You are sleeping when suddenly something suffocates you. You try to break free, but you can't move your arms or legs from under you, almost as if some evil being has you trapped under its crushing weight.
If this sounds scary familiar, you've probably been visited by a "sleep paralysis demon.” The intruder is nothing more than a dream hallucination, but the temporary paralysis is real. Although frightening, the phenomenon results from your brain momentarily stalling as you transition from REM (rapid eye movement) sleep to a waking state.
The scene looks like something out of a horror movie. But sleep paralysis (and a sleep demon that accompanies it) is a reality for oneIt is estimated that 8% of the population. Some studies show that the spooky experience may be even more common30%of people experience at least one incident in their life.
MostdescriptionsFrom sleep paralysis, demons have two things in common: the inability to move or speak, and the feeling of being held by a malevolent, often supernatural intruder. Many people also describe feeling like their chest is being squeezed.
The so-called demon, witch, evil spirit, or creature is not new. These beings have been mentioned for hundreds of years and have countless names. More than100 culturethey have their own descriptions of the unsettling experience of sleep paralysis, many of which are consistent with local folklore.
In Newfoundland, for example, the attacker is said to be aOld witch"Who can put it on you as an amulet." In this part of the world it's called sleep paralysis.Old witch. In some parts of the US, people describe aWitch opening her chest. In Egypt, the spirit creature is known asgeniuses. In China, some people refer to sleep paralysis as "ghost compression."
Sleep paralysis is often mentioned as a possibility.explain the inexplicablesuch as paranormal activity or even alien abductions. The demons of sleep paralysis also appear in art, including "The Nightmare," an 18th-century painting by Swiss artist Henry Fuseli, and works by Francis Bacon and Francisco Goya, as well as countless novels, movies, and TV shows like "American Horror Story." "
What is sleep paralysis?
You can be sure that a malicious beast is not trying to destroy your existence or harm you. But it's understandable that the moment feels petrified and real, even after the paralysis and demonic hallucination have passed.
Simply put, sleep paralysis is amedical conditionwhere you are stuck in a state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. In this state you have some awareness of your environment, although you are still experiencing it.REM sleep paralysisand therefore cannot move. Sleep paralysis is often combined with hallucinations due to the transition from dream to reality. Sometimes the brain experiences an error when it flips the switch on how it processes information during this transition. Confusing and even frightening hallucinations can occur even if you haven't had a nightmare before.
It is important to know that we will get aheadmultiple sleep cycles- usually four to six - per night, with each cycle brokenfour phases. The first three stages of sleep are non-REM, while the last one is REM. Sleep paralysis can occur in the morning or in the middle of the night. Episodes that occur in the middle of the night are often attributedsleep disordersthat wake you up from REM and prevent you from moving on to your next sleep cycle.
Much of the helplessness of sleep paralysis comes from the paralysis itself: the inability to move your muscles in time to react to the situation.
During REM sleep, that's whatlast phaseIn each sleep cycle we tend to dream. Our brain essentiallyparalyzes our musclesat this stage so we don't live our dreams. The paralysis is due to this.suppressed muscle toneand because neurotransmitters inhibit neurons in the spinal cord.
Finally, we move from REM sleep to being awake and aware. Sleep paralysis occurs when you regain some consciousness but are still immobile due to the debilitating effects of REM sleep. Imagine that you are standing at a door. You are not completely out of the room you are leaving (REM sleep) and you are not completely in the next one (being awake).
In addition to not being able to move or speak,Symptoms of sleep paralysisit can also include the feeling that an intruder is present and intense fear. However, this intruder is just a hallucination.
We are all prone to visual, auditory, and sensory hallucinations, both upon falling asleep and waking up.hypnagogic hallucinationsit happens when we slide into thefirst stage of sleep, which is non-REM (NREM). For example, you might see a kaleidoscope of colors or patterns, or feel like you're falling and then accidentally wake up.hypnopompic hallucinationshowever, they do occur when we wake up and transition from REM sleep. They are often continuations of dreams.
