w w w . c a s t l e o f s p i r i t s . c o m

In the dark depths of the middle of the night you are woken suddenly with a feeling of evil surrounding you, you can't breathe and your chest is heavy, is someone pressing down on you or trying to suffocate you?
To your horror you can't move, something is holding you down! You think you can hear voices and see a dark shadowy figure swooping around your bed...are you being visited by Demons or are you merely suffering an episode of Sleep Paralysis?

S L E E P  P A R A L Y S I S
O L D  H A G   S Y N D R O M E

Sleep Paralysis (SP) is a common medical condition and usually tagged nowdays as a Sleeping Disorder.
The symptoms can sometimes include complete to partial paralysis of arms, legs and upper torso, a tight or heavy pressure on your chest sometimes with a choking sensation and almost always experienced as you are about to fall into sleep or just come out of sleep.
The most remarkable symptoms of SP are the accompanying audio and/or visual hallucinations often causing extreme terror and panic in it's sufferers, who more often than not mistakenly believe they are being visited by aliens, malevolent beings and other evil presences.

Research shows that SP is linked with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. When in REM sleep you are usually dreaming, your body does not act out your dreams as you will hurt either yourself, or someone else, so evolution has worked its merry little way of getting your brain to switch off your muscles (so to speak) and relax you while dreaming, essentially paralyzing you to a degree.

The cause for a state of SP is when your mind wakes up, usually still in a semi-REM state, but your body is still relaxed and semi paralyzed, bringing on a the sometimes horrifying sensation of being paralyzed while still in a semi-dream state yet awake. The consequences of this state are usually nothing short of terrifying to individuals with their dreams suddenly becoming reality as they are trapped in an inbetween sate of consciousness. The usual result is panic to try to release oneself while sleep creeps around your brain like a slow fog trying to drag you back down to it's depths again. I know what it's like, I've suffered this myself.

Of a recent survey it is suggested that between 25-30% of the general population has suffered some form of SP with 95% of these experiencing a perceived horrifying event. It is now considered to be a common disorder among the population, but not many people admit to suffering SP. Yes, it does run in the family, if you have suffered an episode, chances are there's a member within your close family who has also experienced this. People often feel they are experiencing something paranormal with SP due to the bizarre symptoms and don't realise that they are in fact suffering from something many others have experienced with a perfectly reasonable explanation.
At Castle of Spirits, by my calculations, over 15% of ghost stories submitted to us are mistakenly describing an obvious case of SP as a ghostly account or sometimes Demon possession, this is further evidence that even though it is classified as "common" it is in fact still a widely unrecognised condition among the general public.

Of course there are many other symptoms besides the paralysis and hallucinations, sometimes including shooting pains in the arms, back, neck or head, paralysis of only one limb (partial paralysis), choking and suffocating feeling, pressure on other parts of the body such as back, neck, arms or legs the feeling of someone touching you, feelings of an evil presence behind or beside you, and sometimes squeezing or hugging around your body.

The term "perception" needs to be used in the case of SP, as the feelings of a presence are usually only perceived and not actually sighted in the majority of cases reported. The presences are in fact not real and only hallucinations induced by our brains in this dream state, you could say they are in fact a waking dream. An interesting fact is that in most cases nothing is actually ever seen, and only felt. A feeling of someone watching over, lurking about, walking around, but never actually sighted, and within these cases the feeling being of a dark humanoid figure or figures.

More commonly than the visual perceptions are the reports of audio hallucinations. These include scratching, laughing, scraping, buzzing, ringing, voices, radio music and other noises all seemingly very real. We now believe that many alien abduction cases have been merely suffering an episode of SP, let alone the amazing amount of cases reporting Evil presences and ghosts.

