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Strange Sleep Disorder Makes People See 'Demons'

sleep paralysis hallucinating horrendous demon hearing voices myths

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#1 Hum

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 21:58

When filmmaker Carla MacKinnon started waking up several times a week unable to move, with the sense that a disturbing presence was in the room with her, she didn't call up her local ghost hunter. She got researching.

Now, that 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.

Sleep paralysis happens when people become conscious while their muscles remain in the ultra-relaxed state that prevents them from acting out their dreams. The experience can be quite terrifying, with many people hallucinating a malevolent presence nearby, or even an attacker suffocating them. Surveys put the number of sleep paralysis sufferers between about 5 percent and 60 percent of the population.

"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 questions led her to talk with psychologists and scientists, as well as to people who experience the phenomenon. Myths and legends about sleep paralysis persist all over the globe, from the incubus and succubus (male and female demons, respectively) of European tales to a pink dolphin-turned-nighttime seducer in Brazil. Some of the stories MacKinnon uncovered reveal why these myths are so chilling.

One man told her about his frequent sleep paralysis episodes, during which he'd experience extremely realistic hallucinations of a young child, skipping around the bed and singing nursery rhymes. Sometimes, the child would sit on his pillow and talk to him. One night, the tot asked the man a personal question. When he refused to answer, the child transformed into a "horrendous demon," MacKinnon said.

For another man, who had the sleep disorder narcolepsy (which can make sleep paralysis more common), his dream world clashed with the real world in a horrifying way. His sleep paralysis episodes typically included hallucinations that someone else was in his house or his room — he'd hear voices or banging around. One night, he awoke in a paralyzed state and saw a figure in his room as usual.

"He suddenly realizes something is different," MacKinnon said. "He suddenly realizes that he is in sleep paralysis, and his eyes are open, but the person who is in the room is in his room in real life."

The figure was no dream demon, but an actual burglar. :huh:

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#2 StandingInAlley

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 22:07

I have experienced this a few times although I didn't encounter demons or ghosts or children. None the less i thought that i was awake although I was still dreaming only to wake up later. It was a terrifying experience :/

#3 Skin

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 22:14

so who says they aren't real demons or other-world beings not screwing with people's minds, and science simply suggests that it isn't real since they can't explain it?

I mean, couldn't 'demon' screwing be the primary cause of sleep paralysis, it just hasn't been proven yet?

#4 OP Hum

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 22:18

^ You radical :p

#5 shakey

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 22:25

so who says they aren't real demons or other-world beings not screwing with people's minds, and science simply suggests that it isn't real since they can't explain it?

I mean, couldn't 'demon' screwing be the primary cause of sleep paralysis, it just hasn't been proven yet?



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#6 +techbeck

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 22:28

Yea, had that a few times myself...then I broke up with the demon and all was better. Sleep like a baby now.

#7 astropheed

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 22:28

so who says they aren't real demons or other-world beings not screwing with people's minds, and science simply suggests that it isn't real since they can't explain it?

I mean, couldn't 'demon' screwing be the primary cause of sleep paralysis, it just hasn't been proven yet?


Nor will it ever be. Even if it were it would be discredited immediately. I think it's safer to assume it's a sleep disorder. I'm not ruling out the possibility that it is in fact a 'demon', but it's substantially more likely that it isn't. History teaches us that in time the unexplained become explained and the explanation has never been super natural; not that I recall anyways.

#8 sagum

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 22:31

When I read the title of the post, I was expecting someone to be describing nightmares, but sleep paralysis is something very different.

Still, I'd rather have that, then exploding head syndrome. There's nothing quite like WTF jumping out of bed and running around checking for what exploded..

#9 Growled

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 00:49

I wonder why people hallucinate about demons? One the surface that would have nothing to do with sleep paralysis.

#10 OP Hum

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 17:34

^ Leftovers from dreams, created by fears.

#11 Detection

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 17:37

I wonder why people hallucinate about demons? One the surface that would have nothing to do with sleep paralysis.


Probably the only people who report it are the ones who dream about them, everyone else who dreams normal things knows its a dream even if they do wake up in the middle of it.

#12 Growled

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Posted 04 April 2013 - 02:05

Probably the only people who report it are the ones who dream about them, everyone else who dreams normal things knows its a dream even if they do wake up in the middle of it.


I suppose so. That does make sense.

#13 Shiranui

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Posted 04 April 2013 - 02:39

Haven't had sleep paralysis in a while, but when I do, I enjoy trying to 'fight' it.
I can see why it terrified people centuries ago, giving rise to such legends as the incubus and succubus.
Asian cultures all seem to have special words for it - such as kanashibari in Japanese - but, in the west it isn't talked about much, despite the fact that most people will have experienced it at least once in their lives.

#14 ichi

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 06:38

I wonder why people hallucinate about demons? One the surface that would have nothing to do with sleep paralysis.


Imagination is a bitch. If you heard a strange sound or saw what seemed to be a shape behind a curtain and your mind could produce vivid hallucinations in that exact moment I don't think you'd be seeing butterflies and ponies.

You are just comming out of a fairly suggestive state where physical stimulus can easily translate into elements in your dreams, and you are finding yourself apparently awake but completely paralized.

If you get scared your hallucinations will be scary, although not necessarily involving demons. Some just see a group of people around their bed holding them down, a visual explanation their imagination is making up about the fact they feel paralized.

#15 KibosJ

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 06:58

I've had sleep paralysis and have to say it is quite scary.

Waking up and being unable to move then looking into the corner of the room to see this weird figure stood there then moving toward me.

Worst nights sleep I ever had that night.

I've also had exploding head syndrome which is just as weird. Falling asleep.... then BOOM world has ended.... oh no, just my brain being a dick again!!

I hate sleep :p