Episode 53: Riding the Witch:

Picture this, it’s been a really long day. You are exhausted and finally manage to drag yourself into your bed for some much needed sleep. You’re so tired that you have no problems falling asleep. Usually you sleep right through the night with no issues whatsoever, and you expect tonight will be no different, in fact, you don’t give it a second thought. But tonight is different, way different. You wake up in the middle of the night, and in the darkness of your room, you are suddenly aware that you cannot move your body, only your eyes. And worse, you become aware of a presence in the darkness, watching you – like a predator watches their prey.

Fear suddenly grips you when you instantly become aware of a weight on your chest, pressing you down in your bed. But you are helpless to do anything. Your whole body is paralysed but your eyes are straining to see in the dark. Straining to see what is holding you down. You can’t even call for help, even though your partner is right next to you, sleeping peacefully – or you have family / flatmates sleeping nearby. You can’t see what or who is pressing on your body, your chest. It’s too dark, but you can feel the presence in your room. Something very malignant and frightening. And worse you can hear a raspy breathing sound and you can smell a repugnant odour. You strain to free yourself of whatever is holding you captive, you scream for help, but no one can hear you. No one knows the utter terror you are experiencing, because…. no sound escapes your lips.

After what feels like forever you can finally wiggle your little finger and whatever was holding you down vanishes as quickly as it appeared. You are now wide awake and laying there in absolute terror and utterly exhausted. After a couple of minutes, the feeling of panic passes and you are able to get up out of bed and turn your light on, wondering what on earth just happened to you. Sleep eludes you for the rest of the night.

Riding the Witch, otherwise known as the Old Hag Syndrome, Night Terrors, or you may know it by the more modern term of sleep paralysis, is a very terrifying, very real experience. One where people all describe horrific experiences of waking and being unable to move. Sometimes they smell things, see beings, feel a very malevolent presence, or feel as though they are being choked. Almost all feel as though they are being held down, many with pressure on their chests.

In this episode we are going to delve into the shadowy realms of the Night Terrors…. The question is; are you willing to walking with me into this part of the shadowlands and see what awaits us there? Then let’s begin….

Folklore around the world has for centuries linked the symptoms of sleep paralysis with visits from supernatural creatures and this particular experience goes by many different names in different countries Wikipedia gives a pretty exhaustive list. Some of which are: In Arab cultures she is known as Ja-thoom. In Brazil, the Pisadeira, while closer to NZ, in Fiji the experience is known as Kana Tevore.  In Turkey it’s known as Karabasan. In China, Mèng yan. In Nigeria, Ogun Oru. In Scandinavia she is Mare – from which the word nightmare comes into existence. Whilst in Iceland, Greece and Cyprus, she is called Mara and Mora respectively. In Sardina, she is called Ammuttadori.

A brief written history of sleep paralysis

So long as there has been a written history or folklore around the world, there have been stories and descriptions of sleep paralysis. Very often in these stories the descriptions of sleep paralysis have been linked to visits from supernatural, otherworldly beings, such as witches, ghosts, jinn, genies and supernatural sexual entities called incubus and succubus – however, in this episode we are not focusing on the incubus and succubus, which is another episode coming up next season.

During these episodes they all describe the really scary, terrifying even – experience of being not able to move upon waking. Of sensing and sometimes seeing beings, an old hag in particular. They describe feelings of being choked, or held down, or feeling as though they have a tremendous pressure, or someone sitting on their chest.

My sleep paralysis experience

 I personally have experienced sleep paralysis twice in my life. The first time was a classic old hag experience. The both times were when I was in my early twenties. I was staying over at my boyfriend’s parents home. So of course we were in separate rooms (this was over forty years ago). I was unfamiliar with the space. It was the first time I had actually stayed there and I was dealing with some post traumatic stress at the time – but I didn’t realise this until many years later.

 I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night with difficulty breathing and feeling the weight of somebody sitting on my chest. A literal somebody sitting on my chest. I quickly realised I couldn’t move my body. I was terrified. The only thing I was able to do was open my eyes, and to my horror there was a very wicked, nasty looking woman sitting on my chest, well more sort of crouched on it looking right into my eyes. Stringy hair, crooked nose, missing teeth. And the ones she had were very sharp look. Smelt really bad. Inside I was screaming my head off, but only a whimper was escaping my lips. I was screaming for help, terrified. She just sat on my chest laughing at my terror and discomfort. I cannot remember how long the episode lasted for, or how it ended. I do remember feeling utterly exhausted and drenched in sweat from the experience. I didn’t really sleep for the rest of the night. I was just too scared. It actually took me days before I was able to go to sleep properly without worrying I would see her again.

