Sleep paralysis is a condition characterized by full or semi-conscious waking during sleep, despite an inability to move and/or speak (paralysis). The conscious awareness is thought to be a result of the brain’s inability to properly transition through sleep stages. This leads to abnormal activity of brain waves – with heavy alpha waves, bursts of beta waves, and simultaneous rapid-eye movement (REM activity).
It is the REM activity results in complete muscle “atonia” or an inability to move the body. During this time, a person may be conscious of their body and/or environment, realizing that they’re trapped. To make matters worse, some cases of sleep paralysis may last hours and often include hallucinations. In many cases, the hallucinations are terrifying resembling demons, vicious animals, or evil entities.
Sleep Paralysis Hallucinations: 3 General Types
Research in 1999 by Cheyne, Rueffer and Newby-Clark analyzed cases of 752 sleep paralysis sufferers. These sufferers were asked questions by researchers regarding the symptoms they suffered, when they experienced the attacks, etc. The researchers found that certain sleep paralysis experiences and/or hallucinations differed from others based on specific patterns.
They found that hallucinatory experiences as a result of sleep paralysis could be characterized in one of three groups: “Intruder,” “Incubus,” or “Unusual Bodily Experiences.” They then attempted to hypothesize the neural activation that was responsible for each of these distinct hallucinations.
Intruder Hallucinations (“Sensed Presence”)
The hallucinatory subtype “intruder” refers to sensing the presence of another person and/or entity during sleep paralysis. The intruder subtype is sometimes also referred to as “sensed presence” due to the fact that people feel as if an intruder is present. They may be able to visually (see) and/or auditorily (hear) perceive the intruding presence, but in other cases they may just “sense” an intruder or impending doom.
- Auditory hallucinations: This involves hearing voices, noises, or other odd sounds.
- Sensing another entity: You may sense that another (typically evil) presence is within close proximity.
- Visual hallucinations: Some people claim to have seen an intruder or evil entity during their hallucinatory experience.
What causes “intruder” hallucinations?
Researchers believe that the “intruder” hallucination is a byproduct of the brainstem inducing amygdala activity. The amygdala is the “fear” center of the brain, and when it becomes active, our vigilance increases. During sleep paralysis, it is believed that the amygdala becomes overstimulated and leads to hypervigilance, sensing a potential intruder or presence. The activation of the amygdala has individuals looking for any potential threats or dangers.
- Amygdaloid complex
- Anterior cingulate
Other limbic structures like the amygdaloid complex and the anterior cingulate may play a role in the intruder hallucination during sleep paralysis. It is thought that REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep is capable of triggering activation in these regions. The anterior cingulate has a significant number of connections that extend throughout the cortex.
The amygdaloid complex is capable of producing strong emotions and is involved as an intermediate between strong emotions and our attentional processes. Researchers speculate that a “sensed presence,” particularly one that is threatening, is due to projections from the thalamus to the amygdala. When these projections hit the amygdala, the amygdaloid complex and anterior cingulate become active.
As an individual enters REM stage sleep, microbursts of activation from the brainstem are believed to connect with the thalamus, which is responsible for activating the amygdala and other areas of the cortex. A particular pathway known as the “subcortical thalamoamygdala” serves to alert us in the event of dangers, threats, or emergencies without an in-depth analysis from other regions. It’s a survival feature, and is thought to become activated during these “intruder” hallucinations.
In a standard fear-inducing situation (e.g. walking down a dark alley at night), there is reciprocal communication between brain regions like the amygdala and polymodal association cortex. This allows us to sense danger, but if there’s no real threat upon analysis, our brain tones down activity in the fear-producing regions. In the case of sleep paralysis, a person isn’t able to determine where the “threat” is coming from, and thus isn’t able to turn off the fear response.
This leads to terrifying feelings as a result of the fear-center and fear-pathway activation. Depending on the person, this can be long lasting (minutes) or be relatively quick (seconds). Since the fear-regions are firing in the brain, a person may experience semi-consciousness, leading them to believe it has a source (e.g. sensing an evil presence).
