Sleep Paralysis; The Psychology of demons, ghosts and aliens…………and zombies…maybe.

“One of the most unexplored regions of art are dreams.” – Fuseli

Demons, ghosts and aliens, in that order, have been reported over 100’s of years as visitors in the night scaring not only children but adults too….are we being visited by those from other worlds and dimensions…or….could there be a simpler explanation?

In the ‘Nightmare’  painting by Fuseli a sleeping woman is visited by nightmarish visions of demons and a horseshead…Are these Freudian symbols of neurosis usually buried deep unconscious manifesting themselves or is there an alternative psychophysiological based explanation?

Sleep Paralysis 

Back to the future; Marty Mcfly wakes up his young father in the dead of night dressed as an alien

During sleep it is now well documented that the mind and body goes through a number of processes, the most well known is R.E.M  (and some stages of NREM) where the brain becomes active and where reports of dreaming tends to have the greatest level of frequency.  During this period the human body responds with its own sets of changes, one being the muscles become inactive and it is though that this is a mechanism to stop the dreamer acting out their dreams. This safety mechanism however can sometimes be out of synch hence phenomenon such as sleepwalking and even sleep-murder in rare cases.  During a period of where the body still thinks it is asleep and therefore paralysed  however the individual becomes conscious they can experience a dream like state whilst awake – an experience that is reportedly very frightening, especially as it is correlated with a crushing sensation on the chest from the inhibited muscle activity (back to the demon sat on the woman in Fuseli’s painting).

It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before,” recalls Hannah Foster from Brighton. “After a normal day at work, I went to bed around 11pm, as always, and the next thing I remember is waking up, basically paralysed.  It was terrifying. And the more I panicked, the more it felt like I couldn’t breathe properly.  The second time, I knew what was happening – but as well as the paralysis, I also saw a terrifying black figure.  It looked a bit like a demon – with a scrunched, ugly face, like a gargoyle. I tried to scream and move away from it.”  Source; Mail online

These hypnopompic hallucinations have been correlated with a timeline, those reporting the phenomenon 200 years ago would report demons or ghosts, whilst these still occur attempted alien abduction reports are now more common and represents fears that are culturally time bound.   In Canada the phenomenon is referred to as ‘The hag‘, in Mexico “Dead person on you” (Subirse el muerto) and in China “Ghost pressing down on you‘. Alien abduction attempts have also been explained as examples of traumatic sleep paralysis episodes.  It is interesting to note that you can now get ‘alien abduction insurance‘  for peace of mind.

The future of sleep paralysis experiences 

The Zombie apocalypse is a common theme in television, film and popular culture maybe we will see a rise in zombie related experiences in the dead of night where unsuspecting sleepers wake awkwardly with hypnopompic hallucinations to the face of an extra from ‘The walking dead’, a White Walker from Game of Thrones or the new revamp of the X-Files.