Sleep Paralysis

Sleep Paralysis and Paranormal Phenomena

 The History of the term "Sleep Paralysis":

The original definition of sleep paralysis in A Dictionary of the English Language, is defined as nightmare, a term that evolved into our modern definition. Such sleep paralysis was widely considered to be the work of demons or incubi, which were thought to sit on the chests of sleepers. In Old English, the name for these beings was mare or mære (from the German *marōn, or Old Norse, mara), hence comes the mare part in nightmare, which, I imagine,  is all probably more than you needed or wanted to know.

Various forms of magic and possession were also advanced as causes of  SP. In nineteenth century Europe,  diet was thought to be responsible. For example, in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, he attributes the ghost he sees to "... an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato..."

The Modern Definition

Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which people, either when falling asleep or waking up, experience an inability to move. It is a transition state between waking and sleeping characterized by complete muscle weakness. It can occur upon falling asleep or upon awakening, and it is often associated with terrifying visions, often of
1. an intruder in the room
2. an incubus or succubus
3. out of body experiences or astral projection hallucinations.

The person is unable to react due to paralysis. Sleep paralysis is believed to be a result of disrupted REM sleep. Apparently, the body begins to waken before the mind is ready. The mind puts the body into a state of paralysis in order to prevent the person from acting out their dreams in reality. Imagine if you were able to jump out of your window to "fly" or strangle your cat. It's a safety mechanism of the brain that, for the most part, functions very effectively most of the time. In sleep paralysis, the body remains in the state of paralysis longer than the mind is asleep. The mind begins to wake up and become conscious before the body can move. This "overlap" in states is what causes the panic attacks and hallucinations during this state, which can last anywhere from less than one minute to an hour or more.

Possible Causes

The following circumstances may lead to an increased risk of sleep paralysis:

 1. Insomnia 
2. sleep deprivation 
3. an erratic sleep schedule  
4. sleeping face up (sleeping in the supine position may cause the soft palate to collapse and obstruct the airway). 
5. stress 
6. overuse of stimulants 
7.physical fatigue 
8. an erratic sleep schedule 
9. the use of certain medications that are used to treat ADHD and 
10. a genetic predisposition.

 Three common types of hallucinations during SP:

There are three types of hallucinations experienced during SP.
1. the intruder
2. the incubus or sucubus
3. astral projection or out of body experiences.

The Intruder
1. The intruder experience is a feeling that someone has entered the room and is an imminent threat or danger to the person. This may explain many people believing that an "alien" or "ghost" has entered the room to abduct or harm them. As the paralysis continues the mind goes into a state of high alert to danger, a fight or flight mode, with an ever increasing panic, which can result in hallucinations and an ever increasing paranoia and fear. A lack of understanding of what is going on makes it feel real and terrifying in the extreme. The person feels absolutely defenseless and vulnerable to attack.

2. Incubus/Succubus experience: The person experiences a pressure on the chest, breathing difficulties, and pain, with an inability to take a deep breath, resulting in a fear that they are suffocating or being strangled, possibly by an invisible entity which wants to invade them or sexually assault them.This symptom is consistent with many stories from many different cultures of being sat on, a weight on the chest, suffocation or strangulation, experiences of being held down by an unseen force in many paranormal stories throughout history and cultures.

Out of Body
3. Out of body experiences, or unusual bodily experiences, consisting of floating/flying sensations, out-of-body experiences, and feelings of bliss, is related to physically impossible experiences related to body position, orientation, and perceived movement during paralysis.

Hallucinations while falling asleep or while waking up accompanying sleep paralysis are often cited as sources of accounts of supernatural night assaults and paranormal experiences. Descriptions of such experiences are remarkably consistent across time and cultures and consistent also with our understanding of REM states.
Minor changes in lifestyle are very effective in preventing sleep paralysis.
1. Maintain a regular sleep schedule
2. Observe good sleep hygiene, meaning improve your daily sleep habits
3.reduce stress
4. reduce intake of stimulants
5. increase regular exercise and improve diet.
Recommendations to improve sleep quality include:
  • 7–9 hours of sleep each day.
  • Avoiding heavy meals, alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants before sleep.
  • Sleep in an environment that is dark, comfortable, quiet, and cool to help in falling asleep quickly and staying asleep.
  • Avoiding TV beds and other media-furniture.
  • Exercise regularly. 
Scientists have had little to say about these visions during SP until recently.  Current cognitive psychology research suggests that SP triggers a threat-awareness scan in the brain known as the vigilance system. This process is largely unconscious and normally is responsible for identifying possible threats and making decisions about our safety.  But in SP our eyes are open and we are projecting our dreams into physical space.  The combination of sensing and imagining makes the system go haywire, causing the vigilance system to stay activated because it cannot clarify exactly what the threat is. “Threat!”  This, in turn, makes our fear intensify because a part of the brain responsible for intense emotions, the amygdala, is already heightened in this dream state.  So we project images of our worst fears into the room, intensifying our fear even further as the Intruder/Incubus/out of body experience takes form.

We create the nightmare without realizing it. 

Current psychologists and psychiatrists tend to relate sleep paralysis visions and experiences with a symptom of schizophrenia, so be careful who you share your SP experience with. You could find yourself under the care of a doctor in a padded room.

Does all of this mean that all people who experience the presence of aliens, ghosts and apparitions, incubus, or invisible intruders are under SP hallucinations? No. I don't think so. But I think that paranormal investigators need to reexamine the stories carefully. If the experiences reported by clients have these things in common, if they happen right before or after falling asleep, involve the experience of being physically paralyzed, and the person has other sleep related problems or a genetic disposition to SP, you are probably hearing a story about SP. If the story just doesn't fit with the average SP experience then perhaps it is not related to SP, but could be paranormal in origin. Are ghosts, incubus and out of body experiences ever real? In my opinion, yes, absolutely.

Here is what drives me nuts. I read the stories posted in social media and on paranormal group websites. I read the stories in books. They tell a story of SP experiences, but they assume that they are REAL GHOSTS, REAL INCUBUS, REAL OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCES. 


To me, this is exactly the same phenomena  related by paranormal investigators as the orb phenomena. We all know now that orbs are, for the  most part, not paranormal. Even when they cannot be explained as dust, bugs or water vapor, they may be harmless and normal balls of energy in the atmosphere. Not paranormal. Not ghosts or demons. But, as you all know, para-morons keep talking about orbs, sharing photographs of orbs, assuming orbs are paranormal in nature, when we know that they are not. It's like a superstition that just won't die no matter how much science is behind it; stubborn stupidity. 

The same with SP. I learned the opposite of what I previously believed. I thought that SP was rare. I found out that it is much more common than I knew and most people realize. It's a very common experience. Almost everyone experiences it once in their lives. Why? Because we all sleep, we all dream and, at times, our bodies fail us and we mess up. 

So, next time you hear a story about someone seeing a ghost while waking or just before falling asleep, remember to ask all of the right questions before assuming it is real and not a hallucination  from SP. 

Source: Facts, information and definitions on sleep paralysis from Wikipedia


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