waking up and saw a figure of a person near the bed. It was a combination of near and distant objects that look like one figure when the eyes aren’t focused right. Evidently, pareidolia still works.

  3. JHGRedekop says:

    I haven’t had any sleep paralysis in about 10 years, but for a while I was having it regularly. One night, when I “woke up” facing the wall to the right of the bed, I carefully tried to memorize the books on the bookshelf I was facing, to see if I was seeing what was really there or not. After a bit, I drifted back to sleep, and woke up properly in the morning.

    It turned out that what I was “seeing” was definitely not what was really there: not only had we moved that bookshelf a few days before (which my dreaming self had apparently forgotten), but my wife & I had switched sides on the bed. If I had been lying on my right side (as I thought I was), I would have been facing her, not the bookshelf.

    I’ve never had the “malevolent presence” hallucination, but I have hallucinated a bookcase that wasn’t there!

  4. Dale says:

    When I was younger, I had a paper route. Not being a morning person, I chose to deliver the evening paper during the week. But unfortunately, I also had to deliver the Sunday morning paper before 8AM. I would struggle out of bed, exert myself delivering the paper on my bicycle, then crawl back into bed and try to sleep even though it was daytime, and not very dark in my room.

    Many of those mornings, I experienced sleep paralysis. I understood what was happening (that it was nothing supernatural) and came to expect it. It was quite repeatable. I don’t remember being particularly scared, but I often tried to “fight” it by trying to build up some sort of internal mental “pressure” and make a sudden movement to wake myself completely up (which sometimes worked).

    It is an interesting phenomena, and I sort of “miss” it in a way. I take naps during the day sometimes, but it has not happened to me in many years. I suspect my adult sleep physiology is a bit different from when I was 13.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    [I posted this reply on the NeuroLOGICA site, before I realized it was on Skepticblog as well - sorry for the "double" post...]

  5. MadScientist says:

    My only 2 experiences with sleep paralysis didn’t involve any hallucinations but they sure were annoying. I woke up unable to move or speak (a weak ‘ngaaarh’ was all I could manage) although I could move my head a bit from side to side and move my eyes. After some time I could finally move my fingers, arms, etc. Well, that is unless I somehow dreamed all that but was able to go from sleep to waking without being aware of a short period in between – no one else happened to be around to confirm if I were moving my eyes to look around the room or if I were asleep with my eyes closed the whole time.

  6. oldebabe says:

    Apparently, the paralysis is quite common, from the comments here. Who knew? And it seems to mostly afflict one when young.??? I, too, experienced the paralysis a couple of times when I was in my 20s/30s. And are `sound sleepers’ more prone? Just as you described, there is terror upon awakening from a terror-filled dream, and then double terror when one cannot move, or cry out, tho for me there were no apparitions or voices of anything, actually just total silence, which added to the fright, as at that time I lived where I could see (and hear!) the 101 freeway from my apt. window.

    As an old person, now, no paralyses events, and I only occasionally experience semi-weirdnesses just as I’m falling asleep (maybe from MCI?), but still no apparitions or voices… darn… :-)

    I didn’t know/hadn’t heard that the brain closes off the body so movement is inhibited when we dream… so, we’re already paralyzed whenever we dream?

  7. Pete says:

    I practiced Lucid Dreaming in my early 20’s and was able to induce sleep paralysis. I even recorded my self a few times, and I’d like to mention that in my own personal experience even when I thought my eyes were open and I couldn’t move, my eyes were closed the whole time. I was effectively ‘dreaming’ the perception of my room as well as every other sensation.

    I got to a point where I could enter a lucid dream straight from sleep paralysis. While in SP I would imagine rolling out of bed (not actually trying to move but simply imagining it) while repeating, “I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming…” Lo and behold, I would soon feel myself roll out of bed and on to the floor free from paralysis and fully aware that I was now in a dream.

    If anyone is interested in Lucid Dreaming I’d recommend a book called ‘Exploring the Word of Lucid Dreaming’ by Stephen LaBerge

  8. LovleAnjel says:

    I’ve had sleep paralysis on and off all my life…in elementary school I was jolted awake by a voice from my bedroom window whispering for help…I was terrified and couldn’t move. I put it up to a ghost and feared hearing it again. When I learned about sleep paralysis I realized what had happened and it became something neat rather than terrifying.

