Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon that occurs during transitory phases of sleep (i.e. upon falling asleep OR upon waking). It is characterized by the body being rendered immobile as a result of REM-sleep, with full or semi-conscious awareness. During this time, a person may experience hallucinations such as: sensing the presence of an evil entity, feeling as if they are being attacked, or feel as if they are detached from their physical body.
For many people, the experience of sleep paralysis is fear-inducing and highly distressful. Several common causes of sleep paralysis include: poor sleep quality, insufficient sleep quantity (i.e. deprivation), circadian rhythm abnormalities, or sleep disorders (e.g. narcolepsy). While it is estimated that only between 6% and 7% of the population experience sleep paralysis, these episodes can be terrifying.
Imagine your worst nightmares overlapping with conscious perception. You believe that you’re being attacked by an intruder or suffocated by a demon. You’re semi-conscious as a result of bursts of beta waves being generated by the brain, along with excessive alpha waves. Although you may be perceiving that a demon is trying to suffocate you, the REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep has your voluntary muscles in a state of “atonia.”
This state of atonia prevents you from moving your arms, kicking your legs, or even opening your mouth to yell for help. During this time, people have reported a variety of experiences ranging from alien abductions to demonic possessions to witches attempting to cast a spell on them. Although sleep paralysis considered harmless, an episode may make for an interesting story.
3 Sleep Paralysis Stories
Below is a list of various sleep paralysis stories. Some of these stories were selected from case reports documented in the NCBI, while others were stories submitted online. Although they may not have every specific detail, they’ll give you a good idea as to what some people are capable of experiencing during these episodes. In most cases, the episodes of sleep paralysis resolve when sleep hygiene improves.
1. The Murderous Woman
In one documented case, a 35-year old married man enlisted the help of an addiction center. He had been drinking alcohol for over a decade, was tolerant to its effect, and had a difficult time coping with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. He had a history with a couple periods of abstinence from alcohol, but for the most part was a heavy drinker.
The man was relapsing, and was given a psychiatric referral to the addiction center. He had a comorbid history of panic attacks, which were reported as increasing in severity and frequency throughout the past several years. The man elaborated about how the panic attack symptoms started occurring while he was sleep.
Professionals then realized that he had experienced recurrent bouts of sleep paralysis. His specific case involved seeing an unknown, mysterious woman standing aside his bed, and threatening to murder him. In his experience, he thought that she was attempting to restrain his muscles (i.e. render him immobile), while choking him.
At this point during his sleep paralysis episodes, he would be cognizant of her presence, but was unable to move. He described himself as being completely powerless to overcome her attempts to murder him. As he tried to move his arms and legs or shout for help, he realized that there was nothing he could do – which left him in a state of panic; hence him describing “panic attacks” during his sleep.
It was reported that these sleep paralysis hallucinations of the mysterious woman would persist for several minutes (an estimated 2 to 5 minutes), and left the man completely distraught. These sleep paralysis episodes had begun approximately 8 years before the man reported them, and generally occurred 2 to 3 times per year. Within the year of being admitted for psychiatric help, the man began experiencing an increase in these episodes at a rate of 2 per week.
This left the man in a state of full-blown panic with heart palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia. He also believed that something “bad was going to happen” to him. His sleep paralysis hallucination of the murderous woman was what contributed to his relapse of chronic drinking. With proper medical intervention and guidance, he was able to overcome his case of sleep paralysis.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921144/
2. Visual Imagery with Strange Sensations
A second documented report of a sleep paralysis story involved a 22 year old woman who experienced bouts of paralysis spanning over 2 years. Her sleep paralysis began as a result of a sustained car accident. Although she didn’t experience any head trauma, she did endure the injury of a broken ankle.
It should be thought that the woman also experienced significant psychological distress as a result of the accident. She recalled the accident as being “intensely terrifying” and post-accident, she began having sleep problems. The sleep problems likely consisted of sleep deprivation, insomnia, and inability to effectively transition through sleep cycles as a result of psychological stress.
