What is Sleep Paralysis?

I often remember coming back from school and listening to my mum retell members of the family that during a nap in the day she had been pinned to the bed by something she couldn’t see again…

She recalled a presence making its way up the stairs, sometimes even pretending to be my dad and getting into bed with her. She even recalls how she felt the empty side of the bed lower as if someone had just got into bed with her but within seconds of it being in bed, a unseen force would pin her to the bed. Unable to move or even talk and hardly breathe, the only thing she could do was recite the Lords pray to herself in her grasped breathing, which then made this unseen entity disperse.

My mum recalls feeling very much awake at this time and she wouldn’t be alone in saying this. Many who encounter this phenomenon would say its much more than just a dream state.

This happened on a weekly basis at one time, only within one room of the house and when we moved she never experienced it again.

My husband also had a similar encounters in his old bedroom at his dad’s, some nights something would creep into bed with him and all of sudden he would be pinned to the bed, unable to move and left speechless grasping for his breath. Others who stayed within this room at a later stage also encountered the same.

Since leaving his dad’s and living with myself he hasn’t experienced it once.

My mum and husband probably experienced what is known as sleep paralysis or also known as ‘Old Hags Syndrome’.

My mum even though she understands that science can give her a logical explanation to what she experienced, she refuses to accept it was. She states, ‘it felt too evil and it used to trick her into a false sense of security, it seemed clever and something not of this world’.

Again, I don’t think she is alone in feeling this way. Over the centuries people thought the culprit for such a occurence was a demon known as the incubus who was responsible for your bad dreams. Originating from the Latin ‘to sit on’, the incubus sat on top of your chest inducing horrifying dreams and physical immobility, making it the first documented explanation of sleep paralysis.

I am glad I have personally never experienced it myself.

What is sleep paralysis

It occurs when brain and body are not in sync during the sleep process. During a ‘normal’ night’s sleep we can expect the brain to dispatch a message to the nervous system that relaxes the muscles; so relaxed are they that they become inactive during sleep, protecting our body from acting out physically while in the state of sleep. As the brain is roused to a waking (hypnopompic) state or as it falls into a sleeping (hypnagogic) state the brain gives the order to end or start the paralysis.

Sleep paralysis occurs when the process happens at the wrong speed; when the brain and body are out of sync. If the brain doesn’t give the order to the muscles, the muscles lay dormant while our mind is stirred to consciousness, giving us the sense of paralysis. As this liminal state persists it activates our limbic system, our centre of emotional reaction, causing fear and panic. If an individual is in the middle of a disturbing dream, this sense of fear is heightened ten-fold because there is usually a hangover that results in visual and auditory hallucination.

There is no specific treatment for sleep paralysis, but stress management, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and observing good sleep habits can reduce the likelihood of sleep paralysis.

5 thoughts on “What is Sleep Paralysis?

  1. A good explanation of sleep paralysis. It sounds terrifying and no wonder people think it is ‘something not of this world.’ Although, perhaps, sometimes it is!

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  3. I have had several experiences with sleep paralysis, although I’m walking through my issue and I’ll soon release a write-up regarding my episodes. I’ll tell for sure it’s not a pleasant experience
    My episodes is a little different from your mum’s, for me, I’ll remember waking up with night terrors and screaming as hard as I can cause it felt so real! I also remembered praying but everything I did never worked. I happened to be diagnosed with PTSD at an early stage of my life so it was like my day was reliving memories of hell while my night was a manifestation of my worst memories.
    Thank you for sharing this it was really helpful to me and I could relate on different levels! I’ll express more of my bottled up emotions in my coming up post sooner rather than later!

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