Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon that approximately 7% of the world’s population will experience at some point in their lives. Furthermore, it is thought that among individuals with diagnosable sleep disorders (e.g. narcolepsy), nearly 40% will deal with episodes of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is characterized by the body and musculature being rendered completely immobile as a result of REM (rapid-eye movement) atonia.
During this REM stage, we may experience dream-like images and perceptions. A common entity that we perceive is that of a demonic entity (e.g. an Incubus or Succubus). During this time, we may become semi-conscious or fully conscious of the dream-like state as a result of beta wave surges. Our brain’s fear centers (e.g. amygdaloid complex) become activated indirectly by the brainstem, and we feel as if we are being terrorized.
Think of yourself as being either fully or semi-conscious, seeing a demonic entity as a result of subconscious dream activity, and being unable to scream or move your body to escape as a result of the REM-induced atonia. Although a variety of creatures have been depicted in sleep paralysis stories, demons appear to be among the most common.
Sleep Paralysis Demons
Those claiming that they’ve encountered a demon often don’t realize that their brain is playing tricks on them. We often come to believe that the sleep paralysis hallucinations are a sign of something metaphysical or spiritual, when in fact they’re the result of the brain’s inability to properly cycle through the various sleep stages. In some cases, we end up perceiving a demon in the form of sight, sound, and/or another sensation and believe that it’s out to induce harm.
Types of Demonic Encounters
The various types of hallucinations that occur during sleep paralysis correspond directly with various neural correlates. In other words, activity in the brain is responsible for producing the sensations that we encounter with perceived “demons.” These main subtypes of demonic hallucinations include: the Intruder, the Incubus, and odd demonic sensations. Additionally, there’s a fourth type that is less common characterized as a “mixed experience.”
1. Demonic Intruder
Those that encounter a demonic intruder tend to report that they were either threatened, terrorized, or sensed an evil demon in the same room as them. Those that experience sleep paralysis for the first time and/or are relatively new to the phenomenon of sleep paralysis are more likely to believe that there’s a demonic intruder or “sense the presence” of a demon. The “Intruder” subtype is strongly associated with sensing the terrifying presence of a demonic entity.
- Apparitions: Many people claim to see apparitions or the ghost-like image of a demonic entity. This entity may look like a traditional “demon” but may also appear as an evil person, animal, ghost, or other entity. This image may appear blurry or may be highly specific depending on individual perception.
- People: You may sense that a demonic person has entered the room. This may be someone that’s deceased and/or a person that’s still alive. Your sleep paralysis experience may project this individual as being closely tied with the devil.
- Noises: Some people claim to hear voices of a demon or another related evil entity. These voices may be subtle and hard to decipher or they may be loud, clear, and in your native language. They may give commands or make threats depending on your sleep paralysis experience. In other cases you may hear the demon moving through your room.
- Sense of presence: The most common attribute associated with this sort of hallucination is a sense that the demon is in the room. In other words, you can “sense” that a demonic threat is nearby, even if you cannot see or hear it. Your gut instinct may be warning you that a demon may be close.
- Touching: In extreme cases, some people end up experiencing tactile hallucinations in which they believe they were touched by a demon. In the “Intruder” subtype, the touches are generally vague and likely to induce a significant amount of fear.
2. Demonic Suffocation (Incubus)
The hallucinatory subtype of sleep paralysis most associated with demons is that of the “Incubus” – a term which translates to a male demon having sexual intercourse with a sleeping female. It is most common for those experiencing the “Incubus” subtype of hallucinations to believe that they encountered a demon or were victim of a demonic attack. In a majority of cases, people claim that the demon they encounter was attempting to murder them in their sleep.
Those that encounter the Incubus hallucinations tend to have similar brain activation as that experienced during the “Intruder” subtype. The fear center (amygdaloid complex) becomes activated by the brain stem while in a state of REM (rapid-eye movement sleep) and demonic entities appear while we are semi-conscious. No matter how much we try to escape, we realize that we cannot move due to atonia, so the demon is free to terrify us.