As she recovered from her accident, she began to notice sleep paralysis episodes, characterized by perceived fear or sensed presence (intruder hallucinations) and an inability to breathe (incubus hallucinations). On occasion, she would experience both auditory and visual hallucinations that involved: “feeling a foreign presence,” “seeing shadows,” or “hearing footsteps.” In her case, most episodes experienced occurred at random times throughout the night – not adhering to any specific pattern.
She claimed that they began occurring randomly such as on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly basis. Eventually they started increasing in frequency – she claimed to have experienced multiple episodes per night or even during daytime naps. The strange imagery she experienced was disturbing, and she avoided seeking professional help because she didn’t want to be thought of as having a mental illness (e.g. psychosis).
Her case was diagnosed as “recurrent isolated sleep paralysis” (RISP), a subtype that affects only 3% of all sleep paralysis sufferers. She was able to fully overcome her sleep paralysis episodes by increasing her sleep duration to 8.5 hours per night and maintaining a sleep diary.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2637172/
3. The Incubus
A third documented report of sleep paralysis involved a 53 year old woman believing that the devil was attacking her. She had complained of occasional headaches and inflammation of her breasts, with muscle soreness throughout the day. As soon as she would drift to sleep, she believed that the devil was lying on top of her, attempting to restrain her and choke her.
This same woman also experienced episodes in which she was being choked by a dog or thief. She made numerous attempts to remove the devil, dog, and/or thief from her breast area, but wasn’t able to move. She claimed that she was unable to speak and had a difficult time breathing.
Only on occasion was she able to consciously awaken herself during her distressing episodes of sleep paralysis. It was extremely challenging for her to wake herself up during the sleep paralysis episodes. During the occasions in which she was able to wake up, she claimed that she had to “sit up” straight in order to catch her breath.
In certain cases, she would experience the same episode of paralysis after she woke up. In other words, the devil would be back to sitting on her breasts, restricting her breathing, and attempting to suffocate her. This was one of the earliest cases of sleep paralysis in which “incubus” hallucinations were documented. She was medically advised to drink less, exercise and sleep moderately, and be cautious of sleeping on her back.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18691361
Common Themes of Sleep Paralysis Stories
Most episodes of sleep paralysis are characterized by fear and powerlessness, with secondary hallucinatory symptoms such as that of a demon, an evil person, or alien is in the same room. In other recurrent cases, some individuals are able to overcome the “fear” and end up having a positive, yet unusual sensory experiences.
- Aliens: A common hallucination during sleep paralysis episodes is that of aliens. Some people may awaken, claiming that they were visited by aliens in their sleep. Others claim that they were being strangled by aliens and/or abducted. In the most extreme cases, some people report that aliens showed them their hybrid offspring (half alien, half human) from sexual encounters.
- Bizarre sensory experiences: A common theme of sleep paralysis is bizarre sensory experiences such as: out-of-body experiences, remote viewing, feeling as if you’re flying or floating, etc. People that report bizarre sensory experiences such as exiting their body generally have less fear and more positive emotion associated with their experience.
- Body pressure: Another major theme is that of pressure on some part of the body. In most cases, the pressure is concentrated on the mid to upper chest, which is thought to restrict the person’s ability to breathe. This is why many sufferers claim that a demon or witch had been sitting on their chest in attempt to suffocate them. The pressure may occur on the neck and in other areas as well.
- Demons: Many people report that they’ve been visited by demons and/or the devil during their sleep. Due to the fact that they are semi-conscious, the fear centers of the brain are activated, and REM (rapid-eye movement) creates dream-like images, demons may be a common projection. In most cases, people report that the demon is planning something evil and/or attempting to kill them in their sleep. (Read: “Sleep Paralysis Demons & Demonic Attacks” for more information).
- Evil entities: Other evil entities that people report include ghosts, animals, witches, spirits, and sometimes other people. In most cases these entities are plotting to do something that will harm the person sleeping.
- Fear: Sleep paralysis can be a terrifying experience, one that most people do not wish to repeat. Although fear is the predominant emotion felt during sleep paralysis, especially among novices, those who experience recurrent bouts tend to become less fearful of the episodes. The fear is thought to be a result of an overactive amygdala (specifically the amygdaloid complex) and anterior cingulate.
