Sleep paralysis
November 28, 2004 1:14 AM   Subscribe

The terror of a trapped mind is difficult to describe. Have you ever awakened to complete immobility? If so, you probably suffer from sleep paralysis, a condition that afflicts 25% of the American population. Such episodes, which usually only last for a few minutes, can frequently be accompanied by bizarre hallucinations, and some believe the phenomenon is responsible for alien abduction, "Old Hag Syndrome", and the incubus myth. Although most believe the disorder is genetic, explinations vary. Are you an experiencer? Then you understand how frightening it can be. Luckily, you can fight it.
(This is my first FPP in 3 years of reading, so comments and criticisms are very much appreciated.)
posted by baphomet (102 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
great now i am afraid to go to bed@!
posted by c at 1:22 AM on November 28, 2004

The thing I find most fascinating about this is that many of the hallucinations I've experienced- presences (I've conversed with them, one of them claimed to be Death), voices, buzzing/wind noises, the sensation of being crushed or sat on, and the overwhelming terror are things that thousands of people also experience when they become aware. As a child I thought I was going to die when this happened- the paralysis, which started when I was probably 8 or 10, was often concurrent with a pulsing, pounding sensation in my head, which would get stronger and stronger with each repitition. Thankfully this aspect of it has gone away.
For the longest time I thought I was alone and didn't really talk about this, but after some research I found out that this is somewhat common. I also discovered that my mother and grandmother (and her mother) were both experiencers. Lucky for me that I inherited it, as opposed to either of my sisters!
posted by baphomet at 1:23 AM on November 28, 2004

I'm not sure I understand the idea. Would someone explin it to me, please?

//smart ass at 4:30 in the morning
posted by Plinko at 1:31 AM on November 28, 2004

When i was 12, i was watching Sightings, and they showed a dramatization of the old hag syndrome, featuring a shadowy, hobbled old lady walking into someone's bedroom on grainy video. This was the scariest, most darkly resonant image i had ever seen and it still haunts me. Thanks for the reminder!

Sleep paralysis has happened to me a few times. Totally horrifying. But life seems so mysterious afterward, which is nice.
posted by luckyclone at 1:33 AM on November 28, 2004

Great. I'm going to sleep really well now.

Thanks luckyclone for that image - I think I've seen that show as well.

Oddly, I remember seeing a television program about sleep paralysis long before I ever had it. I've probably had it a half a dozen times, and it's always ridiculously terrifying.

My worst sleep paralysis experience was during undergraduate when I had the top bunk in my dormroom. I woke up from a somewhat scary dream, unable to move, convinced there was someone "bad" in my room. I felt like I could see someone in my peripheral vision, but I was unable to turn my head. I wanted to scream, but couldn't even move. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few seconds I got out an abortive yelp as I regained motor control.

This year I was hit by an auto while riding my motorcycle. Just before impact, I was pretty sure I had a good chance of dying (clearly, I didn't). For comparison, I've had sleep paralysis experiences that were nearly as terrifying (though they didn't produce the recurring flashbacks I have of the wreck).

There's something peculiarly terrifying about the total inability to move - it amplifies any fear that gets into your head.
posted by rdub at 1:44 AM on November 28, 2004

I was just wondering about why I pretty much don't have this anymore when I read that SSRIs can significantly reduce it. I had it quite a lot when I was young. It's also interesting that some parts of this are very like schizophrenic symptoms, too, aren't they?

The "old hag" thing is really interesting and I'm glad to learn that it's common. I knew about sleep paralysis in general, but I wasn't aware that it was common to have that horrible "someone evil is standing over me" feeling. I hate that.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:46 AM on November 28, 2004

I'm curious: would somnambulism be considered the natural opposite of this (the "neurochemical paralysis" being ineffective/absent)? I've experienced neither sleepwalking nor sleep paralysis, so it looks like my chemical balance is tip-top; good for me and all that. (From the sound of it, I don't particularly want to experience SP. Spooky stuff.)
posted by jenovus at 1:58 AM on November 28, 2004

It's extremely common in Japan. In fact, most everyone I know (at work and in private life) is very surprised that I have never, ever had it happen to me.
posted by Bugbread at 2:00 AM on November 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Jenovus: On the somnambulism bit... I think my mom was a sleepwalker when she was a child, so it's interesting that I've had the opposite experience. I'm in the US, but I don't think I've ever known anyone else who's had sleep paralysis - maybe I just haven't been asking though.
posted by rdub at 2:05 AM on November 28, 2004

Oh yeah, my whole point about having seen the TV show was that it sounded completely ridiculous to me at the time, and I remembered it after I started having the experiences.
posted by rdub at 2:09 AM on November 28, 2004

Thanks for the post, baphomet. My girlfriend is susceptible to sleep paralysis. Once or twice, she's been paralyzed and tried to cry out for me while I've been right at the foot of the bed, on the computer, and never suspecting what was happening to her. I've never experienced this, but I'm sure it must be terrifying.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:10 AM on November 28, 2004

Loud buzzing, with a sensation of being swept away in a fierce wind, is what i experience occasionally. The first occurence was when i was "coming down" after eating way too many psilocybin mushrooms (immoderate youth). The phenomenon still occurs occasionally; i chalked it up as a flashback.

I now just "surf it" when it happens. It seems like it lasts for minutes, but is most likely at most a few seconds. Once i stopped being afraid of what might be happening, i found it rather pleasant, like a carnival ride. A neuro doc i talked to about it once, told me that sleep paralysis usually only lasts for a split second, but people experience it as lasting longer.

The human brain is not perfect; i am awaiting an upgrade.

posted by reflecked at 2:20 AM on November 28, 2004

Holy crap, this is some scary shit.

A neuro doc i talked to about it once, told me that sleep paralysis usually only lasts for a split second, but people experience it as lasting longer.

How would they know?
posted by sour cream at 2:38 AM on November 28, 2004

Holy shit, this just happened to me on Friday.

I had the very, very, very strong sensation of two women--witches--standing beside my bed putting their fingers through my skull and doing some seriously bad stuff to my brain.

Yes, this is some scary, scary shit.

It's seems to be happening to me more frequently :(

Haha, it's awesome to see this is common. For a while there... I was growing concerned that I was experiencing the first stages of schizophrenia. Thanks so much for this post!

P.S For other "experiencers" out there, I found I can "break" episodes just by concentrating extremely hard to maky any kind of movement, any at all. Like just jerking. If you can just move a tiny bit the entire thing ends...

P.P.S. Though one thing about my episode on Friday... the experience continued after I'd broken free. I looked into the mirror and my eyes were these glowing gray pools... has anybody ever had the hallucination kind of fade on them?
posted by nixerman at 2:46 AM on November 28, 2004

Also, what's up with people having good episodes? This guy's seeing aliens and angels. Not fair! All my experiences have been very, very bad. I'm almost always being attacked or about to be attacked. Are other people having good episodes? I wonder if there's any way to control it?
posted by nixerman at 2:50 AM on November 28, 2004

Oddly enough I have experienced this too, although I never knew that other people experienced it.

The funny thing is, I've not experienced the abject terror described... usually I feel as though I'm suffocating (great weight crushing me, etc.), but for whatever reason I relax, and it goes away shortly. Hm.
posted by Tikirific at 2:53 AM on November 28, 2004

The terror is truly something, or at least it was for me. I've never felt anything like it--fear straight to my core, as though I was confronting pure "evil". That was just the first time, though. Now, it's a welcome experience. I'm not sure why it would continue to be a negative thing for other people. For me, the terror in it vanished right as it became familiar. Whether or not that's the explanation, I don't know.

After that first time, I began experiencing the rumbling and ringing, which was alarming, but ultimately became more a thing of interest. I've read about the supposed link to out of body experiences, as on that link, so I, too, do my best to "surf it", to see where things might end up. Unfortunately, I haven't been successful at achieving such an end. The sound/rumbling can be quite overwhelming and the first time I felt I might be peaking through it, I got scared and fought back to the plain state of paralysis. Since that time, I have only been able to drift from the plain state into the loud rumbling a couple of times before regaining normal consciousness. Oh well. I wish it would happen every time I wake up.
posted by flavor at 3:01 AM on November 28, 2004

I too experience sleep paralysis, and caught on to nixerman's method of making any kind of movement to break out of an episode -- generally just moving my toe would do it. Unfortunately, attempting to move as soon as I slipped into an episode became such a reflex that I've only once or twice been able to intentionally ride an event.