In 2015, an article in the journal of the Royal Society of Medicine stated: “The first clinical description of sleep paralysis was published in 1664 in a Dutch physician’s case histories1, where it was referred to as, ‘Incubus or the Night-Mare [sic]’. This physician gives a very good description of this patient’s experience. He states:

“…in the night time, when she was composing her self [sic] to sleep, sometimes she believed the devil lay upon her and held her down, sometimes that she was choaked [sic] by a great dog or thief lying upon her breast, so that she could hardly speak or breath, and when she endeavoured to throw off the burthen, she was not able to stir her members. And while she was in that strife, sometimes with great difficulty she awoke of her self [sic], sometimes her husband hearing her make a doleful inarticular [sic] voice

 The article also stated that in 1977, it was discovered more than 100 previously healthy people, mostly men whose ages averaged at 33 years old and who were from various South East Asian communities, had died mysteriously in their sleep. The individuals affected were dying at a rate of ninety-two out of one hundred thousand people, from Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS). Despite extensive medical research and testing no underlying cause was ever found. The community most severely affected was immigrant Laotian Hmong men.2

I remember reading about this at the time it was happening and being utterly fascinated by it, saddened for the families of the victims, but fascinated at how this could possibly have occurred.

One particular study that was done on these deaths, observed a link between sleep paralysis in this particular group – which was roughly two – four times higher that of the general population that these people belonged to. One explanation by the local medical fraternity in the country attributed the deaths to the ‘Nightmare’. “It was postulated that the nightmare ‘is not a bad dream, but rather, in traditional terms, the nocturnal visit of an evil being that threatens to press the very life out of its terrified victim’”.2 They felt that a cultural belief in the dab tsog – which is where a spirit sits on the chest of the victim and takes all their breath, along with stress was possibly a cause for all these deaths. But does sleep paralysis have physiological or spiritual causes? Let’s take a brief look at some scientific research on the subject.

Physiological Causes & Our Sleep Cycles

Firstly; how wide spread is sleep paralysis amongst the general population? According to a two-thousand and eleven scientific review3   where researchers put a total of thirty-five sleep paralysis studies together to find out how many people experienced it at least once in their lifetime. The numbers broke down like this: about 7.6% of the then world’s population, has or will experience at least one episode of sleep paralysis in their lifetimes. The review also noted that there was a higher incidence of this happening amongst students, and psychiatric patients, especially those who had post-traumatic stress or panic disorders, specifically 28.3% of students in the studies, and 31.9% of psychiatric patients.

There are a number of sleep disorders and issues that feature or can cause sleep paralysis, particularly narcolepsy – which is a condition where the person suffers from excessive sleepiness, sleep attacks at the drop of a hat and oftentimes a sudden lack of muscle control. Also they can often suffer from hallucinations with the sleep attacks.

Other disorders that can cause this are, other sleep issues such as sleep apnoea, insomnia as in Rhiannon’s case later in this episode, and nocturnal leg cramps. Other factors such as Hypertension, seizure disorders, but are also associated substance and medication use, jet lag, student status.  Shift work and associated changing sleep patterns. So there are a number of physical reasons that scientist state can cause this experience. Finally; they also say a person’s personality and anomalous beliefs can play a part as well.

If these hallucinations happen when a person is falling asleep, they are called hypnagogic hallucinations. If they happen upon waking they are called hypnopompic hallucinations. Where a person suffers from sleep paralysis without having narcolepsy, this is then called “isolated sleep paralysis” or if it happens repeatedly, it’s called “recurrent isolated sleep paralysis”.

