4 Creepy Myths About Sleep Paralysis That Will Keep You Up At Night
Being awake and fully conscious without being able to move, aka sleep paralysis, is a deeply frightening experience for anyone who suffers it. It makes complete sense that anyone who's experienced it could think they're having an X-Files moment — though, as terrifying as it is, sleep paralysis is a well-documented medical phenomenon. The fear of visited by something otherworldly while sleeping is one of the creepy myths about sleep paralysis that's persisted for millennia. "Before modern medical science figured out what causes sleep paralysis, many cultures around the world created extraordinary explanations to explain this ordinary phenomenon. Because many people experience visual or auditory hallucinations during sleep paralysis, this phenomenon has long been explained by paranormal or demonic activity," Jennifer Wilber explained on Exemplore.
In 2018, sleep paralysis is described by Medical News Today as "a common, generally benign, parasomnia characterized by brief episodes of inability to move or speak combined with waking consciousness." However, if you've ever had your own experience with sleep paralysis, then you know that words like "common" and "benign" do little to quell the fear that comes with being helplessly trapped in your body. During sleep paralysis, some people experience terrifying hallucinations that make it seem like they're residing inside the movie A Nightmare On Elm Street IRL. I mean, who would ever want to go to sleep again after seeing an evil apparition that they're unable to escape because they can't move? This is where some of the creepiest myths about sleep paralysis come from. Because, even if the demon isn't real, the fear most definitely is.
1. You're Being Visited By A Demon
The first thoroughly documented case of sleep paralysis occurred in the 17th century, according to an article in the Journal of Sleep Research. In 1664, a woman experienced visual, tactile, auditory, and sensory hallucinations. The case notes report noted: "When she was composing her self to sleep, sometimes she believed the devil lay upon her and held her down, sometimes that she was choked by a great dog or thief lying upon her breast, so that she could hardly speak or breathe."
Dr. Isbrand van Diemerbroeck diagnosed the condition as sleep paralysis, and wrote one of the earliest detailed accounts of a type of sleep paralysis that occurs more often when a person sleeps on their back. If this has happened to you, it might be time to try becoming a side sleeper.
2. You've Been Abducted By Aliens
If you're an X-Files devotee, you might believe that alien abduction is real, and you're far from alone. A survey from OpenMindsTV reported that half of Americans believe aliens are real and 20 percent believe in alien abduction. One persistent myth is that the paralyzing fear that accompanies what we now call sleep paralysis is actually a result of an alien abduction. According to Wilber at Exemplore, "because hallucinations are a common effect of sleep paralysis, some people who experience this frightening event may feel, see, and even hear things that hint at an alien abduction."
3. Pisadeira Is After You
A paper published in the journal Frontiers In Psychology explained that one persistent sleep-paralysis myth in Brazilian culture is the Pisadeiran tale. Pisadeira is described as a woman with long fingernails who lurks on roofs at night searching for people asleep on their backs. Once Pisaderia selects a victim, she sits on their chest or stomach to prevent them from getting away — just one more reason to become a side sleeper.
4. Someone Is Conspiring Against You
One German sleep-paralysis myth involves a creature called an alp. Legend has it that alps visit their victims at night and induce horrific nightmares while sitting atop their victims' chests. If that weren't strange enough, the alp has the ability to shape shift into a pig, a dog, a snake, or a small white butterfly. Though out of these choices, only the snake sounds scary. The alp is usually sent by a demon or person who is out to get you, but you can find out who's behind your alp by inviting it back for coffee the next day, seriously.
If you'd rather not see your alp again, you can ward it off by "laying a broomstick under a pillow, iron horseshoes hung from the bedpost, placing shoes against the bed with the toes pointing toward the door, or placing a mirror on [your] chest." The good news is that while sleep paralysis is terrifying AF, it isn't dangerous, and you aren't actually being visited demons or being abducted by aliens. However, for those who suffer from sleep paralysis, the reality can be just as frightening as the myths.