    In college I used to set the TV to turn off so I could fall asleep to it. One night I woke up to find my lights on, the TV off & my bedroom door open, with Agent Scully standing in the doorway talking to me about an X-file. Realizing what was happening, I closed my eyes. I heard Scully’s voice travel from the doorway into my TV. I opened my eyes – lights were off, door was shut, and she was back on TV talking to Mulder instead. Best hallucination ever.

  9. Masgüel says:

    If you have recurrent sleep paralisis, just remember: Don’t panic, keep your eyes closed, focuse your atention in what can you see (the hypnapompic visual hallucinations are amazing) and let the rest of your senses go into the dream world again. It’s an excelent way to induce and enjoy lucid dreams.

    Please, excuse my bad english.

  10. Martha Bunfield says:

    Where I spent my childhood, a rural area, people from one or two generations ago still believed these to be caused by mares: evil, usually invisible spirits that sat on your chest, in order to (depending on whom you asked) whisper stupid or dangerous ideas into your head, or to make you start the day exhausted.

  11. A few days ago my seven-year-old called for me just as dawn was breaking. He said, “Why won’t you give me some?!” When I asked what he wanted, he answered, “More vegetables!!111!1″ I told him he could have veggies for breakfast and he went right back to sleep.

    Later in the day we talked about it, and about how real dreams can seem. We have talked at length about how we can understand that some people, even adults, mistake dreams about ghosts or whatever, for real events. He seems to get it.

    *disclaimer for the bad-mommy police: Although we do eat mostly plants, we are not an orthorexic family. My children enjoy veggies IRL without any pressure from me. They also enjoy occasional sugary/refined foods without guilt from me….

  12. Bobco85 says:

    I tend to experience sleep paralysis when waking up after falling back asleep (waking up, hitting the snooze button, sleeping, and while waking up the second time). I tend to have lucid dreams during this time, and, especially if they turn out to be nightmares, I will force myself to wake up out of the dream. I never hallucinate anything, but I just lay there unable to speak or move, looking at my room with my eyes open. The first time I experienced sleep paralysis, I thought something was really wrong with my body and I panicked, trying to scream but unable to produce a sound.

    I feel very privileged to live in the modern age and have access to the Internet, where I was able to research and discover a reasonable explanation for this phenomenon and later share it with others. I also suffer from night terrors (did as a kid, but now only when I’m really stressed about something and am losing lots of sleep), but that’s a different sleep-related story! Thank you for a great article!

  13. Alfredo Garza says:

    I had SP quite often when I was younger, both the lucid dreaming kind and the terror fill nightmares where I could feel and evil presence just hovering over me, It got so bad that one time I almost fainted (if that’s at all possible) while I was having an episode, I felt an evil presence by my side and my pulse started racing until I could felt it on my finger tips and I had tunnel vision. I wanted to scream but I could not. I started talking to myself to calm down until I finally could move. Of course I did not knew about SP, proprioception and lucid dreaming, Once I realized this, it become and enjoyable experience, now I don’t have them much anymore, I kind of miss them. Now, I can fly, I can see myself lying in bed from above due to proprioceptive sense, or just float around, its pretty cool….

    And yes we have the same folklore in Mexico about this experiences, we call them “Se te subio el muerto”, “The dead climbed on top of you”, Imagine the terror for a kid knowing these stories and experiencing one.

  14. sailor says:

    When I was a student in London many years ago, I was living in a small mews house and sleeping in the upstairs bedroom. I awoke and opened my eyes, I saw a gloved hand under the open window feeling around on my desk. I desperately wanted to scream, but was totally paralyzed. After a few moments of intense struggle I awoke properly, the gloved hand was a stray cat. But the feeling of complete terror I remember well.