Medical professionals and scientists studying this disorder generally agree that sleep paralysis is a neurological disorder, rather than anything actually paranormal in basis. They say that sleep paralysis is more to do with your sleep cycle, and that it comes out of a disrupted REM sleep phase.  For those listeners who do not know, or have not heard of sleep cycles before, there are four general stages that we go through in our sleep cycles, day or night. Here is a brief description of the four stages:

  • Stage One: Wake. This where you, changeover from wakefulness to sleep. This period generally lasts a short time, several minutes mostly.
  • Stage Two: Light sleep. This period of light sleep always happens before you enter the deeper phase of sleep. In this period your heartbeat and breathing slow, your muscles relax even more and your brain waves begin to change from their daytime wakefulness patterns.
  • Stage Three: Deep sleep. This is the period of sleep that is so essential for us so we feel refreshed and alert in the morning. Generally, this occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night. During this time your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels during sleep and your muscles are very relaxed. It can be hard to wake people in this stage of sleep.
  • Stage Four: REM sleep. This stage happens about ninety minutes after you fall asleep. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed lids. Mixed frequency brain wave activity comes closer to that seen in wakefulness. Breathing becomes faster and irregular. Heart rate and blood pressure increase to almost waking level. This is also the stage of sleep where most of us dream, although some can happen in non-REM sleep. Arms and leg muscles are temporarily paralyzed, which prevents you from sleep walking or acting out your dreams.  REM sleep is still being studied by neuroscientists who don’t fully understand its full function.

We can repeat these stages many times during the night. But most people tend to spend more time in stage 2 sleep than in the other sleep stages. Scientists speculate that sleep paralysis arises out of a disrupted REM cycle.  When a person has an episode of sleep paralysis, they become paralysed for a matter of seconds or minutes – although it can feel like a life time to the person experiencing it. As you will hear later in this episode. This commonly happens as they are falling asleep or waking up. Whilst in this paralysed state many people have vivid hallucinations.

Often people who have these experiences will describe sensing or seeing an evil presence or ‘demon’ in the room with them. In a study published in a journal called Sleep Medicine in 2019, called Clinical Features of Isolated Sleep Paralysis, it has this to say”

“Hallucinations of the presence of others were relatively common. Specifically, 57.84% of the sample sensed a presence in the room with them during ISP, and the majority believed it to be a non-human presence. In addition, 21.62% of the sample experienced visual hallucinations of others, with the majority perceiving strangers as opposed to known individuals. A panoply of supernatural/paranormal entities were reported by the 24.32% of participants who hallucinated non-human beings. A minority of individuals with ISP experienced clinically-significant distress (10.27%) and/or impairment (7.57%) as a result of episodes.

The article concludes with:

ISP episodes were complex and often multi-sensorial experiences, and the majority of assessed symptoms were associated with clinically-significant levels of fear/distress.”

 So fear factor aside for the experiencers, these episodes are nothing to laugh at and can be extremely distressing and traumatising to those who experience them. To recap 58% of experiencers, sense a presence in the room, usually non-human. 22% actually saw a person in the room, usually someone unknown to the person. So those are the scientific and medical explanations for sleep paralysis. But is every case of sleep paralysis actually caused by physical factors or, is there a spiritual or otherworldly component to all of this? I am not here to persuade or convince you one way or the other. I am merely here to share current understanding by some and beliefs of others. Who is to say it is not a combination of both?

When I was researching for this episode I put a post up in my Walking the Shadowlands FaceBook group asking if members had experiences of this that they would be willing to share with you all. I was completely unprepared for the amount of members who responded in the group and private via messages or emails to me. Let’s hear some of their experiences.

Rhiannon from New Zealand

My name is Rhiannon. I live in Auckland, in New Zealand. When I was about sixteen I had what I later learned was called sleep paralysis. At the time I had no idea what it was and quite frankly it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced. I would not wish it on anyone.  So around about the same time, I’d had a few different experiences around especially in my house, in my room. But also, at a friend’s place. So we would hear people walking in the hallway at night time. I have seen doors shaking with no reason to see a door shaking. There was nothing behind it, nothing like that. I’d also felt presences around me, you know, sort of someone over my shoulder. Turning around, there’s no one there!

And at the time I had insomnia quite badly as well. So I would be up until like three or four in the morning. But all of those things sort of combined to…. You know, I really didn’t want to go to sleep. So eventually I would, I suppose, pass out from exhaustion at around three or four in the morning.  And this one time I was – I must have dozed off and I woke up and I felt what could only be described as a giant boulder sitting on my chest. Or someone pushing their entire body weight down on my chest and I had no idea what was happening. I was convinced something was attacking me. I couldn’t explain anything and I desperately, desperately tried to scream but there was nothing. There was no noise. I couldn’t…. I could feel myself trying to scream. I know my mouth was open. But there was nothing there. I…. Even reliving the experience, I don’t know if I was even able to actually open my eyes.