- Abduction: Many people believe that they are being abducted by a demon, demonic entity, or even an alien. Some people believe that their spirit is being extracted from their bodies or that they are being physically transported to another realm by the demon. If a person doesn’t encounter a demon, they may encounter an alien.
- Assault: The demons may appear to physically assault you by constricting your breathing or inflicting physical pain. It is common for victims to believe that they are being seriously injured by the demon and that they’ll never be able to recover from inflicted damage.
- Breathing difficulties: A common sign of demonic encounters during sleep paralysis is that of breathing difficulties. The demons may appear to restrict breathing in various ways such as by strangling the sleeping victim. Although this is merely a hallucination, to the individual experiencing restricted breathing and seeing a demon, it can seem very real.
- Chest pressure: In many cases, people believe that the demon or evil entity is sitting atop their chest, constricting their breathing. Scientifically we know that this pressure is a result of an inability to breathe deeply during REM sleep. However, to the individual encountering the demon during sleep paralysis, they feel as if the pressure is a direct result of an attempt to kill or inflict pain.
- Malicious intent: In nearly every case, the person seeing the demon believes that it has malicious intent. They believe that the demon is out to either kill them or inflict some sort of harm. This is accompanied by sensations of pain, perceived assaults, and restriction of breathing. Since the fear centers of the brain are activated, we may feel a sense of paranoia or panic.
- Perceived pain: There have been reports of pain being inflicted by demons while in a state of sleep paralysis. The pain may be mild, moderate, or extreme depending on the individual circumstances. One case of a woman experiencing sleep paralysis reported that a devil sat atop her breasts, attempted to choke her, and inflicted pain that she claimed to have felt even upon awakening the following morning.
- Sexual intercourse: In very extreme cases, people have reported being “raped” by demons or having sexual intercourse with them. In recurrent cases of sleep paralysis, people have claimed to have been shown the hybrid offspring with demons and/or aliens. It should be noted that most research suggests that women are more likely to report “rape” during sleep paralysis than men.
- Suffocation: In numerous cases, people believe that the demon is out to suffocate them by either choking them or applying pressure to their chest. Those experiencing the hallucination believe that there’s nothing that can be done and that they will inevitably die. Oddly enough, they eventually awaken, realizing that sleep paralysis was to blame; they didn’t actually die.
- Thoughts of death: The demonic encounters that are experienced during this type of hallucination tend to be associated with thoughts of death. The victim of sleep paralysis believes that the demons are out to murder them in their sleep. The actions of the demons can appear vividly real from a first-person perspective, hence resulting in thoughts of death.
3. Odd Demonic Sensations
Those that experience the odd bodily sensations during sleep paralysis don’t commonly report demonic encounters. In fact, they may report encounters with pleasant beings like angels or happy spirits. Those that solely experience bodily sensations during their episodes of sleep paralysis are less likely to report demons.
Although demons are less associated with “odd bodily sensations” (vestibular-motor hallucinations), they still may occur. Should they occur during the vestibular-motor hallucinations, you may encounter a demon while having an “out-of-body experience” and/or feel as if a demon is attempting to extract your spirit from your body. This third subtype of demonic encounters just adds areas of the brain associated with perceiving “motion” into the hallucination.
- Falling: It may feel as if you’re falling during your encounter with a demon. You may feel as if you’re falling into a trap of some sort or falling to your death as a result of a demonic assault.
- Fictitious motor movements: In some cases, it may seem as if you’re able to move your body such as arms and legs. In reality, you may be having an out-of-body experience, thinking that you’re able to run away from the demon.
- Floating: It is common for people to feel as if they are floating. This floating sensation is generally associated with bliss and calmness. That said, it is possible to feel as if you’re floating near a demon.
- Flying: You may feel as if you are flying while simultaneously trying to escape the throes of a demon.
