Sleep Paralysis is one of the most talked about phenomena’s in the paranormal community. It’s the thing that most often gets mistaken for a paranormal experience and yet it’s one of the most researchable topics you can google in regards to paranormal activity. And the reason for that is, it isn’t really paranormal at all. BUT that doesn’t mean that it isn’t one of the most terrifying experiences one can have happen to them. This is a topic I’ve researched to the point of obsession, and through my personal experiences and research I’ll explain it as best I can for anyone who has always wondered just what “sleep paralysis” is.
I grew up in a townhouse with my parents and 4 other siblings. It was three bedroom house which meant that the boys shared a room, the girls shared a room and our parents had to share the small cramped bedroom at the end of the hall. My room had nothing of interest in it besides a dresser, a bunk bed and a single bed off to the side. My brothers and I shared this bedroom to sleep, change and nothing else really. Our entertainment room was the basement which you couldn’t go down without stumbling over our videogames, comic books, movies and when we were younger our action figures. Growing up the three of us always had the exact same bedtime and more often than not we’d stay up late talking, laughing and scaring each other. The rule was always whoever was in bed last had to turn off the lights, something I hated because I was afraid of the dark and my brother Juan always tried to scare me. If he was sleeping on the top bunk he’d reach down and try to grab my face. If he was sleeping on the bottom bunk he’d reach out and try to grab my foot as I climbed up.
As scared as I got I always felt comforted knowing that the two of them were in the room with me. Going to the washroom in the middle of the night was always a challenge though since our parents never bothered to change the lightbulb in the hallway night light which resulted in a constant flickering, strobe like effect. This naturally caused the shadows to grow and change in front of my eyes, which for anyone who’s afraid of the dark, is terrifying.
As time wore on though my brothers and I stopped going to bed at the same time. When they were in highschool I was still in elementary school, when I was in high school they were in College/University. Eventually we’d just go to bed at random times and so the chances of two of us going to bed at the same time became rare. Not to mention that my other brother Hector was a night owl and you could expect to wake up at 4am and still not see him lying in his bed. It took some getting used to, going to sleep by myself, but I didn’t mind it as much. That was until I was about 16 and it happened for the first time.
(Before I move forward let me take us on a slight detour! (I can’t get to the fruit of the story that quickly can I!?). One of my all-time favourite videogame franchises is (surprise, surprise) Silent Hill. A game involving ghosts, monsters, hauntings and dark themes. A theme in the Silent Hill universe is that the main character always finds a radio and whenever the monsters are nearby, the radio emits static. So naturally when you’re playing that game and you’re trying to solve a puzzle it’s frightening when you hear faint static grow louder and louder and louder. It made me more scared of the sound of static than it should’ve. Now what does this have to do with the story, wait a minute and you’ll see why I mentioned it!)
It was around 11 when I decided to go up and go to bed. My brothers showed no signs of weariness and I knew that they’d both be awake for the next few hours. Once in my room I changed into my pajamas, turned on the mini lamp we had on the dresser and prepped my bed for the night. When I was ready to go, I switched off the lamp and made a dash for my bed. Old habits die hard. I laid on my back and put my hands behind my head, this was how I slept every single night. As usual it was taking me forever to go to sleep, in highschool I literally would stay up for hours and nothing ever seemed to do the trick of putting me to sleep. Tonight was no different and as I was laying on my back, frustrated that no sleep was coming my mind started to wander. I was thinking about what I had to do the next day and what projects I still had to work on. My mind started to lose focus and drift to random thoughts. I know that as soon as my mind has trouble staying on one train of thought that sleep is imminent. Relieved, I let these thoughts take over my mind and I prepared to go to sleep.
Suddenly a faint whisper of a sound came from behind me. It was distant and yet I knew that it was there. My mind was fully alert again and I focused on the sound, focused on it’s growing intensity.
It was clearer now and I knew that was exactly what it was. My mind instantly turned to my memories of playing Silent Hill and I began to frighten myself. Surely there wasn’t anything behind me, but now I’d have to check where that sound was coming from. I went to sit up and turn around, once I saw that there was nothing behind me I’d be able to rest easy.
Only I couldn’t move.
