If you've ever awoken in the middle of the night unable to move or speak, eyes frantically scanning the room but arms remaining glued to your sides, screams ringing only in your head...well, it sounds like something out a horror movie. Unfortunately, it's not. It's called sleep paralysis. The medical term for sleep paralysis is "muscle atonia." This phenomenon occurs when your body still thinks you're asleep, but your conscious mind is clearly awake. Imagine the opposite of sleepwalking: instead of being in a semi-conscious state where you walk and talk, your body is at rest but your mind is active.There are many potential causes of sleep paralysis: not getting enough sleep, narcolepsy and other sleep disorders, stress, depression, anxiety, and even sleeping on your back. Mostly, sleep paralysis occurs during REM (or rapid-eye movement) sleep when the brain is most active and we dream. If a person is aware upon entering or exiting REM sleep, they will likely experience sleep paralysis. Although sleep paralysis can feel like it lasts for hours, in reality it only occurs for a few minutes. Sleep paralysis is a condition that causes people to feel awake but unable to move. According to self-reports, hallucinations can and do occur during sleep paralysis. This is why many of us see things that we normally wouldn't, like creatures. But we'll discuss this further on. Many believe the hallucinations people experience come from dreams, just portions of our subconscious rising up essentially.
Though sleep paralysis can affect anyone, it is most commonly linked to conditions such as stress, substance abuse, insomnia, and narcolepsy. It's important to note that sleep paralysis and night terrors are not the same thing. Although sleep paralysis and night terrors may have some similarities, they are two different things. Night terrors usually involve the sensation of falling or screaming and often happen alongside sleepwalking. Sleep paralysis—or muscle atonia—is more closely associated with nightmares and lucid dreaming because you are in the same brain state during. Although science tells us these hallucinations are from our subconscious, folklore tells us these creatures are far more ancient than that. If you don't already know it, then Google “The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli,” a famous painting depicting a mythical Mare sitting on someone's sleeping chest (or look up). As you first start to experience sleep paralysis, folklore says that the Mare will slowly and quietly enter. Historically, the first written record of a Mare was in the 13th century within a saga called King Vanlandi Sveigðisson of Uppsala. In the story, a king is killed by a Mare. Mares are a popular character in many different folk tales, and they take on various forms. If that name sounds familiar, it's because the word 'nightmare' is derived from this creature.
The Mare is a popular belief that originated in Babylonian times and has close ties to Incubuses and Succubuses. An Incubus is a male demon who sexually feeds off of sleeping women; a Succubus is the female version of an Incubus. The Alu is a androgynous looking demon lacking lips, ears, or mouth. They're known for causing more fear by pushing down upon their victims. A "nightmare" used to be referred to as a spiritual attack that was carried out by a witch back in the 15th century. Because, you know, why not randomly blame witches; forever the historical scape goat (insert eye roll here). The most fascinating, and terrifying, story of a nightmare to date is that of the Laotian refugees who arrived in America during the 1980s and mysteriously died during their sleep from heart attacks. The men were young and healthy-looking, so officials were shocked when they began talking to other refugees and realized that something was very wrong. Their culture also had a belief in a creature that caused sleep paralysis. The Doge Sho is a night spirit within their culture that comes to men and fills their minds with nightmares until they die of fear. They thought this menacing ghost came to hurt them because they were no longer in their homeland; where they would've been protected them from evil spirits. The Kikimora is a spirit similar to the Germanic "Mare." Slavs believe in the Kikimora, a female spirit that is often accompanied by her husband, the Domovoi. The entities commonly reside in homes where children have died or miscarriages have frequently happened.
There are many belief systems surrounding the Kikimora, with some believing it takes on the form of an animal or old lady. If this name sounds familiar it's because this lore was recently portrayed in the popular Netflix show "The Witcher". However, one thing that all descriptions have in common is that there is always at least one deformity present. Although sleep paralysis doesn't necessarily have anything to do with demons, the archetypical old hag is believed to come from them. I thought they deserved a mention, at least.
Now that we’ve gone over a bunch of different variations of rude sleep creatures, let's focus on how to avoid sleep paralysis from occurring. Regardless of which cultural variation is closely tied to our experiences, the following tips can help with any of them. We can stop these creatures from leeching our energy by learning more about them and taking back control. A study was conducted that showed a higher number of sleep paralysis cases in cultures that believe in these types of superstitions. Don't let a belief in ghosts stop you from living your life, but know that they some may be driven by fear. Think about it, sleep paralysis leaves you feeling completely helpless, you aren’t able to fend for yourself in any way, even by closing your eyes. Sleep paralysis can turn from a an infrequent brain error into a threatening, prolonged event if it is paired with certain superstitious beliefs and fear. According to these studies, sleep paralysis appears to impact those who fear it the most frequently and with greater intensity. So, if you find yourself in this uncomfortable situation, remember that fear feeds it. Whether you believe in science or magic, the power of your mind is enormous. Even though sleep paralysis seems to be a global issue for many people, we often ignore it. Although science confirms it happens and that real fear is caused, science simply can’t prove why this has been occurring since the beginning of humankind.
Several actions can prevent Sleep paralysis:
- Sleep paralysis is more likely to happen when your sleep routine is disturbed.
- Try not to sleep on your back if possible.
- Do not let your fear overpower you, take deep breaths and try to relax.
I have been told by some people that they have experienced sleep paralysis while laying on their stomach. So far, none of them reported it happening while they were on their side (but please let me know if it has occurred to you, as you can tell I love research). Keep in mind that if you're feeling exhausted, your brain becomes more likely to make a mistake due to sleep deprivation. This can cause feelings of fatigue and lead to vision or hearing problems. Those who are more spiritually gifted tend to experience sleep paralysis more often because they can see, or be seen by, spirits more easily. Magically, keeping your sleeping area warded and protected is always a smart thing to do.
- Keep a clove of garlic in your pillow
- A pair of iron scissors under your bed
- A glass of Holy water or moon water under your bed.
- Sigils, sigils are a great way of putting up protective wards in your home and bedroom
- Protective and purifying crystals (Keep a hag stone under your pillow (a natural stone with a hole in the center)
These sleep creatures feed off of fear and negative energy, so the safer you feel the better. I normally pray an “Our father” nonstop or chant one of my favorite affirmations in Latin for protection. Whichever format you find the most belief and faith in, go for it. This will help dissipate your fear and if they can't feed off of you, there's no point of being there. I hope these tips help and you don’t have to worry about experiencing sleep paralysis anymore. In the following blog we'll go over astral projection and how to use sleep paralysis as your guide to it. I encourage you to do your own research, practice the advice I gave, and find out what works best for you. Without rest, we can't properly take care of ourselves, but sometimes sleep paralysis gets in the way and leaves us feeling anxious and scared. That's where our magical self-care comes in. There are ways to protect and help ourselves from unexplainable things. Be open to getting creative when it comes to solving your sleep paralysis. For more information on sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming and astral projection, check out our guild!