Of course, now that I'm aware of what's going on, I'd much rather spend more time paying attention to the hallucinations, as they're extremely fascinating once you accept that they can't harm you. Further, I read some website years ago in which an experiencer was able to take his SP episodes and trick his mind into creating a faux out-of-body experience. The trick is apparently attempting to rotate without rolling over and in a sense spin up out of your body. I've managed to pull this off once, and it's absolutely amazing. So, next time you're experiencing a mild episode, have some fun with it -- the human mind is an amazing thing to play with.

[On preview: My thoughts exactly, flavor :) ]
posted by SemiSophos at 3:07 AM on November 28, 2004

"How would they know?"

sour cream... there are sleep labs, where people who experience sleep disorders are hooked up to monitors; the hypnagogic and hypnopompic states can both be identified by EEG.

"The sound/rumbling can be quite overwhelming"....

flavor.... i agree that it can, especially if a person has no clue as to whether they'll come out of it. After 100 or so episodes, one tends to feel more assured that it will pass. The wind sensation that i get along with the loud buzzing is accompanied by an actual feeling of the skin of my face fluttering as though i was in a force 9 gale. Now i always mentally smile when i feel it happening.

My sympathy to those who have terrifying experiences. As the links surely point out, there are strategies for coping.
posted by reflecked at 3:26 AM on November 28, 2004

Is there some connection between sleeping on your back and getting these things? I remember experiencing this maybe twice, once was a classic except that I was imagineing a roommate and former girlfriend I had standing over me, and it was terrifying.

But I sleep on my side about half the time and I never remember it happening then.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:07 AM on November 28, 2004

As a lucid dreamer and someone who experiences sleep paralysis, I find the experience to be somewhat pleasurable, if only for the novelty of it. I'm sometimes fully aware of when it is happening and am usually disappointed when I snap out of it and wake up. I've never had a nightmare either. But perhaps I've had dreams that could be nightmares, I just enjoy them, like a good movie.

One time I had the distinct feeling that I was floating up out of my bed, each time I'd hit the cealing I would "wake up" back in my bed, but unable to move, only to start floating up towards the ceiling again. This cycle repeated itself at least a dozen times. This episode is what got me interested in sleep phenomena and got me studying lucid dreaming.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 4:10 AM on November 28, 2004

I've been having these absolutely terrifying experiences on a fairly regular basis for several years. The thing I've found to be most effective in breaking out of sleep paralysis is to repeatedly roll my eyes to one side and try to use that momentum to make a small movement in my head. But even after having sleep paralysis many times and now knowing what is going on, I still am usually too frightened to even think of this while it is happening. Also, even if I do break out of it I am often pulled back in after a few seconds.

It is interesting reading about how other people try to use sleep paralysis to experiment with other things and even look forward to it. I'll try to keep that in mind for the next time but have trouble imagining being able to get past the all-consuming fear.
posted by sksk at 4:28 AM on November 28, 2004

this used to happen to me when i was younger, but i don't at ALL remember experiencing any of the strange phenomena that others are describing... i simply couldn't move, and that alone was terrifying enough for me.
posted by jimmy at 4:36 AM on November 28, 2004

Only happened once, about 15 years ago, and it's still vivid. I didn't know what it was until about five years ago. Like Sir Milderd, my experience wasn't scary at all, just fascinating. I awoke to my dark bedroom. Then the room filled with light, but not from outside, from the center of the room. It was bright as day, and I could hear daytime sounds coming from downstairs- my dog drinking from her dish, my Dad talking and cooking. It was very lifelike, the sound, humdrum really. I felt like I was peering into the next day. Then I snapped out of it, felt entirely awake and aware, back in my middle-of-the-night bedroom.
posted by bendybendy at 4:49 AM on November 28, 2004

It happened when I was seven years old and woke up with a fever of 105.

I wanted to scream but couldn't. I couldn't move and I felt like I was already dead. I thought "oh, no, this is what it's like to not be alive - it's just like being alive, but you can't DO anything."

It took...I don't know. 10 minutes? 15? before I was finally able to scream, bringing my mother to my room, at which point everything was ok.

I'd always attributed it to the sickness. Now I wonder if I'll ever experience it again. I suppose now that I know, I'll be able to look at it as more "interesting" than "awful."
posted by u.n. owen at 4:52 AM on November 28, 2004

Baphomet - Great post! I've experienced Sleep Paralysis many times in my life. I've explained the symptoms to many friends, but don't think I've ever come across anyone before who has also experienced it. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one.

Space Coyote - According to some of the links in the post, sleeping on one's back increases the likelihood that one will experience an SP episode. It always and only happens to me when I sleep on my back.

Most of these links describe SP as being awake but paralyzed. I always felt like I was actually still asleep, but dreaming very vividly that I was awake and unable to move. To me it always feels like I come out of it in stages. First I think I'm awake, then I find out I can't move and figure I'm still asleep. After a struggle, I feel like I'm actually awake, only to find that I'm still paralyzed (and thus asleep and dreaming). After a few struggles like this (trying to move or cry out, or whatever), I finally do wake up fully and am able to control my body.

For me, the experience is usually, if not always, accompanied by the feeling that someone is in the hallway and is approaching my room. I don't necessarily think of this person as evil, but I do feel some heavy fear, knowing that whatever this person's intentions are, if I'm still unable to move when they reach my room, I won't be able to defend myself or run away.

Fortunately, I don't experience SP as often as I used to.
posted by syzygy at 4:58 AM on November 28, 2004

God I HATE HATE HATE this. It's only happened a handful of times, but I remember it vivdly. I never had the sensation of another presence, in fact I each time I very quckly "knew" what was going (I'd think to myself, "I'm awake but my body's asleep") but the growing panic as you try and move even the smallest muscle unsuccessfully.... I imagine it's like being buried alive.
posted by jalexei at 5:25 AM on November 28, 2004

I find this topic so fascinating. I've been reading about it for a number of years -- I have it, so does my mother, her siblings, my brother, my dad, and many of my friends. Some folks believe that sleep paralysis is actually astral catalepsy (Ctrl+F "astral catalepsy" or scroll down to the "SYMPTOMS" heading). Though most MeFites seem like a skeptical lot and would probably scorn the theory, I can believe it.

jenovus: I'm no sleep expert, but I don't think inclinations toward sleep paralysis and somnabulism are necessarily mutually exclusive in an individual -- I have always experienced both extremely frequently. But then, I've always had weird sleep issues -- as a baby, I suffered from constant night terrors. My mom tells me I never really slept at night and all through the night until I was about four. I've continued to have frequent, horrible nightmares quite a lot. I talk in my sleep loudly almost every night, and almost never in a comprehensible tongue -- but when I do, I will often issue commands and respond to questions in a personality completely different from my own (that is, a really, really mean one).

All this stuff, especially the sleep paralysis coupled with hallucinations, I experienced most strongly when I was a teenager, for whatever reason (a lot of people say your psychic energy is strongest and most uncontrollable then, FWIW). Now all that stuff seems to have levelled off somewhat.

Oh, and worst hallucinations I had? With one, I saw a Nosferatu-like figure sitting on the edge of my bed, with his chin in one hand, staring off into space, looking extremely miserable. Another time, I saw a shadowy figure standing in my bedroom doorway, about to eat a baby. Fucking hell, those were some bad nights.
posted by fricative at 5:27 AM on November 28, 2004

Regarding the sleeping on your back thing: That (and genetics) may explain why it's never happened to me. I always sleep face-down. The closest I got to sleep paralysis was when one day when I woke up, and found I couldn't sit up or lift my arms. For a second I thought "Cool, sleep paralysis!" but then realized that I was in fact fully awake, and the problem was that I was lying on my stomach but momentarily under the impression that I was lying on my back, meaning whenever I tried to lift my arms, I was just pushing them into the bed. It did wake me up with a chuckle, though.
posted by Bugbread at 5:29 AM on November 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Oh, and with me, sleep paralysis seems to have nothing to do with back-sleeping -- I've always ever been faithful to the fetal position.
posted by fricative at 5:46 AM on November 28, 2004

Although I've never experienced sleep paralysis (maybe because I sleep on my stomach?), this discussion reminds me of a couple episodes I had in elementary school. Essentially, I was up and moving about my room, awake and aware of my actual surroundings, but still dreaming. And horrible dreams they were (frustration dreams, at the core, but filled with other senses of chaos and uncontrol, and a certain tone of voice used by the "characters" which sends chills up my spine to this day). I remember running around my room in a circle in one, and bouncing on my knees at the foot my bed in the other. It made me scared for years of the particular light conditions under which I experienced this. Just remembering it now, more than 10 years later, is making me woozy and lightheaded, and I feel what I always think of as my "nightmare feeling" in my stomach and chest. For that, I listen to Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. Fixes me up every time.