Incubus Hallucinations (“Old Hag”)
The “incubus” subtype of hallucinations during sleep paralysis can be best described as: chest pressure, difficulty breathing, and in some cases, perception of physical pain. This particular subtype of hallucinatory experience is sometimes called the “Old Hag attack.” The name “Old Hag” refers to the thought that an evil witch or “old hag” sits on the chest of victims, making it impossible for them to move.
- Body pressure: Individuals report feeling intense pressure on some part of their body.
- Breathing difficulties: In most cases, people report having a tough time breathing, and usually attribute it to chest or body pressure.
- Chest pressure: The body pressure is most commonly reported as being directly on the center of the chest.
- Pain: Many people perceive pain on the area in which they feel pressure or within surrounding muscle groups.
- Suffocation: It is common to believe that you are being suffocated during an “incubus” hallucination.
- Thoughts of death: People may feel threatened as if they’re going to die as a result of an evil entity such as a witch, demon, or alien.
It should be noted that some of the “incubus” symptoms may occur simultaneously with “intruder” symptoms. However, the predominant characteristics of the “incubus” hallucinations are body pressure (usually on the chest) and difficulty breathing. Secondary characteristics can include: perceived suffocation, thoughts of death (by a threat), and in some cases, evil entities like aliens, demons, ghosts, and witches.
What causes “incubus” hallucinations?
It is hypothesized that various aspects of REM (rapid-eye movement) during sleep are responsible for the symptoms of the “incubus” hallucinations. During REM sleep, our breathing changes, becoming more shallow and rapid. Exact breathing rates during REM can be subject to significant variation, yet it is thought that the perception of “breathing difficulties” is associated directly with REM-induced changes.
The airways can actually become slightly blocked during certain portions of the REM stage. When an individual experiences semi-consciousness as a result of waking during sleep paralysis, they awaken at a time when their body has been rendered immobile and their breathing has become shallow. They believe that since they’re not able to breathe deeply, that they may suffocate – so they attempt to slow their breathing.
When realizing they aren’t able to slow their breathing as a result of REM stage immobilization of muscles, they feel muscular resistance – particularly on the chest. This resistance is interpreted as a heavy pressure on the chest. A person may panic and believe that impending suffocation is likely and will result in death. As they attempt to fight the sleep paralysis, they realize that there’s nothing that can be done.
Due to the fact that their muscles are immobile, they may activate areas in their brain responsible for regulating “struggle.” These areas may lead to the perception of “pain” and/or extremely uncomfortable spasms. Most women perceive this “incubus” form of hallucination as akin to being “raped” or assaulted sexually.
3. Unusual Bodily Experiences (Vestibular-Motor Hallucinations)
Those reporting “unusual bodily experiences” during sleep paralysis may feel as if they are entering another realm of existence. Some people with unusual bodily experiences claim to have had out-of-body experiences (OOBEs), felt as if they were flying, or as if they were floating in space. These can also be described as “vestibular-motor” hallucinations OR hypnagogic/hypnopompic hallucinations.
- Emotional bliss: It is common for those with unusual bodily experiences to report feeling particularly blissful, happy, or content.
- Fictitious motor movements: People may believe that they are moving their body and/or walking around, despite the fact that they’re asleep.
- Floating sensations: Some individuals may feel as if their body is floating in space without being bound to gravity.
- Flying sensations: Others report feeling as if they were flying during their sleep paralysis.
- Inertial forces: People may report a variety of experiences including: falling, lifting, spinning, swirling, accelerating, or decelerating. The most common happen to be flying and floating, but others are documented.
- Lightheadedness: Some people report a significant degree of lightheadedness or dizziness during unusual bodily experiences.
- Out-of-body experiences: It is common for those with recurrent episodes of sleep paralysis to have out-of-body experiences.
- Remote viewing: This is defined as “autoscopy” or the hallucinatory experience of “seeing” yourself from an external, third-person perspective.
