A sleep paralysis demon may sound like a creature you learn about in a favorite novel, movie, or horror television program. However, if you’re one of approximately five people on average that has experienced sleep paralysis, it is far from fictional.
Sleep paralysis is the inability to move or speak as you fall into slumber or begin waking up. It is that in-between moment. You’re not fully asleep nor are you fully awake. It can happen at any time and can be momentarily terrifying. Imagine feeling helpless and vulnerable as your mind is “awake” but your body just won’t respond to its commands. You become a prisoner of your own body as you experience the presence of what some believe to be an unknown entity. Despite your immobility, you might hear, see, smell, feel, or sense a presence surrounding you. This unknown presence, which is more than likely a hallucination, is a sleep paralysis demon.
Sleep paralysis demons have been a subject of interest to dream experts, psychologists, religious leaders, and spiritual shamans for as long as recorded history. They have been categorized and studied as scientific, metaphysical, supernatural, and spiritual phenomena. Through all these interpretations, there is still no definitive answer as to what sleep paralysis is, what causes it, why it happens, how to prevent it, or how to stop the experience. Adding to the difficulty in understanding sleep paralysis demons, is the fact that people who experience it typically only experience the phenomena once or twice in their lifetime, for brief moments at a time.
What Happens During Sleep Paralysis?
There are three ways that people describe the sensations of sleep paralysis. One expression of the sensation of sleep paralysis is describing a heavy, suffocating weight pushing down on the chest. This sensation is called a “chest pressure” hallucination or an “incubus.” Others have described the sensation of a menacing intruder lurking in the shadows in a threatening manner. These are called “intruder hallucinations” and often coincide with the incubus hallucination. Lastly, reports of magical or spiritual sensations of bliss or out-of-body experiences have also been described. These are called vestibular-motor hallucinations.
Scientific Explanations Of Sleep Paralysis
As a person falls asleep or wakes up, they go into a state of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is differentiated from Non-REM sleep by increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and brain activity. REM sleep is also characterized by muscle atonia, a temporary paralysis that was likely designed to prevent sleepers from acting out dreams or nightmares. Sometimes a person is still conscious during this state of immobility between sleep and wakefulness, and their conscious mind tries to make sense of the experience of being awake but unable to move. This experience can last for a few seconds to several minutes. When sleep paralysis co-occurs with sleep hallucinations, the person has a multisensory interaction with the so-called sleep paralysis demon.
The History Of Sleep Paralysis Demons
Today, most scientists and experts believe that sleep demons are hallucinations. However, going further into history, there is evidence that various cultures and societies have noted the existence of sleep paralysis demons and sought to interpret their origin. Some cultures believe sleep paralysis is a spiritual awakening or an encounter with a higher being. Other cultures attribute sleep paralysis demons to evil spirits, black magic, witchcraft, etc. Nonetheless, experts continue to reason that sleep paralysis is a natural occurrence of the sleep cycle.
Causes Of Sleep Paralysis Demons
Scientists and researchers have come up with a host of theories to explain what causes sleep paralysis demons. They have studied hormones, such as those released by stress and anxiety, brain neurons and malfunctioning synapses, and changes in breathing, such as the shallow breathing associated with REM sleep being misinterpreted as a heavy, suffocating weight on the chest. Certain medications, such as antidepressants and narcolepsy drugs, have also been linked to sleep paralysis. And there is evidence that suggests there may be a genetic component to sleep paralysis. Compelling theories aside, more research is needed to understand the causes of sleep paralysis, prevention of these episodes, or methods of treating this phenomenon.
Possible Treatments And Prevention Of Sleep Paralysis
Some researchers believe sleep paralysis can be prevented by practicing and building good sleeping habits. These habits include having a regular sleep schedule, routinely going to bed, and waking up at the same time each day. There is no direct method for the prevention of sleep paralysis. Treatment for sleep paralysis aims to eliminate its purported causes. For example, avoiding alcohol before bed, reducing stress and anxiety, and treating chronic pain, can all disrupt the sleep cycle and contribute to vivid waking dreams or hallucinations and nightmares. To stop a sleep paralysis episode, try wiggling your fingers and toes, repeating a calming phrase, praying or meditating, or purposefully controlling your breathing.
Throughout history, there have been interpretations of sleep paralysis demons as positive and negative. Scientific researchers have mostly accepted the theory that sleep paralysis demons are hallucinations. Though sleep paralysis can be frightening, it’s important to remember that sleep paralysis is temporary and not dangerous to your health. However, if you experience frequent episodes, consider discussing possible remedies with your healthcare professional.
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