In cultures all over the world, people have believed that demons, witches, spirits, or other beings sometimes attack people in their sleep. Sleep is a mysterious thing, and scientists are still trying to discover things about it. For instance, scientists still aren’t sure why we dream. They theorize that it helps people store memories more efficiently, but they’re not sure what other purposes it may have or why it happens.
There’s a specific phenomenon that occurs at least once in the lives of many people all over the globe. Essentially, these people wake up from sleep paralyzed. They have no control over their own bodies and cannot move or speak. Often, they describe their limbs feeling heavy and a feeling of something sitting on their chests. Sometimes people will see things in addition to being unable to move. They might see strange people or things wandering about their rooms, or even see something sitting on their chest or trying to choke them or suffocate them. People often see what they describe as old women, witches, scary looking creatures, spirits, demons, or even aliens wandering about or attacking them. Throughout history, people have explained this by saying that they had a hag trying to suffocate them in their sleep, or that they had suffered an attack from an incubus or succubus, or that a spirit or demon had tried to harm them while they were vulnerable. More modernly, people have started explaining this with alien abductions.
It turns out that this phenomenon is medical in nature and known as sleep paralysis. If the sleep paralysis doesn’t include hallucinations, it’s common sleep paralysis. If it does include hallucinations, it’s hallucinatory sleep paralysis. Essentially, what happens is that when people sleep, normally their brain paralyzes their body so they don’t act out their dreams and hurt themselves. When someone’s brain isn’t able to paralyze their body, sleepwalking occurs. When someone wakes up before their brain realizes to release them from paralysis, sleep paralysis occurs. Sometimes these people are even still dreaming, which causes the hallucinations people have of old women, demons, and aliens among other things. People can also suffer from sleep paralysis while falling asleep, which is just when their body becomes paralyzed a bit before they actually lose consciousness. They can experience the same hallucinations as people experiencing the other variety of sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis actually occurs in four out of ten people, usually showing up in teens and young adults. However, sleep paralysis can occur at any age. It has been linked to many other health issues. These things include, but aren’t limited to: exhaustion, stress, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, insomnia, migraines, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression. So, if you have sleep paralysis or experience on occasion, getting the proper amount of sleep can help. If you have any related health problems, one of the best ways to treat sleep paralysis is to have the other problems treated. For instance, if you have insomnia, treating it to make sure you get enough sleep can prevent sleep paralysis. Antidepressants can also often prevent sleep paralysis, even if someone doesn’t have depression.
The best way to prevent sleep paralysis if you happen to have it is not to sleep on your back. According to some studies, 90% of the people who experience sleep paralysis experience it when sleeping on their backs. If you do ever find yourself experiencing sleep paralysis, it’s best to keep your eyes closed to help prevent yourself from seeing anything scary in case you’re also still dreaming. It’s also best to stay calm and control your breathing to keep yourself from panicking. Many people find that they can get out of sleep paralysis faster by wiggling their fingers and toes to let their body and brain know that they’re awake a bit ahead of schedule, so the paralysis is released. This helps because normally your extremities aren’t as deeply paralyzed as the rest of your body.
So if you experience sleep paralysis, try to get better sleep and to get any other related health problems you have treated. Do your best to not sleep on your back, and if you still experience sleep paralysis, just remind yourself that if you see anything, it’s only a dream and can’t actually hurt you. Any pressure or heaviness you feel is actually a product of sleep paralysis, and isn’t anything attacking you or trying to harm you somehow. And remember to close your eyes and try wiggling your fingers and toes.