It’s like falling off the edge of a cliff.
I’m about to fall asleep, and then I suddenly drop and freeze. I can’t move, and the longer it takes for me to move, the more panicked I become. I think “I need to move, I have to move”, like I’d actually be stuck that way forever if I didn’t. Then, I feel my heart beat faster and faster in my chest, my senses heighten, and the hallucinations begin.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve fallen victim to unpredictable bouts of hypnagogic sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis refers to a temporary inability to move or speak upon waking up (hypnopompic) or falling asleep (hypnagogic). Essentially, when parts of REM sleep occur when you’re awake, your body goes to bed, but your mind stays up.
While the experience itself isn’t harmful for the body and usually passes within seconds or minutes, it’s often accompanied by hallucinations, difficulty breathing, or in some cases, the ability to open your eyes and observe while your body remains frozen. Personally, I love to sleep, but if you ask anyone who understands what sleep paralysis feels like, you’d know that a few seconds is enough to ruin a night for good.
For me, the hallucinations are always auditory at first. I hear footsteps racing up the stairs —loud, heavy footsteps, making this quick BAM BAM BAM sound. The weirdest part is, I can never open my eyes, but I can imagine this pure darkness growing in my bedroom. As I lay immobile, I’m watched by a contorted man hanging upside-down from the ceiling. He’s usually grimacing and unblinking and, sometimes, if I’m home alone, I can almost feel him watching me out of the corner of my eye.
It’s also my job to snap out of it. I need to concentrate all of my energy on waking my body up, so I begin by focusing my mind on wiggling a finger or toe. As soon as I achieve that, I’m awake and everything stops.
Although these bouts of paralysis only last for a matter of seconds, once it happens for the first time in a night, it’ll happen again and again until I fall asleep for good. It’s exhausting because once I’ve pulled out of it, I never know when I’ll slip right back in.
Despite its taboo nature, sleep paralysis is actually fairly common. For centuries, the phenomenon has been personified in art and literature as a shadowy, evil creature who wanders from bedroom to bedroom, terrifying helpless people at night. It can be caused by a number of factors, from drug use and mental health issues to simply sleeping in a different position (and only happens to me when I haven’t had enough sleep).
Below are some excerpts of different people’s experiences with sleep paralysis (both strange and scary), which may help you to better understand the diversity of experiences had by those who experience it. Most importantly, if you or anyone else you know can relate to my experience, it’s important to discover the trigger of your sleep paralysis because it could be the result of an underlying health issue.
“He had some sort of weapon in his right hand, I believe it was a knife. I swear my heart has never dropped and raced like that in my entire life. I kept trying and trying move or scream, but I was frozen in place. It felt like hours.”
— gingeroblivion, Reddit
“I woke up, and at the foot of my bed was the Wolf from the Disney cartoon/movie “Sword In The Stone”, and on both sides of the front of the bed were huge water heaters, and the Wolf reached under the covers, and started to tickle my feet.”
— Crocodonk, Unexplained Mysteries
“I peer over and watch the figure jump onto my roommate and literally and brutally tear him limb from limb. I tried to avert my gaze but it made me watch. I can still remember the sound of my friend choking on his own blood as he was devoured alive”
— ariveracre, Reddit
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