- Out-of-body experience: Some people may have an out-of-body experience and believe that the demon may fight them in some way or may harm their physical body. Although the out-of-body experience and the perceived demon are hallucinations, they may be perceived as real.
- Remote viewing: In some cases, people believe they are looking at their body from a third-person perspective (e.g. outside their physical body). They may feel detached from their physical body, yet perceive a demon attacking it.
- Suctioning: You may feel as if you’re being suctioned out of your body or violently extracted by a demon. It may appear painful and/or forceful and against your will.
4. Mixed Demonic Hallucinations
Some people may feel as if there’s a demonic intruder, end up feeling attacked by the demon (e.g. suffocated), and hallucinate that they’re being transported to another realm via flying or floating. While those new to sleep paralysis don’t often experience mixed hallucinations, a person may experience a blending of any of the three subtypes listed above.
It is most common for a person to experience the “Intruder” and the “Incubus” hallucinations simultaneously rather than either with the “Unusual Bodily Experiences.” The Unusual Bodily Experiences aren’t nearly as associated with demons and a majority of individuals tend to report feelings of bliss rather than fear during the experience.
Sleep Paralysis Demons & Entities (List)
Keep in mind that demons are fictional entities that are perceived as a result of a hallucinatory experience that occurs during sleep paralysis. While some spiritual groups may believe that they are a sign of something supernatural, the supernatural is pseudoscientific – especially in regards to cases of sleep paralysis.
- Aliens: While you may not think of aliens as “demons” for many individuals they are simultaneous. Aliens encountered during sleep paralysis often have malicious motives such as assault or obtaining genetic material for hybrid offspring.
- Animals: Some individuals encounter vicious animals that attack them in their sleep. These animals could include: dogs, wolves, cats, or rats. The animals encountered are thought to be evil and demonic in that they are attempting to inflict damage on the sleeping victim.
- Criminals: It is common for people to report encountering thieves, murderers, and/or other criminals during episodes of sleep paralysis. These criminals may be fictional or a byproduct of subconscious material (e.g. someone that you saw on the news).
- Devil: A common experience for people to report during sleep paralysis is that they encountered the devil. The devil is generally red in color, has pointed ears, is sometimes hairy, and may have a tail. If you search online for artwork of sleep paralysis demons, most will appear to resemble a devil.
- Evil spirits: You may encounter miscellaneous evil spirits that are difficult to specifically classify as a “demon.” Most people consider evil spirits and demonic entities to be synonymous.
- Ghouls: These are considered evil spirits that consume human flesh. In some cases people may claim to smell rotten flesh during their sleep paralysis hallucination, possibly as a result of a perceived ghoul.
- Ghosts: Some people encounter vague images, sounds, and facades that they believe are ghosts. The sensory perceptions that are experienced may be vague or highly specific. In most cases the ghosts are thought of as being demonic or evil.
- Goblins: This is a dwarf-like demon that some people may encounter during their episodes of sleep paralysis.
- Incubus: The technical definition of an “incubus” is a male demon that has sexual encounters with women while they’re asleep.
- Monsters: In some reports, people encounter imaginary monsters that are big, ugly, and fear-inducing.
- People: You may encounter another person (possibly one that you know) during sleep paralysis. This person may be perceived as having evil intentions or as having transformed into a demon.
- Succubus: The technical definition of a “succubus” is a female demon that has sexual encounters with men while they’re asleep.
- Trolls: These are creatures that may resemble demons that attempt to trick you, strangle you, or inflict some sort of damage upon your physical body.
- Vampires: You may experience a brief encounter with a vampire or vampire-like demon during sleep paralysis. It may be attempting to bite your neck for blood extraction.
- Zombies: If you’ve watched a little too much of the show “Walking Dead” and experience an episode of sleep paralysis, you may have an encounter with a zombie (or “walker”). This encounter may appear to be demonic.
