Science will tell you Sleep Paralysis (SP) is the phenomenon that occurs when an individual, either falling asleep or waking up, will suffer from whole body paralysis. The individual remains conscious however they’re unable to speak or move their body.
Sufferers will tell you Sleep Paralysis is the moment you’re lying awake in bed completely helpless and shitting your pants because there’s a fucking demon sitting on your chest trying to suffocate you to death.
Both explanations are quite true.
Researchers suggest that SP occurs during the transition between stages of wakefulness and sleep. Sudden muscle weakness causes temporary paralysis but ocular movement is left intact so most of the time the sufferer is aware of their situation.
If you know someone who’s experienced SP they’ll be able to tell you paralysis is not the worst part of the condition. It’s the evil and horrifying phantasmagoria that follows.
Those who suffer from SP are often plagued with hallucinations of dark figures, devil whisper and all manner of demonic visitations. Not to mention the unexplainable and agonising chest pain sufferers endure whilst they’re asleep and utterly helpless.
There was a point in my life when I was experiencing SP almost every night and every night it was the same routine. I’d fall into a deep sleep, eventually roll over onto my back and wake up completely paralysed. I couldn’t move nor speak but my eyes were wide open.
Unlike other sufferers, my SP occurrences were never transcendental, paranormal nor painful; I assumed I was experiencing a very real, very extreme case of paralysing muscle failure. It was happening so frequently that after some time I became less frightened and more curious. Every time I woke up paralysed I was calm, and weirdly enough, I was excited.
In my incapacitated state I learned how to Kill Bill my way to consciousness (remember that ‘Wriggle your big toe’ scene? My paralytic limbs were grateful for that advice). In time I could snap out of paralysis with ease. I even had adventurous attempts at astral projection, where I’d force my mind out of my body to have a little bit of a wander.
It became my sport. Until one night that all changed.
"Sleep paralysis is a different experience for everyone; many are terrorised by hallucinations whilst many others describe it as just a bizarre dream."
It was the night before a Religion exam. Being a typical HSC student I was over worked and drowning in my own stress. After a long night of studying I finally laid my head down for some well-deserved sleep.
During Sleep Paralysis I have two separate states that coincide. My Body, which refers to my actual physical body that is lying awake in bed completely immobilised, and my Mind, which refers to my minds projection of a metaphysical body capable of unconscious movement and speech.
The paralysis began like all my previous episodes. I awoke in my room, my eyes were open but I could not move any part of my body. This time however I couldn’t self-experiment because this time, I was not alone.
There was an ominous and unknown presence that towered over me and shadows crept up to all the corners of my room. Blackness surrounded me and in the middle of it all was a tall sinister figure, just staring at me.
The shadowy form didn’t frighten me; in fact I could eerily feel my Mind giving it a welcoming grin. The worst part then followed. Although my Body could consciously see and feel this darkness looming over me, it was face-less and silent. My Mind however recognised this presence and greeted it as if it was an old friend.
I spoke yet my lips were not moving, “Oh! Hello there Reaper.” Agonising pain and screaming ensued.
A powerful and abrupt force weighed down on my chest. My Mind writhed and thrashed in absolute horror and panic whilst my Body lay completely still in bed. The pain was excruciating and unbearable. It was as if someone dropped a car on my chest and then proceeded to slowly push it further down onto me.
At that my point my Mind was screaming and wailing. I finally cried out and begged the Reaper, “Please stop! I don’t want to die!”
And just as quickly as the hallucination started, it ended. The shadows and the Reaper vanished and the weight on my chest was lifted. I finally gained control over my body and I quickly sat up in bed. My gasps for air quickly turned into quiet whimpering. In my anxiety I closed my eyes and did something I hadn’t done since I was a child. I prayed.
Months after Deaths visit, I still had episodes of SP however never did the shadows return.
Those who have never experienced SP will tell me it was just a bad dream. A very vivid and horrifying dream about a friendly Grim Reaper crushing me to death. However what non-sufferers don’t realise is that you aren’t dreaming during SP, these are not lucid dreams of ghostly demons or reapers. You are awake.
These hallucinations of an ‘intruder in the room’ are a widely experienced phenomenon for SP sufferers. The neurological interpretation of ‘the intruder’ is that it’s the brain’s emergency response to paralysis; the individual is completely helpless and vulnerable to attack. The person’s fear and panic is made manifest in their mind, often taking forms of monstrous shadows and terrifying demons.
Researchers conclude extreme stress and erratic sleeping patterns are some possible causes of isolated episodes of SP. The simplest way to lessen SP occurrences is to make sure you’re relaxed and calm before you go to sleep and to adhere to a regular and healthy sleeping schedule.
Unfortunately for individuals who suffer regularly from SP and who are also diagnosed with disorders like narcolepsy, migraines and sleep apnea, there is no known method of moderating SP episodes.
Looking back on that one horrifying incident, I actually believe I was one of the lucky ones. In extreme cases some SP sufferers will wake up paralysed 3-4 times in one night and other sufferers’ hallucinations are so vivid, the individuals are too scared to go back to sleep.
I’ve gone from SP occurrences every night, to having almost none at all. The few episodes I still have are quite harmless and are over within a few seconds.
Sleep paralysis is a different experience for everyone; many are terrorised by hallucinations whilst many others describe it as just a bizarre dream.
If there’s someone you know who suffers from sleep paralysis and is visibly distressed by nightly hallucinations, reassure them they’re not out of their mind and ask to hear their experiences. Sure, they’ll most likely traumatise you with stories of nightmarish demons and agonising pain, but realise how utterly alone and helpless they are once SP takes over. Reach out to them; they might sleep a little better at night knowing they no longer have to suppress their fear.