Sleep Paralysis; You’re healthy, but often fall asleep and wake up, and suddenly without warning, you’re unable to move. Your body becomes paralyzed as if an unseen weight is upon you.
Then you began hearing voices and having terrifying hallucinations. You collapse like a house of cards for no apparent reason or suddenly lose strength in your hands. You begin to wonder if you are mentally ill or under demonic attack. This may last for only seconds or a few minutes. Then it disappears and you are able to move again.
Unlike the rare case of SUNDS that was responsible for a young boy dying in his dreams and inspiring A Nightmare on Elm Street, this sleep disorder is more common and classified as Parasomnia. This describes a typical episode of Sleep Paralysis or Old Hag’s Syndrome.
Sleep Paralysis occurs when the line between sleep and wakefulness is blurred. Normally your brain paralyzes many of your muscles during the stage of rapid eye movement sleep or REM sleep. This paralysis is called “atonia”. You may experience sleep paralysis if atonia lingers as you wake up from REM sleep; it also may occur if you transition quickly from wakefulness into REM sleep.
People with sleep paralysis will, while performing normal day-to-day activities, suddenly and involuntarily lapse into sleep lasting from a very few minutes to episodes of up to 15 minutes. The attacks can come virtually anytime; during a lecture, while carrying on a conversation, or while driving an automobile.
Other symptoms often include sudden muscle weakness, and frightening hallucinations. You may imagine that you see or hear something; you even may think that someone else or something is in the room with you.
The original definition of sleep paralysis was codified by Samuel Johnson in his A Dictionary of the English Language as “nightmare”, a term that evolved into our modern definition. Such sleep paralysis was widely considered the work of demons, and more specifically incubi, which were thought to sit on the chests of sleepers.
Folklores describe sleep paralysis as being caused by a mare, a supernatural creature related to incubi and succubi. The mare is a damned woman, who is cursed and her body is carried mysteriously during sleep and without her noticing. In this state, she visits villagers to sit on their rib cages while they are asleep, causing them to experience nightmares.
The victim usually wakes with a feeling of terror, has difficulty breathing because of a perceived heavy invisible weight on his or her chest, and is unable to move i.e., experiences sleep paralysis. This nightmare experience is described as being “hag-ridden” in the Gullah lore.
Across cultures the strange sensation of sleep paralysis has evoked some vivid descriptions. In 1664 a Dutch physician published a case history of a woman with sleep paralysis. “’The devil lay upon her and held her down,” he wrote.
Old Hag is the name given to a supernatural creature, used to explain the phenomenon of sleep paralysis.
A 2015 movie titled Nightmare is a great source for further research into the mystery of sleep paralysis.