A demon, witch, ghost, beast, or other ominous creature with sleep paralysis is a hypnopompic hallucination, sometimes specifically referred to as theincubus phenomenon. Demons often take the form of villains from children's fairy tales. However, more research is needed to understand exactly what happens in the brain during these demonic hallucinations.
The researchers assume that people see ahumanoid figureabove them due to a temporary gap in the way the brain processes perception of the body. When we are awake, the parietal lobe sends us information about our body parts and their positions and movements. This information helps us understand where we are in relation to objects, so we don't keep bumping into the coffee table, for example. During sleep paralysis hallucinations, this valuable information and other sensory inputs are confused and we see a severely distorted image.projectionthe stored body image of our brain. It's like looking in a mirror but seeing a monster.
Fear is amplified in this state. Intense terror is likely caused by the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions, including fear. The amygdala is highly activated during REM sleep. That's why dreams can be so intense. If you encounter a potential threat during the day, you can quickly assess whether the threat is legitimate and respond accordingly. But during REM sleep, your brain lacks the information to properly assess whether a threat is real. So, during a "visit" from a demon with sleep paralysis, nothing assures you that it's just a dream.
Causes of sleep paralysis
Anyone can experience sleep paralysis. But onesystematic reviewwho reviewed 42 studies on the subject found common themes among people who reported episodes of the phenomenon. You may be more prone to sleep paralysis if one or more of these factors are present:
- anti anxiety medications
- chronic pain
- Family history of sleep paralysis.
- History of child sexual abuse.
- the loss of a loved one
- change of humor
- Nightmare Trends
- Paranormal Beliefs
- post traumatic stress disorder
- poor sleep quality
- physical illness
- from smoking
- sleep deprivation
- sleep disorders
- to emphasize
- survive an attack
- survive a disaster
Hayno current direct treatmentfor sleep paralysis or a specific method to banish the hallucinating demon. Instead, treatments often focus on the possible underlying causes. Here are some thoughts.
If you often have trouble sleeping, give it a try.Tackle the Junk Dream. This can help you go through more sleep cycles without interruption and prevents you from waking up from REM sleep in the middle.
If you are struggling with anxiety, stress, or recovering from trauma, seek the help of a mental health professional who can help you address these concerns. research points to thiscognitive behavior therapy(TCC) can be beneficial.
Some research suggests that episodes of sleep paralysis can lead to more intense episodes, since anxiety can cause one.feedback loopthat fuels the phenomenon.Baland Jalal, Ph.D., a neuroscientist who is a researcher at Harvard University and a visiting researcher at the University of Cambridge studying sleep paralysis, suggests afour step approachto calm that fear soon after an episode. He can practice the process even when he hasn't experienced sleep paralysis, so he has this skill handy.
- After the end of an episode, remember that it was temporary and not real and that it was caused by a hiccup during the transition between REM sleep and the waking state.
- Remember that the experience happens to other people too, that there is no reason to be afraid, and that fear can be counterproductive.
- to meditateinward by focusing on something positive, such as a loved one, a favorite mantra, or a beautiful memory. Avoid thinking about physical sensations or the environment around you.
- Continue meditating and add muscle relaxation, avoiding any straining or bending.
If you continue to have episodes of sleep paralysis, talk to your doctor. They may be able to help you find a solution.
Although they feel real, sleeping monsters are just a cruel trick of the brain. The demons of sleep paralysis are understandably terrifying. But you will not be followed or attacked. And you don't lose touch with reality either. The key to making this experience less frightening is to take deep breaths, meditate, and remember that it is a mistake in your sleep cycle.
Jennifer Chesak is the author of The Psilocybin Handbook for Women: How Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelic Therapy, and Microdosing Can Benefit Your Mental, Physical, and Spiritual Health. She is a Nashville-based freelance journalist, editor, fact-checker, and associate professor with two decades of experience and a Master of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University in Medill. Her signature appears in several national publications, and she is a strong advocate of getting those eight hours of sleep and breakfast in bed whenever possible. Follow her work on social media @jenchesak.