My hands were still behind my head and I tried moving those first, my fingers wouldn’t even wiggle. My arms were locked, my neck was locked, my legs were locked and when I tried to sit up I felt a hand on my chest pushing me down with a strength I couldn’t match.
The static grew louder, and so did my breathing and with the harder I tried to move the harder my heart pounded in my chest.
I could hear my heart beating harder and harder when suddenly I felt it. Someone was behind me. I knew this the way you know someone enters a room without looking up. You just feel them enter the room and you’re fully aware of their presence. This was that identical feeling.
Slowly they came closer and closer to me. I began shaking violently and tried to scream for help. I knew my dad was in the next room so with everything I had I tried to scream as loudly as I could for him.
No sound came out of my mouth. Tears were starting to fill my eyes and I remember thinking to myself “I don’t want to be possessed. I don’t want to be possessed. I don’t want to be possessed.” I repeated this again and again because I remember reading that no one can be possessed against their will, so I hoped that this little incantation would work.
The static grew to the point where it was deafening and began to take on a different type of quality, it was almost like a low continuous growl at this point. This was when I gave up, and knew that if something was going to take me I wouldn’t be able to fend it off. I relaxed my body and prepared for the inevitable when suddenly I gasped and my body shot straight upwards.
I wiped the tears from my eyes and looked behind me. The only thing there was the dark closet that was overloaded with all three of our clothes. My clothes were soaked with sweat and my heart rate was still pounding. The only thing racing through my brain was “was that a dream!?” I knew I hadn’t fully fallen asleep but I also knew that I wasn’t fully awake when it all started. I didn’t understand what happened, all I knew is that I wouldn’t be sleeping alone again.
The next day I was desperate to tell anyone what happened, but it was usually met with “oh wow, crazy.” Before the person moved onto the next subject. I had this unbelievable experience and no one to share it with. And mind you this was back in 2005 when wikipedia was big but not as big as it is now, you still had to search through pages of results before finding anything relevant to what you wanted.
As the years went on I would periodically experience this again. Each time I tried something different to break the paralysis like state. I would focus all of my attention on just my hand and will it to move. I would try to emit sounds from my throat. I would try to simply open my eyes. I became better and better at breaking it but not at understanding it. That was until I was in first year Psychology when my Professor reviewed the various stages of sleep.
What he told us was during sleep, the human body will go through four distinct stages before getting to REM sleep. During stage 3 and 4 the body enters deep sleep which is nearly impossible to wake someone from, however a small percentage of people are prone to waking up during this stage. That small percentage includes myself.
During this stage your body goes into complete relaxation, which means your muscles essentially shut down to allow your body full rest. Basically what this means is if you wake up during this period, your entire body has shut down and so you’re stuck without the ability to move until your body either wakes up or you fall back asleep. The other thing he told us was that individuals who wake up during this period try to combat the muscle paralysis the only way the body knows how, by pumping adrenaline into the muscles. The same way it does when someone becomes a “deer in the headlights”, the body pumps adrenaline into your muscles to give you the ability to sprint away to safety. This explosion of adrenaline while being completely immobile tends to overwhelm individuals and thus they begin panicking and even at times hallucinating.
As he explained this experience I was basically running a checklist through my head of all the things he’s explained. Feeling someone was behind me? Hallucination. Heart beating out of my chest? Adrenaline. Feeling held down? Muscle relaxation.
I felt relieved that this experience was finally explained away and something that was entirely common. The more I realized I wasn’t crazy the more I spoke about it, and the more people I found out had experienced this. My sister, a co-worker, a classmate etc. More people than I thought experienced this and overtime we came to realize it wasn’t anything sinister at all.
In fact the very last time it happened to me, I woke up, sighed internally and said “alright let’s get on with it. Awake or asleep, which is it?”
So the next time someone is telling you about their ghostly experience and they mention that it sometimes comes at night when they’re sleeping and they can feel someone pressing down on them, tell them about Sleep Paralysis as it might explain their experience. That is of course unless it’s actually a ghost and you’ve given them a false solution……..EITHER WAY!
If you are someone who suffers from Sleep Paralysis remember, it’s nothing scary, it’s normal and all you have to do is wait it out. If you’re not someone who suffers from it, then aren’t you special!……..
Thanks for reading!