I'm Sam. I enjoy writing about sleep and mental health-related topics as well as ways to prevent stress and to relax.
In German, the phenomenon is known as alpdrucken. In pinyin (a dialect of Chinese), guǐ yā shēn. In Hungarian, boszorkany-nyomas. Sleep paralysis and the “visitors” that accompany sleep paralysis are so widespread that almost every culture has a word for it.
The names for these visitors often reflect what the people who speak that language think the visitors are. The Hungarian term, for example, literally means “witches’ pressure.” Pinyin is a little more straightforward, meaning “ghost pressing on the body.” Most recently, in the English-speaking community, these nighttime visitors are blamed for reports of alien abduction, demon possession, and home hauntings.
Sleep Paralysis vs Nightmare
For those who have never experienced this phenomenon, it is easy to brush it off as a waking nightmare. There are likely incidents that are reported as sleep paralysis demons, which may actually be supernatural experiences. It’s impossible to know which are which. Anyone who has experienced a visitation will tell you that it feels extremely real, confirmed by the knowledge that you are actually awake. A person experiencing sleep paralysis is actually awake—the mind is, the body is not.
Those who take a critical look around their room once the experience is over and they are fully awake and able to think rationally again, often find that what they thought was a figure was actually a coat hanging on the doorknob or a shadow created by a piece of furniture.
I woke once to my little sister screaming bloody murder about a man in her room. She told me he was standing in between the two bookshelves on the opposite wall from her bed. What it was, actually, was a shadow, being cast by a combination of the bookshelves a lamp, and a vacuum cleaner my mother had left in the hallway outside of our room.
Our species has a very deeply ingrained fear of the dark. It is an evolutionary one. When we were a species that lived in small communities, in caves, the dark was full of things that would kill and eat us. The same is not true of modern society, but the fear remains. So it is easy, with the bedroom light on, to rationalize and to say, “Yes, of course, what I saw—what I imagined I saw was this or that—but in the moment, it feels real—too real.”
Manifestations of Sleep Paralysis Demons and Visitors
What are the most common manifestations of sleep paralysis demons? Here are a few that have been reported as early as the middle ages:
Incubi and Succubae
This is one of the most common early explanations for sleep paralysis and the visions that accompany it. The incubus and the succubus are essentially demons that first try to have sex with and then attack a person while they are sleeping.
If you’ve read The Crucible or seen the movie, you might recall a scene in which men and women come forward to testify to the court that the accused witches came to them in the night and “rode” them (meaning pressed down on their chest). Like the incubus and succubus explanation, this has been a popular story, especially pre-industrialization, for many people who experienced sleep paralysis. It is even the origin of the word “nightmare.” A “mare” is an old Germanic word for hag.
Demons and Malevolent Spirits
It is easy to see why this would be an assumption many people, after feeling paralyzed in their beds and sensing and/or seeing a figure looming at their side or pressing on their chest, would make. They often say that the thing in their room feels evil. It feels like it is going to hurt them. When they actually do wake up, the thing is gone. Some people have experiences so vivid that they hear the figure talking to them. Some have even said that the demon will tell them things that are going to happen over the next few days.
This is a claim that has become much more widespread in modern times. Instead of the dark, looming figure, some report seeing a bright, white figure. It still feels scary, but the circumstances are slightly different. These are often associated with out-of-body experiences or the feeling of being lifted and removed from the bed, returning hours later, having lost that stretch of time.
Wildly Differing Sleep Paralysis Experiences
One of the things that makes it difficult to pin sleep paralysis down is the wildly different experiences people even in the same culture can have. While we may know that during our deepest levels of sleep, the deepest troughs of the REM cycle, the body switches off the motoneurons.
It does this so that as we are dreaming, we are not also trying to act out those dreams. We also know that in the dark, in a moment of terror, we are very good at exaggerating sight and sound, so good, in fact, that we can conjure up our own hallucinations. What types of hallucinations and experiences are most common?
Vision of a Dark, Murky Figure
This is surprisingly common and has been reported throughout history, across all populated continents. No matter what it is attributed to (witches, demons, aliens, the brain’s own fears), there is no doubt that millions of people have seen something standing over their beds when they were in a state of sleep paralysis. In the lore of sleep paralysis, they are often just called “the visitor.”