Note: There are likely plenty of other entities that resemble a demon or demonic entity during an episode of sleep paralysis; they are not limited to the list above.
What causes sleep paralysis demons to appear?
There are likely many factors that cause people to perceive demons and demonic attacks associated with sleep paralysis. This includes things like: brain activity, mental illness, psychological priming, drug usage,
Brain activity: A person’s brain activity during sleep is thought to contribute to the hallucinatory experience of perceiving a demon or demonic attack. The brain activity is characterized by altered brain waves, overactivity of the fear-response, and alterations in short and long-term memory functioning.
- Brain waves: During sleep paralysis, a person’s brain waves are thought to be different than a person in normal REM sleep. During sleep paralysis, a person tends to have an abundance of alpha waves, with intense, intermittent bursts of beta waves.
- Vigilance system: Interactions between the brainstem and regions like the thalamus, amygdaloid complex, and anterior cingulate are thought to produce significant fear. When we perceive the “demon” during sleep paralysis, it appears so real, that the regions responsible for producing fear in the brain become intensified. We may become paranoid, feel the fight-or-flight response, and the fear-based neural pathways become strengthened.
- Limbic system: This is a part of the brain that is capable of creating intense, animalistic emotions. It is an older region, and during the perceived demonic encounter, we experience intensified emotions.
- Long-term memory: During sleep paralysis, our long term memory is activated, meaning our brain can kick up any imagery or perceptions that are lodged within our long-term memory “bank.” These memories may combine with our subconscious to project images of a “demon” during sleep paralysis.
- Short-term memory: As the long-term memories are activated, our short-term memories are suppressed. In other words, we aren’t able to consciously question who we are or our current experience.
Collective individual consciousness: This refers to our lifetime experience (culture, upbringing, individual imagination, etc.), which is recorded by our brain and shapes its activity. In this case I am not referring to the consciousness of the world, rather the cumulative collection of both internal and external inputs that you’ve collected throughout your lifetime. These inputs are likely to influence your projection of a “demon” or “devilish” entity and will also likely shape your subjective interpretation of the demon.
Drug usage: If you are taking any drugs, they may increase or decrease your likelihood of encountering a demon during sleep paralysis. Some drugs, particularly those that have hallucinogenic properties, may be more likely to induce demonic encounters during sleep paralysis. Keep in mind that drug abuse as well as recovery (during withdrawal) may be associated with influencing demonic hallucinations.
Ecopsychology: This specifically refers to the study of the brain in relationship to its natural environment. Certain states of mind may be influenced as a result of environmental or geological happenings. Researchers have suggested that regions of the world considered to be geomagnetically unstable may be more likely to experience sleep paralysis and demonic hallucinations than other regions.
Mental illness: Those with certain mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and anxiety disorders may be more prone to experiencing sleep paralysis. Several studies have drawn notable links between past trauma (PTSD), anxiety disorders (specifically social anxiety), and depression – with sleep paralysis.
Neurotheology: Some anthropologists believe that humans are hard-wired to see spirits, even if they don’t really exist. This is known as neurotheology and suggests that combined thinking, cultural loading, myths, fairy tales, subconscious manifestations, etc. This is a more specific theoretical aspect of collective internal consciousness.
Psychological archetypes: Various psychologists have hypothesized that demons during sleep paralysis may be a result of a psychological archetype known as the “Shadow Self.” This archetype refers to everything we don’t want to see, confront, or look at. It may scare us or represent cultural or internal taboo. Certain aspects of this “shadow self” may resemble those of the demon we encounter during sleep paralysis.
Psychological priming: If we are psychologically primed with demonic imagery and/or a fear-inducing stimuli prior to falling asleep, we may encounter something similar during an episode of sleep paralysis. It is known that exposing the human brain to certain stimuli, triggers representations of related stimuli – this is known as “priming.” If you watched a scary movie or show prior to sleeping, this may be related to perceptions of a demon.
