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A short film about sleep paralysis
April 13, 2014 6:54 PM   Subscribe


 
Nonononononononononononono.
posted by allthinky at 7:14 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


I haven't had it in so long I kind of miss it. I was able to lucid dream surf it a few times....but yeah, one of the most terrifying things in the universe.
posted by vrakatar at 7:21 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Only 5 percent of people have experienced this? Wow, I thought it was way more common.

I can recall several events like this as a kid and teenager, all different. Definitely the sense of a evil presence in each of them, sometimes manifested, other times not. A little green man once, usually just the feeling of an malevolent presence and the inability to move.

Eventually I would wake up and though it seemed completely real I don't ever recall telling anyone until years later. Just seemed like really freaky dreams in retrospect.

But they totally captured it here for me. The woman sitting up in bed terrified, yep. It takes a few minutes to wear off and then it slowly becomes clear it was a dream. But. Yeah.
posted by absentian at 7:24 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Oh fine. I was just going to bed... now I think I'll just stay up for a while, or maybe skip sleeping altogether.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:31 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Man, I get this a lot when I am really, really stressed out. The sense that there is some dark, unspeakable presence around me pushing me down so I can't move is so upsetting when you're in that waking dream state. Wonder if there's some sort of neurological commonality among those of us who experience sleep paralysis combined with the inexplicable perception that there are dark forces making it happen.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:34 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Look, I'm as game as anybody, but life's too short for me to be willing to watch a biopic about Tommy Wiseau.
posted by koeselitz at 7:37 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


A little green man once

One time I saw fiery letters suspended in the air above my head. They said:

IT'S IN THE ROOM WITH YOU
posted by my favorite orange at 7:39 PM on April 13 [17 favorites]


Nifty. Vaguely Svankmajer-ish stop motion is a great fit for the subject matter.

I've noted before that my brain occasionally seems to try to have nightmares, but is generally pretty bad at it. Like it doesn't quite grok the concept and forgets to activate fear circuits. The single time I can remember having sleep paralysis, I snapped "awake" to the presence in the room, which turned out to be a great big cat. I didn't own a cat at the time, and obviously it had got in through the window somehow, so I had to be very still because the good rule of thumb of avoiding sudden movements with any animal becomes all the more important when it's an unfamiliar one curled up crushingly heavy on your chest. I was going to have to do something, though, because it was also partially on my face and blocking off air.

And then I had that studder-step to all neurology properly-awake and I could move again, and thought, oh. That's what that is.

As a one-time thing, it was actually pretty neat in retrospect. Among the interesting parts of the whole experience was that there was a hefty adrenaline shock to it all--but the fear response simply didn't happen. It's very, very odd to feel that without any emotional affect with it. Made me appreciate just how many moving pieces there are and what a neat trick the brain pulls in making it seem like consciousness is a unified experience. All sorts of sleight of hand in play.
posted by Drastic at 7:48 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


The puppets were awesome. But. Ugh. I feel like a such a lucid dreaming geek saying this but sleep paralysis isn't always terrifying and it can also be the doorway to full-on lucid dreaming (which is something I wish everyone could experience, at least once -- it's that magical and wondrous).

I don't think this meme of "sleep paralysis is the scariest thing in the world" is doing anyone any good. The phenomenon is worth talking about, yes, but we should be trading notes on how to ride it out, how to work with it, and even how to induce it, rather than scaring each other about it.
posted by treepour at 7:49 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


For me, it helps to drink a glass of water right before bed. It seems whenever it happens I'm dehydrated.

In terms of riding it out, I'm getting better at keeping calm about it, knowing it will pass eventually, but my dream mind is not always as rational about it as my waking mind.
posted by RobotHero at 7:55 PM on April 13


I guess sleep paralysis is what being awake in a coma feels like. Once you figure out it's your body on cruise control while you are conscious they are not so terrifying. Try to hold your breath and feel the rhythm of your body defy your commands to keep itself alive. Kind of comforting. Related, seems like the same overwhelming feeling of evil presence people stuck in anechoic chambers experience, being left alone with your senses, trying to attribute meaning to the sudden awareness of all the visceral moving inside of you. Fascinating really. I probably I wouldn't pull the plug.
posted by dirtyid at 8:03 PM on April 13