  15. I had an experience of sleep paralysis that for years I considered to be a supernatural event. It wasn’t until I thought things through rationally that I was able to finally admit that it was just my mind playing tricks on me:

  16. Most people hallucinate demons.. how come no one hallucinates… leprechauns, unicorns, santa clause or any other fictional entities? Does this imply that Demons are real? Join the discussion at­s

  17. Key says:

    As a Chinese, I was told that the feeling of being paralyzed and having pressure on the chest are the result of a ghost lying/sitting on top of me (for the nefarious purpose of absorbing my essence of life). It may sound funny but to a kid, it’s downright scary. I still experience sleep paralysis every once in a very long while and even though I know full well what I’m going through, the terror is still quite real.

  18. Trimegistus says:

    I had a similar experience just a couple of weeks ago. I woke up and thought I saw a shadowy figure standing by my bed. At first I couldn’t move, but then I forced myself to grab the lamp and threw it at the figure. I’m glad to hear this is just a neurological phenomenon.

    Of course, now I still have that body to get rid of.

  19. VentureFree says:

    I actually used to be able to induce this at will when I was younger. I would try to remain self-aware enough to recognize that moment just before sleep when disjointed thoughts and images flash through your mind (usually you can only remember those moments if someone wakes you right then). If I was able to recognize that moment, I would force myself to imagine trying to take an object from someone or something, at which point I would come fully awake but unable to move or breathe for a few moments. For some reason it only worked with that specific imagery. Probably because it activated specific parts of my brain that led to the phenomenon.

    I grew up thinking it was because some ghost in our house didn’t want me taking something that was important to it. I ended up doing this fairly often for awhile (several times a night) in my “investigation” to try and figure out what the object was that was so important to this ghost. Needless to say I never found a good answer, and over time I lost the ability to do it at will.

  20. Jenea says:

    My brother had these a lot growing up, and they caused him so much trauma he called them “tesseracts” (after the concept in A Wrinkle in Time, not from math).

    I had them all the time, too, but wasn’t as disturbed. Ultimately, I conquered them (along with more run of the mill nightmares)with lucid dreaming. In fact, these days I don’t even need to achieve full lucidity. A simple “you’re just dreaming so relax into it” message to myself will suffice.

    Folks who are reading a lot about lucid dreaming here but who have never tried it: I can really recommend it! If nothing else, they’re very fun. I usually use them to take myself flying over a cityscape. Beware, however: most of the how-to’s that I’ve seen on the subject are riddled with woo.

  21. Cthandhs says:

    I started getting hypnopompic hallucinations a couple years ago, when I was suffering from anxiety disorder. The first one was terrifying. I saw a glowing green gas clouding over the ceiling of my room and I felt like I was suffocating, gripped with terror. I realized it was a hallucination later, after a couple fretful hours of internet search. Since I have been treated for anxiety, I still have the hallucinations, but not the fear. I sometimes wake up to see a swirling black vortex (or some other mental conjuration), think “that’s neat” and go back to sleep.

  22. Jen says:

    I understand that this type of dreaming is hereditary. My mother occasionally woke up screaming after an episode. She either thought that a demonic man was on the floor at the foot of her bed or that a train was coming through the room. I have a few other relatives who have similar experiences, including my grandfather, so older people can have it happen, too.

    I also have regular sleep paralysis. For the last couple of years, the “plot” has been consistent. I feel I wake up hearing a baby crying. I want to go to the baby, but the crying subsides as my mother walks in the room and says I need to get up for school. She sits on the edge of the bed and begins to stroke my hair. I feel her hand changing and look up to see her transforming into a hideous old woman with long white hair. She’s wrinkled and shriveled. She lays down across me and presses me into the bed. I start to suffocate and struggle but I can’t move. It’s very real. I can taste and feel the long hair falling into my mouth and tangling in my fingers.

    I just tell myself over and over that it’s just a dream and try to force myself to wake up and move. I usually am finally able to jerk awake and (unfortunately for my husband) I always scream.

    I need to sit up and become fully awake for a few minutes. If I go straight back to sleep the dream begins again.

    There have been a few major versions of the dream throughout my life – for a while it was a psychotic little girl with a razor blade. I used to force myself to wake from the dream, actually think I was awake and walk to the bathroom to splash water on my face, for example. Then the girl would be there. Or I’d think I’d thrown myself out of bed and would crawl across the floor to fully wake myself, then see the girl under the bed. Of course I’d then realize I was still stuck in the dream. It was freaky stuff.

