An Experience With Sleep Paralysis

An Experience With Sleep Paralysis

I woke up suddenly from my sleep feeling unusually afraid. As I opened my eyes, I could see the surrounding of my room and the lamp which dimly illuminated it. From the distance I could hear the clock in the room ticking. I felt uneasy as there was a sense of something or someone inexplicably evil lurking in my room. It’s basically that feeling when you are in a dark room alone by yourself and then you get the feeling that you aren’t really ‘alone’. As I turned my face to the left, there right next to my bed, looking at me and standing was a hooded faceless figure wearing a long black robe. For unknown reasons I instinctively recognized it being a malevolent spirit, its identity being Satan or Lucifer. My sense of fear heightened when I realized I couldn’t move or utter a sound, (let alone scream) as I was strangely paralyzed. Then to my horror the entity spoke. In an unnatural deep booming voice it said menacingly “Don’t you know what Satan does with Seventeen year old girls?”  An ambiguous statement but one that inferred immediate death or something equally horrible. With that being said, the entity vanished and I awoke for real this time screaming in terror. The clock read 2 AM, indicating that I had few more hours left to wake up and get ready for school. However, it would be hours later that I would be able to fall asleep.

This incident occurred back in 2016 and it was my first time experiencing a dream of such nature. Although it was likely a nightmare, the unusual nature of it made the lines between the real and unreal seem blurry.  For instance, the details in my dream seemed vivid so much more that when I woke up the surrounding of my room and the lighting looked eerily the same. I’ve had my own share of nightmares mostly involving tsunamis, falling off cliffs and the rare ones that involved the paranormal. However, in such instances whenever I woke up I was convinced that it was a nightmare and nothing more. For about close to four years I did not disclose this experience to anyone and neither did I attempt to search it on the web as I feared that researching on it may cause me to experience another episode of it. As much I tried to forget it, the memory of it continued to haunt me. Finally in 2020, with the lockdown being imposed due to the pandemic, being bored I gathered courage and decided to research up on my case on the web. It was then that I found out that what I had dreamt was related to sleep paralysis.

So, what exactly is sleep paralysis? A sleep paralysis is a parasomnia or an undesired event associated with sleep. It typically occurs when you either falling asleep or when you are waking up. According to research, in both of these instances your eyes may move quickly and dreams occur as a part of normal REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. However at this stage your muscles are very relaxed. Therefore, if you end up waking up before this stage ends, you may realize that you are unable to move or speak.  Additionally for some people (like me), these episodes are often accompanied by hypnagogic experiences, which include visual, auditory and sensory hallucinations. Some common features of sleep paralysis include,

  • A feeling of foreboding  and being afraid
  • The sense that someone is in your room
  • Inability to move and speak  (feeling as if you are being pressed down or choked)
  • Being consciously awake
  • A monstrous  or paranormal entity in your room (ghosts, demons, aliens etc)
  • Feeling of Death
  • Feeling of an out of body experience

The hallucinations, according Dr. Alicia Roth, a sleep specialist, cannot be categorized as dreams. She says that during this period you are conscious but it’s an overlap between sleep and wakefulness. In short, this means that you wake up but your brain is still dreaming, and it’s projecting your nightmares to the real world. Hence, this is frightening as it is no ordinary nightmare. Although there isn’t medical treatment, sleep paralysis is generally considered to be non life threatening. It is common among those who have had a traumatic past, suffer from abuse, depression, sleep deprivation, and sleep disorders like narcolepsy, stress, psychiatric disorders, excessive alcohol consumption and substance abuse. However, sleep paralysis can occur in normal sleepers (like me), who do not have a link to the prior mentioned conditions. According to research, it affects both males and females and people of all ages may experience it at least once or twice during one’s lifetime. Moreover, most people are likely to experience it first in their teenage years between 14-17 years.

‘The Nightmare’ – A painting by Henry Fuseli in 1781. Above on the girl’s chest is the male demon ‘incubus’, who is said to be responsible in causing nightmares (sleep paralysis) in women.

The fact that people from different countries and cultures have reported experiences in seeing a paranormal entity during sleep paralysis is a fascinating aspect.  The term was first used by British neurologist S.A.K. Wilson in his 1928 dissertation, The Narcolepsies. Although the word is relatively new, the phenomenon has existed throughout history and can be found in folklore and superstition of different countries. Sleep paralysis in the past was considered to be the “original nightmare”, which is much different to the phenomenon involving a nightmare or a scary dream as considered in today’s world. In the past it was considered to be akin to be demonic possession and those who were afflicted by it were treated with prayers and exorcism. Famed stories involving the demons incubus and succubus in medieval England are in fact episodes of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is perhaps most famously depicted in ‘The nightmare”, a 1781 painting by the artist Henry Fuseli. In the modern world it can be said that sleep paralysis has evolved and found its way in cases of people reporting alien abductions while being asleep.

Although sleep paralysis has plagued humanity for thousands of years, it is as of recent that science had been able to provide some answers. The appearance and nature of a paranormal entity in sleep paralysis could be due to influence of culture, religion and media. An average person may experience it only once or twice during one’s lifetime. However, some may experience it many times throughout lifetime. 

If you have been a victim of sleep paralysis, the first step is realizing that its events are unreal. This often isn’t easy and therefore speaking to an open minded family member or friend may greatly help. If you have been experiencing frequent episodes, it would be best to receive professional help from a psychologist and a medical expert. Moreover, I would suggest that you try adjusting your sleep schedule and make sure that you get sufficient hours of sleep. Another thing that could be is that you could try to gain control over the sequence of events. This can be done when you become aware that you are dreaming and therefore on realizing this it becomes easy to control the events in your dream. This may seem impossible but it actually can be done. I had actually done this in some of the usual nightmares that I have had.  If this may help, keep a journal where you can record these episodes in detail so you can be prepared when you encounter it again. Thankfully after that episode I haven’t experienced it again and I sincerely hope that it would my last.

I hope I did NOT jinx that.

– Rtr Nirmali Ameresekere

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