I don’t remember seeing anything. It was an absolute…. I was paralysed. I could not move. There was…. My arms were – I couldn’t move my arms. I couldn’t move my legs. Nothing! And I have no idea how long I was like that? It could’ve been five minutes? But it could have been thirty seconds? It, it…. I don’t yeah, have any concept of time around that instance. All I remember was at one point leaping out of my bed, running into my parent’s room and obviously my parents had no idea what was going on. I was still having trouble getting my words out. Like my voice was still quite hoarse, maybe? Would be the right way to describe it? And yeah, I only learned in the past few years what sleep paralysis was and up until then, I still had no idea what it was. And I was terrified it would happen again. Luckily for me it hasn’t. But yeah, quite scary. I hope never to experience it again.      

Kim

My sleep paralysis started after my dog died. I asked for a visit. After that I’d hear humming drums and static. I’d be awake but couldn’t move. Awful feeling and I can swear up and down I had something tap me on my head.  The worst was when I seen something lean over me, from the side of the bed.

Anon

I have had only one experience with sleep paralysis. I was a teenager. One night I was laying in bed and had drifted to sleep. I woke up on my back and I never sleep on my back. I couldn’t move a muscle. It was even hard to breath. When I opened my eyes, there were many many red eyes looking down on me. I couldn’t tell you how many because I couldn’t count them. They were moving so fast all above me. They looked what seemed to be black whispy figures flying amongst each other…. All tangled up but not connected.

I don’t know how to describe it. For about 10 seconds I felt extreme fear. Then suddenly, I felt anger. I don’t know how to describe it. Something within me changed and I felt this anger in side of me. I began to feel almost like a warrior. I closed my eyes and began praying. I almost wanted this “challenge” even though I don’t know If that is what it was. I really don’t know what it was but I felt challenged and embraced it. I wish I was better with words. But, anyway, I kept praying and finally began to feel peace. I wasn’t angry anymore and my body began to feel light again. When I opened my eyes, the red eyes were gone. I’ve never had sleep paralysis again.

 Christina

I use to suffer from this a lot. I haven’t had an episode this year, thank God. I would be asleep and then it felt like some thing or some one else was in the room holding me down.  And every time the same thing I felt wide awake my partner asleep beside me I would try to grab him and shake him to wake him up I even tried screaming out to him but nothing would work!

I felt like I was moving in very slow motion.  The one important thing I do remember is that my head felt like it had pins and needles from my forehead up.  It was a horrible sensation.  I got to the point I was to scared to go to bed at night so I used to sleep on the couch, and it used to happen there as well.  So instead of being on my own when it occurred I decided to go back to bedroom. I don’t know why it happens?

Amy

When come to sleep paralysis it’s always the same triangle hooded shape that moves toward me.  And I feel it’s not right, not good. As it gets closer it suddenly moves up my body fast and is on me.  I can’t breathe! All I feel is an evil presence. I am trying to scream and am struggling. Usually around this time my ex would start shaking me as was scream or trying to scream loudly.

Lee from Wales

My name’s Lee, I’m from Manchester in the UK and I’ve had sleep paralysis quite a few times over the years. Mainly in my twenties and thirties. There’s a couple of times that really, really stand out where I’ve had vivid memories of things that have happened. So generally it used to start with just an ominous feeling in the room. Just the air around the room would change and you would just feel different, just like there was a presence there. And then, it was odd – you’d just feel pinned to the bed, where you couldn’t move. I didn’t feel like there was a weight on top of me. I just felt – fixed. And I’d have this really, really, kind of scared feeling. That I couldn’t control what was going on. I didn’t know what was going on. I tried to shout out and nothing would come out. It would just be really, really quiet, if that makes sense? It was just a really, really strange thing, where I couldn’t…. I could hear my voice coming out, but I couldn’t, ‘cause, it wasn’t reaching volume for anybody to come and help. It was, it was odd. 