Rapid-eye movement (REM): During this state we are immobile and usually dreaming. The dreams we experience during REM are often random mixes of conscious and unconscious information. This may result in a demon with traits as a result of both conscious and unconscious information.
Stress/Trauma: Those that have endured a significant amount of stress and/or trauma may become highly anxious and/or paranoid – which can contribute to sleep paralysis. This stress and/or trauma may activate other areas of the brain associated with fear, neural pathways, and other memories (or images) tied to the fear-response. This may cause our brain’s to project a scary, threatening demon during sleep paralysis.
Unconscious processes: Various unconscious processes such as our imagination (i.e. mind’s eye), internal inputs, and external inputs may result in an image of a demon or devil. Internal inputs may be related to our thinking and subjective perceptions, while external inputs may be related to images, books, movies, or television that we see in our environment.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are some frequently asked questions related to sleep paralysis and demons.
When is a person most likely to hallucinate demons during sleep paralysis?
The general trend is that those who encounter demons or report terrifying experiences during sleep paralysis tend to do so near the end of the sleep cycle. While sleep paralysis can occur at any time, it is most likely to occur near the beginning of the sleep cycle or end of the sleep cycle. Individuals that report hallucinations during the beginning of the sleep cycle don’t usually report demons.
Furthermore, those that encounter demons tend to be “novices” in regards to sleep paralysis history. In other words, they likely haven’t experienced many episodes of sleep paralysis. Those that experience recurrent bouts of sleep paralysis tend to overcome many of the fears associated with the condition and learn various coping techniques to lessen the fear. That said, some individuals experiencing recurrent bouts may report the same demonic entity in each of their episodes.
Does everyone see a visible “demon?”
No. In many cases, people may experience sounds, smells, or “sense” the presence of a demon – but aren’t able to visually verify that a demon was in the room. Others claim to “feel” that a demon is putting pressure on their chest, neck, or other muscles in attempt to restrict their breathing. While it is certainly possible for people to hallucinate a clear, vivid image of a demon – visual hallucinations do not always occur.
Do everyone’s demons look different?
In most cases, the demon that a person hallucinates during sleep paralysis will be a combination of internal and external stimuli. If you look at drawings of sleep paralysis demons online, you’ll discover that there are similarities and differences between the demons being reported. The similarities may be due to common cultural or universal traits associated with demons, and differences may be due to individual psychological interpretations, subjective reprocessing, and other projections.
Are the demons encountered during sleep paralysis real?
No. The demons encountered during sleep paralysis may appear to be real, but they are nothing more than a hallucination that is experience during sleep paralysis. Many people believe they are a supernatural sign or something mystical, when in reality they are a byproduct of collective individual consciousness, brain activity, rapid-eye movement, and subconscious bursts. During the experience these hallucinations appear “real,” but from a scientific perspective, they are nothing more than a fear-induced deception.
Is there a way to prevent demonic encounters during sleep paralysis?
Yes. There are many useful techniques that you can use to stop sleep paralysis and prevent future episodes. Although it’s relatively common sense, an easy way to decrease the likelihood that you’ll experience sleep paralysis is by getting more sleep per night and increasing your sleep quality. Sleep paralysis is typically caused by poor sleep hygiene and restricted sleep over a long-term.
Other useful modalities for reducing the likelihood of sleep paralysis include: keeping a sleep journal and reducing stress. If you can reduce stress and consistently get enough sleep (with good quality), episodes of sleep paralysis should decrease. If they don’t, you may want to consult a sleep expert for additional advice.
Have you encountered a demon during an episode of sleep paralysis?
If you’ve been unlucky (or lucky) enough to encounter a hallucinatory “demon” during an episode of sleep paralysis, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. You may want to describe: the specific appearance of the demon (e.g. whether it fit common cultural stereotypical characteristics of a “demon”), what the demon “did” to you or attempted to do, as well as the perceived duration of the experience. There are many people that have experienced sleep paralysis, and numerous cases of reported demons.