    Anyway, it was of great comfort to learn about SP in my abnormal psych book and learn that it was normal. I always knew it was a dream, just thought it was really weird.

  23. Robert Christ says:

    I’ve done something similar a few times, once my dad was leaving a message on the answering machine and I couldn’t pick up for no good reason at all I was unable to do it. It was just a dream.

    Another time I was dreaming someone was going to do something terrible to me and I couldn’t shout out or help it seemed very real was terrifying and very frustrating. Why couldn’t I simply shout out for help? The irony is that in reality I WAS shouting, moaning or crying or something so much so that I woke my ex who woke me.

    I’ve always been a little skeptical of the explanation most people give of this and wonder how much of it is embellished, real or just imagined.

    Seems to me in the past I have seen time lapsed videos of people sleeping and they seem to be constantly tossing and turning so I would like to know more about how this paralysis thing works below the neck and if there is any way to distinguish when in fact a sleeping person is indeed in this state.

    Does seem plausible you can do it to alligators and sharks by turning them on their backs. I saw a show where they were able to snap a shark out of it be putting some “dead shark extract” underneath there noses. Apparently this triggers a fight or flight response.

  24. Joreth says:

    I have had this problem since I was a young child, and it continues well into my 30s. As a child and teenager, I was deep into the woo. I believed in all kinds of things: ghosts, psychic powers, “energy”, vampires, teddy bears that threw parties when I wasn’t looking. Seriously, this wasn’t some 5-year old’s fantasies, this was near-adult deep convictions.

    But, for some reason, the night terrors, after about age 8, never seemed supernatural to me. My earliest memory of them (perhaps not necessarily the first time) was being convinced of an evil being lurking just in the doorway of my room, beyond the feeble power of the nightlight, waiting for me to close my eyes so he could slip in and kill me. I remember being terrified, and not being able to move. But I also remember telling myself at the time that it wasn’t real. Maybe my memory is inaccurate and I told myself it wasn’t real later, when I was awake. But, in spite of being an avid reader and believer of vampires and ghosts, I never really thought that my own night terrors were real demons.

    Shortly after that, I taught myself lucid dreaming, also somehow knowing that if it was a dream, I should be able to wake myself, or at least control the direction of the dream. It was just something I could do, mostly because it didn’t occur to anyone to tell me that I couldn’t do it.

    But later, as a teenager, when I started researching vampire myths as cultural artifacts and not just scary stories to read at night, I noticed the parallels between the myths and my own night terrors. So when I heard about the phrase “sleep paralysis” more than a decade later, I could tell immediately that the hypothesis that this affliction was probably the instigator for all the vampire, demon, and malevolent ghost stories told around the world was most likely accurate, and it accounted for why there are such similar stories in cultures who had no contact with each other.

    Knowing what they are makes them bearable. But they are a terrifying experience, primarily because their defining element is inducing a feeling of terror. It feels utterly real and I can completely see why someone without the benefit of neuroscience would reach the wrong conclusion. Knowing what it really is doesn’t make it less terrifying, necessarily, but it makes it easier to ride it out, knowing that it will end, and not in my death or the loss of my “soul”.

  25. Timmer says:

    I have a few of these incidents per year. They occur with a sense of dread, but no hallucinations, at least none I remember

    As a child, I was convinced that something was coming up from under the bed to do some terrible deed to me. I would panic and fight my way out of the state to call out to mom and dad. Even once “fully” awake I was convinced that if my parents didn’t get there first the “monster” would still get me.

    Today, I understand the phenomenon, but I still have the sense of dread — only now it is that I am in a position that will close my airway and I will suffocate while paralyzed. Intellectually, I know I should just relax and fall completely to sleep, but I still struggle to regain control and get up. After, the sense of dread remains and I usually cannot sleep the rest of the night.

  26. Brian says:

    I have been experiencing Sleep Paralysis for at least 15 years. Although it can happen when I am sleep deprived, it is almost certain to happen at bedtime when I have taken a nap earlier in the day. Often times, I can feel it coming on as I drift off to sleep and it is accompanied by sort of a rushing sound in my ears.

