Sleep Paralysis – Dreaming or Not?

The Nightmare - John Henry Fuseli - 1781. Creative Commons
The Nightmare – John Henry Fuseli – 1781. Creative Commons

Frozen and Fearful

When you lay in your bed and some weird stuff makes you wonder if you’re in a horror flick

If you have experienced some really odd or frightening experiences laying in your bed at night where you find you cannot move your body, you may be experiencing a phenomenon called sleep paralysis.

Sleep paralysis usually occurs right before falling into a deep sleep or upon waking.   And, for some reason, your body is not making the transitions from waking to sleep states (or from sleep states to waking states) in the right way.

The official term for this neat thing your body does while you are supposedly asleep and dreaming is called “REM atonia”.

Your Brain Does a Sleeping Body Good

Know that your body does the fantastic job of keeping all your movements ‘in-check’ when you sleep. In-check means that you will have no physical movements during the sleep/dream state.   The reason?  So that you do not physically act out your dreams while you are laying there.   Imagine you are running around punching out people in your dream.   Your brain ‘paralyzes’ you (so to speak), so that you do not act out these movements in the real world while you are having dreams!    Again, the official word for this is “REM atonia”, but for the sufferer, it could be “REM – Don’t do this to me”!

Demons, Devils, Spirts in my Room -Oh My!

Sufferers of sleep paralysis have given accounts of seeing demons, dark figures, aliens, ghosts, or anything else along those lines that is frightening.   There is often reported a pressure on the chest as well and the inability to breath normally.    Perhaps ‘seeing’ what some call hallucinations, would cause anyone to not breathe correctly, especially if they cannot move!

The scientific words for these ‘hallucinations’ are put into two categories depending when the dreamer is experiencing them.   Ther first term is called  hypnagogia (images that appear when falling asleep) and the second is called  hypnopompic (images that appear when you are just waking up from sleep).

Some have also suggested that when you are in this ‘in-between’ state, and you are aware on a conscious level that you cannot move, may cause some panic and anxiety which then leads to the imagery of ‘demons’ (and other things) to appear.  It is almost like having a lucid dream, but because you are near awake and half body is asleep, the brian conjurs up these frightening images and feelings because of your inability to move and you do not have full control over this ‘waking dream’.    But now that you know the nuts and bolts of it, you may be able to start controlling it as if it were a lucid dream!


Old Lore About Visitors of the Night

There is much literature and research as to why these things may happen (a good resource to delve deeper at the end of this post).  There is also old lore throughout many cultures and belief systmes about this experience.  From what I surmise from what I have read it appears they suggest you are in sort of a  ‘twilight’ mode; your consciousness is in an ‘in between’ state so you may pick up on things on another realm that you would not have otherwise in a full waking state; you are “open”.    Just tossing that out there for food for thought and to acknowledge what your mother, aunts, and other relatives may be telling you about your experiences (if you share it with them) and their responses.     Under this section, am acknowledging and honoring the cultural beliefs.    I leave all possibilities open.

However, to make you feel better, and to help you through these frightening states, science shows our bodies do ‘shut down’ in the sleeping state and our mind (or consciousness) may ‘wake up’ sooner than our bodies can (that “REM Atonia” state I mentioned above).

No matter the case, know that many experience this sleep paralysis and it has been reported since the 1600s.    You are not alone.


Who Are the Main Culprits?  How Can I Avoid this Happening to Me?

Some of the research shows that it happens with young adults, those who are super stressed, as well as those who are sleep deprived.  If you have been experiencing sleep paralysis outside of a dream state, here are some steps to combat the demons of the night:

  1. Make sure you get enough sleep.  Even if it means sneaking in a nap to get a full 8 hours in a 24 hour period.  Seriously, do it.
  2. Find ways to mitigate the stress in your life.  Blasting music that makes you happy or even the kind that reflects your mood of the day, helps. Cook (cut up stuff to put into a pot and doing it WITH music, double points).  Do an ‘art’ project, dig in the dirt outside, water the grass, feed the feral cats or put out some bread for the birds.   Something that takes you out and away from the demons of the day.
  3.  During an ‘experience’ — you can try acknowledge the fact you are in an ‘in-between’ state, and your body is paralyzed because of the facts outlined above (quick reminder body does this: so you do not act out in your dreams, and your consciousness woke faster than the rest of your brain ability to release this ‘freeze’ state). Try to wiggle a finger.  Try to take a breath.   Say in your mind “I recognize you ( [demon] or whatever you are seeing)” and “you are an image am ready to let go”.

Learn more

Experts in the Field of Dreams and Sleep Paralysis

Ryan Hurd, MA is one of the foremost experts in the area of Sleep Paralysis.   Find his articles on sleep paralysis here:   He has given a lot of talks, written a lot of material on the subject of Sleep Paralysis.   As a start, Ryan has some keen insights into this phenomena for those that want to dig deeper.



Would like to hear from those who have had such experiences.   Send me an email via my contact page.




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