Being in the midst of an ongoing bout of my old somnambulist half-life, I can't help but think this might somehow be better. The dogs have been giving me the wide berth and whale eye in daylight that means they've seen things that they know ought not to be happening.
posted by sonascope at 8:10 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Do. Not. Like. Fortunately, it's been years. Not watching.
posted by Glinn at 8:14 PM on April 13


Sonascope: I have called it the opposite of sleepwalking when trying to explain it to people who haven't heard of it. I suppose one advantage over sleepwalking is as much as you might feel in the midst of it like you're going to suffocate, there's no real risk of injury.
posted by RobotHero at 8:22 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Nope nope nope nope.
posted by odinsdream at 8:27 PM on April 13


Well, if I didn't have it before, I've probably got it now.
posted by carter at 8:28 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


I haven't had that experience, but I was awakened once with the realization I had been sleeping with my eyes open. Super freaky.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:58 PM on April 13


At one very stressful period in my life, every time I awoke I had a very powerful sense of this terrifying presence, overwhelming me, a demonic force, and I completely paralyzed, unable to move. An ongoing nightmare it was; I could not believe it was happening to me. Then we broke up thank goodness, and it hasn't happened since.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:00 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Sleep paralysis happens to everyone every night, except for Mike Berbiglia and his fellow sleepwalkers. Otherwise you'd be physically acting out your dreams, which is sub-optimal (ask Mike Berbiglia). The problem is when you become semi-conscious while the paralysis is still in effect, so you have a nightmare about not being able to move.
One tip that may help (if you can remember it) is to wiggle a finger -- the paralysis is less effective at the extremities (ever seen a cat's paws twitch while it's dreaming?). From there you can sometimes get the whole hand moving and gradually break out of it. It's worked for me a couple times.
Mind you, I've never had the full-on nightmare/incubus/old hag/alien abduction experience, maybe because I read about the phenomenon before I ever experienced it (which has only been a handful of times). It's much more common for me to have late-morning or afternoon nap dreams where I become very weak -- can barely stand or pick things up, have to crawl up stairs, etc. -- which I think may be a sort of halfway state of awareness of the physical body's paralyzation. Anyone else get that?
posted by uosuaq at 9:02 PM on April 13


I had my first episode of sleep paralysis last week, but with audio hallucinations. I went to bed with a migraine and woke up to an increasingly overwhelming heartbeat/whooshing/thudding sound. I thought I was having an aneurysm or some other brain-exploding trauma, but when I tried to call for help and couldn't move, I figured that I was already dead.

Then I woke up and felt this amazing post-adrenaline rush calm, with no more migraine. So there's that.
posted by bibliowench at 9:07 PM on April 13


.nope
posted by BeerFilter at 9:14 PM on April 13


The last time I had a devil in the room was maybe ten years ago. I was sleeping on the floor of a friend's apartment in Brooklyn and as I lay there a child was running around me in circles, shaking the floor with heavy, rapid thuds. Meanwhile, an old woman sat in the corner, creaking on a rocking chair as she stared at me.

Nowadays, I occasionally think I've gotten up out of bed and realize only a few seconds later that, no, I'm still in bed and I need to wake up. It takes around three to four times of these ten second Groundhog Day events before I snap out of it.

I'm not too keen on those, but I'm glad I haven't had presences in the room since that last time in Brooklyn.
posted by linux at 9:28 PM on April 13


I get hit with this every couple of years. Usually, it happens in stages.

Stage One: I "wake up", unable to move, and there are witches and/or demons in the room.
Stage Two: As I become more awake, I remember that witches and/or demons aren't things that I believe exist.
Stage Three: But if these things don't exist, why am I experiencing them? Clearly my brain is freaking out because of something terrible happening in my body, most likely a heart attack or stroke.
Stage Four: Several terrifying minutes of being unable to move while experiencing what I perceive as my body dying. Pure, escalating terror.
Stage Five: Whoops! I was wrong, I'm just fine and can move around again.


Once I can move again, I need to find a way to calm myself down in a hurry, because otherwise I'm going to have a terrible next day. IANYD, but if you're suffering similar problems, I prescribe an Ativan and a boob in your mouth.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:35 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


I apparently wiggle my toes in my sleep and have dreams like this, where a snake is biting my toes.

I wake enough to kick the snake away.

Poor Squirrley [the cat] is kicked eight feet away, landing with a thump, wondering what she did wrong. She thought I was playing.

