Sleep Paralysis Stories: Demons Or Hallucinations?

image of a classical painting representing sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis stories typically involve unusual and frightening experiences. Perhaps you have one or two of these disturbing tales of your own to tell.

If not, I’ll first share one of mine to give you an understanding of what it can be like.

Then we’ll take a closer look at whether sleep paralysis demons or ghosts really exist. Or if science can provide a logical and comforting explanation.

My sleep paralysis experience

Imagine the following scenario: it’s been a long day, you go to bed later than usual and fall asleep quickly through sheer exhaustion.

But instead of waking up peacefully in the morning, you half wake in the middle of the night. And in the darkness of your bedroom, it slowly dawns on you that you can’t move your body…and that someone, or something, is watching you.

A weight pushing on your chest

You feel a weight on your chest, pressing you down and preventing you from sitting up. And not only is your whole body paralyzed, but you can’t so much as move your lips to call out for help.

You’re not sure who or what is pushing on your chest. It’s too dark to see. You just know there’s a presence there. Something strange. Something frightening.

This happened to me last year and was a very unsettling experience. Fortunately, there was no demon, ghost or burglar in my bedroom.

After a minute’s panic, the feeling passed. And I was then able to stumble to the bathroom to make sure my face wasn’t decorated with demonic symbols. It was a classic case of sleep paralysis.

What is sleep paralysis?

Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis is classified as a parasomnia, which is a group of sleep disorders involving unwanted behaviors that accompany sleep.

The main symptom is being awake and unable to move your body. It might also be accompanied by hallucinations or dreams/nightmares whilst still awake.

It typically lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes before movement is regained. And although it may feel like it at the time, it’s not believed by medical organizations to be harmful.

What causes it?

The exact reason for why it happens to some people and only on some nights isn’t known. However, scientists do have a theory about what goes on during sleep paralysis.

During the night, you cycle through different sleep stages. When you enter the REM stage of sleep, your brain stops your muscles from moving – known as REM atonia. One explanation for this atonia is that it prevents injury from acting out your dreams in bed.

During sleep paralysis, the atonia starts, or continues, while you’re awake. And during this time, you might also experience what’s known as sleep hallucinations, or dreams while you’re awake.

So your body and brain are temporarily out of sync while transitioning between sleep stages, potentially creating a frightening experience.

As Dr. Michael J. Breus neatly explains:

Sleep scientists believe that sleep paralysis may occur when the transitions in and out of REM sleep and other sleep stages don’t go smoothly.

How many people experience sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis stories like mine are surprisingly common. In 2011, researchers aggregated 35 sleep paralysis studies to find out how many people had experienced it at least once in the past year, finding:

  • 7.6% of the general population
  • 28.3% of students
  • 31.9% of psychiatric patients

Who is more at risk of having sleep paralysis?

Scientists might not know the precise reason only some people have sleep paralysis yet, but there are a growing number of risk factors becoming apparent.

For example, researchers who analyzed 42 studies found several risk factors and associated conditions:

  • Sleep problems, changing sleep patterns and shift work.
  • Sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia and nocturnal leg cramps.
  • Stress.
  • Some psychiatric groups, particularly those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and panic disorders.
  • Substance and medication use.
  • Physical illness.
  • Personality and anomalous beliefs.

Is there a genetic component to sleep paralysis?

In 2015, British researchers published a study of 862 twins and siblings aged between 22 and 32. They did find some evidence of a genetic role, but only a small one:

In this sample of young adults, sleep paralysis was moderately heritable

Interestingly, they also found other independent risk factors, including:

  • Disrupted sleep cycles
  • General sleep quality
  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Exposure to threatening events

Polls – readers’ experience of sleep paralysis

I polled readers of this article for a year to find out what kind of sleep paralysis episodes they had.

Note that it’s likely that many people who search online about it will have had the more frightening episodes, skewing the results.

