I'm Sam. I enjoy writing about sleep and mental health-related topics as well as ways to prevent stress and relax.
Have you ever woken in the middle of the night and found that you cannot move, you want to cry for help but no sound escapes, if so, then you may have experienced sleep paralysis. During these terrible experiences people often report that they have felt a demonic presence in the room and some have reported being terrorized by demons. This experience is often reported as being vividly real and is often referred to the victim as a demonic attack.
Sleep Paralysis (SP) and its associated visions, known as hypnogogic hallucination, are still a mystery to medical science, even though up to 40% of the worlds population has experienced it at least once within their lifetime. Although sleep paralysis is common with those who have sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, it can also be a side affect of simple things such as drug usage and or sleep deprivation.
REM Sleep and Sleep Paralysis
During the normal state of REM sleep, the body becomes paralyzed to ensure that we do not act out our dreams. In sleep paralysis, the REM paralysis persists momentarily even after we have awoken. Not quite awoken, but rather experiencing an awareness of the stages between dreaming and fully awake. This stage if called the fugue state. In this state if we are to become aware we have the experience of projecting the dream onto the landscape of our sleeping environment.
The visions associated with the SP can include a multitude of things as we learned in article one. A person may experience angels, family members who have passed, or even those things that bring fear such as aliens or demons. This experience can be truly terrifying and depending on the depth of the vision (angel vs demon), those who experience it, are not all that excited to talk about it.
Think about it, if you were one of those people who are visited by nightmarish entities who terrorize you, would you want to tell people about it? In fact, if you are not aware of SP then you might also fear that you have been visited by a demon or paranormal phenomena.
Today there is little known about Sleep Paralysis therefore a staggering 50% of psychiatrists report that if they were presented with the symptoms of slep paralysis would have diagnosed at least half of those patients with schizophrenia. Imagine the big picture here. So little is known about SP, that these symptoms are quite common, that the symptoms are mistreated as schizophrenia, demon possession and other equally misguided diagnoses.
The Treat Vigilance System
Until recently scientist have had very little to say on the subject of Sleep Paralysis. There are new psychological theories which suggest that SP with Hypnogogic hallucinations triggers a threat-awareness scan in the brain which is called the vigilance system. The Vigilance system is normally responsible for identifying and determining threat factors and making a determination on if we are in a threatening situation or if we have nothing to be concerned with.
To understand this better, think of a moment where you heard a sound that was not instantly recognizable. You may have paused, waiting for your bring to identify the sound. It does (it’s just the air conditioning unit turning on) or it does (someone is trying to rattle the front door open), your brain will then send signals depending on the determination (no worries or call 911).
In Sleep paralysis and Hypnogogic hallucination states, the system works entirely unconsciously, in this case our eyes may be open and we are seeing our dreams projected against the landscape of the physical space we occupy. The combination of being partially asleep and partially aware causes our vigilance system to activated where it cannot identify what they threat is.
You will then sense a threat that you cannot explain and this will increase the fear you may be experiencing, which will then transform into a highly emotional state. Now, because the amygdala is already heightened in this dream state, we may project images of our worst nightmares into the landscape we occupy.
It is as this time that we, it would seem, are co-creating our experience. What this doesn’t explain is why so many people seem to have the same or similar dreams while in the Sleep Paralysis state. Why is it that there is a commonality to what people experience during sleep paralysis?
Common Sleep Paralysis Experiences
To understand this more clearly we have to take a look a some different viewpoints. One of these viewpoints may explain this phenomena. But first let us take a look at some of the common experiences reported about Sleep Paralysis. It is important to note that there are common variances in what kind of hallucinations or visions one experiences during sleep paralysis, even those who live in different cultures around the world.
For instance, have you ever heard of the term Old Hag Syndrome? This is a name that is derived from a common occurrence during sleep paralysis where an old woman or feeble like demon is sitting on ones chest and can give the individual the feeling of breathlessness. This has been reported around the world though depending on the culture may have different name.
An example of this is Hawaii, which describes this experience as a “Hauka’l po” or the night marcher and in Japan it is referred to as “Phi um” or enveloping ghost. Is there an explanation for this? Let’s find out.
Neurotheology and Spirits
Did you know that according to anthropologist Michael Winkelman that humans are hard-wired to see spirits. He claims it is a part of our DNA. This is known as neurotheology. Winkleman suggests however that seeing spirits or demons does not necessarily mean they are real.
He goes on to suggest that we have a predisposition to seeing spirits that have qualities much like ourselves especially in times of distress. Does this explain things in your mind? It is worth consideration!
Dreams also are like a window to how we see the world around us. REM dreaming has been described as a visionary state of mind. Once the limbic system is activated we experience strong emotion and combining that with an enhanced access to the long-term memory-and a depressing of the short-term memory we suspend our concern of who we are and where we are.
When combining this with the visual and emotional metaphors that manifest from our life experience we can see where we may experience powerful visions.
This brings us to one other theory, that of Jung and Hillman who suggest that we are simply being forced to face the things from out lives that we try desperately to push from our minds. The things we simply do not want to face. This could be something personal or something more varied like social or even political things happening in society that we simply are not ready to wrap out heads around.
No matter how you view these things, be it intense dreams that are manifested deep from the subconscious or believe it to be visits from demons, angels or aliens, one thing is clear, the experience is vivid, seemingly real, and very alive in that moment. I would have a hard time marginalizing the experience to the mind. How about you?
One thing is for sure, there is still much to be discovered about sleep paralysis and hypnogogic hallucinations. With very little to go on there is still a lot of speculation as to the manner of Sleep Paralysis and why one would have a hypnogogic hallucination experience. With further research perhaps we will learn more, until then we are left only to speculate.