Anybody else experienced something like this?
posted by rustcellar at 6:10 AM on November 28, 2004

For sheer concentrated fear, sleep paralysis can hardly be beat. But after all the times it's happened to me, I sort of want to test it out again. It's like being on the edge of another world, even if it's a terrifying one. That said, I probably haven't suffered a case in years, so I may very well be romanticising the experience.

I'd never heard of this as the "Old Hag" syndrome, but holy Jesus - reading it described in those terms is scaring me RIGHT NOW.


On the other hand, the Japanese "drawing out sadness" sounds surreal and beautiful.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:16 AM on November 28, 2004

Yeah, the "old hag" thing is pretty much the most scared I've ever been. Once, when I was a teenager, I experienced this and then when released from the sleep paralysis, sat upright and screamed, just like people do in the movies. That's the only time I've ever done that, but still, it doesn't seem as cliched to me as it did before.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:18 AM on November 28, 2004

I get this a couple times a year and it's become less disturbing and more of a nuisance as I get, for lack of a better word, acclimated to the weirdness.

For me, it's always pretty much the same: I'm on my back and see someone enter the room and hover over me. They don't do anything overtly threatening, but the fact they've apparently broken into the house in the middle of the night is cause enough for alarm.

So I try to move and find that lifting even my head is like trying to move an anvil with your pinky. The utter lack of effect is truly alarming.

So at that point, I'm pretty much frustrated and irritated, but part of me knows it's just sleep paralysis and that the other part of me that's scared and worried is just gonna have to deal.

But the first time I ever experienced it, man, that scared the crap out of me...
posted by Mr Pointy at 7:34 AM on November 28, 2004

[awesome post]

Fortunately, my trusty TFH protects me by day and by night.
posted by HyperBlue at 7:37 AM on November 28, 2004

Dear Baphomet -- This is an awesome and fantastic first post, and I'm so pleased that you're here inside this blue madhouse with us. Keep up the good work! Also, I love your username.
posted by anastasiav at 7:43 AM on November 28, 2004

Baphomet, thank you very very much for this post.

I have been and on and off sufferer of exceptionally strong sleep paralysis episodes since I was a kid. Along side some insanely strong hypnopompic and hypnagogic hallucinations (going to sleep for me usually involves a 10-20 minute session of twitching, jumping out of bed, etc due to these hallucinations) you can say my sleep and dream life is quite interesting. I have experienced quite the spectrum, everything from pretty much all the items listed in the first link (including the 'rare', demons, aliens, ghosts, etc) to out of body experiences, and some 'dreams' that have quite honestly jarred me and made me question many of my beliefs.

Many of them stand out strongly in my mind, and I apologize in advance for the length of this entry, but I figure it might add to the discussion to include at least one of them in here:

This is one of the strongest ones I can remember (although not the strongest): I was woken up by a voice calling my name, softly, like a mother trying to wake you up. Almost immediately I realized that I was completely paralyzed, and to my horror, I was convinced I was not alone in the room, there were two presence, an 'evil' one, and a 'good' one. If you don't know what screaming inside your head feels like, you find out in moments like this. And unlike what one of those links said, screaming did not help me get out of it, neither did trying to move, it only exacerbated the fear.

The voice in my head I was convinced was coming from the 'good' presence, and it was soothing; it changed when I got the most afraid and it calmed me down. Even though I couldn't see either (well any more than slight movements in the shadows, which made it even worse for me) I was sure the good presence was by my head, I could even imagine a hand stroking my hair. The threatening one was in the corner, staring at me, waiting.

The voice suddenly became alarmed, and, still calling my name, over and over, it got more urgent. Now it wasn't trying to wake me up, it was more like 'watch out' or 'get ready' (still, all it would say is my name, over and over). Suddenly the shadows moved and the creature in the corner jumped at me, and was on top of me. I could feel the pressure as it dug its hands into my stomach, actually my solar plexus. I can remember even pain, but that might be a false memory. It grabbed something deep within me, and began to rip it out of my body. I can't really explain how exactly this feels, only that I have never, ever in my life, including past sleep paralysis and all those hallucinations up to this point, felt so scared for my life. I probably felt the same way a person feels when a lion is finally on top of them after having them brought down, and is starting to rip into their entrails while still alive. This is the horror I felt, and it felt real.

What it was pulling, I don't know, but it felt strange, as if it was my soul rather than any of my entrails. I felt strong vibrations rippling through my paralyzed body and suddenly it was as if I was starting to lift, but stranger than that, as if also receding within my body first. Stranger still, I found a way to fight back, it was almost like an instinct, like holding on from within. After what seemed the most exhausting eternity, it let go of me, and went back to the corner. After a short while, it all faded away and I was able to move, which allowed me to successfully be a wild-eyed, trembling mess in bed for the rest of the night. Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well for the coming weeks, which only makes it worse for the coming nights.

Another interesting 'fact': the voice was familiar, but not from the 'real' world but rather the dream one. It was a woman's voice I had heard before in my dreams several times. I remember at one point during the less horrified moments of this experience even going to myself 'it is her!', and trying to get a look at her, but not being able to, as if my eyes couldn't turn enough in my paralyzed head to get a glimpse of her.

I have suffered as many as 3 or 4 in a single week, but now days they are very rare, and only happen every 6 months or so. The spectacularly lucid, epic and serial dreams I get (I could go on forever about this, you wouldn't belive them) and the hypnogogia are still with me, just as strong. I have learned to live with it, and even deal with the fear and horror involved in them, to the point I am in control, most of the time anyways. I have learnt to use them as inspirations for some of my art, and even writing, but I am afraid my skills in either of those is frustratingly insufficient.

If for some reason any of you want to read any other of those experiences just let me know and I'll post them. I have an interesting one regarding a 'ghost', but I feel this is way too long already as it is.
posted by oneiros at 8:04 AM on November 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Rustcellar, I don't know what the technical term is for that, but it happens to me about once every few years. I think of it as a dream that takes hold and carries over into the awake time.

Usually it's a dream about something fairly alarming, which requires me to take action. For example, the last time it happened, I dreamed that there was a small, poisonous snake loose in my bedcovers. I finally came to after I had turned on the overhead light, completely stripped my bed, and was in the process of methodically shaking out the sheets.

I sleepwalk, sleeptalk, have these carryover episodes, and experience auditory hallucinations as I'm falling asleep (usually of a dead relative calling out my name, which is... a little unnerving), but I've not yet had sleep paralysis. I guess I'm just too frisky for that.
posted by mechagrue at 8:11 AM on November 28, 2004

I used to experience this quite regularly. A few minutes after I would lay down in bed and try to get to sleep, it would suddenly happen - my body would fall asleep, but my brain would still feel awake. I could tell that my eyes were closed, that there was a blanket on top of me, that I was laying on my back, but I knew I was in a dream state. I couldn't move, and often couldn't breathe - completely paralyzed. I would hallucinate sounds, hearing footsteps usually - but I was aware that I was staring at the back of my eyelids, and I could not tell if the sounds were real or not. It scared the hell out of me, and I would try so hard to move, or to wake up, but to no avail. Eventually, I would snap out of it as suddenly as it started, and would wake up terrified. Usually I would try to go back to sleep, only to have it happen again immediatly, seconds after closing my eyes. Sometimes, this would happen 6 or 7 times a night. It doesn't happen as much anymore, but it still does occaisonally.
posted by skwm at 8:18 AM on November 28, 2004

I have episodes about once a week. As a child, I used to be terrified to go to bed each night and I attribute much of my night owl behaivor to a reluctance to go to bed. I also sleepwalk and have night terrors with annoying frequency.
Though I've trained myself to wake up from these episodes, ignore the hallucinations, and go back to sleep, it's still an exhausting process. I might as well have insomnia.

