Phenomenon : Sleep Paralysis
By Kady Harrington
One problem with paranormal research is that far too few 'investigators'
stop to really consider that it's very possible that such phenomenon may be
explained not by a dead and wandering soul, but by the mind's own attempts to
process affects on it. Reports of seeing figures, hearing sounds or other similar
experiences are a fundamental experiential report in paranormal research - but
seeing an apparition when you are wide awake and on your own two feet is one
thing, seeing one when you are in bed dozing off is probably quiet another.
One of the more common reports is that of being held down in bed
while waking up or falling asleep. Usually the report falls along the lines
of someone in bed going to sleep or waking up, and suddenly feeling something
holding their arms and/or legs down, sitting or pressing on their chest, and
even seeing or otherwise sensing a figure standing at the bedside or nearby.
The term for this phenomenon is not ghosts - it's hypnogogic/hypnopompic paralysis,
or simply sleep paralysis. It is commonly referred to as the Hag Phenomenon
because of old beliefs that it was caused by evil spirits, ghosts or hags sitting
on the chest and attempting to hurt the sleeping person. In this article we
are focusing on hypnopompic, or awakening, sleep paralysis only because this
is the most common report we get and is most frequently associated with hallucinations.
Simple sleep paralysis occurs in almost every adult at some point
or another in their lives. Characterized by coming alert mentally but finding
an inability to move or vocalize, it's frightening but lasts literally seconds
in the majority of cases. During sleep, the body goes through several stages
of sleep - the deepest being the REM stage. It is this stage that you dream
in. The body provides it's own 'safety' feature during this stage, essentially
locking down the body by blocking certain motor signals and relaxing the muscles
to prevent the physical body from acting out the dream. Otherwise every time
you dreamed you were being chased by something big and hairy, you might wake
up to find you'd actually fled down the street! Embarrassing at least (especially
if you still sleep in Star Wars pajamas) and certainly potentially dangerous.
Occasionally as the mind moves through the stages of sleep and comes back to
the lightest phase of sleep there is a brief moment when the mind gets to an
aware stage before the body does. Out of synch for a few moments, the now lucid
mind realizes that the body can't move, resulting in panic and even struggle.
Usually within seconds the body catches up and all is normal again. At times
these moments of sleep paralysis can be somewhat extended and/or are accompanied
by extraordinarily realistic and intense hallucinations from visual to physical.
Sleep paralysis can include one or more of the following effects:
It is easy to see how this occurrence can be interpreted as an 'attack' or 'visit' by some kind of entity. Interestingly, the 'entity' that is reported is virtually always going to be in line with the individual's belief structure. Aliens, ghosts, angels, demons, human intruders...what ever a person most strongly identifies with or fears is what they are likely to perceive. In some cultures it is even perceived as an attempt at possession by another soul or evil spirit. Not all cases are reported as malignant...many times they are reported as being comforted, hugged, or otherwise safe and cared for.
A Real Case:
An incident occurred early one morning. My family was scheduled to leave very early on a trip, and my husband had awakened and got out of bed about an hour before I did. He turned on the hall light and went about his morning routine leaving me to get a little extra sleep. Shortly thereafter I awakened to see the light on, hear him moving around in his office, etc. But I could NOT move and began to panic. I clearly remember KNOWING I was awake, but still hoping it was just a bad dream I could wake up from. As the panic grew a stuffed bear on a nearby dresser suddenly turned it's head to watch me. The feeling of evil radiated from it and my panic grew. I began to cry out as hard and loud as I could for my husband, but all I could get out was the tiniest almost inaudible squeak. Almost with a noticeable jolt I was suddenly free - I could move, the bear was where it belonged, I could talk. I know I was awake and not dreaming, and that physical jolt just reinforced that. The feeling of panic and fear took a long while to dissipate though, and I had a sore throat throughout the rest of the morning.
Other things associated with or believed to trigger Sleep Paralysis
are : Sleep deprivation, either through lack of sleep, frequent disruption of
sleep or changes in sleep patterns (such as swing shift workers). Stress or
high anxiety. Narcolepsy.
Sleep Paralysis in itself is not dangerous nor does it indicate
the experiencer is "crazy" or mentally unstable. It is not typically
linked to physical causes such as tumors or brain disorders. You are not going
to be possessed or permanently paralyzed. It is also not caused by ghosts, demons
or aliens. In cases where this occurs frequently, it is possible to work with
a doctor and even be prescribed medication to prevent it. However it is usually
considered non-threatening to one's health.
This phenomenon is so often reported in the context of the paranormal, however it is very well documented as a sleep disorder. Be sure to be aware of this possibility the next time someone reports a ghost is holding them down....
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