Sleep Paralysis


  • An inability to move caused by muscle atonia (weakness) when in a transition phase between sleep and waking. Research indicates it may be due to disrupted REM sleep. Although some people experience it frequently, it can also be a one-off occurrence.

  • 36% of those who develop it will be between 25 and 44 years of age.

  • Many who experience sleep paralysis link it with a feeling of terror and/or terrifying hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations.

  • They may believe there is an intruder in the room or supernatural entity and can do nothing about it due to their paralysis. Suffers have commonly described feeling as though it is imperative to move their head a little in order to confront something lurking just outside of their field of vision.

  • Some experience the sensation of suffocation or smothering, commonly linked with hallucinations. They may see a figure sitting on their chest, or actually strangling them. Some also hear voices or a buzzing sound.

  • Sleep deprivation whether deliberate or otherwise is known to contribute to the risk of developing sleep paralysis. Other triggers include stress, narcotics or sleeping in the supine position. Sufferers are encouraged to develop a healthier sleeping pattern and avoid triggers where possible.

  • Other cultures attribute sleep paralysis to more supernatural causes. In Scandinavia it is caused by a mare, closely linked to Incubi/Succubi. A cursed woman visits neighbours at night to sit on their chest, although it is not clear whether she is aware of this.

  • Other supernatural folklore refers to the hag/Old Hag. She is normally a malevolent figure or demon who deliberately tries to cause distress and harm. There is no definitive explanation for her motivation, but many say that she wishes to eat her victims. Sometimes she is a recently deceased relative who returns to torment those who grievously wronged her in life.

  • In Turkey sleep paralysis is called Karabasan and is also linked to demonic visitors.

  • In Thailand they believe it is caused by a Phi Am, which may leave their victims with terrible bruising.

  • Some stories also talk about cats or mice stealing your breath at night and in doing so they conjure terrifying hallucinations to conceal their identity. As I have three cats and have never suffered sleep paralysis this is either untrue, or my cats are very lazy.

  • Older stories refer to sleep paralysis as being the later indications of attempted possession. It is believed that it is an attack by demonic beings who wish to take your body on a joy ride. Those who experience frequent sleep paralysis are most at risk of being possessed. Folklore suggests sleeping in a bed ringed with salt, or burning sage before and after you sleep.

  • Others believe it follows Astral Projection. We walk in our dreams and upon returning to our bodies rebel against the lost freedom and we experience a sensation of being stuck in our bodies. We have quite simply forgotten how to operate them.

  • Whether you believe the scientific or paranormal explanations, sleep paralysis is a deeply frightening experience for many sufferers and research is still being done in how best to either prevent or stop episodes. 


Tomorrow, demonology 101.


3 thoughts on “Sleep Paralysis

  1. I’ve suffered from sleep paralysis for a number of years, and have lost count of the amount of times I have woken up unable to move and sometimes finding it very hard to breathe.

    I have explored my own feelings and experiences of this through my horror novel ‘Sleep No More’ in which the main character also suffers from this affliction, as well as other sleep disorders too.

    I’ve found that focusing on moving just one limb/digit seems to work, as once that starts moving then I often snap out of it completely. Trying not to panic is also important – although obviously that is easier said than done.

    It’s a very strange thing that has affected people across wildly differing cultures for centuries.

    Unfortunately, that’s no consolation when it happens to you, even if you know it’ll soon pass…!

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