I say "sorry sorry sorry" and beg her to come near and when she does I scratch her where she can't reach and she forgives me and climbs back on the bed.
posted by vapidave at 9:45 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


Can't watch this before bed because of A) the EVIL and B) the VOID.

A friend of mine suffered pretty chronically his entire life and then found that Ativan helped it. He's been on a low dosage for years.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:56 PM on April 13




Occasionally, only while falling asleep, I'll get stuck in a kind of loud pulsing whooshing sound, and most of the time it includes a feeling of being shaken slowly but firmly back and forth. Sometimes it's accompanied by a sensation of fear, but once I realize what's going on, I'm able to be patient and wait it out. Sometimes I'll actually want and try to explore that weird space, and then be disappointed when I snap out of it. Sometimes this will happen three times in a row on the same night. But I don't know what triggers it, and I haven't had it happen in many months, maybe years now. I think it's kinda neato.

...Unlike the other "dreams" that I sometimes get when falling asleep -- not realizing that I've fallen asleep, for example, I'll get out of bed and do something mundane like go to the kitchen to get a drink of water, and I go to open the fridge and it's at a wierd angle and gravity suddenly feels slightly off. And then the thought suddenly strikes me that something is very very very very very wrong, that this is not how the fridge IS, and even though I understand now that I am not really awake, this is not how things should BE! And I should NOT look at the clock, and... and THIS right now my friends is the most fear I have ever experienced or wish to experience, thank you very much now i will wake up now screaming now, screaming screaming in my mind nonono... but then actually whimpering like a puppy out loud IRL, and then gaining movement again, saying, "whoof, glad THAT's over."

I prefer the former to the latter.
posted by not_on_display at 10:50 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


I've only witnessed sleep paralysis, and only once. I've experienced many things described in this thread. Lucid dreaming, weird problem solving, OBE, muscle spasms, hallucinations, all sorts of stuff. I know that I have never experienced sleep paralysis. It was obviously terrifying and different.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:12 PM on April 13


This happens to me often, so often it's stopped being scary. One plot twist is that, often, after the paralysis fades the hallucinations will still be there so I try to touch them only to see them dissipate a la the movies. It's kinda cool.

Otoh, if there is ever a real evil goblin in my room when I wake up I'm not going to take it nearly as seriously as I should
posted by fshgrl at 11:39 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


I've had this experience exactly once. Basically, take the short sharp shock of emotion you feel the instant someone says hello to you who you didn't hear approach and stretch it out over a period of seconds. It's really an emotion with no referent, and your mind goes ballistic trying to figure out (or fabricate) something, anything to give some account of why you're feeling this response. Then, add to it not being able to move, which adds on an additional layer of panic that builds on that initial slow-motion startle for as long as it lasts. The comment above is a slightly different experience than the one I had, but looks to match it for awfulness.

Even though I recognized it for what it was as soon as I was fully conscious, the emotion attached to it left me on edge the entire day. I've seen my share of terrifying films and I've been in some very scary situations in my own life (e.g., getting hit by a car while on foot), but I've never felt haunted by a fear response the way I did for the next maybe 10 or 12 hours.
posted by belarius at 12:41 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I've had this an odd handful of times, but mostly limited to "can't talk".
Recently, I had the full-on "awake and can't move" thing, and the presence violating my space was not a ghost, or a demon, or an alien, but the roommates' kid, who's not allowed in my room. In the dream, he was holding my arms, above the elbows, and I couldn't move them to push him away, nor could I speak.
When I awoke, my arms were folded, and I was gripping my own arms, above the elbows.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:14 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I sleepwalked a lot as a kid, and carried out conversations while asleep, much to my mothers amusement. It was only in my late teens that the sleep paralysis began, and while Parasite Unseen description is funny and accurate, it leaves out that haunting that belarius just mentioned. I've had nightmares, weird dreams, I fly a lot in my dreams, I have those dreams where I think I woke up and do my routine but alas, I'm still asleep. I've had really vivid dreams and simple blurbs of color floating about. Nothing compares to sleep paralysis. I'd love to lucid dream, unless that's the door because there's no way I can overcome that fear it awakens in me.
posted by dabitch at 1:48 AM on April 14


Oh I love the animated monsters singing do-wop at the end.
posted by dabitch at 1:57 AM on April 14


I've had nightmares, weird dreams, I fly a lot in my dreams, I have those dreams where I think I woke up and do my routine

Me too. And I've had sleep paralysis: it doesn't always come with fear, as treepour says. I love my dreams, I feel bad when going through times when I can't remember them. It makes me wonder if I'm heading for Alzheimer's.

