Sleep Paralysis is a sleeping disorder often accompanied by the most vivid of nightmares. In nearly every culture around the planet, these nightmares are found in folklore. Known to those in China as “Ghost Oppression, in Japan as ‘kanashibar’ (literally meaning bound of fastened in Metal, in Newfoundland as “The Old Hag”, and in Mexico as the phrase “a dead body climbed on top of me.” Sleep paralysis nightmares are always characterized as the same, one lays awake, unable to move and is partially aware of their immediate surroundings but they are aware of another presence in the room.
Sleep paralysis was first identified by Wier Mitchell in 1876. Of it, Mitchell stated, “The subject awakes to consciousness of his environment but is incapable of moving a muscle; lying to all appearance still asleep. He is really engaged in a struggle for movement fraught with acute mental distress; could he but manage to stir, the spell would vanish instantly.”
Sleep paralysis is closely linked with REM sleep, which is the period of time when your brain dreams the most. During REM sleep, your brain is unconscious while the body is partially paralyzed to prevent one from carrying out the actions of one’s dreams. However, in Sleep Paralysis nightmares, two key REM sleep components are present, but you remain conscious. It is during these times, that one experiences hallucinations that often carry a dark undertone.
I myself, suffer from sleep paralysis frequently and the dreams are the most vivid of any I’ve ever had. One evening, I was sleeping and my arm was dangling over the edge of the bed, I suddenly became aware that I could not move. The next thing I knew I saw a wolf right in front of me, tearing and biting at my arm, threatening to rip it off. I struggled against my frozen body, pulling with all my strength, but it was several minutes before I could actually move and sit up. Until then, my dream state mixed with my real world surroundings were indistinguishable.
Another night, after watching the show Hannibal, I woke up in the middle of the night paralyzed. At the foot of my bed, the crazy scary elk from the show stood, its hot breath exhaling on my face. I remember trying to jump up, trying to run, but I was helpless as the large beast climbed up onto my bed. As the elk stood on my chest, his black eyes burned in the darkness. Minutes passed before I was able to finally move my fingers and end the dream.
The latest incident came last night and it was without a doubt the longest I’ve ever been trapped in this state and incidentally, the most terrifying. In my dream, I awoke and could see the basement around me. I could sense a presence to my left, just outside of eye sight, that clutched at my arm, pinning it to my back. In the corner stood a demon, hideous and black, with blue eyes that blazed with electricity. To my horror, in my dream I could hear my son coming down the stairs. I watched as he stopped and ran back up the stairs to hide from the Monster.
The Demon grinned at me and I watched helplessly as it followed after my son. I struggled against the paralysis, willing my limbs to move. But I could do nothing. I listened as the scream began to echo down the stairs. I continued to struggle against my immobile body, and eventually remembered that most people who struggle with sleep paralysis find that it is easiest to break the hold by concentrating on their fingers.
Eventually, I was able to free myself from it and ran up my stairs. As I ran, the dream proponents faded and I found my daughter crying. She had simply woken up for a diaper change.
I’m not really sure why I experience sleep paralysis on a regular basis, but it is among one of the more weird para-somnia’s that I deal with.