The two vivid ones I really remember are just the sound of like a  really loud whooshing, kind of link, you’d stick your head outside of an airplane when it was flying. And, there’d just be this really, really loud noise going on in your head. But, it was just…. It was just weird. And, after that, it’d just be a case of…. It’s really hard to describe. I’d be somewhere else, that I’ve never been before…. And the two that I really remember, were really, really vivid. Because it was …. It was like – I dunno, it’s like something out of a sci-fi movie where you’d be in a war-type scenario, and just moving really quickly through something. And, everything’s going on around you. There’s explosions and you see things, and you vaguely remember seeing people. I couldn’t recollect what they looked like. It seemed like that would go on for hours. And then, the next thing I know is the whooshing would come again, and then I’d kind of wake up.  And I’d wake up in a pool of sweat on the bed. And it’d be really, really strange. A really frightful experience. Other times it’s happened; I’ve never had anything vivid like that. I can’t recall what’s happened. I remember hearing the noise and know there’s been some sort of dream, but I could, I’ve never been able to recall it.

At the time, I don’t know if I was asleep at the time, or if I was just falling off asleep. But, I’d be able to feel when it was coming on. In the fact that I’d feel awake when it was happening and I’d feel that it was uncontrollable, I couldn’t stop what was happening. I’d just feel that I was awake and I was looking around, and I couldn’t move. My partner would be in the bed next to me. I’d be shouting, trying to wake my partner up. But, nothing obviously was coming out and I couldn’t move nudge them to wake them up. Fourty-two now. I think the last time I had one was about three – four years ago.

Anon

The second time…. it was as if the demonic entity was focusing on my baby (I was pregnant with her at the time).  I then woke as I felt extreme pressure on my tummy and I couldn’t move or talk or do anything. But, I could sense a figure on top of me like a big mass of heavy energy. It felt like a massive weight was slowly pinning my neck down also (choking).  And, I couldn’t breath very well. It felt like it was drawn to my baby mostly. I could feel the energy as if it was communicating it wanted my baby.

Jas

When I was around 11 I had changed my bed so there was no wall behind my head, just a cupboard door about a meter away. I woke up to a ringing noise & whispering in my ear & then my whole body froze, I tried screaming out to my mum but couldn’t. I had one of those mosquito nets around my bed & when I looked up it was caving in from the side as if the wind were blowing it. Then it just went away & never happened again.

The second time it happened I was on holiday in Thailand & the tv was on, I was drifting off to sleep. I started feeling my body go numb & this ringing noise so I opened my eyes & I saw these two children at the end of the bed but the tv wasn’t on now. They had almost black holes as faces & rose vines started growing up towards me on the bed. I tried talking but couldn’t & I eventually shook it off & turned to my bf at the time & asked him if he saw what just happened. He said no, he was just watching tv.  I don’t know if this is sleep paralysis at all but I feel like when I’m sleeping, I know it’s going to happen. It’s happened a few times since then but nothing crazy ever happens, I just have a massive adrenaline rush kind of feeling & a ringing noise/feeling in my head. My whole body is frozen during them & I can’t make a noise, no matter how hard I try.

Llewela

I have had it happen 2 or 3 times. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought I heard someone knock at the door or on the walls somewhere in our house. And I remember thinking ‘that sounded like someone knocking at the door but it’s the middle of the night’ and I was facing away from our bedroom door. Then I felt a hand run down my head, with a lot of pressure. Like stroking my hair. Really slowly. And my eyes flew open, I couldn’t move at all. I felt my partner beside me and I was heavy breathing, he sleeps through anything but I was trying to get his attention that there was someone in our house. But obviously I couldn’t move or speak. I felt this overwhelming fear wash over me and then it all stopped as quickly as it began. But it felt like forever. I was still frozen in place for maybe 5 or 10 minutes after it happened, and I started crying because it was the most terrifying experience of my life. I’m pretty prone to bad dreams but that was something I’d never experienced before.

Annalise

I’ve had sleep paralysis quite a lot in my more recent years. Usually happens when I’m quite severely depressed. I often wake to a tall black figure standing at my bed, I cannot move usually try scream for someone to wake me up because I know what’s about to happen. I usually get strangled, sometimes when sleeping on my stomach he sits on my back and pulls at my neck backward. During this I can feel hands around my neck and struggle for breath. This man visits when at my house and when I’m at my partners house it’s a black dog that rips my face to shreds. I feel the pain of it also. Wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy

Alice from Missouri, USA

So my name’s Alice. I’ve had sleep paralysis; I would say ever since I was in high school. It’s never really been scary to me. I’ve always like ­– you know when you get stuck in that position, you know you’re eventually going to come out of it. But, I mean, I’d feel like I’d always hear stuff. It always feels like there’s somebody there. But, I’ve never like, seen anything you know. But, the scariest one I had, it happened about three am roughly. I was sleeping next to my husband and I woke up in the middle of the night. Most…. If I usually do have the sleep paralysis, it happens early morning hours. Like after the sun’s already rose, everything. But, this happened at around three am.