Note: Some individuals report being “violently” removed from their bodies during these hallucinations. They describe the experience as being highly forceful. That said, a majority of individuals say that their experience was positive and that they’d repeat it if they were able.
What causes “unusual bodily experiences”?
When you’re awake, various regions of your brain communicate and allow for both head and eye movements. The vestibular system (frontal, temporal, parietal lobes) is a region that is involved in the coordination of these movements, and happens to be closely tied to centers in the brainstem responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. As we enter REM sleep, there are no head movements or images to activate the vestibular region.
The vestibular system connects our body with the external world. Neural firings that stimulate certain regions often result in different perceived “unusual bodily experiences” during sleep.
- Angular gyrus: If this region becomes abnormally stimulated during sleep, we experience out-of-body experiences and/or sensations of floating.
- Parietal lobe: When the parietal lobe is stimulated without movement, we feel as if we’re rolling, falling, or sliding.
These hallucinations are induced as a result of conflicting information about body position, altitude, and motion. Brain scans have revealed that decreases in blood flow to the parietal region can be responsible for many of these unusual bodily hallucinations. The reduced blood flow is a result of poor vestibular integration of motor, tactile, and visual information – resulting in vestibular-motor hallucinations.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18621363
4. Mixed Hallucinations
Some people experience a combination of sleep paralysis hallucinations, hence being referred to as “mixed hallucinations.” In other words, they may experience the “Intruder” subtype along with “Incubus” – sensing the presence of an evil entity, while simultaneously thinking that the evil entity is putting pressure on their chest in attempt to suffocate them. In other cases, a combination of all three subtypes may occur simultaneously.
In this case, a person may sense an evil presence (Intruder), feel intense pressure on their chest and/or pain (Incubus), and have an out-of-body experience (Unusual Bodily Experience). Researchers have noted that those who are new to experiencing sleep paralysis (novices) tend to note one distinct subtype of hallucination, whereas those who’ve experienced multiple episodes (veterans) generally experience a blending of 2 or 3 hallucinatory subtypes.
Hallucinations: Novice vs. Veteran Sleep Paralysis Sufferers
Oddly enough there are distinct differences between the types of hallucinations experienced during sleep paralysis based on whether someone is new to sleep paralysis episodes (i.e. a novice) or has dealt with recurrent episodes of sleep paralysis for awhile (i.e. a veteran).
- Novices: Those who are novices, or have little experience with sleep paralysis episodes tend to report significantly more “intruder” hallucinations and are unlikely to report any “unusual bodily experiences.” These individuals tend to be of a younger age than the veterans.
- Veterans: Those who are sleep paralysis veterans report significantly more “unusual bodily experiences” and significantly less “intruder” hallucinations. The average age is older than novices, but not significantly. Veterans are more likely to experience “mixed” hallucinations, with 2 to 3 subtypes occurring simultaneously.
Incubus hallucinations: It seems as though the occurrence rates of incubus hallucinations did not significantly differ based on whether someone was new to sleep paralysis or a seasoned veteran. Researchers believe that incubus hallucinations occur with equal likelihood among both novices and veterans.
Unusual bodily experiences: Research from Chayne (2005) discovered that novices to sleep paralysis hallucinations were able to distinguish the “unusual bodily experiences” (vestibular-motor hallucinations) from both “incubus” and “intruder” hallucinations easier than veterans.
Alien abductions (mixed hallucinations): Those considered experienced veterans in sleep paralysis often experience a blending of hallucinations, making them tougher to distinguish. In reports of “alien abductions” during sleep paralysis, all three subtypes of hallucinations are thought to occur – leading to a state of fear, pressure, and unusual sensory experiences.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10487786
Timing: Beginning vs. End of Sleep Cycle
The timing of when your sleep paralysis episode occurs may dictate the hallucinatory subtype that you experience.
Beginning of cycle: This refers to experiencing sleep paralysis during the transition of wakefulness to sleep, and tends to occur at night (or beginning of the sleep cycle).