That said, after a scary sleep paralysis episode that included thinking I'd woken up and escaped the horror only to find the horror still coming even though I was 'awake', I had the best dream ever afterwards. It still makes me glow a bit thinking about it and it was what, 44 years ago?
posted by glasseyes at 3:23 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Mind you, I've never had the full-on nightmare/incubus/old hag/alien abduction experience, maybe because I read about the phenomenon before I ever experienced it

I had it once, while staying in a hotel with a new girlfriend -- combination of unfamiliar place with unfamiliar person must have set me off.

If I wasn't already familiar with the concept, it probably would have screwed me up for days -- it was absolutely terrifying -- dreamt there were people in the room walking around, talking about me, holding me down. The worst part is that the shift from dreaming about the room to being awake in the room was very subtle. It took me several minutes to realize that there hadn't been anyone in the room with me and that I'd imagined the whole thing.
posted by empath at 3:39 AM on April 14


Am I just unlucky that every sleep paralysis episode I've ever had was absolutely terrifying?

I've even slept with my eyes open on occasion, and had my wall-art be backdrop to my dreams, but that wasn't what I'd consider sleep paralysis, it wasn't scary. It was just dreaming with my eyes open.
posted by dabitch at 3:55 AM on April 14


Scary. Accurate too.
posted by DinoswtfEd at 4:05 AM on April 14


Melville wrote about this in Moby Dick, I think. When I read it, it was the first inkling I had that it happened to other people and I wasn't crazy, at least, not about sleep paralysis
posted by angrycat at 4:21 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


What the? If anything's going to exacerbate my sleeping problems, it's imagery like this. I think I get sleep paralysis pretty regularly - it manifests itself as me driving and being unable to pump the brake when I know I'm about to have a collision, or being held down, or even knowing I am sleeping and trying desperately to wake up without success. It's weird and doesn't make for a good sleep, but I wake up and get on with life and try to get a better sleep the next night. But I don't think I've ever had anything like what this weird video is trying to portray. Maybe I've been relatively lucky.
posted by Diag at 4:49 AM on April 14


Really? I thought sleep paralysis was specifically "you are in your room/wherever you are sleeping and aware of your surroundings", because part of your brain did the silly thing to wake up before your body did, and then BAM dreamland marches in with a bunch of demonic things into your bedroom and all you can do is lay there paralyzed.

If you are driving and not being able to hit the breaks, sounds like a nightmare. Like those times I'm flying and then as I reach super-high, suddenly forget the magic that makes me able to and then I flap my arms in panic until I crash.
posted by dabitch at 4:56 AM on April 14


Interesting. I get these about once or twice a year, and they're always this Lovecraftian sort of unseeable horror that I know is there but doesn't really show itself. Everything else is there: the pressure on my chest, the inability to move or vocalize (I'm screaming in my head but the most that comes out is a subvocal groan), the sense of being terrorized, the feeling that something is coming or is here.... The most memorable occasion was one night when I "woke up" to something coming from somewhere behind the ceiling fan. I couldn't see it, I couldn't hear it, but I knew it was there and that it wasn't friendly. The episode itself probably only lasted a minute or two, but it felt like an hour or two, and when I woke up, my heart was beating a million times a minute. It took 15 minutes just for my body to start to relax, and I didn't sleep the rest of the night. One of the worst nights of my life, honestly.

FWIW, I apparently had absolutely horrendous night terrors for months as a small child. The kind where my parents would find me sitting up in bed, eyes wide open, screaming at the top of my lungs, and yet unaware of the world around me. I have no memory of those, but I do wonder if there's any sort of correlation between the two.

posted by zombieflanders at 5:01 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Oh, wow. That's an interesting data point zombieflanders, I had night terrors as a toddler too, and so did my daughter.
posted by dabitch at 5:57 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I've been having this lately, and have also been super stressed. For me, it's just literal paralysis, can't see (can't open eyelids), can't move any part of the body yet I know I'm awake. It's scary because you feel really vulnerable being 'blind' and totally immobile. I usually try to 'break it' by making a noise but they are very hard to generate in this state. Now I will try to 'wag a finger' or bend my little finger like someone upthread suggested. Or just pray it wont happen again for awhile!
posted by bquarters at 6:05 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Sleep paralysis isn’t always like this. Sometimes it’s just kinda weird, like you feel your body sliding sideways off the bed and then “up” the wall, or sometimes you hear random voices (not saying anything menacing), sometimes you just feel a pressure on your brain and hear static and see random colors, and then, if you manage to keep calm and keep your wits about you, you emerge into (as others have pointed out) a lucid dream.

