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‘Facing My Demons, I Live A Life Dreaded Of The Night’: The Horrors Of Sleep Paralysis

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By Ashni Dhaor:

I remember distinctly, it was the month of June when I was first struck by this curse. Stagnant, humid air filled the room. Tears dripping all over my face making it moist and all I could do was blink, unable to move. Feeling heavy in my chest, I opened my eyes. Unable to breathe, I gasped, only in vain. The heaviness was nothing but a dark menacing shadow, sitting on my chest. I screamed, at the top of my lungs until I realize that I couldn’t make any sound. The silver light piercing through the curtains from the mystic moon coloured the room in a greyish hue. I lay there, cold sweat forming on my temples, unable to twitch even a muscle. Death is approaching me, so I thought as my eyes get filmed with misty tears. This horror continues for an eternity, in what seems like a nightmare, only real. They call this sleep paralysis, this constant torture in partial dreams. For me, they are no more than the haunting of a demented ‘shadow being’ hovering over my chest every night. Fear envelopes me as the bodiless air on my chest seems to become heavier. I clasp my neck, a vacuum appears in my throat. My heart pounds in my ears and the dreaded horror engulfs me. No syllable can express the burning in my bosom’s core which I experience those nights when my mind decides to wake up from the sleep but my body does not. Creating hallucinations, my mind plays tricks on me, often giving a near-death experience of no oxygen left in the body.

sleep paralysis

This condition is not only horrifying but also robs me of sleep, creating exhaustion and disturbing life terribly. The person suffering from sleep paralysis wakes up from sleep, but is also dreaming at the same time. They are sometimes able to partially open their eyes upon which the mind creates hallucinations. It occurs during that period of the night when the person is the deepest in his/her sleep, also termed as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep wherein the person tends to see dreams. Scientists have explained the feeling of pressure on the chest and other activities which take place during sleep paralysis quite nicely within the scientific models of sleep. During sleep paralysis, a person experiences an “out of sequence” REM state. In REM sleep, we dream and our minds shut off the physical control of the body; we’re supposed to be temporarily paralyzed. But we are not supposed to be conscious in REM sleep. Yet that is precisely what happens during sleep paralysis, it is a mix of brain states that are normally separate. Gradually, the person finds themselves able to move again after a few minutes.

That is when I am not able to take it longer that my soul grows stronger, hesitating no longer. The demon vanishes into thin air and I am left peering into the darkness. Breathing heavily, I marvel into what I just experienced. My soul within me, burning, not sure if this was a dream or a reality. The mystery remains as the shadow is nowhere to be seen. All that is seen is darkness and nothing more.

Despite all the scientific justifications of all that I experience, I am almost convinced that an evil being is near me. This sheer terror of the ominous presence is aggravated because not only I cannot see it, but am also defenceless. Losing life to it only sounds a bit too easy, always waking up more scared than I’ve ever been in my life. That is why it has been also dubbed as the ‘Old Hag” syndrome because of the folklore attached to it in some cultures.

Now every moment of the night, by a route obscure and lonely, I have wandered through the rooms of my abode, only to wait till the golden stream of sunlight fills my room and I can go back to sleep to the lullaby of birds chirping. This is the curse of sleep paralysis; like ghosts, the shadow rises and falls. Insomnia induced heavy head falling to sleep on the melancholic bed. Facing up to my demons, I now live a life dreaded of the night.

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  1. shirish

    tricks to avoid sleep paralysis; on personal experience.
    Don’t keep your hand/arm on torso(chest or/and stomach). When you find urself in SP; breathe as much as you can, keep calm & breathe heavily like pranayam; that will make you wake up asap. And yes; you’ll remember what i’m saying, because in SP your brain & memory is active and you are not dreaming; and even if you are dreaming you know that this is a dream.

    1. Shubhangi Joshi

      Spot on! your solution is exactly what I do 🙂

  2. Avrina

    Quite an apt description of what happens. I’ve spent nights with the lights on and wading away sleep because I’m too scared to be visited once again by the demons. I read somewhere that if you sleep on your side, there is a lesser possibility of it happening. So no matter what I do, I hug a pillow on my side and sleep. Its been three months since I had my last paralysis. I’ve moved to the phase where I switch off my lights. But no, I’ll never let go of the pillow!

  3. sarab

    They say sleeping on the side rather than on the back [and facing the ceiling] is better at combating sleep paralysis
    I’ve had sleep paralysis just once. I saw a dark shadow figure of old hag but I screamed ‘mummmyyyyyyy’ 😛 hehe
    and when you scream, you come out of paralysis of body

    stress causes sleep paralysis too
    sleep on your side, not on the back.

  4. Shubhangi Joshi

    Alright, let’s do this.
    I’ve had sleep paralysis multiple times, and I’ve realized that it usually strikes when I am up till very late at night and/ or mentally exhausted and stressed. Over time, I’ve figured out the technique to get myself out of it, and here it is – Whenever you start realizing that this state is gripping you, and you start panicking, try and relax your mind by breathing slow and deep. This state is like quicksand – the more you struggle, the worse it gets so the trick is to tell your mind to completely relax. Once you start breathing deeply, you will find yourself relaxing, and you will very slowly regain mobility in your hands etc. and get out of the state. Once you are out, take five minutes to sit up, look around , think about something else – anything to change your state of mind (akin to changing the topic in a conversation). Then you can try sleeping again. If you get out of the sleep paralysis and then immediately try to sleep again, it’s quite likely that it will happen all over again, so mentally ‘changing the topic’ is important. This really works for me. It took me a long time to master it, but now I have finally found a way to pull myself out of it.

    I hope this helps. I’ve been through this way too many times and it’s a terrifying experience to be honest. I hope this comment helps you and whoever else comes across it.

    Wow this comment grew really long 😛

  5. Sushmita

    I dont have any experience of sleep paralysis but I think you must try meditation and yoga combined together, it improves your breathing and you get a sound sleep. Breathing adequately is the solution to many of our problems.

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