But they still provide a fascinating insight into what people experience and how they cope.

Poll 1

In poll 1, the most common episode was thinking there was a demon or other being in the room.

chart showing the results of my poll about the type of sleep paralysis experiences people have

Poll 2

Poll 2 shows that many readers find sleep paralysis terrifying. Again, those who search online for it are likely to have found it particularly disturbing.

chart of poll results for how scared people are during sleep paralysis

Poll 3

Poll 3 shows that many readers first experienced sleep paralysis during adolescence.

chart with poll results about the age people first have sleep paralysis

Poll 4

Poll 4 shows that most readers don’t experience sleep paralysis on a regular basis. 

chart showing poll results about how often people have sleep paralysis

Poll 5

Poll 5 shows some of the ways readers deal with episodes. You’ll find more coping mechanisms below.

chart showing the results of the poll about techniques for stopping sleep paralysis

The not so scientific explanations for sleep paralysis

image of a woman floating above the bed

Since first writing this article 7 years ago, there have been an extraordinary number of comments.

The comments show that not everyone accepts the scientific explanation. And interestingly, that some people struggle to accept it even though they want to – such is the realistic nature of their experience.

The possibility of demons, ghosts, spiritual beings and aliens all crop up from time to time. And while many people accept their experiences as hallucinations or dreams, some people choose to believe another explanation – that those beings are real.

Despite these beliefs, there’s one clear theme: nothing bad ever actually happens, other than being frightened and perhaps losing some sleep after an episode.

Around the world

In Fiji, the demon is sometimes seen as a deceased relative coming back to discuss an important or unfinished matter.

In Chinese folklore, it’s also seen as a ghost rather than a demon or intruder.

Some people in Iran and Pakistan interpret it as demons or spirits taking over your body. This could be due to black magic performed by an enemy.

The common theme is that the entity is usually something to be feared. I’m yet to find a culture which believes it’s a friendly creature!

Sleep paralysis treatment

When to see a doctor

Fortunately, most people don’t experience sleep paralysis very often, and no treatment is usually required.

However, if the following apply to you, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor:

  • It happens regularly.
  • You’re anxious about sleep paralysis and going to sleep.
  • You don’t get enough sleep.
  • You feel very sleepy during the day, sometimes fall asleep suddenly or lose control of your muscles.

What medical treatment is available?

If you see a doctor, they might take the following action:

  • Refer you to a sleep specialist to assess if you have another sleep disorder, like narcolepsy.
  • Treat any underlying psychiatric condition.
  • Discuss any medication or substance use that might be a factor.
  • Explain the biological processes involved in sleep paralysis to reassure you.
  • Talk to you about developing good sleep habits. This is thought to help reduce the frequency of sleep paralysis.

Readers’ techniques for coping with sleep paralysis

Over the years, many readers have left comments explaining how they cope with sleep paralysis, and I’ve created a list of the most frequent ideas below.

The first five in the list below are also suggested by sleep experts. The rest are a mix of personal opinions. Please bear in mind that none are guaranteed to work:

  • Don’t let yourself become sleep deprived.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
  • Try to reduce stress and anxiety in your life.
  • Focus on wiggling just one finger or a toe.
  • Don’t take recreational drugs or drink alcohol in the evening.
  • Don’t sleep on your back.
  • Stay calm.
  • Tell yourself that you’re in control. You can order the experience to stop.
  • If you feel a weight on your chest, imagine there’s something friendly causing it.
  • Film yourself sleeping so you can see there was nothing in the room.
  • Don’t think about what it could be. Your imagination will probably make up something scary in the darkness.
  • Organize your bedroom in a way which makes you feel safe and secure.
  • Don’t hang dressing gowns, coats or hats in places which look like figures in the dark.
  • Sleep with a night light, music or radio on.
  • Remind yourself that nothing bad will happen.
  • Imagine your body rolling from side to side in your mind and count each roll. Focus on this and try to grow the capacity for movement from there.
  • Count numbers to focus your mind on something else.
  • Don’t sleep with a high pillow.
  • Keep your eyes shut and try to clear your mind.
  • Squeeze your eyes tightly shut if you can control the muscles.
  • Keep well hydrated – drink water before going to bed.
  • Talk about it to family or friends – they may have experienced it too.
  • If you have it once, get out of bed for a while to reset the brain.
  • Many people say prayer helps. Some also say that calling on their religious beliefs and commanding what they see to leave helps them.
  • Check if any sleeping pills or herbal remedies you’re taking are causing it.
  • Use sleep paralysis to lucid dream by relaxing and going with the experience instead of fighting it.
  • Once the episode has passed, tell yourself that you overcame it, are not afraid and will always overcome it.