    Usually I will just be lying in my bed but sometimes I will float out of my bed. Sometimes the paralysis suddenly occurs in an otherwise pleasant dream. Before I was regularly sharing a bed with my wife, I would try to ride out the experience, but every single time I would eventually panic, irrationally thinking that, “this time it might be a real alien abduction or demonic possession.” Regardless of how rational I entered the experience, it always would end in panic with me shaking my head backing and forth desperately trying to wake myself.

    After 7 years of marriage, we are both pretty well trained for the event. Now, as soon as I feel paralyzed, I alert her with the only sound I can muster (which is something of a high pitched whimper) and she shakes me awake. At this point, she can do it without completely waking up herself.

  27. Chris Dee says:

    It was an immense relief to have a computer, to do research, to find out what was happening to me, for I was experiencing sleep paralysis and the fear that it brought on was stupendous. the worst episode was after attending a neighbour’s funeral. I sat at the dining table late at night, alone, in the quiet, wishing I could have said goodbye. The funeral had been so dramatic – a lot of Russian male voices in powerful prayers for the dead, and the widow collapsing, and it all made quite an un-peaeful sort of effect, which probably precipitated the whole awful evening. I first heard shuffling feet behind me, but no one was there in the kitchen. I sat down again and heard them again, checked once more, but no one was there. I sat down in the same chair, and suddenly could not move, and was aware of something inherently evil behind me, wanting to take over my body, to infiltrate my essence – and of course, I could only move my eyes! I looked back and forth at the books on our large bookshelves in front, and along came the scent of cold dill, and the strange sense of some yellow-green 6-foot diameter ball that covered me over and tried to absorb me. I can remember thinking “Joe, if this is you, come to say good-bye, you might have tried a less fearsome way to do it!”. This “take-over” seemed to go on for quite a while, and then I realised it was moving towards the glass doors and heading, believe it or not, into the wall of his house next door. As the dread weakened, movement began to return of course.
    My other episodes of sleep paralysis have been very frightening indeed, but this one came out as the worst. Through research on the Web, I found a research study ongoing at the University of Waterloo, and I joined up online. I learned a lot, and felt reassured, at least 99%, of what was happening in these cases. They suggested not sleeping on one’s back, and not getting too warm beneath the covers for a start, as these conditions tend to precipitate the effect in those susceptible to this alarming business.

  28. Martin says:

    Is there a scientific reason that the “presence” – if felt – is thought to be malevolent?

    • Chris Dee says:

      In response to your good query about the feeling of malevolence in these situations, but not from a scientific standpoint, i can say that the mind is aware of the body in paralysis quite clearly; and being unable to move with whatever brain chemical reaction is happening at the time, perhaps the “fight or flight” syndrome, is just the conscious reaction to whatever is approaching. You just want to run from perceived impending horror, and cannot move your body at all, and are unfortunately aware of all of it.

  29. Mike K. says:

    I love this blog.

    I have a question though. Is waking up and thinking you’re still asleep common?

    I also notice a lot of my dreams I’m semi-lucid in that I have some powers of the dream but not others, like I can rewind and take the dream in another direction but I have no other executive power over the dream. Odd.

  30. Mr Pogle says:

    “In normal sleeping a center in our brainstems will inhibit the descending motor pathways – they will paralyze you below the neck.”

    When I was in my early twenties I dreamed that I was falsely accused and imprisoned by a prison guard who knew this, understood my anger, and said that it would be ok if I vented a little on the prison cell. All there was in the cell, were curtains which, in my dream I pulled down.

    In the real world, I was then awoken by the sun shining in through a previously curtained window. I was renting at the time and had to explain this to the landlord…

  31. Jennifer says:

    I found this site on a web search… I see it has been a long time since anyone has posted on this topic. I’ve read through everyone’s comments, and I really think that I have been experiencing this. I fall asleep and within a short period of time, “something” seems to startle me awake. Only I can’t really be awake because the things I’m seeing aren’t possible. When it first started happening to me, I kept seeing like vines creeping up the wall and then across the ceiling, or a stand light next to my bed appearing to tarnish right before my eyes a la Silent Hill. Initially I was unsettled and mystified, but I felt more shock than fear.

