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Sleep Paralysis And Demonic Possession

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Ever find yourself briefly paralyzed as you’re falling asleep or just waking up? It’s a phenomenon is called sleep paralysis, and it’s often accompanied by vivid sensory or perceptual experiences, which can include complex and disturbing hallucinations and intense fear.

For some people, sleep paralysis is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; for others, it can be a frequent, even nightly, phenomenon.
Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are symptoms commonly experienced during episodes of sleep paralysis. Some scientists have proposed this condition as an explanation for reports of alien abductions and ghostly encounters. A study by Susan Blackmore and Marcus Cox (the Blackmore-Cox study) of the University of the West of England supports the suggestion that reports of alien abductions are related to sleep paralysis rather than to temporal lobe lability. There are three main types of these hallucinations that can be linked to pathologic neurophysiology. These include the belief that there is an intruder in the room, the incubus, and vestibular motor sensations

Researchers James Allan Cheyne and Gordon Pennycook of the University of Waterloo in Canada explore the factors associated with distress after sleep paralysis episodes in a new article published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli (1781) is thought to be one of the classic depictions of sleep paralysis perceived as a demonic visitation.
Credit:  Wikipedia

The researchers used an online survey and follow-up emails to survey 293 people. They measured post-episode distress using a range of items, from post-episode rumination to interference with next-day functioning.

The level of distress following sleep paralysis episodes was associated with features of the sleep paralysis episode itself. For example, the results showed that the more fear people felt during sleep paralysis episodes, the more distress they felt afterward.

The researchers also found that sensory experiences during episodes of sleep paralysis predicted later distress. Feelings of threat and assault — such as sensing a presence in the room, feeling pressure on the chest, having difficulty breathing, or having a feeling of imminent death — were all associated with distress following sleep paralysis episodes. So, too, were vestibular-motor experiences, including feelings of floating or falling and out-of-body experiences.

Cheyne and Pennycook speculate that the sensory experiences that come with episodes of sleep paralysis could exacerbate people’s fear, creating a feedback loop that enhances memories of experiences later on.

Post-episode distress was also associated with a number of individual-level factors, including cognitive style, distress sensitivity, and supernatural beliefs about sleep paralysis.

People who held supernatural beliefs about sleep paralysis experiences also experienced greater post-episode distress. Those who had more analytic cognitive styles, on the other hand, experienced comparatively less distress after sleep paralysis episodes.

Taken together, these findings show that both situational factors and individual factors contribute to these common, and often stressful, personal experiences.

These findings are important, the researchers say, because they provide insight into a common experience of distress that is not well understood. Some participants lamented that their experiences of terror following episodes of sleep paralysis were often dismissed by clinicians.

Given that a large percentage of people report some carryover effects on their functioning the next day, sleep paralysis could “make a significant contribution to the billions of dollars, worldwide, in costs associated with accidents, illnesses, and lost productivity associated with sleep disturbances,” the researchers note.

Le Cauchemar (The Nightmare), by Eugène Thivier (1894)
Credit: Wikipedia

Sleep paralysis has a long and varied history in folklore.

In Finnish and Swedish folklore, sleep paralysis is caused by a mare, a supernatural creature related to incubi and succubi. The mare is a damned woman, who is cursed and her body is carried mysteriously during sleep and without her noticing. In this state, she visits villagers to sit on their rib cages while they are asleep, causing them to experience nightmares. The Swedish film Marianne examines the folklore surrounding sleep paralysis. 

Folk belief in Newfoundland, South Carolina and Georgia describe the negative figure of the hag who leaves her physical body at night, and sits on the chest of her victim. The victim usually wakes with a feeling of terror, has difficulty breathing because of a perceived heavy invisible weight on his or her chest, and is unable to move i.e., experiences sleep paralysis. This nightmare experience is described as being “hag-ridden” in the Gullah lore. The “Old Hag” was a nightmare spirit in British and also Anglophone North American folklore. 

In Fiji, the experience is interpreted as kana tevoro, being “eaten” by a demon. In many cases the demon can be the spirit of a recently dead relative who has come back for some unfinished business, or has come to communicate some important news to the living. Often persons sleeping near the afflicted person say kania, kania, “eat! eat!” in an attempt to prolong the possession for a chance to converse with the dead relative or spirit and seek answers as to why he or she has come back. The person waking up from the experience is often asked to immediately curse or chase the spirit of the dead relative, which sometimes involves literally speaking to the spirit and telling him or her to go away or using expletives.[citation needed]

In Nigeria, “ISP appears to be far more common and recurrent among people of African descent than among whites or Nigerian Africans,” and is often referred to within African communities as “the Devil on your back.” 

