Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sleep Paralysis: The Devil, the Ghost & the Old Hag

You’re waking up or falling asleep, and suddenly you’re unable to move. Your body becomes paralyzed as if an unseen weight is upon you.

You may be unable to move your arms or legs, body and head. You can breathe and think, but you may be unable to speak.

The paralysis may last for only seconds or a few minutes. Then it disappears and you are able to move again.

This describes a typical episode of
sleep paralysis. It is a common sleep disorder that is classified as a “parasomnia.” Episodes can cause you to feel intense anxiety.

Sleep paralysis occurs when the line between sleep and wakefulness is blurred. Normally your brain paralyzes many of your muscles during the stage of rapid eye movement sleep – or
REM sleep. This paralysis is called “atonia.”

You may experience sleep paralysis if atonia lingers as you wake up from REM sleep; it also may occur if you transition quickly from wakefulness into REM sleep.

Sleep paralysis may occur together with
hallucinations. You may imagine that you see or hear something; you even may think that someone else or something is in the room with you.

Across cultures the strange sensation of sleep paralysis has evoked some vivid descriptions. In 1664 a Dutch physician published a
case history of a woman with sleep paralysis. “'The devil lay upon her and held her down,” he wrote.

In Japan sleep paralysis is called “
kanashibari.” The term is rooted in Buddhism; long ago it was believed that Buddhist monks could use magic to paralyze others.

In Newfoundland sleep paralysis has been
called an attack of “Old Hag.” In China it has been labeled “ghost oppression.” A new study reports that in Mexico people may say that sleep paralysis feels like “a dead body climbed on top of me.”

Sleep deprivation may trigger an episode of sleep paralysis. Other related factors may include stress and
sleep related leg cramps.

Sleep paralysis tends to be only a mild problem; there are no medical complications. But it also can be one symptom of

Learn more about recurrent isolated sleep paralysis on Get tips for preventing parasomnias.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

some years ago under extreme stress from a marriage breakup I had a terrifying experience of sleep paralysis. I awoke one morning and it was deathly quiet I felt as if someone was in the room but I could not open my eyes or move I felt as if someone knelt on the bed next to me and held my chest down whilst holding my head up from under the pillow this lasted about a minute and then it all dissolved and I could open my eyes and nothing was there. I told no one of the experience until I read an article about it and the famous 18th century painting of the night devil. It seemed so real and really other worldly.

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