I woke up. Couldn’t move. I knew I was in sleep paralysis, just laying there. Eventually, you know, I’ll come out of it. And so, I’m just laying there and I do get kind of scared, ‘cause, I don’t like the feeling of not being able to move. Not being able to talk, scream, or anything. But again, I ‘ve experienced it before, so I just wanted to kind of ride it out. And as I was laying there, I saw…. I felt like somebody was standing behind me, ‘cause, I had my back turned towards the…. Towards my husband. My back was open towards the other edge of the bed, where something could be standing there. Anybody.

I felt like there was something there. It was just such a deep feeling, like there was just someone standing there. But before – oh just after that, I started hearing static. It was just…. It started out really low static. Like on a radio, but just straight static. It was very low sounding. Then it started getting louder and louder and it was just like piercing my ear. It was like someone had a radio up to my ear and had it turned, cranked up. Just straight static. And I’m like well this is really weird, ‘cause, I don’t really usually have like, any like auditory anything that happens when I do have paralysis. So I was like, well this is getting weird! And I was starting to get kind of scared at that point.

And I started feeling like there is somebody there behind me and it was just – it’s such a crazy feeling. Like, I’ve never felt it that intense before. So this static’s like going in my ear. I hear something over the static and it sounds…. There’s like somebody talking to me and it sounded like, almost like a man. But, it was so hard to understand anything. But there…. I mean, it – something came over the static. It sounded like it was right behind me. It wasn’t coming like, out of the radio sounds. It was like it was something right behind me. It sounded like it asked me two questions, like in that tone. But, I couldn’t understand at all, what was being said.

So then, at about that time I got the second question, the static started kind of drifting away. I…. I’m scared to death at this point. I’m just trying to like, shake myself, get up out of it. I’m trying to scream. You can’t scream! So, about that time I just kind of slipped slowly out of the paralysis. I was able to move. I woke up in extreme fear though like, I had my husband get up. He went…. I had him check the house, ‘cause, I was convinced there was somebody in the house and I don’t get scared of stuff like that. And I’ve had weird stuff happen and everything like that, but, I’ve never ever felt something like that before. Ever! And it just, it scares me and now I get scared to ever have sleep paralysis again, just after what happened that night.   

These experiences that have been shared with us today, all have commonalities to them. All of the experiencers were left shaken and disturbed, but are they solely a physiological response as the scientific and medical communities would have us believe? The idea of sleep paralysis being some sort of spiritual experience, is too bizarre and woo woo for the Medical and Scientific communities to contemplate – except perhaps for the community in the beginning of this episode?  They would rather ascribe physiological or psychological labels to it. But, what if the truth is that sleep paralysis is a combination of both physiological and spiritual experiences? Perhaps not in all cases, but in a portion of them? Certainly the idea of it being at least in part a spiritual phenomenon has been suppressed and firmly by most researchers, and so it discourages discussion of that possible aspect in society – particularly in academic circles. However, not by all researchers

Dr David J Hufford, Ph.D, Professor Emeritus at the Penn State Medical School, has this to say about sleep paralysis

Beginning in college and graduate school I was particularly interested in the beliefs of ordinary people, especially the ones that were treated as nonsense in the academic world. The academic world treats spiritual belief in general that way. I was interested in alternative medicine at the same time for the same reason. Right from the beginning I was convinced that ordinary people are smarter, are more sensible than they’re given credit for by scholars, and that traditions that are widespread and deeply held probably have more rational basis, and more observation built into them than the theories that I was taught in graduate school. I couldn’t believe that all the beliefs of ordinary people that are not part of the academic worldview were nonsense. I have the impression that the academic world might be a little too narrow, and that regular people might have something to offer about it (sleep paralysis) through their experience and what they believed about things. There are beliefs that are based on experience that have been dismissed as superstitious beliefs that bear much more investigation, these are experiences that are built into the spiritual traditions all over the world. In the modern western world, for at least the past one hundred years, these phenomena have been explained on the basis of psychopathology. So the discovery that those experiences are common and that they occur among ‘normal’ people, that they are not in fact indicative of any type of disease, has tremendous importance for medicine. This isn’t a new phenomenon, we erased the knowledge of these experiences from the cultural repertoire.”

