Sleep paralysis is a strange condition when you feel you are awake but cannot move. It happens when you are between the between stages of wakefulness and sleep.
It can take some seconds or even several minutes before you are able to speak.
One can say that you are actually awake in your nightmare. If you have ever experienced sleep paralysis, you will know how awkward this condition can be.
Myths and legends about sleep paralysis persist all over the globe. Over the centuries, symptoms of sleep paralysis have been described in many ways and often
attributed to an "evil" presence: unseen night demons in ancient times, the old hag in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and alien abductors.
Almost every culture throughout history has had stories of shadowy evil creatures that terrify helpless humans at night.
long sought explanations for this mysterious sleep-time paralysis and the accompanying feelings of terror.
People who experience sleep paralysis often encounter demons in the nightmares.
According to surveys, this strange phenomenon seems to happen to about half the population at least once during a lifetime.
Scientists are now suggesting that it is essential to examine the causes and interpretations of sleep paralysis from both a scientific and cultural perspective.
During a meeting organized earlier this year by the
Sleep Paralysis Project
Christopher French, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London's Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit. discussed common symptoms of the
"You're in this state, you realise you can't move, and you get a very strong sense of presence. You feel certain that there is someone, or something in
the room with you and whatever that thing or person is they mean you no good at all. They're evil, in some cases a pure evil…
Very often these episodes are associated with hallucinations. These might be visual (you might see lights moving around in the room, dark shadows,
grotesque monstrous forms); they might be auditory (you might hear footsteps, or voices, or mechanical sounds); they might be tactile
(you might feel as if you are being touched, or as if someone is holding you tightly, or as if someone is dragging you out of the bed.
Sometimes these can turn into full blown out of body experience," Professor French said.
Filmmaker Carla MacKinnon became interested in the subject when she started waking up several times a week unable to move, with the sense that a disturbing
presence was in the room with her.
"I was getting quite a lot of sleep paralysis over the summer, quite frequently, and I became quite interested in what was happening, what medically or
scientifically, it was all about," MacKinnon said.
Her research is becoming a short film and multiplatform art project exploring the strange and spooky phenomenon of sleep paralysis.
The film, supported by the Wellcome Trust and set to screen at the Royal College of Arts in London, will debut in May.
MacKinnon has met several psychologists and other experts who offered their opinion on the subject and some have even shared some own personal experiences.
"I looked at my right arm and willed it to move. I commanded it to move. It stayed put. When I tried to sit up or roll over nothing happened.
I panicked. On the inside I was a twisting fury, but the shell of my body remained motionless.
I gave up the struggle, overwhelmed by an intuition that if I tried any harder I would break through the shell and float away…
I now recognise this as a lucid dream, an hallucinatory state in the hinterlands of slumber where the mind is alert, but the body remains bound by
the paralysis of sleep - the intersection of dream life and reality," said Dr Paul Broks, a neuropsychologist and writer.
Would you tell people about your "demon dreams"?
As previously mentioned it is very common people who suffer from sleep paralysis encounter demons.
"It was like nothing I'd ever experienced before," recalls Hannah Foster from Brighton, UK. "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."
It is estimated that millions of people have experienced something similar, but many people refuse to talk about it.
"Sufferers may be reluctant to talk of their experiences, for fear of being shunned or ridiculed as "crazy". This can lead to social isolation and even marital
breakdown," said Professor French.
Some scientists like for example David Morgan, a Psychoanalyst and Psychotherapist are focusing on interpretations of hallucinatory experiences.
Dr. Morgan suggests that the content of hallucinations can offer symbolic insights into the patient's feelings.
"People take symbols from wherever they can… the dwarf, the hag - probably from fairy stories - represent an oppressive force keeping you down.
Something in your mind that prevents you from being free," Dr. Morgan said.