I have some pretty fantastic hallucinations: anything from shadowy people to floating orbs of light to the ceiling bulging down and trying to smother me - yeah, I totally understand where myths of the supernatural come from.

I avoid scary movies, and yet I still experience that sort of imagery. The worst to date was having sleep paralysis and hallucinating I was buried alive with a very rotting corpse next to me. I knew it wasn't real, but it was unpleasant - and there - all the same. Stupid brain.

I don't care how logical you are -- Knowing your terror is irrational doesn't dull the feeling very much, nor does it prevent it in the future. It just makes it pass a bit quicker. And that is the most frustrating part of the whole ordeal.
posted by Sangre Azul at 8:18 AM on November 28, 2004

The reticular activation formation of the brain is responsible for inhibiting physical movement during sleep (otherwise we'd all act out our dreams and quickly kill ourselves). In these cases, the RAF simply doesn't release its hold immediately upon waking, resulting in temporary paralysis. Nothing mystical or mysterious about it, though it IS an interesting phenomenon to experience.
posted by rushmc at 8:25 AM on November 28, 2004

I've experienced sleep paralysis a number of times. The first that I can remember was when I was asleep on a coach travelling from Aubury-Wodonga to Sydney... I awoke in the coach, all dark at around two in the morning, travelling across this sort of barren Australian highway. I was barely able to turn my head, my mouth was slack, and I felt a sense of profound evil, but the evil was for some reason me. Few minutes later I was fine. I've had a number of episodes since.

I've often wondered if these episodes have been related to drug use. I've regularly used nitrous oxide, MDMA and pot over the past few years, and I don't remember experiencing sleep paralysis until some time after I began experimenting with drugs.
posted by chmmr at 8:26 AM on November 28, 2004

oneiros: Sounds like you dream like I do- I can only remember the really, really bad nightmares, nightmares like yours that are just beyond belief and description. I feel for you, because I know what this is like. Although if you're anything like me the bizarreness of your dream life makes your waking life that much more interesting, so I suppose we suffer for a reason :)

Like lots of people who've posted, my SP has happened much less frequency over the past few years. According to my mother and grandmother, it eventually goes away. I'm not sure whether I'll miss it or not, because even though it's scary as a kid it is quite fascinating once you come to terms with it. Now I get curious when it happens (although it's funny how the fear can still stay with you- the last time I experienced I heard all these noises coming from upstairs and somehow got it into my head that murderers had broken into my house, and was convinced that they would slaughter me without me being able to lift a finger). Once when I experienced a few months ago, after I first did research on the subject, I awoke to no terror whatsoever, just a sense of interest...I remember thinking, "Hey, no big deal, I'm just having an SPE." It was so strange to analyze my body's reaction to the experience- I knew the exact second the sensation returned because it felt like my spine had been plugged back into the base of my skull! I could literally feel control rush down my spine and then out to the rest of my body. I've never felt anything quite like that, except the time I had an OBE through sleep paralysis- after an episode I thought I was done and wanted a glass of water, but when I got to the door I discovered that my hand passed right through it. As soon as I realized I was still asleep I could feel this cerebral bungie cord attached to the back of my skull pull me back into my body, very suddenly, like an elastic snap. I spent the rest of the experience trying to get past the door, but to no avail.
I'm just glad that there are others for whom talking and reading about their experiences reduces the terror- I wasn't sure if I should go blue with this one but now I'm very glad I did. Thanks everyone for contributing.

Also, there's one remedy that my grandmother taught me which I didn't see mentioned in any of my links- apparently rubbing the tip of your tounge against the roof of your mouth can bring some people out of it. Unfortunately this technique doesn't work for me, but I pass it along in the hopes that it might help someone else.
posted by baphomet at 8:36 AM on November 28, 2004

another sleep paralysis person reporting to thread here. Yes, it's quite terrifying, but lucky me - I've never had anyone try to rip my insides out like oneiros did. creepy!
posted by dabitch at 8:45 AM on November 28, 2004

baphomet - in my case my feet are always the first things that can move, I put all my effort into moving my feet or toes.
posted by dabitch at 8:47 AM on November 28, 2004

baphomet: "...Although if you're anything like me the bizarreness of your dream life makes your waking life that much more interesting, so I suppose we suffer for a reason :)


And they are not always nightmares mind you, the clarity, strength and utter surrealness of my dreamlife is not limited to bad experiences, but also includes some that I wake up and I just do a very Keanu Reeve's 'whoah', and feel like I just had part in the coolest movie ever made.
My favorite dreams (which spill into the SP and other weirdness-episodes) have been the 'training' ones. For a while I have been having this series of dreams that are all connected, albeit separated by weeks, or months, sometimes even years. Usually it involves someone training or preparing me for something in my dreams. In one an older version of myself gave me a sword, and this sword comes back in my other dreams, a bit different each time, but always I know it is in essence the same sword. I still sometimes find myself in a dream, completely lucid and with that sword in my hand, or in my back (where I keep it when not using it in my dreams). In another dream I was given an armor, and shown how to wear it. Then come the traveling dreams, where teacher-like people come and get me and take me to the wildest of places, the most surreal of lands. Sometimes I am meant to battle demons in those places, and other times I am simply meant to talk to people that look a lot like what I would imagine a very old me looking like, most of the time they explain some strange mystery from a previous dream, or add to the mystery. So yeah, you can imagine that despite the ugly moments, I still look forward to the vivid dreamlife, and wouldn't give it away. Sometimes it feels like waiting expectantly for the next episode of your favorite show, which you never know when its episodes will be shown, or what they will be about.

Interestingly enough, one time during a SP episode I remembered the sword, and I concentrated in it. This might sound silly, but the way i 'summon' the sword is that it comes out of my arm, hilt and all. But anyways, I did this and I felt something in my arm and when I looked at it I could move and it was the sword, only I was now fully in a dream, and in complete control. The dream for that night was battling the demon that I had hallucinated attacking during the SPE (and beating it.) This was one of the most empowering feelings I have ever felt: taking a terrorizing fear, confronting it and defeating it.

Swords aside, another method that I found helps is swaying side to side. Not really a movement, more of a mental thing, hard to explain really, but this seems to have taken me out a couple of times. Most days now, I just confront it, and try to learn from it.
posted by oneiros at 8:59 AM on November 28, 2004

ho-ly crap. that's possibly the weirdest coincidence ever.

i had this happen to me for the first time ever when i woke up this morning (after staying up too late, getting up early for an hour, eating then going back to bed -- so i guess i was asking for it, even if i didn't know what 'it' was). i was just stuck there on my couch kind of vaguely looking at my window, everything blurry, not sure if i was still in the dream i'd just been in, or something else, or really what the hell was going on... i couldn't move, and it was utterly terrifying.

so, i do feel a little better having come across this and having at least some explanation for it. still -- weird.

time to go read the rest of the comments.
posted by spiderwire at 9:30 AM on November 28, 2004

I've had it about two or three times. Didn't know until know that it had a name.

Although, I haven't had any nightmares or hallucinations coupled with it, the moment itself is indeed terrifying.
I'm very aware that I am in bed but have no control over my body what so ever. I also feel very heavy, as if my body is being crushed down as I sink deeper and deeper into my bed.
It is at that moment that I realize that the life in me is being sucked away and if I don't break out of it, I will die. So far, I've always been able to break out of it. Now that I know what it is, the next time it happens, I will try to ride it out.

And yes, it always happened when I was laying on my back.
posted by Timeless at 9:38 AM on November 28, 2004

To me, sleep paralysis now means that I'm actually out-of-body, but still trying to move physically, out of sheer habit. From what I've learned, the rushing and other sounds are typical of pre-OBE (out of body experience) 'vibrations'. Because I have this understanding now, I'm able to use this event as a springboard to 'get out' and fly around, for instance. *grin*

Before this though, I certainly had many a terrifying experience myself, unable to move, feeling 'something(s)' in the room with me, etc. I figured out that I could make a sound in my throat that would wake me up out of it, which helped.