How I recently stopped an episode of sleep paralysis

I successfully used two of the above techniques to stop a recent episode of sleep paralysis.

I woke to find myself in a strange position with my arms crossed on top of my body. And I could literally feel strong hands pinning my wrists to my chest.

I have to admit I was immediately petrified. The whole event was blurry, and I think I was having some dream overlap, but can’t remember exactly what now.

Stay calm and wiggle a finger

Two things sprung to mind after a moment of panic: stay calm and try to wiggle a finger.

The calmness I only managed with moderate success. But I did manage to focus my efforts on moving a finger. It felt quite odd – like my fingers were wiggling in different directions!

Eventually, I felt my arms loosen as well, and soon afterward I was able to shake the whole sensation away as I regained full control.

I then spent a few minutes doing some breathing exercises to ground myself and calm down, and then fell asleep again.

I think just knowing about the finger wiggling technique was enough for me to remember it when the sleep paralysis occurred.

Share your story of sleep paralysis

Have you had sleep paralysis? What happened, and do you have any suggestions to help others deal with it?

Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

3,093 thoughts on “Sleep Paralysis Stories: Demons Or Hallucinations?”

  1. I’ve had one experience like this. I was dead asleep, lying on my back and I heard something yelling in my ear. I tried to turn to look at it and I realized something was forcing me down. Like the rides at the fair that spins so fast it forces you against the wall. The way it was screaming it sound like it was high pitched. It also was like a sucking gasping sound. It felt like it was trying to suck something out of me. Even with the force of whatever was holding me down, I managed to turn my head and toward it. As soon as my head was facing toward it, It all stopped. Weirdly enough I fell back asleep right after. Never experienced again since. My faith in Jesus Christ has given me the peace of knowing He defeated all the evil in this world. I have victory through Jesus.

  2. I have often wondered if people who suffer from sleep paralysis and think that the episodes are demon related are religious. I have suffered from it from teen years and had it fairly regularly (a couple of times a month). I am not religious and have had the feeling people were in the room and all that but never thought of them as demons. I think we think they are related to what we fear the most, mine are that I am dying.
    I always found a regular sleep pattern keeps it in control and both my father and I lucid dream and try to change the scenario so it’s not too scary.

  3. I’ve had a couple of bad dreams but I think this one terrified me more only cause I was clueless of what it was. I remember it so clearly. I was having a nice dream then all of a sudden I was laying on the edge of my bed in my room. it was pitch black and I was facing my wall. I could hear footsteps or something moving around the room when suddenly I felt something touch my head holding me down and everything got cold. I tried to yell but I couldn’t make out any words. I’m not sure what I did but I ended up waking myself up from it.