I guess it takes a certain amount of self-control and willingness to confront the uncertain.
posted by 3FLryan at 6:10 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I've never had full visual hallucinations, (maybe the sort of weird colors you get when you rub your eyes), but I almost always have the same auditory hallucination: someone calling my name.

I used to sleepwalk a lot has a child, and sometime around 14 the sleepwalking totally stopped and the sleep paralysis began. I always figured they were somehow different sides of the same coin.

I've never been able to "get out" by fighting it. I have to calm myself down and fall back asleep. Much easier after it's happpened to you once a month for years.
posted by spaltavian at 6:22 AM on April 14


I wonder if this is the kind of thing that deeply religious people responded to with exorcisms many years ago?
posted by Theta States at 6:31 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I'm positive it inspired many scary stories, myths, accusations that people were witches, and possibly exorcisms too.
posted by dabitch at 7:20 AM on April 14


Oh man. The first time it happened we had just gone on a ghost tour in Edinburgh and were staying in an old hotel. I woke up to find I couldn't move and I was convinced a presence was holding me down. The worst part was trying to scream and move an arm to wake my partner and just this horrible feeling when no sound came out. When it wore off I was crying and shaking, and he's a total sceptic so he wasn't buying the ghost theory. I thought maybe it was just the power of suggestion but I knew the physical sensation had been so real. It happened a few more times closely after that and so then I knew it had to just be some physical reason (I hadn't really believed the ghost thing but it just felt so real that I was being pinned down by something invisible) and I remember getting up in the middle of the night after an episode and going on the internet to find out about it, and the relief of finding out exactly what it was.

I still have the very occasional occurrence, and more often the loud, pulsing whooshing sound that not_on_display mentioned, but now I just talk myself down by explaining to myself what's happening until it wears off. It really is not a fun experience, though.
posted by billiebee at 7:22 AM on April 14


I have sleep paralysis all the time, but especially when I stay up too late.

I don't tend to have it during the morning dream stage, but at the beginning of sleep.

Last night was a great example - I'm binging on The Walking Dead, and stayed up probably three episodes too long. I was exhausted, but I had sleep paralysis three times in trying to get to sleep.

Thankfully, I know what it is and that keeps most of the panic and the monsters away - but I still get the adrenalin rush when I finally break free of it to get up and have some water.

This video did describe pretty perfectly my experiences with it before I knew what it was.
posted by tomierna at 7:31 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


The times I've had this have, that I recall, never featured the unknowable horror or lurking Presence, not even the chest pressure. Just the full awareness of being immobilized and panicked about it. I'll try to yell and hear myself only making slightly longer breathing sounds or maybe a syllable. Triggers seem to be stress plus unfamiliar location, but it's still only a handful of instances.

But, I find it notable that in these situations, never some sense of presence, being held down, etc. No voices, no others in the room (even when there were other people).

Those unknown terrors have totally featured in other dreams, but not combined with the paralysis.

Go figure. Brains are fun.
posted by abulafa at 8:25 AM on April 14


A few times a year, I will talk in my sleep and my wife will be awake to hear it. Usually it's jibberish, but occasionally I do form complete sentences. Some keep my wife laughing for days and we've built a bunch of inside jokes off of them.

Her two favorites so far are:

"The History channel is putting all the teachers in a database", said in a very upset tone.

"We are flying to middle Tennessee to uncover the most important secrets in all of Tamriel", which was weird because, although my wife and I play Skyrim, I don't ever recall saying the word "Tamriel" out-loud before.
posted by Groundhog Week at 8:31 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


I couldn't tear myself away from this film.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:35 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I had this as a kid and teenager, and a very few times as an adult. I seem to remember it happening on mornings when I've slept too much (because I was trying to catch up on sleep). I'm just guessing here, but maybe the part of my brain that's in charge of sleep was going "I think you've had enough. How 'bout you get up and eat some breakfast?"

I've never had that whole eyes-open-can't-move-goblins-on-my-nightstand thing. All I can see is grey. I can hear my own breathing, and any panicky mental yelling I'm doing in response to the paralysis. I've gotten to where I can sort of pull myself out of it with a sharp yank. It's scary, and my impulse is always to fight it.

