Sleep Paralysis: A First Person Account

Posted on March 2nd, 2005 in Engineerboy,Health and Fitness by EngineerBoy

This is just about what it felt like...

When I was 12 or 13 years old, I woke up one night in my bed, fully awake, fully aware of everything, clearly not asleep, and absolutely unable to move a muscle, other than my eyes. Even my breathing was involuntary, because I eventually wanted to yell or scream, but could not. It felt as if someone had encased me in Lucite, or poured clear concrete over me (while still allowing me to breathe). I felt that there was a malevolent presence in the room. I had no sense of up or down and felt like I was slowly falling and spinning. The two windows beyond the foot of my bed were backlit by ambient moonlight, and took on, to me, the appearance of evil glowing eyes floating at the foot of my bed. I was terrified beyond explanation, even now at 43, when I have a much richer vocabulary. My entire body sweated in terror, even though it was a cool evening. I was so terrified and the feeling of an evil presence was so unequivocal that I assumed that I had either died or was about to die, and not in any good way, with no warm comforting light at the end of the tunnel with loving relatives waiting for me. No, I was going to die, and die horribly. I knew it.

Eventually my repeated attempts to scream started to generate small movements in my throat. Through countless repeated attempts I was finally able to squawk out a tiny sound…this was the beginning of the end of the paralysis, and with each new breath I was able to make louder and louder sounds until I was screaming with all my might (or so I thought). I slowly regained the ability to move my limbs, and eventually sat up, waiting for one or more of my family members to come and see why I had been shrieking my head off. But they didn’t. It was then that I realized that what I perceived as screaming had actually been muffled squeaks, but they had been enough to snap me out of it. I didn’t wake my family up, because I didn’t know what I would tell them. When I laid back down the feeling started to come back, so I spent the rest of the night awake and alert (to say the least).

This event lasted for what seemed like hours, but I really don’t know how long it lasted. I had trouble sleeping for several years after this episode, because I would feel it starting to happen again and would force myself to stay awake.

Over the years I have only told a few people about this event, as it just seemed so strange, and since it occurred in the fringes of sleep, could easily be explained away (by someone who hasn’t experienced it) as “just a bad dream”. I knew it wasn’t a dream, but other than that I had no understanding of what had occurred to me.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, when Peter Jennings hosted an ABC special called “UFO: Seeing Is Believing” in prime time. Being an aficionado, but not a “believer”, in UFOs and aliens I TiVo’d it and watched it. As the show progressed, somewhere in the latter third, they interviewed alien abduction survivors, many of whom talked about being abducted from their beds in the middle of night, stricken by a strange paralysis and fear.

ABC, in the spirit of exploring all sides of the issue, also interviewed sleep specialists, who said that what these people were actually experiencing was something called “sleep paralysis”. The symptoms are the inability to move, the feeling of a malevolent presence, a skewed perception of the passage of time, and tremendous feelings of fear and/or impending death. It turns out that the phenomenon of sleep paralysis is fairly well known, and occurs when the body is partially awakened from REM sleep. According to what I have read, during REM sleep the body immobilizes the skeletal muscles to prevent the dreamer from “acting out” their dreams.

What happens during sleep paralysis is that the dreamer actually wakens from a consciousness point of view, but the skeletal muscles remained in their self-paralyzed state, rendering the person awake and immobile. Since the person is hovering between sleep and wakefulness, the mind is also open to suggestions (where the fear and feeling of malevolence comes from), and has a skewed sense of the passage of time.

As I heard this explanation my jaw literally hung open. Here, after 30 years, was the completely plausible explanation for what had happened to me all those years ago! It was quite an epiphany, and a relief, and the banality of the whole thing greatly appealed to my logical nature.

This was something I had lived with for 30 years, and I had always questioned myself about it. What had happened? Why had it happened? Did it actually happen? Was I sublimating some other horrific memory and putting this one in its place? For 30 years I had these questions. They didn’t haunt me, or anything, but they certainly hung there as a great, big, fat, direct personal experience for which I could concoct no logical explanation. It was my one truly great “paranormal” experience. And come to find out, it was just “normal”.

I can easily see how “UFO abductees” sought therapists and hypnotists to help them “unlock” what happened during their episodes, and given the suggestible state I was in, I can easily see where someone could “remember” an alien abduction during the episode, whether or not it happened. I’m not saying that UFO abductees are or aren’t being abducted, just that I’m pretty sure now that some of them are experiencing sleep paralysis, and then through hypnosis and/or false memory implantation are remembering things that never really occurred.

I’m writing this article in the hopes that others may read this and experience the same relief that I do now. Particularly young people (like I was when it happened to me) who may be living in fear of a malevolent presence stalking them in their dreams. Take a look around the web and you’ll find that sleep paralysis, while certainly not something fun to experience, is simply a strange state of your body and mind that has no evil intent.

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