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Get Off My Chest!

I had a very rough night of sleep that included a bout of Sleep Paralysis:  “A period of inability to perform voluntary movements either at sleep onset (called hypnogogic or predormital form) or upon awakening (called hypnopompic or postdormtal form).”

In other words, your brain wakes up but your body doesn’t, and you can’t move, and it feels like someone is there, squeezing you. Everyone’s brain paralyzes their body while you’re asleep to prevent you from acting out your dreams, and that’s where the glitch happens. The brain is awake but has failed to turn the switch to release your body from paralysis. And you are groggy and half-asleep and confused and you can’t move. There is an old myth about an Old Hag sitting on your chest (not to be confused with The blogging Old Hag, though I don’t know if the name of her blog has anything to do with the sleep-disorder myth), and personally I believe that people who think they have been visited by aliens are really just experiencing sleep paralysis. Because it absolutely feels like someone is in the room with you. The mixture of dream-state and waking-state and a paralyzed body is a recipe for all sorts of creepy stories about what is actually going on. I suppose it was scary for me the first time, but once I learned what it is I just wait for it to pass and wake up.

It happens to me infrequently, about once a year. When I lived in Maryland I experienced it more. I think it has some correlation to mood, and there is some evidence that it is linked. My mood is certainly quite bad these days, and I haven’t experienced it in a long time. And when it was happening a lot in Maryland my mood was the worst it’s ever been. But last night before going to bed I was actually thinking about the fact that I haven’t experienced sleep paralysis in awhile, so perhaps the power of suggestion was enough to bring it on … the brain is a strange thing.

Or maybe the Old Hag heard my thoughts and wanted to teach me a lesson…

6 Responses to “Get Off My Chest!”

  1. Sam
    July 10th, 2005 | 2:39 pm

    Bad sleep is the worst. I have had similar experiences – one of which was a little different. And it happned in your home town when I was living on Beacon Street. I had a dream an entity was strangling me (or maybe smothering me…I was shifting around a lot) and all I was could do was get this ghost off of me so I could breathe enough air to scream. Anyway, when I finally shook the thing off I sat up quickly as I awoke and at that very moment 2 candlesticks that were on my window sill across the room fell over(!!) At the time I was convinced this was because the being flew out the window. Scary! I thought of this because similar to you I felt awake but could not move until that last moment.

  2. cynthia rockwell
    July 10th, 2005 | 2:49 pm

    that definitely sounds like sleep paralysis. i saw a program on the learning channel or discovery or something like that and it was about sleep paralysis, and they talked to people who have it in varying degrees–one said she’d wake up and see demons surrounding her bed and she was terrified, etc. it all depends on how vividly you’re dreaming when it happens, i suppose. for me i never see anything but just feel something squeezing me way too tight, like a bear hug that is trying to squeeze the life out of me. once, though, it was localized to my throat and it felt like someone was strangling me. but the way you say “i finally shook the thing off”–that’s exactly what it feels like every time.

  3. Sam
    July 10th, 2005 | 3:34 pm

    Creepy! I bet that is what it was. Interesting to know. I have never hreard of this before. The only thing I still can’t explain is the candle sticks.

    I also had a weird experience with a Ouija board I thought might be related, but that can be a comment for another post.

  4. cynthia rockwell
    July 10th, 2005 | 4:35 pm

    well if you were struggling so much and shot up in bed maybe that shook the candle sticks out of their holders! i once had an episode where i thought i saw a woman standing in my room looking out the window, but then when i woke up i noticed my robe was hanging on the door in exactly the spot i thought the woman was, with exactly the shape she was.

  5. therese
    July 12th, 2005 | 9:35 pm

    when i was about 7 that happened to me and i got scared and called out for my mom who came in and pointed to my dressing gown hanging on the bedpost. in college while having one of my frequent naps, i became aware of sounds around me but couldn’t get up for what seemed like several minutes, although my arms felt like they were reaching out to pull myself up. i experienced the “hag on chest” when i moved into a ny apt an old guy had died in a few weeks before. i felt like i was being held down and had been sleeping with my eyes wide open, and since i never sleep on my back i was convinced i had been flipped over and toyed with. my cat started freaking out around that time too, hair standing on end and getting really bug-eyed and skittish. thanks for sharing your discovery – i feel so much better!

  6. dvd
    July 16th, 2005 | 7:16 am

    This happens to me now and then, quite intensely. Especially in regards to the strangulation thing. I used to think it was perhaps something supernatural (it used to happen at work a lot when I dozed off, so I thought the projection booth of the theater I worked in was haunted). I finally found out what it was a year or so ago. Reading the descriptions of people’s accounts was actually terrifying all by itself – it was like reading someone else describe your own dream, something that’s supposed to be private.

    Anyway, now I feel sort of priveleged whenever it happens, even though it still freaks me out.