A few people upthread mentioned being able to transition from this state into lucid dreaming. How did you do it? It sounds less scary than the way I usually deal with it. However, I've also heard that lucid dreaming can be detrimental and exhausting. I don't really know much about it, and would be interested to hear others' experiences.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 9:34 AM on April 14


This has only happened to me once. No stressors. Not sure what precipitated this dream subject.

I was in an apartment with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, talking about things. I went into the other room, and there was Mark David Chapman. He was laughing at me, because I knew that he was going to kill John. He knocked me over and got on top of me and just kept laughing.

I woke up and could not move (as if pinned down) for at least 5-6 minutes.

Strangest dream I've ever had.
posted by kuanes at 9:51 AM on April 14


I also wonder how the pervasive sense of *supernatural* evil during these episodes must have affected people in ancient times and fueled beliefs. Because for me, the sense of "the devil" or some kind of pure evil was the salient feature of the event.

So does it require a sort of collective unconscious sense of supernatural evil, maybe even written somewhere in our DNA, that allows for this sense to manifest? If not, what could be the purpose, if it's not sort of written culturally deep within our psyches?

I guess one purpose could be that since your body is temporarily paralyzed and your mind is active (albeit between sleep and wakefulness), perhaps the sense of evil frightens you into limiting motionless beyond what the sleep paralysis already does?

And how often is this particular and peculiar sense of freaking evil lurking anyway? Is it strictly limited to these episodes? Maybe I don't really want to know this!
posted by absentian at 9:57 AM on April 14


Although I have very vivid, elaborate dreams, I can't recall ever having a bout of sleep paralysis until a "previously" I read here. (Thanks, MeFi.) Since then I've had it a few times, the garden variety "I can't move/something is pressing down on me."

I've also experienced the following:
1. A sort of waking dream as I'm trying to fall asleep - where I know I'm not fully asleep, but I kind of hallucinate random, dreamlike things.
2. I've had one or two amusing lucid dreams in my life. (The kind where I assure someone NOT to worry because this is just my dream.)
3. Multiple instances of deja vu.
4. And I'm also very susceptible to being hypnotized.

I wonder if all of these experiences/phenomena/abilities are related neurologically somehow.
posted by NorthernLite at 10:04 AM on April 14


me-fi needs a lucid dreaming sub-site. I know y'all are out there.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:04 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


The one time I most thoroughly had this was January 17, 1994, at about 6:31am Chicago time. How do I know this? Because it happened at the same time as the Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles. I woke up in my dark apartment in Chicago, lying on my back, couldn't move, pressure on the chest, sensation of someone or something in the room, although I couldn't see them. I wouldn't call it "terrifying" but it was certainly unsettling, enough that I didn't go back to sleep and instead turned on the TV, which shortly started in with reports of the earthquake that had just happened in L.A. I am not a person who believes that was anything other than a wild coincidence, but still, it was a truly eerie experience.

I've had the sleep paralysis a couple other times since, I think, but very mild. I start to wake up, can't move, and as soon as my mind realizes that I think "oh. It's sleep paralysis again. Funky!" - and then I just lie there and wait for it to pass.
posted by dnash at 10:30 AM on April 14


If you wait it out, do you fall back asleep, or do you wake up?
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 11:32 AM on April 14


I've always had these, since my earliest memories. Their occurrence spiked in my teens when a mixture of insomnia and antidepressants (zoloft) seemed to really trigger them. They were never very scary when I was a child, but they seem to have gotten disquietingly more horror and anxiety based as I've gotten older. I was really relieved when I learned about sleep paralysis in a freshman psych course.


F_H_T, when I become semi- or fully aware of it, I can try to wake up, but this often leads to a string of false awakenings. Eventually I do fully wake up with effort. But it can be a stressful experience and make it hard to fall back asleep, or worse, I may fall right back into the cycle if I do fall asleep quickly.

Also related: The Mad Gasser of Mattoon was mostly likely a mixture of mass hysteria and sleep paralysis. And it inspired this awesome version of the Sandman.
posted by es_de_bah at 12:21 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


So does it require a sort of collective unconscious sense of supernatural evil...