In Turkey sleep paralysis is called karabasan, and is similar to other stories of demonic visitation during sleep. A demon, commonly known as a djinn (cin in Turkish), comes to the victim’s room, holds him or her down hard enough not to allow any kind of movement, and starts to strangle the person. To get rid of the demonic creature, one needs to pray to Allah with certain lines from the Qur’an. 

In Thailand it is believed that sleep paralysis and discomfort is caused by a ghost of the Thai folklore known as Phi Am . Some people claim that this spirit may even cause bruises. Stories about this spirit are common in Thai comics. 

In the Southern states of the United States, elders refer to it as the “witch riding your back.”

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    Total 4 comments
    • midwestgrandma

      Ms. Mikulak,

      Sleep paralysis and demon possession are two entirely different things. I’ve witnessed both.

      Yes quite a few people experience sleep paralysis and mistake it for encountering aliens or demons but there are multiple dimensions within and without ours as well as we are a three dimensional body (vessel) with a multidimensional soul trapped inside of this earthly 3d shell.

      Again “science” trying to explain away and sound “logical” a various and complicated reality we all share is misleading and shows your youth and ignorance.

      There are such things as demons – you need to study further and your article while it does sound very scholarly, is full of bs.

      And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
      Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167

      Scientists would not admit to the general public until recently that there were multiple dimensions. We now have string theory, bubble theory and each decade that goes by “we” learn of even more wondrous things concerning our own 3d universe.

      We have not even begun to explore other dimensions.

      The science community is constantly re-editing with ever new findings but now coming back full circle saying, maybe, just maybe the shaman weren’t all that crazy.

      Tread carefully Ms. Mikulak – you are close minded and proud of heart with your “book learning”. There are things that do go bump in the night as well as there are people that have opened themselves up, knowingly or unknowingly, to entities that crave a 3d vessel and your nice and neat little skewed packaged, view of our universe and it’s workings is misleading by this article to a lot of people.

      I’ve seen people with sleep paralysis and I’ve seen a person possessed, and they are two entirely separate conditions.

      Pray to Almighty God, you never come across the latter. It’s something I wouldn’t wish upon my worse enemy – this person wasn’t asleep or falling asleep, this person was awake and not entirely human.

      Sometimes the indigenous shaman know more than you college scholars, trying to put everything in a nice and neat packaged category.

      Somethings, defy being, for now, neatly categorized.

      Not impressed with your article – again, it’s misleading.

      I also assume you do not believe in God.

      Again, pray you never encounter a malevolent demon, or person truly possessed – the experience will leave you much more insightful, yet a little more humble than you current are.

    • Anonymous

      As someone one who has suffered these episodes for years, I must say that the author of the article was brilliant in her description of sleep paralysis and its history. Too many people get taken in by tricks of the mind, and the people who prey on such weaknesses. Not to say that the world may not be a much stranger place than we give it credit for, but in this instance… for me Occam’s Razor says the known affliction explains the majority of cases of “abductions” and “possessions”. Does it explain all of them – of course not, as many truly are cases of mental instability or outright deception, and there is a VERY slight chance that a microscopic amount of them might even have some unexplainable cause that turns out to be truly otherworldly. Even “true believers” have to admit though, that the vast majority of such things are not to be taken too seriously. If you start vomiting pea soup uncontrollably, or doing a 360 with your head… then you might have a more serious problem. If not, then you are most likely safe, and only suffering from a very common sleep disorder. Congratulations on not being a blood sucking demon from hell, no you are not excused from work today, and yes your life will go on just fine. Breath deeply, relax, repeat.

    • Anonymous

      you stupid stupid stupid stupid people..

      you dont “suffer” from “sleep paralysis” – its the bodies natural way of protecting itself during a dream..

      is so when you have your stupid dreams about demons chasing you – you dont fall out the bed and hit your head.

      though in your case, it probably wouldnt hurt anyway


      • predictability

        To.Anonymous-Pigsyou stupid stupid stupid stupid people..

        you dont “suffer” from “sleep paralysis” – its the bodies natural way of protecting itself during a dream..

        is so when you have your stupid dreams about demons chasing you – you dont fall out the bed and hit your head.

        though in your case, it probably wouldnt hurt anyway-predictabilitys response-stupid people huh? kinda sounds like offendment has been added somewhere huh? u calling people stupid as if demonic entities do not exist i mean think about it haven’t we all screwed up somewhere in life?. To-arthur good article excellent point of the infinite possibilitys at hand. me myself have actually witnessed this trans Not something u come around every like the russian meteor. definitely not good but like humanity itself we are made to learn from negative ways not become it because there is always a possibility. its just the devil trys to Dam all of humanity until the day we see we are all one in gods eyes. peace predictability.

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