Here are some links for more info/evaluation if you're interested in this way of looking at things: Astral Society, Robert Bruce's Astral Pulse, The Lucidity Institute, William Buhlman's Astral Info Site (including this FAQ), and a look at Sleep Paralysis/Catatonic State.
posted by thunder at 9:39 AM on November 28, 2004

Sleeping on your back seems to be the worst position for other reasons as well--snoring, apnea, etc. A simple solution is to sew the top half of a sock on the back of your nightshirt as a pocket, and insert a tennis ball. It's just uncomfortable enough to keep you off your back, but you can roll over, etc.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:50 AM on November 28, 2004

I'd only ever heard of this once before, from my father. "Y'know when you wake up, and your body hasn't been turned on yet, and you lie paralyzed for a few seconds?" "NO!" "Hm, maybe I didn't have any of those episodes until I turned 30." I thanked him to not tell me about any other symptoms of aging I might have to look forward to.

Maybe that's why he didn't continue with "...and there's an Old Hag sitting on your bed, pulling your brain out through your skull?"
posted by Aknaton at 9:54 AM on November 28, 2004

no one thinks it might be ghosts?
posted by 31d1 at 9:58 AM on November 28, 2004

On the other hand, the Japanese "drawing out sadness" sounds surreal and beautiful.

Unfortunately, it's just bad translation (probably by someone who could understand Japanese but not read it, and misinterpreted it phonetically). It's pronounced "kanashibari", which they interpreted as ?????"kanashii bari" ("drawing out sadness"), but which is actually ???"kana shibari" ("tied up with metal").
posted by Bugbread at 10:25 AM on November 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Dammit, it previewed OK. Ah well...
posted by Bugbread at 10:26 AM on November 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Wow - I never realised it had a name. This happened to me a few times in childhood and caused quite a bit of concern, including one time where I managed to get up but then lost control and fell down, knocking myself out. Probably the most terrifying thing I've ever experienced. I was treated as having a form of childhood epilepsy with various medicines and sure enough it hasn't really recurred since then (with one recent exception probably related to overconsumption of magic mushrooms as experienced by another poster to this thread). And, like other posters, it always happened when I slept on my back. To this day, I can't get to sleep on my back, such is the aversion.
posted by chrispy at 10:35 AM on November 28, 2004

I've had episodes of SP since college dorm days. Episodes average once a year, perhaps, and usually occur when I am not in my own bed or at odd times of day (afternoon naps, e.g.). Twice, other people have been in the room with me and I was able to gurgle the words 'help me' from deep in my throat. The first time, napping on the couch, my sister touched me which ended the episode immediately; the second time I was napping in a hotel room with a friend, but he was too freaked by my grunting to do anything. I'm especially fascinated by the 'ringing, rumbling, vibrating' sensations that can accompany SP. I thought I was the only one. Sometimes, these sensations are not unpleasant.
posted by namret at 10:56 AM on November 28, 2004

can't recall any sleep paralysis, but i did experience something similar in terms of fear once when i woke in the middle of the night in a tent while camping. i was in the deepest black darkness, had a smothering sensation i could not escape, and within a second i went careening over the edge of panic into sheer naked terror. when it was over i found myself standing outside with half the state park's campers racing toward me in alarm and the tent was completely discombobulated on the ground, my poor wife struggling to wriggle out of the ruins and shouting "kevin! what's wrong!".
posted by quonsar at 11:02 AM on November 28, 2004

So, oneiros - now I know the reason for your username! I would like to hear the "ghost" story, by the way.
posted by taz at 11:03 AM on November 28, 2004

Like spiderwire said, I also find this to be a weird coincidence, as I just experienced an episode of this last night, after having not had it happen to me in many years. I used to have it frequently when I was a kid, and for the past couple of years, I've been doing a bit of informal study about it. There is in an interesting book on the topic which deals with the folklore and superstition surrounding the phenomena, called "The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions" by David J. Hufford. It discusses the Old Hag and succubi/incubi occurrences in great detail.

I don't often remember this having happened once I wake up unless something triggers the memory, so it was really strange having this happen to me just last night, then to wake up, read Metafilter, and see this as the first post. Thanks for the great links!
posted by RoseovSharon at 11:15 AM on November 28, 2004

Wow! This is so interesting - I appear to have been having these episodes on an irregular basis for most of my adult life and not really understanding what it was I was experiencing.

As everyone else has mentioned, these are really not pleasant experiences. The only difference for me is that the dark and terrible figure that advances on me isn't a hag or an alien... it's err.. my father.

Thanks dad...

oh and err...before you ask the obvious: No. Not as far as I recall anyway ;-)
posted by fingerbang at 11:16 AM on November 28, 2004

Count me among the number who has experienced it more than once, been scared nearly whitehaired by it, thought it a shameful sign of potentially extreme nuttiness, and am grateful for this post as a result. Way to hit it out of the park first try, baphomet.

I'll spare the details, except: floating over book, realizing if read it I'd die, slamming back into a body frozen until dawn. Also: growling. Cf: breathing; not mine. See: me, eeping.
posted by melissa may at 11:22 AM on November 28, 2004

I used to think I was crazy until a roommate told me she experienced this, too. It's always deeply terrifying, no matter how many times it's happened before.

Does anyone else dream about their teeth falling out?
posted by Marit at 12:01 PM on November 28, 2004

oneiros - "dreamlife is not limited to bad experiences, but also includes some that I wake up and I just do a very Keanu Reeve's 'whoah', and feel like I just had part in the coolest movie ever made."

I too have dramatic, colorful, very detailed dreams which are as good as great science fiction movies, if shorter -- a couple of times with unique soundtracks, which I hum when i wake up! Occasionally they remind me of the X-files movie, with giant underground government bunkers, which have space portals. Overactive imagination, I guess. But I wonder where these ideas comes from. And if they are 'random firings of neutrons' how come sometimes the dreams take up where they left off? Anyway, its good to hear others share these dreams.
Also, I had an SP when I had the flu. I recall my hands being very, very heavy, to much to lift. I felt like I could see my arms, like I was awake, but surely was not. Someone was calling numbers, which were decreasing, in a booming, echoing voice. Towards the end, I realized the numbers were the amount of weight on my body. When they finished I could move! Never had it since.
posted by uni verse at 12:08 PM on November 28, 2004

by request ;)
And yep taz, both of the nicknames I use, oneiros and enhypnion come directly from my experiences in this and my interest in it.

here is the 'ghost' story:
This happened about hmm, 5 years ago i believe. I was staying over at my parents house and it was I believe a Sunday morning. I remember being woken up by the sound of someone mowing their lawn outside (which I thought was my father for some reason, but I don't think it was now looking back). Anyway, I wake up and I am fully paralyzed again. (I was lying on my left side by the way, not on my back). I remember thinking: "ok, stay focused, this is just a sleep paralysis episode, try to pay attention to all the details". I was very curious and tried moving different parts of my body, all without any success. Then, like a flash of fear, I just knew someone was behind me, looking at me.

I was sure it was a girl, around my age, long light brown hair. She was standing there, like unsure of what to do next. I was looking the other way but it was as if in my minds eye, I could imagine her being there. She began to walk towards the bed and sat down in it, and I felt the bed sinking a bit, and moving a bit as she then laid herself down directly besides me. At this point of course, the rational part of me that was telling me to remain calm was losing control, and I could hear my very fast breathing. I was terrorized, and I was now simply going 'get up get up get up please let me move i need to move'.

I now could hear voices, hundreds of them. Think about being in a party where you are hearing dozens of conversations but can't make out any, now multiply it until the sound is nearly a buzzing drone. Every once in a while, a phrase would be louder, a random fragment of a conversation. Meaningless and disjointed, just random chat. Occasionally, I would have a sort of vision flashing my mind. Like a photo,or sometimes a short bit of a movie, and it really felt like that. It would be almost violent in the form they came; each time it would surprise me and scare me more, as if something physical would hit me each time the images came. Again, it was all random, a day at the park, sitting in a movie theater, a bunch of people I have never met, a poster in the wall, etc,etc. I could also feel a vibration every time each of the images would 'hit' me, or the loud singled out phrases. I then saw in my mind the girl getting closer and slowly wrapping around my body.