It would appear that almost all of the scientific approaches to sleep paralysis just assume that the things that people see or feel, or hear during these experiences are hallucinations and automatically dismiss any other sort of perceptions or thinking about it. In that famous quote from Hamlet…. “There are more things on heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt about in man’s philosophy” Quantum science for example – as spoken of in my episode on A Glitch in the Matrix – A Holographic Reality? It shows us that there are definitely other worlds other dimensions of being that we are not yet able to perceive easily. And yes, in my opinion there is definitely a non-physical part to science that we are only just beginning to wake up to, as quantum science shows us. I think that it is very possible that the human current level of scientific understanding is not yet advanced enough to explain certain phenomena, so they are classified as hallucinations…. Nikola Tesla had this to say:

“The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena; it will make more progress in one decade that in all the previous centuries of it’s existence.”

For those listeners who do suffer from these experiences, I would like share some tips that others have shared on how to cope with or to prevent sleep paralysis episodes.

  • Don’t let yourself become sleep deprived.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule and try to reduce stress and anxiety in your life.
  • Don’t take recreational drugs or drink alcohol in the evening.
  • Don’t sleep on your back
  • Stay calm and tell yourself that you’re in control. You can order the experience to stop
  • If you feel a weight on your chest, imagine that there’s something friendly causing it
  • Film yourself sleeping so you can see there was nothing in the room
  • Organise your bedroom in a way which makes you feel safe and secure.
  • Sleep with a nightlight, music or radio on.
  • Imagine your body rolling from side to side in your mind and count each roll. Focus on this and from there try to move different parts of your body – wriggle a finger or a toe.
  • Remind yourself that nothing bad will happen.
  • Count numbers so you focus on something else.
  • Squeeze your eyes tightly shut if you can use your eye muscles.
  • Tense all your muscles, even the ones in your toes & fingers, until you can feel movement. It’s almost like releasing from a really bad cramp in your foot.
  • Some people if they are of a religious belief find that calling on God, or praying, or commanding whatever they see to leave helps.
  • Use the sleep paralysis to go into lucid dreaming, by relaxing and going with the experience instead of fighting it.
  • Once finished remind yourself that you overcame it and will always over come it

I would like to close this episode with another quote from Professor Hufford  on sleep paralysis, from his website blog, which is linked to this episode’s page at www.walkingtheshadowlands.com. He says:

“SP, with the terrifying intruder so frequently present, is a spiritual experience; that is, it is an event that is experienced as an encounter with a non-physical being, an extraordinary spiritual experience (ESE). At the same time, it is connected to a neurophysiological event that has been studied scientifically–but the results of scientific study do not explain the spiritual aspects of the event. Similarly, we can associate near-death experiences with cardiac arrest (in many, though not all, cases), but we cannot say that NDEs simply “are cardiac arrest” or that cardiac arrest explains NDEs. Sleep paralysis, NDEs and a variety of other spiritual experiences have strong associations with various physiological states, but are not explained by those states, because those states do not account for the consistent features of the experience, features perceived as external to the subject. In the same way, we would not say that ordinary experiences are explained by the physical states in which we have them. We assume that ordinary experience is a complex product of internal and external factors. The challenge of ESEs is that they also appear to be complex events that cannot be explained entirely on the basis of subjective internal factors. Perhaps some or all of these features will eventually come to be explained internally, but at present that seems very unlikely….”

I want to thank all the members of my Walking the Shadowlands Facebook group who were kind enough to share their experiences with us today. Our bumper music today is called “Night Watch” By Third Age.

If you have any suggestions for topics you might like me to cover in upcoming episodes, then please don’t hesitate to contact me. Or, if any of you have any questions, suggestions, or any comments that you’d like to make, or experiences that you might like to share with myself or my audience. Or if you feel you might be a good fit as a guest on my podcast, then just email me at shadowlands@yahoo.com.

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  1. Kompanje EJ. ‘The devil lay upon her and held her down’. Hypnagogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis described by the Dutch physician Isbrand van Diemerbroeck (1609–1674) in 1664. J Sleep Res 2008; 17: 464–467. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]