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Sleep paralysis: The devil, the ghost & the Old Hag

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  • Parasomnias

By Thomas Heffron  |  Jul 28, 2009
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You’re waking up or falling asleep, and suddenly you’re unable to move. Your body becomes paralyzed as if an unseen weight is upon you.

You may be unable to move your arms or legs, body and head. You can breathe and think, but you may be unable to speak.

The paralysis may last for only seconds or a few minutes. Then it disappears and you are able to move again.

This describes a typical episode of sleep paralysis. It is a common sleep disorder that is classified as a “parasomnia.” Episodes can cause you to feel intense anxiety.

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.

Sleep paralysis may occur together with 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.

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.

In Japan sleep paralysis is called “kanashibari.” The term is rooted in Buddhism; long ago it was believed that Buddhist monks could use magic to paralyze others.

In Newfoundland sleep paralysis has been called an attack of “Old Hag.” In China it has been labeled “ghost oppression.” A new study reports that in Mexico people may say that sleep paralysis feels like “a dead body climbed on top of me.”

Sleep deprivation may trigger an episode of sleep paralysis. Other related factors may include stress and sleep related leg cramps.

Sleep paralysis tends to be only a mild problem; there are no medical complications. But it also can be one symptom of narcolepsy.

Learn more about parasomnias.

12 Comments

  1. 1 Darci Johns 08 Aug
    I am 52 and my brother is 47, he moved into a home that was over 100 years old, and started experiencing these horrific feelings of "something" crawling up his body, from the legs up, all the while unable to move his body AT ALL, except for his eyes. He could see the black figure with red eyes and it began choking him with it's very large arms and hands!!  Terrified and unsure what to do the first 2 times, he then began praying to the Virgin Mary, saying the Rosary, and the Lords Prayer. He has since sold that house and moved to another city, but they still happen but using his Prayer, this "Evil Thing" will subside, but it does follow him within the NEW home, he can FEEL it!!  I have been staying here for a week, and had forgotten about the episodes that he shared with me. BUT, last night, I fell asleep in his room, my cell phone beside me, I woke up, he was in my room sleeping so I just went back to where I was and lay down to try to return to my slumber...I WAS WIDE AWAKE, laying on my left side and this feeling of COMPLETE FEAR, was running from the inside of my body out, in waves!!  I tried to shake it, but the more that i did that, the less control that I started having over my movement!! I was trying to text or call my niece (in the next room) but soon I couldn't hold my phone, I was trying to scream but NOT ONE sound would come out of my mouth!! I SOON remembered my brothers encounters, and could faintly whisper "GIT" and began the Lords Prayer. The heavy feeling dissipated, (It was probably a 30 minute episode) I was still afraid & trembling but with the Grace of God, easily able to fall asleep. I remember every second of that frightening event!!!  I have been up for 5 hours, my brother at work & niece asleep...HAVE BEEN SITTING OUTSIDE!!!  I do not know how to rest assured that this will NEVER happen to me AGAIN!!!  Any Suggestions???!!!
  2. 2 Afia 14 Jul
    I ve been exepriencing odd events since I was only 7... One whole month very year would have been like hell since being only a child. I always felt the presence of someone right next to my bed but the most horrifying moment was when I used to wake up at 5 o clock due to prayer time then went back to bed... in that moment I d feel someone coming to my room an evil prensence which would bother me and would nt let me sleep by unabling my body from moving I could nt even scream... and then a sickening pain like electricity would affect me starting from the brain to body muscles it was as if someone was hitting me by tying me down also he would tried to have sexual activities... the pain was every time unbearable. Then I would have tried to hit the presence with my leg or arm  to make him go .... it was a very very tall figure entirely black and red eyes... if someone would help me giving me more info about these events Id appreciate it! :)
  3. 3 Jake 03 Jul
    I had sleep paralysis for about 4 years through high school. I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to move or make any noise.  I would see the silhouette of a woman in the door way.  Then by my bed.  Then on my chest.  She would sit there, shaking me and it felt like she was trying to choke me.  Then it would end.  It happened 3-4 times a week for 4 years...  It stopped when I met my wife and she began sleeping in my bed. 
  4. 4 Riitta 29 Jun
    I had these demon attaces for years and got rid of them by shouting in mind in dream that i believe in Jesus Christ victory. And the demon that i saw left and it was defeted at once. And it hatet me. But i had fun because i noticed that i had full controll with these words. 

    Finally it left for for ever. I got it disturping because i had something occultish things in my life.
  5. 5 Donna Scott 10 Jun
    If this happens once can it happen again I thought I was crazy till I saw the movie called dead awake and looked this up I have been threw this once before can it happen again can it happen on small children 
  6. 6 Melisa 15 May
    For myself...at the verry young age of  5,maby younger 
    But from what I remember it began when I experienced a
    High fever do to a ear infection....my mother had put me dowen to sleep...I was on the couch so her room wasn't so far....as I began to fall asleep I began to feel tinggelling 
    On my head and arm's,then it felt like all my hair was gone,and felt like tiny needels were growing from my scalp...as I was trying to touch my head,my arms were unable to move followed by a feeling that my arms were so
    Skinny,like twigs that would break if I tryed to move....I was
    Completely awake...I was trying to scream,but no sound would come out...at the same time this was happening,I can hear a women hag like,screaming at me saying....
    IM GOING TO GET YOU....over,and over...she was laughing the most evil cackle...I cold hear myself in my mind...screaming for my mother...MOM!!...MOM!..AS this
    Hag was mocking me!...the more I would move the louder
    The screaming would become .I didn't not feel the choking as other's would,but it was just the same as horrifying!
    The feelings I would experience on my body are not explainable...for some reson I was to embarest to tell anyone...this would happen to me for at least twice a month until the age of 17,that's when I decided to speak to my doctor...I told him the same story I had just now..he says it was hallucinations duo to a high fever.....but I wasn't sick all thouse year's....in 30 years old and just found out a few weeks back about old hag syndrome...
    And I was baffled!!has this been what was happening all these years?
  7. 7 Ankita Mishra 09 May
    Happened last night. Have been experiencing this from quite a young age. And I am 23 now. The experiences have been staying for longer duration these days, like for around 45 mins. It's an extremely painful struggle. Earlier it was for around 15 mins at max and not as frequent as it is these days. 
    I don't feel any dead weight on me, earlier i used to feel someone else's presence in the room but that isn't there anymore either. I just feel helplessly immobile.  Sometimes i want to give in to the situation and stop struggling but after a few seconds my body involuntarily fights back coz it feels like i am sinking into another portal and that i will die. Someday i will entirely give in and see what happens. I guess the body will just wake itself up on its own. It's just the brain immobilizing the muscles during sleep so that we do not act out our dreams and somewhere there occurs a slight lapse of synchronization between the mind and body when we wake up.
  8. 8 Phil Legault 17 Apr
    I have experienced this from a very young age, does not matter what position I sleep in. I'm 59, just happened last night.
  9. 9 Blake Cooper 08 Feb
    i had this happen several times from the time i was about 14. its one of the scariest feelings you can imagine. i use to hallucinate also. There is nothing quite like it.
  10. 10 Jason 27 Jan
    I used to suffer from it. Then I stopped sleeping on my back, and it stopped. It is a horrifying event, accompanied by a feeling of absolute terror, at least for me. If you suffer from it, stop sleeping on your back!
  11. 11 Tom Herrera 04 Dec
    happening to me since i was 3 or 4 yrs old.... I'm 32 now.
  12. 12 Aliya Shahum 06 Apr
    Its so sad to know people out there have such horrible hallucinations and cant sleep ever night, we should do something about it!

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