You know, when it first began for me I was looking all of that up and wondering why the experiences are all so similar. When it comes to the evil entity in the room, that much like in the film can be shadows floating up on your wall to suddenly form a shape, mine never looked like a "proper" devil or anything of the sort. It was always the shadow of a tall slender man (oh, I realize now how scary that sounded but this dreaming began in the 80s) so...... all shadow, all black... except when he laughs at me, where you see all white big teeth. Normal human teeth. But whoa, so scary when placed in a featureless shadow face.

And that "evil" feeling? He's coming to kill me and eat me or something. Fear for my life is as evil as stuff gets, isn't it? I think it's a very natural human reaction to fear death. I'm sure that fear spans all religions, cultures and time.
posted by dabitch at 1:23 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


es_de_bah: yeah, my sleep paralysis more often happened when I was on xanax + serzone. It hasn't happened on different meds.
posted by divabat at 1:58 PM on April 14


Yeah, FWIW, I think a few people in this thread seem to be confusing nightmares or other dream-weirdness with "awareness during sleep paralysis", which is the term I prefer -- we *all* have sleep paralysis, it's just your conscious brain taking over when in this state that's troublesome. (And I don't say that to discount other peoples' terrifying night problems, at all).

Everyone's experiences are different. For me, this happened to me a lot in my teens, but only a time or two since I reached adulthood. It started happening at a time in my life when I was undergoing some really severe stresses, and also had the first major swing of what was soon diagnosed as bipolar disorder. (And, actually, now that I think about it, I think it began happening a lot less frequently once I got nicely medicated for the BPD and variuos associated ailments)

For me it always started the same way: I'd wake up in my bed, with everything normal, except for a sense that something wasn't right. I'd often hear perfectly mundane noises around me, such as family talking in the other room, and have all the sane indications that I was awake and all was right with the world -- except I'd become gradually aware of two things: that something terrible was happening, and that I could not move. At all.

This would then trigger an "oh no, it's happening again" in me, at which point I came to full "awareness" of something terrible in my room. It took different forms -- sometimes just a vague indistinct threat, sometimes something on my chest, at other times some horrifying shadow-monster at the foot of my bed, or standing in a half-open closet door, first watching me, then ever so slowly crossing the room towards me, and I just KNEW that if I didn't get the ability to move before it reached me, well... I wouldn't like what happened.

And yes, what other people have described: the absolute soul-shredding, mind-bending, deep and primal terror that I have never, ever felt in any other situation. It truly has a flavor, to me, of something buried far back in the animal brain, closely akin to those "gut feelings" that a situation is dangerous and you should avoid it for reasons you can't quite pin down, but infinitely stronger, as though there we some universal wellspring of all that mankind can ever imagine in all of its worst nightmares, combined, and you're drinking from it.

And then you try to cry out. And at best you manage a whimper. And full realization of your plight kicks in. I finally figured out on my own (this was before convenient internet research) that if I tried to keep calm and concentrated really, really hard on just moving the tip of one finger, I could eventually get there. And from there move a whole finger. And then maybe another one. At some point, before I got to lifting my whole arm, the spell would snap, and with a bizarre half-physical, half -perceptual "whoosh" I'd snap out of it, the acute terror would fade, and I'd slowly begin to come back to normality.

And almost every time, everything I'd visually or aurally experienced, except for the terrors themselves, persisted: lighting was the same, noises carried on, if I'd smelled food cooking, I still smelled it. I had been almost completely awake, except for.... THAT. And that lack of discontinuity between the nightmare state and the walking was very disconcerting. It could take hours until I was fully over it, and often that lingering sense of having touched some deep, fundamental evil would last longer than that.

Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. Even understanding what's happening does little to help when you're experiencing, except make the process of trying to break the spell slightly more reasoned. So glad it hardly happens to me any more. But even thinking about it now, I have that echoing memory of the kind of terror it instills, and I need to go hug my daughter or something.
posted by jammer at 2:32 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


And now, having said all that.... yeah, since I learned that this is a not-uncommon experience, I have often wondered, when I think about it, where that commonly reported sense of unbelievable terror comes from, and how much this explains the common beliefs in demons, night hags, and similar things across so many human cultures.