Pressure on the Chest
Like seeing a dark figure, feeling pressure on the chest and sometimes around the throat is extremely common. Science tells us that we feel this pressure because we are panicking and resisting the body, which is still technically sleeping, and therefore breathing very slowly. During the sleep paralysis experience, however, it does not really feel that way.
Out of Body Experiences
Some people report actually floating above the scene of the visitor leaning over or actually sitting on top of their paralyzed body. The out of body experience is not as common as other hallucinations and visions, but is still fairly widely reported.
Being Yanked, Pulled Out of Bed, or Scratched
These more physical experiences are much rarer than visions and pressure. Some will feel a hand close around their ankle and their leg being pulled. Some will actually feel that they are pulled out of the bed. Others will only feel like they are being scratched by something with claws or long fingernails. The interesting thing is that neuroscientists explain how the mind has a map of the body, so maybe the reasons for these experiences should be found there.
Visions of a Very Detailed Figure
Less common even than the sensation of being physically attacked is the vision of a very detailed, fully-formed person, standing near the bed, but some report both the paralysis and the apparition.
Two Books on Sleep Paralysis Visions and Demons
Case studies that entertain theories regarding sleep paralysis and nightmares beyond terrestrial explanations are difficult to find. Sure, there are the random forays into the supernatural by laymen and blog posts littered throughout the internet from personal experience, but a scholastic study that includes more esoteric observances is very uncommon indeed.
- Sleep Paralysis: Night-Mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection
- Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions & Visitors of the Night
1. Sleep Paralysis: Night-Mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection
Given that the book Sleep Paralysis: Night-Mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection was written as a case study by a medical practitioner, the information inside, one would hope, could exceed the boundaries of haphazard speculation and lean toward a more didactic and logical approach. The answer to that speculation is, unfortunately, a bit of both.
Sleep Paralysis Historical Accounts
Historical Accounts of Sleep Paralysis
The author's descriptions from historical accounts are sound; the references a palpable example of the occurrences many individuals still experience in modern times. For example this reference to a second-century physician:
“The sleeper feels that somebody is sitting on his chest or suddenly jumps upon it or that somebody climbs up and crushes him heavily with his weight. The sufferer feels incapacity to move, torpidity, and inability to speak. Attempts to speak often result only in single, inarticulate sounds”—Soranos
Such mentions leave the reader appreciating and perhaps relieved by the fact that the results of sleep paralysis have been occurring for centuries. Also the author’s inclusion of Lilith and Ephialtes, the female and male antagonist often referred to as the culprits behind the more horrific forms of sleep paralysis and the nightmare, provides a unique insight into the religious aspects of the time.
Demons, Entities, and Visitors of the Night in Other Forms?
From there she describes other entities defined as the offender throughout different cultures, with the Succubus and Incubus being two of the more prevalent aggressors known. She goes into the historical witch trials as well. Her medical references end on a high note with the following:
“Imagination cannot conceive the horror frequently given rise to, or language describe it in adequate terms…Everything horrible, disgusting or terrifying in the physical or moral world is brought before [the victim] in fearful array; he is hissed at by serpents, tortured by demons, stunned by the hollow voices and cold touch of apparitions…At one moment he may have the consciousness of the malignant being at his side…its icy breath is felt diffusing itself over his visage, and he knows he is face-to-face with a fiend…Or, he may have the idea of a monstrous hag squatted upon his breast—mute, motionless and malignant…whose intolerable weight crushes the breath out of his body.”—Robert Macnish, The Philosophy of Sleep, 1834
Is It a Practical Guide on Dealing With Sleep Paralysis?
Despite such weighted historical examples, the author doesn’t distill the information into one cohesive piece that can be described through the evaluation of a total theme. Therefore, even though the accounts she has uncovered are intriguing, they lack any bearing on discovery in and of themselves. The reader could possibly be left with a much better historical understanding of sleep paralysis or a waking nightmare but little information on how to deal with it.
A Little to Much on the Etymology of Sleep Paralysis
Regarding what the author is attempting to provide in her book, from the beginning she goes a long way toward attempting to prove her views with the use of language. Initially, this seemed intriguing enough but shortly afterward she spends a huge portion of time on etymology to the point that the text comes across as pseudo-intellectual and exhaustive. The employ of terminology is relevant for a time, but to go to such lengths without real cohesion or focus weighs the book down considerably.
Internet Posts and Cross-cultural Examples
Once the author crawls out of those pages and begins to focus on the topic in a broader sense, she utilizes an array of internet posts from random individuals mixed with cross-cultural examples in order provide information on the subject. This again presents an air of presumption, disregarding a more studied application and in turn obfuscating the author’s authority.