- Unusual bodily experiences: Likely
- Incubus hallucinations: Intense
- Fear: Lower levels
End of cycle: This refers to experiencing sleep paralysis during the transition of sleep to wakefulness and tends to occur in the morning (or end of the sleep cycle).
- Intruder hallucinations: Unlikely (Fewer)
- Incubus hallucinations: Reduced intensity
- Fear: Highest levels
Note: Feelings of positive emotion (e.g. bliss) and those reporting sexual experiences didn’t significantly vary based on beginning vs. end of the sleep cycle.
Males vs. Females: Researchers have noted some differences in sleep paralysis hallucinations based on sex. Females reported the highest levels of “fear” associated with their sleep paralysis experiences compared to males. Additionally, females report more intense “incubus” hallucinations in comparison to males.
Have you ever experienced hallucinations during sleep paralysis?
If you’ve experienced an episode of sleep paralysis, did you also experience one of the three hallucinatory subtypes? It should be noted that not everyone will vividly recall whether they experienced a hallucination during sleep paralysis due to the fact that some people are less conscious during REM stage than others. If you have experienced hallucinations during sleep paralysis, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.
20 thoughts on “Sleep Paralysis Hallucinations: 3 General Types”
I have experienced sleep paralysis maybe 10 times in my life (I am 39) and have just woken up from one such dream/nightmare. It seemed to go on for 10 minutes this time, which is longer than usual, but I think that is because I didn’t get much sleep last night and had gone for a nap this afternoon, which I don’t normally do.
I experience both ‘intruder’ and ‘unusual bodily experiences’ during my sleep paralysis episodes. I always feel a presence and sense of evil in the room with me, sometimes I can feel that presence try to remove the covers from my bed, usually starting at my feet; other times the presence tries to lift one of my legs or I can feel the lower part of my body start to levitate above the bed, as if I am starting to float.
I try to scream or cry out in fear but I can’t open my mouth and I can’t get away either because I can’t move. Today my experience started with levitation of my lower half and my legs were raised completely off the bed, although looking down at them, I could see they weren’t raised at all.
Then I became aware of the presence; this time I could actually see the intruder and it was a hooded entity that looked like the grim reaper… sometimes it was in next to me in bed, looking over me, or sometimes it was standing elsewhere in the room (in previous experiences, I have only ever felt the presence).
Sometimes, the figure seemed to be made of my own bed sheets. On one occasion in this battle to move and speak and wake up properly, I seemed to make it to my bedroom door but was pulled back to the bed by this evil force that had been watching my attempts.
I was very aware of my surroundings and trying to speak and this time (I didn’t try and cry out until towards the end of the experience) I remember thinking to just close my eyes and try to go back to sleep.
A few moments later, I awoke and immediately knew I could move. Phew! It was so real though, that’s why I came on-line to read about it.
So I came to see if someone had a similar experience to what I had. Usually I only get the feeling of pressure on my chest accompanied by nothing. But one time I had something akin to a nightmare at the same time. So I was wide awake, had my eyes open, was lying on my chest, and my hands were around my stomach and crotch area.
But more importantly, I had a nightmare where I was in a dark, slightly misty forest and there was a man at my feet. And a dark grey wolf was kinda telepathically telling me to kill him. It was more like orders – and me struggling to say no was akin to some other “actually scary” horror experience.
Whilst this was happening, my breathing was very rapid and loud as when my brother walked in and went past me to his bed. I tried to speak and just continued to breathe. Afterwards I began to be able to move a slight bit, and shortly after, my entire body followed suit.
I spoke to my brother as I awoke and he asked me if I had some terrible nightmare and I said no, it was sleep paralysis. And explained how I knew I was breathing heavily as I could feel and hear it. (8th time BTW and I have never had an intruder type before so this was the closest to something like that. Probably because I don’t fear otherworldly beings as they don’t exist – and because they probably wouldn’t touch me had they existed).
I’m 47 and I started having sleep paralysis when I was 13. Mine is always in the middle of sleep (midnight) or in the morning. I rarely have hallucination but my case was always a normal dream but I feel suffocated (in breathing) so I’ll always struggle to make myself awake.