  4. I’ve been experiencing sleep paralysis as long as I can remember. My childhood memories of past dreams are full of S.P. episodes. I’ve had these so much that I’ve actually pinpointed and figured out what causes mine how to trigger them but more importantly avoid them. Ive seen the shadows over me in the corners and in the doorway. When I was 22 I actually for the first time fell asleep and experienced one with my bedroom light on and what i saw staring me in my face when I woke up changed my entire belief system. My best description of what I saw can easily be seen for yourselves. Silly as this may sound ill say it anyway. To all you who have ever seen the movie titled Rise Of The Guardians. Yes, it looked exactly like the movie villain Boogey Man. So back to what triggers mine, this might make a lot of sense to most of you. Mine occurs when or if I eat swine before I sleep. Porkchops are the worst also pepperoni is just as bad. I’ve actually recently had an experience with another person in the room and it was a well-lit room and I experienced a completely different horror. I’ll explain for anyone interested.

  5. I sometimes will have it, but it was always someone standing and watching me never close, but never too far either, so I always dismissed it, not wanting to think about it but then this one night I did my nightly routine pray and went to sleep. I suddenly felt someone behind me touching my shoulder, breathing a little heavily and whispering I didn’t hear anything it said except one when it said I will soon understand and that I belong to it I woke up with a cold sweat, especially since I don’t sleep with anyone. This one felt scarier so much that I couldn’t ignore it like the rest, this one felt too real. I keep trying to forget about it but honestly I can’t so the next few nights I would rub Holy Oil on my forehead and heart, so I wouldn’t have these moments anymore. I was glad that it did work but I still think about it a lot and even feel it again as if I’m reliving it.

  6. My first episode was this past January and i could see a “mass” with no distinct form over my body holding each limb. But yesterday its happened 2 consecutive times the very instant i fell asleep. 1st time I was rushed and felt like it grabbed me and was spinning with me in its arms and i woke up yelling from trying to break free. 2nd time it rushed me again but I could hear it panting like an excited for like it was happy it had frequent control and i woke up screaming in terror…. I just had my 4th episode 10 min ago, I was barely starting to close my eyes but still conscious and my foot had a random ‘knee jerk’ reaction going up then again but to the side then I slipped into sleep… I’ll never forget it’s laugh. You have no idea how bad i want to believe it’s not demonic, i cant help but feel like it is and that its close to achieving what it wants to do with me

    1. My first episode was in my late 20’s and continues 20yrs later. When they first began I sought out my Dr who said it was probably narcolepsy and referred me to a sleep clinic. I never went. Currently when I have them they happen in twos. It doesn’t matter if it’s day or night. They seem to happen when I am waking up not falling asleep. I feel like I am falling. My whole body goes numb, especially my face and arms. I can’t move, or breathe. I try really hard to yell hoping someone would hear me and shake me out of it… then it’s over. I am aware of what’s happening and know it won’t last more than a few seconds but its terrifying. I also know I will have another one the next time I fall asleep because they happen in 2 sets for me. Then I can go months or a yr with no episodes. Only once, about 3 yrs ago did I see a presence during an episode. A classic demon figure at the foot of my bed. Horrible.

    2. Have you seen it? Do you know what it looks like? I’ve been having almost the exact same experience for years. But mine is a little different in a sense. Mine is always chasing me and always up trying to pull me off the bed or pulling me somewhere at unknown fast speeds. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. It’s almost as like it following me. Because it comes and goes. Sometimes it will disappear for a year or two. But the strangest thing I noticed that I haven’t read anybody experience yet is know I can almost sense and tell when it will happen while I 100% awake. I get that feeling like being watched by something you can’t see. And incredibly Erie that makes my all my hair stand on edge. No joke on these days I know what I’m up for as soon as I fall asleep. When this happens i try my hardest not to sleep. By going by the oldest saying of ‘look your fears straight in the eye’ I’ve thought of that but have you ever been so scared out of your wits you too afraid to turn around. This thing whatever it is gives off such a horribly bad aura that it seeps evil to me
      Now being older and used to it. I’ve tried turning around and looking at it but when I do it disappears like I’m refusing myself or something to see what it is. If makes any sense I don’t know but regardless of what other people or doctors will tell what ‘they’ think to believe.
      Can they absolutely be right about something they cannot see? They can run tests of a million kinds and come out only with what they are content on believing. But they don’t have proof of anything not being real either.