Old Hag SyndromeOld Hag Syndrome

"Old Hag Syndrome" sometimes referred to as "Night Hag" is another commonly used term for SP among many different cultures mainly in the western world. The term Old Hag is probably derived from a couple of sources, one being the word for Nightmare; Night -of course, we know this already, Mare being derived from the old English term Maere meaning demon or incubus (an incubus is believed to be a demon that visits during the night). Other sources as listed by Dr. J. A. Cheyne, University of Waterloo Psych. Dept include German mar/mare, nachtmahr, Hexendrücken (witch pressing), Alpdruck (efl pressure), Czech muera, Polish zmora, Russian Kikimora, French cauchmar (trampling ogre), Greek ephialtes (one who leaps upon) and mora (the night "mare" or monster, ogre, spirit, etc.), Roman incubus (one who presses or crushes) ge, (evil spirit or the night-mare--also hegge, haegtesse, haehtisse, haegte); Old Norse mara, Old Irish mar/more.

I S  T H I S  C O N D I T I O N  H A R M F U L ?

General medical research shows SP is not generally harmful and will only ever last from a few seconds, to maybe a few minutes. Of course reality is severely altered in this state and sufferers can have a feeling of being trapped in a state of SP for what seems like hours, when in fact it is merely minutes. Further research does indicate that a predisposition to something more traumatic, such as social problems due to lack of sleep and a disruption to normal daily life, may be a result of many episodes of SP. We do strongly suggest you seek out further medical help with a licensed practitioner if you feel you need more help or more information about any health issue including SP.


The most commonly reported cause of SP episodes is in fact stress.
It's believed that stress can seriously alter sleep patterns, causing episodes of sleep paralysis.
Another cause can be your sleeping position. Reports and research by Dr. J. A. Cheyne show that sufferers sleeping in the face up position are five times more likely to suffer an episode of sleep paralysis than others who attempt to sleep in a different position during normal sleep. Avoidance of sleeping on your back and attempting to not roll over into this position during the night is strongly advised. The use of a small squash or tennis ball placed behind your back can sometimes help with this.

P R E V E N T I O N   &   R E S C U E

Prevention is all about sleeping in the correct position (not face up), not eating large amounts of food, drinking caffeine or excessive smoking before sleep. Reducing stress levels in your life is also another key factor to preventing SP as mentioned before, stress can severely alter sleep patterns inducing SP episodes.

A good way of trying to release yourself when caught in a state of SP is attempting to concentrate on moving a body part, whether it be your finger, toe or even blinking your eyes, this works quite well and is a common remedy for most SP sufferers as the instant a body part moves, the SP episode should cease. You can also do this in your mind if you cannot move any body part, merely trying to imagine shaking your head or moving a body part can keep your mind active enough for your body to catch up and be able to move for real, essentially fully waking yourself up and again ending the SP episode.

But why aren't people visited by Angels instead of Demons?

The reality is that SP causes a situation where fear and terror are induced by the very condition you wake up in. Being immobilized with a sudden choking feeling plus hallucinations, of course the brain's natural reaction to this is to panic, however slow your reactions may be due to sleep you will feel a sense of danger. This reaction leaves little room for vivid imaginations of good things such as angels and with the introduction of horror movies and ghost stories into our lives, of course we immediately jump to conclusions from what our surroundings dictate; darkness, paralysed......must be EVIL!!.
However, I have personally had many tales of Angels reported to me, in fact some people have found religion by believing they have in fact had a visitation from the Holy Spirit, when it may have been an episode of SP.

It is not for us to say whether SP is in fact the case in every situation, each individual has their own experience and needs to interpret it the way they want by using deduction and intelligence.
We cannot also say that every reported case of paranormal activity while sleeping is in fact mistaken and merely SP. As with any reported case of a haunting, it requires much Investigation and sometimes medical review to rule out things such as SP, but we do offer it up as an explanation for you to consider your options and be aware of what you may or may not be experiencing.

Article compiled by:
Rowena Gilbert
Paranormal Researcher
Castle of Spirits.com
Australian Ghost Hunters Society


Word Origins
Dr. J. A Cheyne Waking Nightmares - Sleep Paralysis and Nocturnal Hallucinations
Psychiatric Times - Introduction to Culture Bound Syndromes

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