My method; to make any sound as loud as I can so that any person who can hear me will wake me up by calling/shaking me (I informed my family on my sleep paralysis & asked them to wake me up if I make any sound during my sleep).
But even if I am alone I still make the sound because I believe it helps me to wake up too. I guess on most of the occasions (of sleep paralysis experiences) I really have breathing problems due to some sickness (flu) or not appropriate sleeping position that may cause the breathing problem.
I’m having sleep paralysis 2-3 times a week and after all these years, it is still a very tiring process of struggling to wake up during the experience.
What a relief to finally know the names of these strange feelings.
Starting when I was about 14, I would have occasional hypnagogic hallucinations. Right on the edge of sleep, I would hear unfamiliar voices that would ask me completely random questions. They seemed to be spoken extremely close to my ear, and yet somehow at the same time, from very faraway.
I also felt as if my body was somehow split into layers. I would at once know that my body was lying down and still in bed, and feel that a dark outline of me was floating up above me, anchored to but not quite aligned with my real self. Like a black balloon swelling and pulsing to the size of mountains and up to the sky, then zooming in suddenly to the little figurine of my real body lying in bed.
I could intensify it, if I focused, and sometimes out of curiosity I would play with the scale and the zooming in and out. Other times it was just uncomfortable, and I would wonder if one day the connection to my real body would snap, and I would float off…
Thanks for this interesting article. I experienced sleep paralysis, unaware that this is actually a thing, since I was about 12 years old. Always accompanied with hallucinations of a humanoid creature, which most of the time was staring at me from the other side of the room and at rare occasions stand right beside my bed.
I couldn’t look longer than a split of a second at that thing without completely freaking out. Lately, at an episode I felt a pressure on my chest and I saw the face of the creature. I researched a bit about my dreams, since I could never remember feeling something physical during a dream and fear of monsters in my room is surely unusual for someone in my age (29).
At the last episode I was aware that it was sleep paralysis and I kept my eyes closed and forced myself not to open them, even as something was pulling on my bed sheet. A moment later I felt again that pressure on my chest and I tried to dream further and had a (somewhat) lucid dream. The wiggle-your-toe technique was also helpful to escape the second paralysis I had that night.
I’ve had these numerous times throughout the years. I’ve experienced auditory, visual and those where I’ve felt extreme bodily pain and pressure, almost as though I there was a jackhammer in my stomach. Most recently I had one where I could hear shuffling noises and as if someone had broken in while I was lying down. Then I saw something jump into my bed and thrash around next to my head, looked like a cat. At that moment as I was able to get myself out of it.
I had an sleep paralysis experience after my Dad died. I was at our beach cabin where we spent family vacations since I was a little girl. I was asleep when I felt a pressure on my chest. It felt like someone was pushing their finger into my sternum. It wasn’t so much painful as annoying.
I opened my eyes and there was my departed Dad standing by my bed. I felt a wonderful sense of peace and bliss. In my mind I said, “Dad!” He didn’t really look at me and but I felt/heard his voice saying, “Everything is just fine”. Then he turned and walked out of the room.
Then the strangest thing happened. A very hairy naked man walked in the room but didn’t look or pay any attention to me. He tiptoed towards the door. I got this terrible panicky feeling but then I woke up. I felt like the naked man was pure dream but I really felt my Dad’s presence strongly. It was very vivid.
I’m 17 years old, and I’ve experienced sleep paralysis maybe four to five times now but I can remember three vividly – and all of them the “Intruder Hallucination”. The other similarities in all three of them is that I’m laying on my back, I’m seeing the room in where I was sleeping, and whenever I turn to my side to climb out of the bed I go immediately return to my original position upon ‘waking up’.
The very first time was I was sleeping on the bed in the room I share with my mom and my siblings. No one was there and nor in the dream that followed. I was lying on my back, and then suddenly I ‘woke up’ (that is, I was dreaming I woke up). I saw the window, where the bed was facing. The details of the room were blurry, but still the same.