  7. I was just laying in my bed. Keep in mind I have been sick with flu like symptoms. It’s a virus. So I had to lay down for the night. I laid in my room for 45 minutes. Until I heard my boyfriend coming into the room and getting in the bed. All of a sudden, something came up over my head from the head of the bed and held my arms down. I was looking something in the eyes. And it wasn’t my boyfriend. I cussed it. Within a minute I could move my arms and it was gone. Then I yelled for my boyfriend. He came into the room. I was scared to death. I had to go to another room for a while, until my boyfriend was ready for bed. What was that??

  8. I’m not even sure I was awake, but when I did wake up, I was in the same place and position I was when the dream ended. I dreamed there was a swamp monster stalking my house but I could never catch it: webbed feet and hands, green color, red eyes, sharp and long teeth. In my dream, I awoke from sleep on the couch and saw the monster walking through the hallway where I could see him from the couch. He walked by, then darted back into my field of vision and stared at me when he realized I was awake. Then he came into the room, crept up the arm of the couch and the top of the couch and crept down to my face. I was paralyzed the entire time, but right when he was about to attack, I managed to call for my mom (both in the dream and real life) and woke up. The only reason I was able to convince myself it hadn’t happened was because in the dream there had been a light in the hallway that wasn’t on when I woke up, and because my cat was lying on the floor looking at me like I had lost my mind.

  9. Last night I was laying in my bed staring at the ceiling unable to sleep. I saw some movement in the corner of my eye and looked at it. A short shadow figure walked from my bedroom door, past my bedside, and through the wall. It did not look at me but I looked at it. After reading several other posts here I have concluded that I may have not actually been awake when I was staring at the ceiling and the shadow. While I watched the shadow go by, my bed started vibrating from the far end up to me. A heavy feeling came over me and I started feeling weighed down. The vibrations stopped as the shadow left, but the heavy feeling did not. I started praying with my eyes “shut” and after a few minutes, the heaviness went away. What happened? Why did my bed “vibrate”? All I know is that I kept checking my clock until about 4:00 in the morning. I could not “go to sleep” because I was terrified. Was I asleep the whole time, or was I awake? Someone please clarify. This has happened once to me so far. Was this sleep paralysis, or something else?

