My Experience with Sleep Paralysis
I’m not a very good UFO investigator guy. I started writing these articles for my university newspaper and then moved on to hosting this site first out of boredom, and then because I became addicted to people calling me names. If you ever need a fix of getting called a jerk, by the way, just say the name “Betty Hill” and frown. Trust me, you’ll get emails. But I’m not really an investigator; I’m more of a re-hasher. I scrounge the internet for reports of UFO shenanigans, and when I think I’ve read every version of a story, I pick at it. And I pick and I pick and I pick.
In the last few years, sleep paralysis has become one of the big explanations for abduction stories: people aren’t actually getting kidnapped by space monsters, they’re just interpreting the weird feelings they get due to sleep paralysis as abduction, ratherthan succubae, night hags, and what have you. Or so they say.
The gist of sleep paralysis runs like this: when you’re in REM sleep, your body shuts off motor control so that you don’t act out whatever you’re doing in your dream. This is good, because I can’t imagine how embarrassing it would be for me to have to explain why in the middle of the night I go through the motions of eating a world record number of buffalo wings. However, the brain is a funky device, and sometimes it doesn’t work quite properly. Sometimes it forgets to restore your motor controls, even if you aren’t dreaming or if you’ve just woken up. You just sort of lay in bed, awake, without being able to move, and you start to dream at the same time. Essentially, you hallucinate while you lay in bed paralyzed.
Apparently, this hits every person who suffers from it differently. The timing is different, with some people having the trouble during sleep, some when they wake up, and some when they’re falling asleep. The symptoms are different: some people just can’t move for a couple of seconds, and some people experience endless hours of hideous visions. For some people, sleeping in the same bed as someone else makes the symptoms disappear even if they suffer every other night, while some people get pissed at their fellow sleepers for not realizing something’s wrong. And of course, the hallucinations can differ.
It’s frequently (and wrongly) claimed that the hallucinations always take the form of an old woman sitting on your chest. I guess if you wake up and feel a pressure holding you down, a witch sitting on you is what your brain automatically leaps to? Sleep paralysis, however, has been used to explain why pretty much every culture on the face of the earth has a myth about such a monster; from night hags to the succubus to vampires to witches to who knows what all. A better generalization would be to say that sleep paralysis hallucinations generally involve the sleeper somehow knowing, and I mean being 100% undeniably certain, that there’s a presence in the room with them coupled with some sort of crushing, paralyzing pressure.
It’s easy to see why sleep paralysis makes such a tempting explanation for the alien abduction phenomenon. If I described waking up in the middle of the night paralyzed in my bed, completely certain that some sort of horrible creature was in the room with me, with someone sleeping next to me completely oblivious of my plight, either side (sleep experts or UFO enthusiasts) could make a case that they’ve heard all that before.
I guess it’s time to use a specific example, so I’ll use the only one that is available to me: myself. Several years ago I was living in a first-floor shithole in Philadelphia. It was a dark, dirty, dreary place and I don’t know if it is my family’s heritage as coal miners or my species’ heritage as cave dwelling brutes that made me feel at home there. Anyway, I was in bed, lying on my side facing a wall, when I suddenly felt the presence of someone else in the room. I knew there was someone in there with me, maybe three feet from the bed in the center of the room. It was like a sudden shock. For a few moments, I couldn’t move. When I finally rolled over, the room was, of course, empty, but I still turned on the light and checked all over.
Now, if this were a single event, how I explained it would change based on my station in life. If I were religious, I’d say it was the devil. A social scientist, I’d say I’ve gone a little crazy. A spiritualist, I’d say it was a ghost. A UFO enthusiast, and I’d say space monsters from beyond the moon had come to pay me a visit. I’m not any of those things. I’m just a real practical guy, so the conclusion I came to was that since I’d spent the evening alone in my creepy apartment reading about the Bigfoot, I was just spooked by something.
But it didn’t stop there. Every few days for the next few months, the presence would be back. Even when I had my eyes closed, or was facing the wall, I just knew something was there with me. At times it seemed like I had a bird’s eye view of the room, and I could see myself in the bed and a person-shaped form in the room near me. But I never got a real good look at the thing.
I came up with what I think was a pretty good way to deal with it. At first, I’d get the feeling something was in the room with me and my eyes would snap open and I’d freak out. After a while, when I felt the presence in the room, I’d tell myself to wait for one second before opening my eyes. Then two. Then five. Eventually I got to the point that I was waiting so long to open my eyes that the feeling faded before I looked around. Eventually, the feeling got less and less powerful. While I still get that person-in-the-room feeling now and then, it’s not the nuts-in-ice-water shock that the first few times were.
There was only one time that I thought I saw the person. He was a tall, heavy-set man standing in the center of the room with his arms at his sides. He was dressed in dark clothing, maybe a trench-coat like thing that hung down on him just like his arms. I was too busy looking at his head. Pasty whitish-blue skin with just a thin layer of hair; like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family. Deep set eyes (but just normal human eyes, none of that pure-black gray alien stuff) with deep bags under them. His whole head looked fat and clumsy, like someone had taken a regular fat guy and injected a layer of blubber under his skin.
There was something unreal about it, like someone had drawn a picture of a man on one lens of my eyeglasses but not the other: it didn’t seem like it was actually there, so much as it was superimposed over what I was seeing. A little too two dimensional or something, it’s hard to describe.
And as far as I can tell, I’ve got a fairly mild case of this. Can you imagine the freaking out that someone with a severe case would be going through?
For a couple of years, I just assumed that I read too much stuff about UFOs and monsters and gotten spooked. Makes sense. Read scary stories, get spooked. Duh.
The BBC recently ran an article about sensory deprivation experiments. Some scientists locked a bunch of volunteers in dark rooms and just left them there for a while to duplicate the experience of people held in solitary confinement. After something like a day or two, people started freaking out: some heard the sounds of heavy traffic. Some thought that a swarm of flies had moved in with them. One felt the strong presence of someone in the room. The article mentioned in passing that this is similar to sleep paralysis. It was then that I starting looking around, and realized that I fit the description.
Anyway, I’m not writing this to talk about sleep paralysis. I’m writing this because of something that David Jacobs said to me when I interviewed him at Temple University a few years back. He claimed that sleep paralysis was the latest magic bullet that was being pulled out by skeptics to explain alien abductions, and that it was clearly wrong because it can’t explain people reporting being abducted while awake or while out and about driving or doing chores or whatever.
The fact that a theory can’t explain every case doesn’t mean that it can’t explain some cases.
I know there are people out there arguing that every alien abduction is sleep paralysis. I know that there are those arguing that no cases are due to sleep paralysis and every single time a person says they’ve been kidnapped by space monsters they’re telling the truth. Both of these sides are crazy. In my experience, anyway, sleep paralysis is definitely a good explanation for some alien abduction cases. Even a mild case is freaky as hell. But it doesn’t account for all cases. I’ve always maintained the position that the alien abduction phenomenon is due to a mixture of causes, and that space monsters from beyond the moon are not one of them.
For the record, I’m aware that this article is going to cause the inverse of what I intended. People will now be convinced that my interest in debunking stories about space aliens from beyond the moon is because I have, in fact, been visited by them and can’t deal with it. If that’s what you think, keep grabbing at those straws, maybe it will make you feel better. The fact of the matter is that the majority of people will suffer from some mild sleep problems (or so the drug commercials keep telling me) during their life, and I’m one of them.
Anyway, if you’re suffering from sleep paralysis, don’t worry, it can get better. I mean, unless someone convinces you that you are actually being kidnapped by space monsters from beyond the stars and that there’s nothing you can do.
Be seeing you.