I’m usually scared of ghosts and that stuff, and in this ‘dream’, I sense an evil presence behind the bed (the headboard of the bed doesn’t touch the wall). I got frightened, and tired to turn to my side to climb off the bed. I turned my head first, and when I did, I just returned to my initial position. I tried to call my mom, and screamed her name but no sound exited my mouth.
The more I fought (calling my mom, screaming, etc..), the more I got tired and dizzy from changing perspectives every time I turned. My eyelids were dropping too and soon I just gave up and I ‘fell asleep’. And when I opened my eyes, I was really awake now. I left the bed and ran to my Mom. The second time was I was still in the same room, but I was using the futon rather than the bed now.
My Mom was sitting on the bed, reading stuff before I fell asleep. And when I ‘woke up’ again, I saw the wall and the air conditioner that the futon was facing in real life. My Mom was no longer sitting on the bed – no one was inside the room – and I could feel an evil presence behind the futon again. I screamed, and fought again, and each time I tried to fight, I ended up getting more tired and worn off.
When I tried to turn to my side, I returned to my initial position. But I didn’t give up. I was determined to get out of the room, and so I crawled up, to where the door was, without turning around. Basically, I was wriggling backwards with my body still faced up the ceiling. When my head bumped onto the door, I raised my arm and searched for the doorknob.
With a twisted hand, I wasn’t able to properly turn the knob and in my desperate attempt to do so, I ended up turning to my side. That was a mistake, and then I found myself back on the futon, still lying on my back. I tried that attempt two times, before getting too tired and dizzy that I just closed my eyes again and went back to ‘sleeping’.
When I really woke up, my Mom was still sitting on the bed, still reading. I asked her if she saw my body move even once and she said that I didn’t move at all. And the third time, I was sleeping with my baby cousin inside the second room of the house. The bed was a little bit larger than a single bed, but no larger than a double bed. The bed was placed on a corner that its headboard touched the wall, and the other side of the bed was also touching a wall.
My baby cousin was sleeping near the wall, and I was sleeping on the side without it. When I ‘woke up’, I realized this time I was in a sleep paralysis. This time, I asked the people I knew about the events that occurred to me while sleeping and told me it was a sleep paralysis. Still the same, I was lying on my back but there was no evil presence, or no old hag or anything. I was just completely paralyzed.
I screamed, I shouted again. Since I was on the open side of the bed, I thought to myself that I should roll to the side. If I did so, I’d fall out of the bed and I’d wake up. I did exactly what I thought, but then instead of falling off, I levitated for a second or two before returning to my initial position. It wasn’t my will to go back to my initial position – I just always get back whenever I try to turn my head around.
In that dream, my baby cousin was awake and I could feel him looking at me from the side. I slept it off again, getting tired and dizzy, and when I was able to finally wake up, my baby cousin was looking at me. He told me he was awake for a matter of minutes before I woke up, and that I didn’t move my body once. There are other two events, but in those times I was physically too tired that I just realized that I was in a sleep paralysis and instead of being a little bit frightened about the evil presence behind me, I just slept and woke up again normally.
I was told never to sleep it off again, but move my toes to wake up the next time it happened. My Mom also told me to avoid sleeping on my back, and so I’ve always slept facing the left side or the right side. It didn’t happen anymore, but its not always guaranteed since I remembered in the second time I experienced it (sleep paralysis #2 above), I was sleeping on my side before I dreamed I was lying on my back. I figured I may have turned once and lay on my back while I was asleep.
Now 35 y.o. I frequently have had intruder type hallucinations for at least 8 years and have had excessive daytime sleep (fatigue and exhaustion) during that time as well. I was diagnosed with idiopathic hypersomnia one year ago. With many other odd neurological and physical ailments, I have seen many doctors and had many tests.
I tested negative for MS, Lupus, rheumatology problems, heart problems, epileptic seizures and many more. MRI was clear but EEG showed slow frontal and parietal lobe brain wave activity. The only thing that seems to make sense with all of my problems and symptoms and all of the facts I have is chronic low-dose carbon monoxide poisoning for multiple years from my vehicle, and I will be getting tests run soon to help confirm or negate this.