- Hallucinations: The most common hallucinations tend to be auditory and visual such as hearing voices or sounds and/or seeing objects or entities. In other cases, people may report tactile hallucinations such as being touched or physically hit during the experience. In rare reports have people reported olfactory hallucinations, claiming to have smelled rotten flesh or other unbecoming smells.
- Physical pain: Another theme of sleep paralysis stories may be that of physical pain. Some people claim to have been tortured during these episodes and that they feel pain the entire next day. In some cases the pain that is reported is a result of a previously sustained injury. In other cases, the pain is felt during the sleep paralysis episode, but upon waking, the individual feels no pain.
- Powerlessness: The most common theme of sleep paralysis stories is that of immobility, incapability of speech, and the belief that we are completely powerless. Although we feel powerless while we are stuck in a state of muscular atonia (or lack of voluntary muscle control) as a result of REM, there are ways to stop sleep paralysis from occurring in the future.
- Suffocation: In numerous cases, people believe they are being suffocated – whether it be naturally or by a third party (e.g. a demon). This perceived suffocation is a result of the shallow breathing that occurs during REM sleep. We become semi-conscious, fearful, and realize we don’t have conscious control over our breathing and believe that we will suffocate.
My Sleep Paralysis Story
I’ve experienced one episode of sleep paralysis in my entire lifetime – ironically it happens to be within the past year. I went to bed fairly late, and had been feeling somewhat anxious and paranoid prior to falling asleep as a result of being home alone. Although I don’t have much social contact throughout the day, I was in touch with a friend via the phone and had a short conversation.
I had been a little bit stressed with work, and trying to complete tasks before I drifted off to sleep. I got myself ready for bed as usual: brushing teeth, drinking some water, and adjusting my pillows. I must’ve slept pretty deep for most of the night, because I couldn’t recall any crazy dreams. However, at some point in the morning, I experienced an isolated episode of sleep paralysis.
I was semi-conscious, in a dream-like state, and thought that I was either suffocating or in the process of dying. As I attempted to take a deep breath, I was met with resistance – it seemed as if I couldn’t get any air in my lungs and as if I was on the verge of suffocation. During this time I was semi-conscious and trying to move my arms, legs, and scream for help.
There was nothing I could do, and I panicked – thinking I was about to die. At some point during my panic, I lost consciousness and fell back asleep. I woke up later in the morning recalling the fact that I thought I died (of suffocation in my sleep and/or a heart attack) and was inevitably about to pass through another dimension and/or portal. Later I awoke thinking that maybe it “wasn’t my time” to pass and that there was some divine intervention.
Now I know that my experience was just a short, isolated episode of sleep paralysis. Unfortunately for those who were hoping that I was attacked by a demon and/or molested by aliens – these things didn’t happen. I’d describe my experience as an “Intruder” or “Incubus” hallucinatory subtype, with intense panic, but no auditory or visual hallucinations.
Do you have a sleep paralysis story to share?
If you or someone you know has experienced sleep paralysis, feel free to submit your story in the comments section below. Most people that experience sleep paralysis, particularly cases with extreme hallucinations are unlikely to report them to medical professionals for fear of being diagnosed as mentally ill. A skilled professional with an understanding of sleep paralysis should be able to distinguish hallucinatory experiences associated with paralysis from mental illness.
Due to the unique nature of individual brain chemistry, REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep, and life experiences – many sleep paralysis stories differ. While there may be common hallucinatory themes such as a demon, a witch, or an evil entity – the precise details including: visuals, sounds, and durations are often different. If you want to share your story in the comments, be sure to provide descriptive details about your episode.
You may want to elaborate as to whether you have multiple, distinct sleep paralysis stories or you experience the same, recurrent theme. Also mention whether you were able to pinpoint the specific cause of your sleep paralysis and whether you were able to make lifestyle changes (e.g. get more sleep, keep a sleep journal, etc.) to correct the problem.