It happened during the summer break after my freshman year of college. I woke up and I could not move. NOT AT ALL. I tried to scream for help but I could not even open my mouth. My eyelids wouldn’t open. My heart pounded and my mind raced as I tried to come up with an explanation for what was happening to me.
Had I experienced a stroke?
Was this a rare form of Meningitis?
My affliction seemed to last about 30 minutes (in actuality it was probably only 5). Eventually I was able to slightly move one of my pinky fingers; the movement slowly transferring from one finger to the next, eventually resulting in me regaining control over my whole hand. From there movement spread up my arms and down my legs until I had completely escaped my body’s self-imposed prison.
I scoured my psych 101 book for an explanation of what I had experienced, eventually resulting in my discovery of a
condition called sleep paralysis. Why had I never heard of this? Why did no one ever warn me of this? It was a horrific experience during which I felt terrified and not in control of my own body. It occurred few more times that summer, and since, (thankfully) never again.
Sleep paralysis occurs during a part of the normal sleep cycle known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement). Most people are familiar with REM as being the stage in which the most dreaming occurs. To prevent us from acting out dreams, our brains release a neurotransmitter which essentially induces a state paralysis. In the normal sleep-wake cycle, the effects of this neurotransmitter wear off before we become consciously awake. Sleep paralysis occurs when our minds become “awake” before our bodies. Accompanying this is frequently the feeling that something (OR SOMEONE) is pressing down on our chests and vivid, often frightening, hallucinations. Fortunately, I neither experienced the former or the latter of these. Sometimes people also experience an eerie sense that there is a presence in the room with them. Sleep paralysis most likely to occur during periods of stress, sleep deprivation, individuals with irregular sleep patterns, and in individuals with mood disorders (particularly bipolar disorder).
Understandably the experience of sleep paralysis is often attributed to the paranormal. History is wrought with stories of demons attempting to suffocate their victims by sitting on their chests. These experiences have been happening to people for as long as we know and its existence is visible in folklore across all cultures, often depicted as an Incubus, Succubus, or the Old Hag (aka “Night Hag”).
The feelings of being watched, of being physically oppressed, or of hearing and seeing strange things can be consistent with both the paranormal phenomenon and sleep abnormalities. Part of the job of a thorough and competent Paranormal Investigator is to consider all evidence and all possible explanations for what an individual is experiencing. About half of us will experience at least one episode of sleep paralysis during our lifetime…its unknown how many of us will experience the paranormal.
Investigator & Researcher
Thames Society of Paranormal Investigations