I have had them… usually in the morning but sometimes at night. My hallucination is the same… it feels like someone is pulling the blankets off me from the foot of the bed.
I have been experiencing this for about 5 years now (I am 25). Having only lived in two different apartments in the last 5 years, both of which have had people who were sick and eventually passed away, I always assumed it was some sort of spirit still lingering and invading my dreams. I mostly experience Intruder symptoms that are accompanied with Out of body experiences.
Typically, I will feel a presence in the room with me and although 9x out of 10 I will not actually see something, I’ll always have a feeling of the presence not being good. This is paired with me falling of the bed in my dreams and/or trying to call or help and no words come out. When in fact words do come out in the dreams it is always a whisper.
The scariest part of this combo is that you feel as if there’s something rapidly approaching you and you try so hard to yell out but nothing comes out. Most times the dreams take place in the same room I am sleeping in and I sometimes feel myself (in the dream) turn on the same lamp that’s near my bed but the switch will never work.
Also, I will try to make a phone call in the dream and there will be no numbers on the phone, the phone will be dead or a strange voice picks up, etc. Up until this article, I had no idea this was what I was experiencing. Most times upon awakening, I’ll almost always say a prayer because I always assumed it was a spirit around me.
I had three hypnagogic hallucinations as a student, correlated with lack of sleep as a result of heavy academic work. One involved a cobra on my chest, another a cat leaping over my head and a third an open window with the curtains billowing in the wind and a man entering through the door, all of which lasted only a few seconds and turned out to be dreams while my eyes were closed.
However, with the exception of these frightening apparitions, I had in every other respect a good awareness of my room at night, a good awareness of the position of my body on the bed (lying on my back) and a very uncanny sense that I was actually awake lying on my bed but not sleeping. This sense that I was not actually asleep was the aspect that made these events frightening as they did not at first appear as a dream.
They were associated with sleep paralysis, possibly apnoea and strange somatic sensations such as numbness in my limbs or a feeling of my limbs becoming excessively cold. In the case of the cat nightmare, I also felt a strange confusion of thought as if something was wrong with my brain. As I was a biology student, I was perfectly aware what these events were after I had woken up but not during the episodes.
I rationalized the feelings of somatosensory numbness and mental confusion as possibly the effects of apnoea and reasoned that the first part of the brain to respond to these uncomfortable symptoms was fear centers that caused alarm and the alarm combined with the other aspects of the sleeping state led to the frightening momentary dreams.
A very interesting aspect was the perfect mental picture of the room, almost as good as when I actually opened up my eyes.
I have experienced sleep paralysis many times now. The first time I was really jet lagged and had a nap in the afternoon. I saw a little skinny man wearing a fedora crouching on the end of my bed smiling and looking at me nervously. His face had a pointy chin and a pointy long nose. His grin was really long and wide and he had sharp teeth. His hands were up near his mouth while he was crouching.
Once he saw that I could actually see him, he got scared and in fast forward motion, got up and ran out of my bedroom. I have seen him a few more times in later experiences and my brother has also seen the exact same man when he gets SP. Later on, I learnt how to control my SP and not be scared. Once I did that I would learnt to float out of my body and fly around my room.
I sometimes would fly through the walls, or out the window. These were short experiences. Sometimes they would morph and change into very lucid dreams. Dream from what I would wake up to, to only realize I am in another dream in my bed, which creeped me out. I’ve had other scary experiences of something just pulling me out of my body while having SP up into the corner of the bedroom.
I would fight as hard as I could to get away from whatever it was and suddenly would fling right back into my body and wake up with a jolt. My body felt like it was buzzing from a shock when I woke up. After that experience I have been nervous to explore and play with SP. If I get it I usually try to wait until the buzzing in my ears stop and it turns into a dream or I try to fight it and wake up.