Hmong and Possible Hereditary Aspects
Outside of the book not providing any novel or contemporary insight regarding the nature of the subject, her study on the Hmong was interesting. Her view on the possible hereditary aspects of sudden death due to nightmares and visions after arriving in the United States was a well-established read that deserves further research beyond what she’s written. Despite the secularist view, an approach to the perceived spiritual nature of such attacks on an entire grouping of people would be a study of great interest even though the decline in these occurrences may prove to be too impactful on the possible accrual of appropriate data.
Coping Mechanisms and the Lack of People Coming Forth
By the end of this book on sleep paralysis demons, nightmares, and visions there is the conclusion that exposes the regrettable reality of learning more about this subject through a scholastic means. She admits that all too many individuals don’t come forward with their information, leaving the medical industry to primarily focus on coping mechanisms instead of delving into the realities that may be causing sleep paralysis issues in so many people across the globe.
She ends her book with a bare and truthful statement that wraps her sleep paralysis and nightmare research up succinctly:
“After enduring for more than five thousand years, there is no indication that the nightmare will ever loosen its tenacious grip. This phenomenon that has afflicted human beings and plagued our sleep from earliest antiquity until the present day is not only a part of our heritage, but it is, apparently, a permanent companion. The nightmare—a link between our biological and cultural selves—will persist.”—Professor Shelley R. Adler
2. Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions
For any individual seeking in-depth instructions and insight regarding the fascinating subject of sleep paralysis, the book Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions & Visitors of the Night goes a long way toward providing answers that have eluded us for centuries. The author has attempted to provide new information on all aspects of sleep paralysis from the experience of entities all the way to techniques that can enhance our lucid dreaming abilities.
Even though the material lacks any new or novel evidence, the author does his best to illuminate the multiple facets of this fascinating subject. The result is a well-written guide that attempts to provide answers to the most prevalent questions. He does this while also making sure to instruct on the best means possible for having your own visions, dreams, and out of body experiences as well.
A Large Population of the World Is Unaware?
From the beginning, the book states that 40% of the world’s population has experienced the results of sleep paralysis and its constituents. Given such a large number, it is surprising that few people are familiar with the effects of this phenomenon. The author himself describes his experiences in detail, leaving out none of the esoteric experiences and laying bare his horrors for everyone to read. After doing so, he decides to lay the general aspects of the book out into three digestible arenas. They are:
- Coping with Sleep Paralysis
- Confronting Apparitions
- Thriving with Sleep Paralysis
Reducing the Experiences
The first part, Coping with Sleep Paralysis, is a well laid out and succinct guide for reducing and removing your experiences with sleep paralysis. It provides actionable and logical tools for removing it from your life. The entirety of this part was refreshing and filled with real-world steps that can lead to having control over the experiences for the rest of your life. He describes everything one needs to know and even details the exact reasons and symptoms for its occurrence.
One of the titles, “How to Break Sleep Paralysis Tonight”, describes multiple steps that will immediately halt the problem. From that point, he also provides a means of stopping recurring sleep paralysis throughout the night with vivid procedures that are viable and easy to follow.
Confronting Apparitions During Sleep Paralysis
The area on confronting apparitions is very intriguing and the historical accounts only add to the validity of their presence in many people’s lives. While the author, just as those before him, cannot really provide a grounded explanation for their presence, he does attempt to give sincere information on how to deal with the problem. “The Stages of the Stranger”, for example, provides four means of dealing with an entity depending on its incarnation.
These actions go a long way toward removing or even accepting the being that you see. In one scene the author actually shows how he accepts the being, only to have a beneficial and healing experience once he decided to release fear and accept what was occurring. From aliens and angels to visitations from the dead, this chapter shows all the varying encounters you may have while comforting you with the knowledge that can bring sense to why you experience them.
A Blessing in Disguise?
In the third part of the book, the author suggests that you can not only remove or control Sleep Paralysis, but you can also thrive with it. He states that it can be a blessing in disguise that can provide powerful wisdom and visions for those adventurous enough to commit and dive into their own psycho to confront psychological issues.
Here he discusses how to have out of body experiences and lucid dreams while actually giving procedures for how to achieve sleep paralysis; the very thing that some people perhaps have bought the book in order to alleviate themselves of. The mental practices he suggests are short and could have used more depth and insight. He provides a small list of supplements as well, but doesn’t provide dosage information; something that would be necessary for anyone attempting to use them.