  10. Sleep Paralysis in Ponca

    Back in October of 2018 I was offered to travel for work to Ponca City, Oklahoma to assist in a system conversion. I’ve always been on the east coast so this is the farthest west I’ve traveled ever. With the layover in Georgia and waiting on coworkers from Utah who I would be carpooling with I traveled almost the entire day. As tired as I was when I got there I couldn’t sleep. I ended up going out with some coworkers to a nearby casino. By the time I got there I wanted to go back to the hotel. I felt uneasy once I was in the room alone but just chalked it up to traveling alone. I barely slept that night and had to be up at 3am to be to work at 4. I toughed it out but was wiped out after being at work until about 3pm that day. When I got back to the hotel I decided to get back to my room and try to get some real sleep. I fell into a deep sleep but awoke to what felt like someone or something bumping into the bed… the bed shook. I popped up in bed and looked around my room and didn’t see anything or anyone. No one should’ve been there anyway right? I figured I was really sleep deprived but wanted to eat something before I really went to bed. I met up with several other coworkers in the lounge area down by the lobby and we ate some pizza and sat around talking. I was finally ready for bed. I went up to my room and climbed into bed and was fast asleep in no time. That was maybe around 7 or 8. Some time later I wake up to what felt like someone plopped down in the bed beside me. I was sleeping on my right side. The thought of someone sneaking into my room was my immediate thought. I tried turning over but couldn’t move at all. It felt like they had pushed all of their weight against me and held me down. I tried raising my arm to feel something or someone to confirm this was really happening and I wasn’t imagining it. I tried raising my arm behind me but I couldn’t move or scream. All I could see was the wall next to the bed and the light from the bathroom shining on it. My heart was beating a million miles a minute. It felt like forever. I was looking at my arm and trying to make it move and wondering why it wouldn’t. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t scream. I kept trying to fight whatever this was. It felt like a large person was laying on me. I could even feel a weight on my hair…I just couldn’t move. The more I tried to move the heavier they got. After what felt like forever I was finally able to move my arm and I reached behind me and felt a face behind my head, like it was laying up against me. This persons eyes were closed and they didn’t react to my hand on their face. My eyes were wide and I was gasping at this point…almost dry heaving. Somehow the weight lifted and I was able to jump up and I immediately jumped up in the bed and stumbled out onto the floor looking back at the bed absolutely terrified and ran for the door. I was trembling and crying. I was hysterical and thought….wtf just happened?!? I ran out to the elevator and waiting for that elevator was the scariest thing after what had just happened. I just could not contain the emotion that came over me. I went and sat down in the lobby and the lady at the desk just looked at me in my pajamas and barefoot in confusion and asked me if I was alright. I was just sobbing. I told her what happened to me trying to emphasize on the fact that I am not crazy although this made me feel like I was. Like I was losing my mind. I could not go back into that room. At least not alone. She prayed with me and went on about how people leave energies in places such as hotels. I waited until morning and even called out from work because of what happened. I asked for another room as soon as I could the following morning but stayed in the lobby until they gave it to me. Going to gather my belongings was the hardest thing I had to do. I actually called my mom so she could stay on the phone with me while I went into the room. Not that she could do anything but she somehow made me feel safer. She said several prayers for me while I was there gathering my things. It was my first full on paranormal experience and has changed me forever. I have a new respect for the unknown and unexplained.

    1. I tend to agree with you be it a demon or something else. I have had it happen more then I care to admit but the last one I had was almost a year ago. My son bless his heart I woke him up to talk cause I was really scared he walked to my room with me grabbed his bible on the way opened it up put it on my night stand looked at me and said leave it open and you will be fine. so far I have not had another episode. out of the mouths of babes I would not have thought to do that but it seems to be working.

  11. My experience is reoccurring, but not regularly. It may happen 2 nights in a row then not for another month. I wake to a fear of something hovering near me (a black mass one time that I think I saw so it’s what I picture every time now). I usually am sleeping on my back and I feel the covers being pulled off of me. I’m afraid to open my eyes and I can’t move or speak. I get chills and sweats. Then it stops. I roll onto my side and tuck my blanket tightly under my body all around. I try to go back to sleep. What feels like minutes later it happens again still awake. I’ve been able to force myself to open my eyes and I can see the blanket is still on me even though I clearly feel it being pulled off of me. It stops. I tuck even tighter even though I’m sweating for fear of it happening again and roll to the other side. It always happens one more time. This morning when it happened the 3rd time in a row it whispered an obscenity in my ear which was a first. Usually, there are no sounds except my heart beating so loud I hear it all around me.

  12. Such sleep paralysis was widely considered the work of demons, and more specifically incubi, which were thought to sit on the chests of sleepers.

  13. I had a terrible dream last night. In my dream, I was lying in bed asleep next to my man. Then there seemed to be something or someone standing over me on my side of the bed. This being had a scary and bad vibe. This being really wanted me to look at him. I refused to look. The being got very angry and grabbed my left hand and squeezed it very tight. I turned my head to my right to scream at my luvie to wake me up, but no sound came out and it felt like something invisible covering my mouth blocking all sound. I was terrified. My heart was pounding. The pressure on my hand was increasing and I felt like my hand would break. I managed to wake up but my hand still hurt. I turned on the light and my hand had red marks on the outside. This scared me more than the dream. My luvie said he was trying to wake me up. That I seemed to be terrified for 5 minutes and that my mouth was open like a scream without sound.

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