Up to this point, a part of me still was somewhat in control, albeit very little of it. I was still trying to tell myself it was my imagination and nothing more, but feeling that cold arm wrap around me was more than I could take, I began to scream in my head and I could hear this soft, muffled moaning that was all that would come out from the closed lips of my paralyzed body,interspersed with the heavy breathing. Still, there was a sense of not wanting to do harm, as if in a way, she had been unwilling to do this but couldn't help herself, or it was important.

The voices and images also got louder and more frequent as she got closer, and almost to the painful level by the time I felt her forehead touch the back of my head. Again, I felt the same 'get ready for this' type of emotion I had felt in that previous episode I wrote about, only with a 'please listen' kind of feeling to it as well, and almost an apologetic one. Seems weird to me to say those things, but these were emotions which were pretty clear in my mind, completely undeniable at that state and even now in memory.

She then started to push her head through mine and the moment it began to get in, it was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had in dreams or wakefulness. Imagine your whole perception being an insane slideshow of what I thought were memories. Random, disjointed, and alien to me. It was like looking through another's life if it had somehow being stored in still pictures and short movies, but they were too many, too loud and too fast. And emotions! each had an emotions, which for a fraction of a moment I could feel....happiness, despair, sadness, joy, disappointment. Then the truly bad part, the painful one that even to this day makes my eyes tear up and my hairs stand up because of how insanely clear and intense it was: a horrific slide show, the young girl slicing her wrists and arms until they were red pulp, blood everywhere, screams, and the most incredible dark emotions. Not even in the pits of my strongest depressions did I ever feel that horrible. It was fragmented too, like stills, short movies, jumping in different angles left and right above and below, including some from the view of the girl herself. The last thing I saw was the body of the girl with its mutilated arms falling back into the bed I was sleeping in.

Those muffled moans my paralyzed body was letting escape slowly faded into a full blown scream and I jumped out of bed as soon as my body allowed me too, still screaming, crying and tumbling out of bed, tripping on my way out of it and slamming against the wall.

This one I would say has been the strongest I have ever had, scores more than the one I depicted before, and have yet to have something as strong. I hadn't had an episode at that point for almost a year, but after this they became somewhat regular again, and stopped suddenly again, about a year after that.
posted by oneiros at 12:11 PM on November 28, 2004

Actually, I had this experience in a way that turned out to be funny. When I woke up, the monster was banging on the door and I couldn't move, finally I heard the monster pound down the steps from front door, and climb up the back fire escape. I was completely paralyzed until it started banging on the window, at which point, I screamed my lungs out.

It turns out I had locked my SO out of the apartment when I went to bed.

My mom has them also, leading to my sister getting hit in the face with a pillow one morning when my mom finally broke out of it and started screaming "hit it, hit it."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:11 PM on November 28, 2004

Marit: I never do, but my sister does occasionally and both her and my mother strongly believe it is a sign that foretells the death of someone in the family (which has been 'right' in a handful of occasions). I have also come across books and other sources mentioning the same interpretation as well, which was kind of interesting. She is always VERY distraught when they do happen, and I usually get the worried call from my mother going "Your sister had The Dream again."

I am not sure how I feel about that, being more of an skeptic, but I guess you could say our family has a peculiar record of strange happenings, and I myself have had a whole plethora of them, including non-sleep related ones.

uni verse: I once had a dream with ending credits, it was frigging hilarious, couldn't stop laughing when I woke up. But yeah, maybe people like you, baphomet, myself and others with similar dreamlives really should be trying to turn these into short stories ;). Well I have tried and keep trying, but my writing is so bad I try to spare others the pain.
posted by oneiros at 12:22 PM on November 28, 2004

oneiros: heh, ending credits, me too. And one really very strange one where I was out of dream. Meaning, everyone sat around and looked at me as if to say, what now, boss?, and I didn't know what to tell them. We'd been trying to work out some problem for what seemed like hours and I couldn't get events to progress in a satisfying way. So we stared at each other wishing for a deck of cards until I woke up. Much, much better than deadly books. And growling. And teeth -- did I mention teeth? Yep, Marit, it's a common one.
posted by melissa may at 12:37 PM on November 28, 2004

oneiros - Amazing story!! (flashing memories) I have to wonder what happened in or around that house, with the girl!

Also..."had a dream with ending credits" oh god thats hilarious! I am totally amazed by the ability of dream's screenwriting sometimes! But more seriously....
I also had 'something' lay down next to me in bed, while wide awake! And I know when I am awake, because for the longest time, I tried to find the exact point where I enter a dream: by distancing myself, and retaining a "background wakefulness" (the only way I know to describe it). I did this nightly, and I didn't read about it, it just occurred to me, I could learn about dreaming this way. I found I could remain "awake" even while experiencing dreamlike "moving pictures" overlayed on my mind. (Anyone else have that?) Anyway, so I know I'm awake..."It" made the springs creak, and lowered the mattress to change the angle of my position, as it layed down! So there is something in my bed, in a very old hotel building, and who knows what happened here! I prayed for it to leave... soon enough, the bed creaks and lifts this time... and never happens again. I believed in ghosts after that.
posted by uni verse at 12:46 PM on November 28, 2004

Susan Blackmore had similar experiences stimulated by external magnetic fields strategically arranged about her head. This took place as part of some research in the US (sadly I cannot remember the name of the place or the scientist in charge). I am confident that these phenomenon explain almost all stories of alien abduction.
I wonder if the effects could ever be used as part of an immersive VR simulation. On the other hand, I imagine that tuned e/m fields are used to detect brain activity for the 'brain-powered' flight sims etc.
Personaly I have experienced waking/sleep paralysis once. At the time I was aware of the phenomenon and although initially terrifying I could not get too worked up about it.
Fear would have been ignorance, in my case.
posted by asok at 12:48 PM on November 28, 2004

Oh yeah, Robert Smith (of the Cure) has claimed that he gets many of his song ideas from his dreams.
'The head on the door was just a dream'.
posted by asok at 12:51 PM on November 28, 2004

*in the corner, a television snickers quietly to itself*
posted by quonsar at 12:57 PM on November 28, 2004

uni verse:See, this is my dilemma: I don't, I see most of the events I have gone through as being constructs of the mind most likely. There are a few instances which seem to combat this, but even then, possibilities remain for a scientific explanation. I try to keep myself, above all, open minded. While I do ascribe more to the scientific explanations, I also keep the mind open to the other things (rather sparingly and carefully, and only on the ones that really baffle me), even for someone who is not of any faith.

The single most poignant moment in memory that has made me question that line of reasoning came years ago, when I had a dream of being in a white room (think of that loading area in movie The Matrix, and forgive me for the reference) and my grandmother being there. She looked happy to see me, and told me how much she loved me and sorry that she hadn't gotten a chance to speak to me in the last week. I was happy to see her and a bit confused as to what I was doing there (it was a very vivid dream too). She smiled and I was woken by my father, whom I could see had been crying. He woke to tell me my grandmother had passed away.

How do I explain a moment like this? I am not sure. the most 'logical' explanation is that first of all, I knew she was in bad health, I also could have heard the phone conversation my father had when he found out and subconsciously integrated into a dream. Do I believe that explanation? I am not sure to tell you truth, and that's the same with a lot of these occurrences...I just don't know.
posted by oneiros at 12:59 PM on November 28, 2004

I was plagued by sleep paralysis episodes. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine clamped to my face like an alien parasite every night has cured me.
posted by tgyg at 1:48 PM on November 28, 2004

Hi All! First Post (Yay Me)

I experienced Sleep paralysis a dozen or so times in my late teens and early twenties. In my case it took the form of Invisible hands grasping me by the ankles and pulling me off the foot of the bed (at least that's what it felt like.) I was generally aware of 2 or 3 "people" in the room with me, and my sense of touch was so amped up that I could feel every thread in my sheet as it dragged across my skin. My general reaction to this was to get Horribly angry and fight as hard as I could. When the Paralysis broke, I usually wound up flinging myself out of the bed across the room before I could get back under control. I never thought I had been visited or abducted, but I was concerned that I had developed a neurological disorder.