Overall the induction techniques and suggestions are lacking but they at least supply a primer for anyone attempting to further their experience with sleep paralysis.
As a tool for overcoming sleep paralysis and understanding its history, this book by Ryan Hurd is highly recommended reading. It is easy to digest and can go a long way toward offering the necessary tools for overcoming sleep paralysis in your life.
The descriptions of entities, demons and the things (visions or hallucinations) we often see during this time are intriguing while the techniques used for dealing with the matter can be quite helpful for those that suffer from such a problem.
Yet, the instructions for utilizing sleep paralysis for various enjoyable occurrences are overall lacking. If you are able to find material that can accentuate the final part of the book, you’ll go a long way toward knowing all the details necessary regarding this mystifying subject.
The book as a whole, despite a few limitations, is still a valuable read for anyone wanting to know more about sleep paralysis, hypnogogic visions, and the strange visitations many see during the night.
Finals Remarks on Sleep Paralysis Demons and Visions
Knowing that the brain is generating these sensations provides little relief to those who experience them regularly. No one knows what you are afraid of better than yourself, and sleep paralysis demons (or however it manifests itself) are often a reflection of those deep-seated fears. Some people may believe they actually have supernatural experiences, but try to remember that the mind is the greatest trickster and showman of all.
They may all be supernatural experiences or they may simply be the brain manifesting a communal fear across thousands of years, across thousands of miles. Especially the visions and hallucinations seem to be very personal and related to the person's psyche, traumas and beliefs instilled during his or her lifetime.
We hope we provided you with some valuable information on sleep paralysis demons and other creatures to help you through those possible scary episodes. Staying grounded and not believing everything your mind can conjure will go a long way in keeping your sanity.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2016 Sam Shepards
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on February 05, 2020:
@All please keep on topic of Sleep Paralysis and demons and creatures or experiences you have during your sleep paralysis. Nightmares etc.
Lori Colbo from United States on December 09, 2019:
Years ago I was going through the onset of devastating PTSD. Frequently I sensed and evil presence while I was sleeping. I never saw it. My bed would shake and I swore I was awake because I was looking at my room, but in reality, I was struggling to open my eyes and wake up but I was paralyzed. When I finally was able to open my eyes for real, the room was lighter than it looked in my dream state. I'd fall back to sleep and it would happen again. Sometimes it would go on for what felt like hours. It happened frequently. I haven't had them for years now. I can't say for sure it was demonic, I only know that I felt the presence of evil during the dream.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on July 15, 2019:
Don't be too hard on yourself. Don't judge yourself too hard. Just try to stay grounded in life. I would not seek too much in the visions meaning outside of your own mind. The dreams and hallucinations are symbolism for your own psychological state and fears. You really have to wonder what is there to fear? The harder you make divides between good and bad, beautiful and ugly the harsher you are punishing your own psyche.
When unsure, talk to a therapist and try to uncover the mess that is the human psyche there. It never is pretty, but stacking up on excessive meaning from visions will not help. Cleaning that up and dropping unnecessary baggage will make life a lot lighter.
I added two sleep paralysis book recommendations that could help you with making sense of things, especially the second book can be practical.
Moral Man on June 14, 2019:
Just last night I had another horrifying nightmare. I see my deceased loved ones and as I go to hug them, they speak kindly but in a matter of seconds, they physically transformed into demonic monsters and they told me, "Welcome. We're going to hell." This is very very disturbing. What am I to make of this? Did my deceased loved ones(parents) transform into demons and are they going to end up in the bad place where fire burns forever? Please say it isn't so. This is too horrific to even contemplate. I'm going to end up in a mental hospital from fear. The thought of either one or both parents being unsaved and spending eternity being tortured forever is insupportable. I cannot accept this. Why would God allow this?
The other possibility is that what I saw was not really my beloved parent but a demon in disguise. Demons can take the appearance and simulate the voices of human beings to confuse us. Remember the scene in the movie The Exorcist when the demon possessed girl transforms herself into the dead mother of priest Father Karras to confuse and torment him. But why would God allow this?
I have been plagued by nightmares for 28 and a half years. I fear that I will end up in hell and I fear that my beloved parents will end up in hell. I cannot accept this. Never. I live in endless fear.