I don't want to over-attribute things to this one phenomenon, but it seems to at least partially explain a lot of apparently universal human beliefs which otherwise don't make much sense, at least from the perspective of their consistency across cultures. I wonder how much more of our common delusions, such as those of communication with gods, angels, etc, can be attributed to other universal quirks of the illusion we call consciousness. I know that simple oxygen deprivation, for example, has been shown to cause a lot of the "light at the end of the tunnel" tales that people who have near-death experiences commonly report.
posted by jammer at 2:55 PM on April 14


Once, having gone to bed alone, I "woke up" to find a mysterious gentleman with me under the covers, holding me tight and whispering in my ear. Something in my mind told me to check out his feet. I tentatively reached my own foot down to have a feel of his. They were, of course, hooves. At this point I tried very hard to wake up. And succeeded, yay! To notice a real-live spider dangling from the ceiling about three inches away from my mouth, boo!

Didn't we just have a mention about the third man syndrome recently? I wonder if that's in any way neurologically related - a default way for the brain to process the unknown by personifying it.
posted by glasseyes at 3:55 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid it was a red-eyed, winged wolf demon right on my chest, nose to nose with me. That it didn't eat or kill me had me convinced I was spared for something far far worse.

Later it was a single shadowy intruder with ill intent, and just once 7 or 9 nazgulike things complete with swords standing around the bed.

It is in a way a reality simulation, not a dream.The details are so correct, the feelings and sensations so very real. It is as if one has a photographic memory, in all five senses, to draw on to bolster the simulation.

As far as surfing it goes, once I found out what it was (thanks big sis for saving my sanity) I read up on it and read somewhere that what to do is try to calm down, remind yourself nothing can hurt you, remind yourself not to be afraid, and try to float up out of your body be changing what you are looking at. The rest of the room or house or flat or whatever is there, as perfectly accurate information, like when you "look" left or right in TF2 or portal or even in design software I guess. So try to change what you are looking at but consent to leave your "body" behind. Once I floated up, looked down at me, floated out to the living room and watched my roomie watch tv, then went back.

That being said, 70% of the times it happened in my life were abject terror, all the worse because there seemed no rational explanation.
posted by vrakatar at 3:59 PM on April 14


A couple times a week, I am laboring to wiggle fingers or toes trapped in sleep paralysis, trying to wrench myself out of a nightmare that I am aware that I'm having. I had a terrible night a few weeks ago where I kept falling back into the same nightmare requiring repeated frantic attempts to bust out of sleep paralysis and it got very weirdly meta.

But it's only a couple of times a year that I get the full-on horrorshow of being awake, paralyzed, and hallucinating about the sentient shadowy shapes present in the room.
posted by desuetude at 4:56 PM on April 14


I used to have sleep paralysis pretty often as a teenager, but never with the feeling of some kind of presence in the room like most people describe. Instead, I would feel some weird electrical vibrations pulsing through my body and sometimes a heavy static or wind noise. The first time it happened was frightening because I had no idea what it was. But after it had happened a few times I used it to to start lucid dreaming - mostly lucid dreams where I started out floating around in my room, but then as I mentally fell asleep again, gradually progressed into other sorts of dreams.
posted by pravit at 5:28 PM on April 14


Back when I lived in Grand Rapids, MI, I had a dream in which I was lying in bed on my laptop and I found a website called shityourbedgrandrapids.com. I don't remember much about the site other than its boast of a 68.1% success rate and the fact that I clicked to connect to its server. As the blue progress bar marched onward, I began a bowel movement in my bed, and the dream-logic was sound: Hey, this'll be easy to clean up! I don't even have to move.

Clarity struck: I was about to shit the bed! That's bad! Really bad! In the dream, I wobbled to the bathroom before I sullied my property, and on the way, reality set in: This is a dream, and I need to bail out before I shit my real-life bed!

Thus I began to furiously shake myself from the deep sea of REM sleep, praying that a dangling turd couldn't follow me from the subconscious world. Once I wrenched my eyes open, I tried pumping my legs, as if riding an aerial bike would propel me to the bathroom. But I was obviously still asleep, because every conscious command yielded no movement, which was mildly anxiety-inducing (both from sleep paralysis and the lingering worry that I wrecked my sheets).

It took me a couple minutes to regain my full faculties, after which I quickly checked the bed (unsoiled!) and promptly went to the bathroom.

So, my lone experience with sleep paralysis was panic-inducing, but for different reasons. (And, for what it's worth, shityourbedgrandrapids.com is not a registered website. Not that you should connect to it.)
posted by Turkey Glue at 6:37 PM on April 14 [6 favorites]


Applause. Thread-winner.
posted by glasseyes at 3:02 AM on April 17


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