2 or 3 days after the last episode, I was watching discovery channel and saw a show about studies that were being done on the effects of electrical fields on the brain. The Girl in the chair described a sensation of having her legs elongate and there was some speculation that this might have something to do with alien abduction stories. (Specifically, it was "Micro-Seizures in the temporal lobe of the brain") I got up, walked into my bedroom and looked at the electrical outlet that was 6" from where my head lay when I was sleeping. (My mattress and box spring were on the floor). Since then, I have been careful to keep my head at least 2 feet from any possible electrical field and it has not happened once in the last 12 Years
posted by ad hoc at 2:06 PM on November 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

I once had a dream with ending credits

Better than that, I once had a dream where I wrote an episode of Babylon 5. Except that I convinced them to change the name of the show to "Jummy." There were opening credits in that dream.
posted by kindall at 2:19 PM on November 28, 2004

ad-hoc: therein lies the rub - our perception is feeble; it may be influenced by so many electric, magnetic, and unknown fields, we will find it hard to know if they are "authentic", or just ...shadows on the cave wall. Or that innocent television in the corner. (Quonsar)
posted by uni verse at 2:39 PM on November 28, 2004

What it was pulling, I don't know, but it felt strange, as if it was my soul rather than any of my entrails. I felt strong vibrations rippling through my paralyzed body and suddenly it was as if I was starting to lift, but stranger than that, as if also receding within my body first. Stranger still, I found a way to fight back, it was almost like an instinct, like holding on from within.

This sounds exactly like the SP experiences I've had, oneiros; however, mine didn't seem to be as violent as yours. Mine were more along the lines of: I woke up and could feel something sucking or pulling my soul out of my body. It was horribly frightening, and since I couldn't move, I sort of instinctually held on from inside, as you said. I always had this internal struggle though; I was very curious as to what would happen if I didn't hold on. I never found out because I was too afraid I would die, although I did come close to completely letting go a few times.
The experiences were also much more common when I was younger, and the last one I had was when I was seventeen [as mentioned previously, probably due to SSRIs].
posted by ella minnow pea at 3:27 PM on November 28, 2004

Timeless, the way you describe it is exactly what happens to me, none of the hallucinations, just pure,
formless crushing fear.
posted by protocool at 3:41 PM on November 28, 2004

i have experienced this from time to time, coincidentally, the most recent was only a few weeks ago, after a few years off...

the most interesting occasion was years ago when i was asleep with a recent ex & woke - paralysed! - to "her new boyfriend" walking into the room. wishing i could melt into the mattress or become invisible or something, "her new boyfriend" thankfully morphed (dream-like) into "a mutual friend who had recently died", who then lay down gently between us, all three in spoon position :) and i returned to a warm & comforting sleep.

(sorry about sordid details. student days, you know...)
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:58 PM on November 28, 2004

The last time sleep paralysis happened to me was whilst in my girlfriend's bed a few months ago. She had this lizard which was attacking me (in the hallucination, of course). Man, that scared the hell outta me.

I guess my attempts to call for help got me to the point of being able to moan, which they usually don't, thereby waking her up.

Seeing her, kneeling over me, didn't help at all, since I was still envisioning her as trying to attack me with a lizard. But her presence was terribly comforting once I was able to snap out of it.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 7:25 PM on November 28, 2004

terribly = wonderfully
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 7:25 PM on November 28, 2004

I too was surprised to discover how common it is in Japan, everyone has a story about it. The thing that makes me the most suspicious concerning this is that I not once ever experienced it UNTIL I moved to Japan.
I am irrationally convinced that something here causes it.
posted by nightchrome at 7:31 PM on November 28, 2004

Marit: I've had a few dreams about my teeth falling out, and they've always been very disturbing. I chipped a tooth in real life a few years ago, and nearly had a nervous breakdown. The dentist is my least favorite person, and though I've managed to find an excellent, gentle, non-scary dentist, I still hate going to see her. So if your teeth dreams freak you out, I know where you're coming from.

I happen to own a large number of dream interpretation books (birthday and Christmas gifts over the years from well-meaning relatives who think that dream interpretation is a huge interest of mine, when really it's just a passing fancy, but they do come in handy every so often), so here are some of the results:

* Teeth represent power or confidence. Dreams about losing your teeth could mean that you are feeling disenfranchised or out of control over some aspect of your life.

* Losing teeth means that you're having a hard time communicating with people.

* Losing teeth means that you're communicating too much (i.e., gossiping).

* One book claims that a dream about losing teeth means that you could be pregnant, but I would take that with a very large grain of salt, since said book also asserts that dreams about flying mean imminent death.

Take yer pick.
posted by trappedinabay at 7:45 PM on November 28, 2004

Oneiros, your stories are fascinating, and I have to say I also have firsthand and secondhand knowledge of the same kind of hard-to-explain phenomena re: people dying and dreaming of them as you describe. Personally, I think the maybe-I-knew-it-was-imminent-and/or-heard-something-and-happened-to-turn-it-into-a-vivid-dream-at-exactly-that-moment chain of explanations is a lot more convoluted and improbable than "maybe we're connected in more ways than we can tell right now."

I wonder in terms of the demon in the corner, if this kind of thing has happened more than once and you give us to understand that you are an accomplished lucid dreamer, if you've tried initiating a dialogue with it - even if that has to be done while fighting it. Either this force is something alien to your psyche, or as I believe you also believe, it is an "alien" portion of your own psyche that has not been successfully integrated. Either way, there's probably some good material to be generated by opening up some kinds of lines of communication. Worse comes to worst, you'll have another great comment to post on this thread!
posted by soyjoy at 8:21 PM on November 28, 2004

Marit - teeth falling out would probably be my most common recurring dream / nightmare, FWIW. (Hope this does not reveal too much...)

This provides me with the opportunity to post a tangential, heading-off-topic list of the Most Common Recurring Dreams of the Cicada, which includes:

"Mandibles loose and/or falling off"
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:56 PM on November 28, 2004

oneidos: I really dig your dream stories- you've got a very vivid imagination I'm sure. I've got one for you that I think you might appreciate...this happened a few weeks ago...
In the dream I had a brother, about 16 (I don't have a brother at all, but I have a sister this age). This brother was much like said sister- he was having a hard time with life, going through some depression problems and such, and the sense was that my family was concerned about him, but I felt distant and unhelpful because I'd never really found a bond with him. In the dream I came home and started talking to him in his room. I remember the room very well- it was really dark, dreary, and had lots of gory/disturbing posters on the walls. We started talking about life and such, with me trying to impart some of my experiences and advice to him, and something I said just pissed him off so much that he went completely apeshit, throwing stuff around and being belligerent. Then he started attacking my other family members. Suddenly he turned to me and his head morphed into some bizarre Cthuloid entity- his face was the same but his mouth turned into a collection of about a dozen black, slimy tentacles. He was making this horrible screaming noise and mercilessly murdering my family (an alternate dream family, not my real family, but I felt emotional about them as though they were real) with these tentacles protruding from his face. Then he turned to me, still making these horrible hissing and sucking noises. There was a strobe light in the background going off as I grabbed a sword and tried to fight him off, but to no avail- he defeated me and tore one of my eyeballs out, at which point I woke up... discover I was still dreaming. In this new dream I woke up, thought, "Man, what a fucked up dream," and went to go see my brother (same brother, same dream family, etc.) When I got there I walked into his same room but he wasn't there. I looked at his computer screen and saw this comic he had been working on- and all the scenes from it were drawn-out versions of the dream I'd had the night before. When he walked in to the room I rushed to tell him that I had dreamt the story he was writing. It felt like it was the first time we'd really connected as brothers.
Then I woke up.
For the rest of the day my brain was fried. I seriously had no function whatsoever. I just couldn't stop thinking about this dream. The weirdest part about the attack scene was that there was music- rarely ever present in my dreams- "Delirium Trigger" by Coheed and Cambria. I'll never be able to listen to that song again.