    However, over the course of the last few weeks, they have gotten much darker and seem to always be a variation on the same thing. Many times, I will be on my side, cuddled up to my boyfriend’s back and when I wake, I am facing out the bedroom door into the dark hallway. But I see a dark, gnarled, huge hand/arm reaching for us. It always makes me gasp and once I do, it seems to retreat, but afterward, my heart is always pounding, and I feel fear that then keeps me awake. This seems to be the recurring one lately, and I don’t know if I can attribute it to a combination of work being super stressful and my boyfriend throwing off heat like a furnace in the night or what, but I am always shaken by them no matter how I try to convince myself that it isn’t real. One night, I woke up to something hovering face to face over my boyfriend. I gasped and when I did, it seemed to look at me and then evaporate, almost like it was startled by me as much as I was by it. But I cried afterward because I was so scared by it.

    Don’t know why I’m posting all this. Feel like I’m going crazy or something. Guess I’m just looking for people’s suggestions on how to get over it. Are they stress-induced? Do they go away? I mean honestly, I’d take creeping vines over menacing hands grasping at me or hovering over someone I love in the dark any day of the week. Any suggestions?

  32. Jake says:

    So, I’m trying to figure out what is going on.. My sleep paralysis episodes are somewhat different than what I’m reading.. I really don’t want to hear the demon bit, which I keep coming back to, I want a legit medical explanation, but… I have a hunch that may not be the case (I’m not lucky enough for it to be “normal” or “explainable”) … You see what I’ve been experiencing is like a combination of sleep paralysis and sleep seizures. They’ve been happening randomly for the past few years.. I can almost pinpoint when they started.
    Whenever I have one of these episodes (sometimes multiple in one night) It has a lot of the same symptoms you are mentioning and I’ve been reading. You can’t move, you sense something evil, it feels hard to breathe (caused by laying on your back, for me sometimes on my side though), and you are conscious.. Well all this happens.. but… with an almost seizure aspect as well… I will be in the process of waking up, when I feel thrown back in my pillow, vision becomes blurry, I can hardly move, but I have to really concentrate and force myself, sometimes resulting in strained muscles that hurt for hours sometimes a day or 2 after. I hear a loud rumbling in my ears, and there is a sense of fear. I’ve learned to control the fear, so I’m no longer afraid when this happens, more like motivated to kill whatever is doing this to me, but I still sense something evil.. I understand that is a normal response for the brain to do in sleep paralysis.. Which makes me wonder why I’ve been able to control that and channel it, when no other cases I’ve read about have been able to do so… Idk… Like I said I’m not fully paralyzed, more like pinned down feeling (sometimes almost violently, like 1 big seizure jerk), I try to speak but can’t get anything out but a whisper. When I force my movement, I usually end up straining the muscles I’m trying to use, rumbling, mild fear.. So on so forth. Seems to happen multiple times in the middle of the night, usually only once when I normally wake up. Any ideas..? Anyone in the same boat?

  33. sgroclkc says:

    Physiological symptoms of sleep paralysis are the same with those of syncope. Thus, sleep paralysis is caused by syncope. For experts in cardiovascular diseases, sleep paralysis or syncope is a common symptoms of cardiovascular disease【1】.For a long time, due to the ignorance of physiological knowledge of syncope , ischemie cerebrale , slow beat, fast beat and so on, psychological illusion in people’s sleep generated by such physical symptoms i.e. the nightmare really has puzzled the psychologists, therefore they put forward a wide range of wrong even absurd views onthe nightmares, which both have no scientific basis, and could not be confirmed, even more were not self-consistent. For example, a medical expert Debacke drew the correct conclusion that the anxiety-dream resulted from ischemie cerebrale according to the physiological symptoms of the anxiety-dream of a boy of thirteen. Freud called such view was a ” medical mythology” in the book of Dream Psychology. Most important,the experiment confirmed the idea. For example, a place in country , there is a “haunted” bed which makes people have sleep paralysis or syncope every night, and it is this fact that the pillow in the bed is too high will reduce cerebral blood flow.【1】

  34. John says:

    Nice article Steven. Another researcher doing good work on this is Chris White. You can see a nice documentary he made at if you’re interested.