Sleep paralysis, or SP, is a condition in which someone who is about to fall asleep or waking from sleep realize they are unable to move or speak but still have the ability to breathe and eye movement. Some people blame aliens while others believe it's the "Devil" that cause sleep paralysis. However, researchers believe it's a transitory stage where your conscious mind has begun to drift into sleep but you still retain a small amount of your waking conscious. It can occur in any sleeping position but most common in the supine position (laying on your back).
Sometimes SP is only temporary, lasting for a few seconds to a minute. However, another scenario leaves a person hallucinating upon realizing they are paralyzed. They report seeing, hearing, and/or sensing one or more people (usually a malevolent presence or SMP) in the room with them while they are paralyzed. SMP usually seem to be just out of view of someone experiencing SP. The subject feels crushed, smothered, or pushed into the bed.
Some sufferers of SP reported having out-of-body experiences, a sensation of floating or falling through the bed. Some have an overwhelming feeling of wanting to cry out or "fight" the presence they believe is causing the SP. These hallucinations are called hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. They can be auditory, visual, tactile and proprioceptive (the feeling of someone smashed into the bed when actually it's a hallucination). Proprioceptive is considered the most convincing of all hallucinations.
Some researchers believe that SP is contributed by several outside factors including stress, emotional or physical, and adolescence. Of course, all of this is only scientific theory. At Waterloo University, intense research has been done on SP and have found some interesting results. In a normal REM state, our minds send a message to our body to I guess you can say turn off our muscles while we dream. This prevents us from doing any harm to ourselves or anyone around us. Also in REM state, we experience a stimuli within our minds that tunes out the world around us.
When a sufferer of SP is in REM state, it differs from that of a normal person. There is little to no blocking of external stimulation and they suffer from a state of "dreaming while awake". Researchers believe the paralysis is caused by the brain failing to remind the body it is awake. Simply put, you wake up still dreaming which then appear as hallucinations and you can't move to do anything about it. Although this is said to be a common condition that most people experience at least once in their life (mostly the mild scenario of SP), I, myself, have never experienced SP and if I do, I hope it is the mild version. The other version sounds like a terrifying experience.
In many different cultures, demons, devils and other beasties of the night have been blamed for SP. It's easy to understand why they would choose that kind of explanation rather than try and develop a logical one. In some parts of Europe, people use to blame the littlest unexplained occurrences on vampires. So, it doesn't surprise me that SP was associated with demons. How else were they going to explain it? Researchers today still haven't been able to come up with one explanation, just theories. Even today, some skeptics believe that sleep paralysis doesn't exist. That it's all in the mind.
Sleep paralysis was also known as Old Hag. The origins of this title dates back to the Sumerians. An evil hag-demon named Ardat lili or Lilitu was said to have attacked men in their sleep. This is obviously referenced to Lilith, who refused to lay on her back when laying with Adam and was thrown out of Eden. After she was thrown out, a myriad of things happened, she flew away and is now the eater of children, or she is a disgusting old hag who flies over the land, seeking revenge for being thrown out of Eden. However, this myth is far from being unique. Many she-devils and hag-demons have taken credit for nocturnal assaults throughout mythology for whatever reasons.
Anyways, there were consistencies with reports made by societies and cultures even though they had no previous knowledge of each other or their lore. The main details remained constant: a man or woman is attacked during the night in the supine position, when an evil entity sits on their body, causing paralysis. No matter what their motivation may have been, the attacks remained similar.
Despite that SP research is still in the infancy phase, is there a way to prevent it from happening to you? Well, from my understanding, not really. You can try not sleeping on your back, but there really aren't any guarantees. Researchers are always looking for sufferers of SP. There are several websites where you can fill out surveys about your SP experiences which could help researchers understand the condition further. One is located at the Waterloo University's website. Do you have any personal experience stories concerning sleep paralysis you'd like to share?
If you would like to know more about sleep paralysis, check out this article posted on Science News Online.