I have suffered from all three types for around 8 years now and it still terrifies me. I also have psychosis and what I see in my psychotic break (demons, ghosts akin to that of mama and the grudge) are what I tend to see in my sleep paralysis.
I have been violently torn from my body in episodes, flung along corridors, pushed through walls, that appeared to bend and then flung into the air or pushed to the ceiling and told hideous things almost as if right in my ear like ‘you’re one of us’ or prepare, we are f***ing coming!!*
Truly nothing more terrifying and although I know and now understand what’s happening, having psychosis makes me that bit more skeptical. I wonder if there is a correlation!
I have experienced sleep paralysis my whole life, and have described my symptoms to many family practitioners, only to be met with blank stares or incredulous smirks. It was a relief to me to learn, about 10 years ago via the internet, that there’s a name for these occurrences, and I am not some freak. Early childhood, that is ages 3-12, I had recurring “unusual bodily experiences” during which I felt as though I was falling down an endless hole until I “landed” by waking. These were always “end of cycle” or middle of the night occurrences.
Ages 8-12 I also regularly experienced a mix of “intruder” and “incubus” hallucinations. It felt as though an entity had come to the side of the bed, and lay across my upper torso. I remember “pretending” I was asleep, trying to hide the fact that I was “awake” so as not to upset the entity. Eventually, I fell into a deeper sleep, no longer “aware” of any danger. There is someone in my family that speculated for years that this was actually an inappropriate visit from another family member, but I slept on the top bunk with a tall wooden railing, and there was never any evidence of this intruder being hindered or slowed by that set-up in any way. These were always “beginning of the cycle” experiences.
Ages 13 to present, I have and still occasionally experienced “Intruder” hallucinations, both “beginning and end of cycle”. These almost always feature a demonic presence, often with feelings that an evil presence is trying to take over my body, or possess me. I think this is my body’s manifestation of the struggle to wake by thinking the struggle is keeping this entity out of my body. I usually wake screaming to God, praying to Jesus to protect me, or, in one extreme case this past year, I woke standing with my wooden cross in hand, holding it out in front of me telling the perceived demon, “You can’t have me, I belong to Jesus!”.
Over the years I have experienced the sound of a large creature bounding in from the bedroom door to overtake me; I have seen a large demonic wolf-looking creature with red eyes; and I have felt the hot breath and smelt the stench of evil on at least one occasion. I take comfort in the knowledge that there is an explanation for these experiences.
Thank you for this article, as it is the first I’ve seen that attempts to explain how our brains actually create the environment that produces such authentic events.
I am 24 and have experienced this many times. Only two of those instances were the intruder category, but did not feel evil per se. I just felt fearful and saw/heard something approaching. In my mind I thought it was a burglar both times, but could not move. The trick is to wiggle your toes and blink vigorously. But this morning when I woke up in my boyfriend’s bed, I felt, and heard an animal jumping around on the bed.
(He does not have pets.) But in my paralysis, this animal was nipping at my face and jumping on me and around me. I felt its fur on my cheek, it felt so real. I heard it breathing. This was the only instance I did not feel fear with my paralysis though. I just felt anxiety. But I wiggled my toes, my body came back to life. And when I gained the strength to sit up, I was the only one there. Freaky stuff.
I have experienced Intruder Episodes my whole life, the earliest memory I have is around 8 years old. They are not frequent, but I have had at least 8 or so that I can remember and I am now 59 years old. One interesting thing is that I experienced uncontrollable shaking while unable to physically move – this was very frightening to me.
I could not find a date on this article, other than 2015. So I don’t spend the next 47 minutes on autopilot typing out my experiences relating to this general issue, I’ll compact my statement to just saying that, yes, I have experienced everything described in this article at least once (the actual number probably being closer to way well over ten). I’m just looking for people who’ve dealt with this before, preferably longer than the six years I have.
I’ve experienced this multiple times a week starting when I was ten or younger. I’m 31 now and still a few times a week.
Woah. We’re the same. I experienced sleep paralysis few times a week til now. It all started when I was 17 and I’m now 20. I thought I was alone. :'(