Thanks again to people who contributed to this thread- I really appreciate the overwhelming response! I highly encourage you all to ask your friends, family members, and acquaintances if they're experiencers. Meeting someone who experiences like you do is a trip. If they're surprised that they're not alone, like many of us obviously are, direct them to this thread, because I think reading this will give them lots of insight and assistance.
posted by baphomet at 10:34 PM on November 28, 2004

Heh. I had an episode of this, right after reading the story in this post. One of the most terrifying things in my life, and I say this as someone who's almost drowned twice.

Actually, now that I think about it, it was a lot like drowning.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:07 AM on November 29, 2004

soyjoy: I keep myself open to that, I even -like- to think that, I however find it hard to just assume it. But yes, it might very well be that, that we are indeed more connected than we realize, and there is some truth to some of these occurrences, and not just the alchemy of the sleeping mind.
As far as trying to communicate with I haven't really tried now that you mention it, that is very interesting and I shall try it! Most of the time there is this "you are meant to slay this demon" feeling, almost like I am in some sort of mission. Sometimes I even have companions in those dreams who have the same tasks, yet these are people I have never met in real life. (I guess they could be amalgamations of elements in myself and people I know). Some have perished in those battles, and have been mentioned by others in following dreams, which I found peculiar.

baphomet: I do, sometimes too vivid to tell you the truth. I spend my entire life in daydreams, and the great majority of my dreams are really the stuff of books and paintings and movies. My greatest frustration is my limited ability in taking those things in my mind and making them a bit more real. It is also frustrating at a level which I didn't quite expect: I am sometimes disillusioned with reality, that it isn't as amazing as my dream life is at times, that I am not able to do the things I do in those dreams, etc.

Very interesting dream baphomet, thank you for sharing it!. Being drained after a long epic or vivid dream is a common occurrence for me as well. I find it sometimes that I simply can't stop thinking about them, and as if by a strange synchronicity, sometimes events during the day seem to reinforce that feeling of disconnection, or rather, connection to that dream (I guess that reinforces soyjoy comment in a way ;) ) you could say.

And thank you for the post as well, turned out to be a great and interesting discussion.
posted by oneiros at 6:03 AM on November 29, 2004

I never knew this was why I dreaded afternoon naps or felt like I was dying on those few memorable nights.

I finally did some research on sleep paralysis last year after a particularly frightening "Old Hag" occurence, and afterward, I've been able to take a nap without hesitation.

I also haven't had an episode of paralysis since then.

See? Knowing is half the battle! :D
posted by linux at 9:25 AM on November 29, 2004

Marit: I've had horrible dreams about my teeth falling out for years now. I think I read somewhere that dreaming about teeth means something about money (In my case, it's usually falling out of my bank account).

I've never experienced SP, however when I was younger, I used to sleep walk quite often. Once, I must have been about 14 or 15, I took off all my clothes, left the house, walked around the neighborhood, and finally rang my doorbell. When my father answered the door and asked me: "What the hell have you been doing?" I replied "I just stepped out for a breath of fresh air." Walked past him and went back to bed.
posted by MotherTucker at 9:29 AM on November 29, 2004

MotherT: I thought the teeth decay/loss dreams were rooted (or not rooted :)) in anxiety about health decline.

I had never heard sleep paralysis called the 'old hag syndrome' and found this especially amusing, as the scary being in my experience ended up being me! haha. I was lying supine and was unable to move, yell, blah, blah, blah and became overwhelmed by the fear that some one else was in the room, when I had the strange hallucination experience of a blonde girl walk into the room and come and lie down on top of me, all the while I was helpless. As she got to the bed I recognized her, and wondered what I'd been doing out in the other room.

In subsequent experiences, I have not gotten as anxious and have found I recover mobility much quicker. The panic seems to catalyze the purported rigor mortis.
posted by superposition at 9:49 AM on November 29, 2004

I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair
Born like a vapor on the summer air
I see her tripping where the bright streams play
Happy as the daisies that dance on her way.
And old hags.
posted by mr.marx at 12:13 PM on November 29, 2004

On a related note, here's something similar people experience and may not understand. The mindstate between wake and sleep (hypnagogic state) is a quite neurologically interesting one, and if you're conscious during it you get stuff like rushing sounds in your ears, a painless electrical shock feeling throughout your body, paralysis etc. In normal falling asleep your mind drifts so you don't notice these effects, but some people are quite often do inadvertantly stay rather conscious continuously from sleep into dreams. You can fairly easily cultivate it consciously by focusing on something like your breath, meditation-style, to avoid drifting off, but relaxing as much as possible to allow for falling asleep. This trick can lead to either lucid dreams (self-link) or to hypnagogic hallucinations. It's these hallucinations that Robert Monroe and such call out-of-body experiences or astral projection and claim to be able to teach. The "out of body" sense that sometimes accompanies them is actually just caused by being aware when neurological input from your body shuts off, so as you start dreaming (or having an HH, it's a fine line) your mind makes sense of it by visualizing you outside your body.
posted by abcde at 10:11 PM on November 29, 2004

Monkeyfilter had a long and (I think) ongoing thread about just this topic. (Pardon if it was referenced herein; I ctlf-f'd and didn't find one.)
posted by goofyfoot at 12:10 AM on November 30, 2004

Sleep Disorders Traced to Genes
posted by homunculus at 1:10 PM on November 30, 2004

abcde -

thanks for giving a name to that "state." i've spent quite a bit of time there after i found my parents' copy of monroe's book when i was about 13 years old. one thing regarding lucid dreams - i've noticed the detail to be extraordinary during the experience, so much that it is impossible when awakening to reconcile how lifelike the sensations are, that it is easier to forget, and disbelieve that it could ever be that real.
posted by iamck at 1:25 PM on November 30, 2004

iamck: The dreams that seem so vivid they're sometimes almost more real than life tend to really be hypnagogic hallucinations - some people tend to go into them quite readily as soon as they become lucid. The Monroe technique (which us lucid dreamers call WILD, see that link) can result in HHs, but you can also go the other way and wake up into them from dreams too. The "mind awake, body asleep" phrase that Monroe repeats has a perfectly scientific correlate, but he leaves it out in favor of dew-eyed mysticism ;)
posted by abcde at 10:47 PM on November 30, 2004

Yarrrrgh this just happened to me a few hours ago. I haven't had one since high school... the horrible thing for me isn't a presence in the room or anything, but I'm aware that I'm asleep and can't move and can't wake up, and I keep trying to move or wake up, and then I do --- OH but I'm not awake, it's another layer of dream and I'm still there, trying to scream... and I "wake up" like, ten or twenty times before I'm actually out of it. Just awful.
posted by mimi at 6:34 AM on December 1, 2004

Well, if you're getting false awakenings like that, unless your alarm has gone off and you know you have to wake up, I'd just start lucid dreaming ;)
posted by abcde at 9:41 AM on December 1, 2004

abcde, you're a dreamer after my own heart, great guide to lucid dreaming. Though I was surprised that your Reality Checks didn't include the Reading Test, certainly highly more reliable than examining your hands or flipping a light switch (remember, the dream doesn't have to faithfully reproduce anything in those, it only has to convince the dreamer that something has been faithfully reproduced. Reading, looking away, and reading (or not) the exact same thing is something it can almost never do, as long as you're paying attention).

Anyway, I only popped in again to echo your last comment - whether in standard nightmares or SP situations, if you know you're not awake, the awareness that you're free to do what you want (within limits) in dream reality can turn these around, and, I would assert, help to lay bare or even directly address the problems that may be underlying them.

Oh, and oneiros:

Most of the time there is this "you are meant to slay this demon" feeling, almost like I am in some sort of mission.

Remember that (and I'm gonna get a little archetypal on ya here) our dream ego, the character who experiences the dream, can be an "unreliable narrator" - that is, the ego doesn't always have the best interests of the Self at heart, but rather the best interests of the ego, and often that can lead to aggrandizing behavior that makes for great dream narratives but may be merely perpetuating some ongoing dynamic between the ego and the rest of the self. James Hillman would probably disagree with this, but I think the more lucid one becomes in a given dream, the more honest we can be with ourselves about what our choices are.
posted by soyjoy at 11:23 AM on December 2, 2004

Funny that I missed the reading test - I use that routinely. Thanks.
posted by abcde at 10:25 AM on December 6, 2004

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