Share:
Sleep Education


American Academy of Sleep Medicine 
  

 
 

http://school.sleepeducation.com

Find a Center
Use the following fields to locate sleep centers in your area.



Search radius:

Sleep paralysis: The devil, the ghost & the Old Hag

Filed in
  • Parasomnias

By Thomas Heffron  |  Jul 28, 2009
Email   Print


You’re waking up or falling asleep, and suddenly you’re unable to move. Your body becomes paralyzed as if an unseen weight is upon you.

You may be unable to move your arms or legs, body and head. You can breathe and think, but you may be unable to speak.

The paralysis may last for only seconds or a few minutes. Then it disappears and you are able to move again.

This describes a typical episode of sleep paralysis. It is a common sleep disorder that is classified as a “parasomnia.” Episodes can cause you to feel intense anxiety.

Sleep paralysis occurs when the line between sleep and wakefulness is blurred. Normally your brain paralyzes many of your muscles during the stage of rapid eye movement sleep – or REM sleep. This paralysis is called “atonia.”

You may experience sleep paralysis if atonia lingers as you wake up from REM sleep; it also may occur if you transition quickly from wakefulness into REM sleep.

Sleep paralysis may occur together with hallucinations. You may imagine that you see or hear something; you even may think that someone else or something is in the room with you.

Across cultures the strange sensation of sleep paralysis has evoked some vivid descriptions. In 1664 a Dutch physician published a case history of a woman with sleep paralysis. “'The devil lay upon her and held her down,” he wrote.

In Japan sleep paralysis is called “kanashibari.” The term is rooted in Buddhism; long ago it was believed that Buddhist monks could use magic to paralyze others.

In Newfoundland sleep paralysis has been called an attack of “Old Hag.” In China it has been labeled “ghost oppression.” A new study reports that in Mexico people may say that sleep paralysis feels like “a dead body climbed on top of me.”

Sleep deprivation may trigger an episode of sleep paralysis. Other related factors may include stress and sleep related leg cramps.

Sleep paralysis tends to be only a mild problem; there are no medical complications. But it also can be one symptom of narcolepsy.

Learn more about parasomnias.

21 Comments

  1. 1 Jorge 09 Oct
    I have had this happen few times each time the presence got closer. Was a shadowy fig the first two times and 3rd time it was on my bed. I never was believer in supernatural, but the last time really shook me. I cannot forget the old grey be haired demon hag and only seeing this a world wide phenomenon does not make me feel any better nor safer...on contrary. 
  2. 2 Bill 27 Sep
    I had several episodes many years ago, but the memories are so vivid.  In one, I was sleeping on the couch in my parent's home one Sunday morning after delivering papers.  My eyes opened and I saw the room, but I could not move or speak.  From another room a strange woman entered and walked across the floor.  I tried to speak, but couldn't make a sound.  The terror was overwhelming.  I told myself I need to move and after what seemed to be a titanic struggle, I did and woke up.  The same exact thing happened a second time, and I don't think I was able to wake myself up.  I don't recall how the situation resolved.  Nothing like it has happened in almost 50 years ... thank goodness!
  3. 3 Doug 18 Sep
    It ha been awhile, since Ive had an episode. They used to be quite frequent when I was using drugs. athe drugs may not have had anything to do with it. But the sleep paralysis happened as I was about to sleep , Never upon awakening. I sometimes lay on my stomach to sleep. One night I was on my stomach while going through an episode. Not only could I not move, but found it very dofficult to breathe because of the way I was laying. I could see my wife beside me and I tried to call out for her to help. It was the most frightening and helpless I have ever been.

  4. 4 James 17 Sep
    I have a lot of frequent paralyzing nightmares including the OLD HAG.
    There's got to be someone out there who can help explaine this disturbing phenomena.

  5. 5 Brian 04 Sep
    I had a dream about an old woman and woke up and couldn't move I tried to scream for help but couldn't and the second before I could move I saw a tall shadow that was like a man on the ceiling,  dude, to make a shadow on the ceiling you've got to be huge, but it was backing away. And then it was normal again I could talk and move. This is not the first time that this has ever happened to me but it is the first time I've ever seen something. Please someone tell me what I need to do to fix this. Im a Muslim and i already made a invocation for protection from the shaytaan but is this gonna keep happening is this gonna get worse? Now Im seeing this thing, what's next? My email is twigtwigs@gmail.com someone tell me what to do serious real real advice only please this is not fake experience Im scared,
  6. 6 Georgeann Phillips 30 Aug
    This just happened to me tonight right now as I text I have all the lights. On first it was on my puppy she kept jumping in her sleep wich is unusual I then picked her up and put her in her room she slept fine I then went back to my room fell right asleep next thing you know I'm being held down by the neck o fought and fought finally got strength to get up cut on all lights and say a prayer and this is happening right now I googled this started reading and now texting my experience as of now I'm up afraid to go back to sleep with all lights burning 
  7. 7 Dino Hajdarevic 26 Aug
     I'm 27 it happens once in a while. Ii always try to fight it and can't. One time I screamed and it actually worked and woke up everyone in my house scared them to death.. I found out it only happens when you are laying on your back. If you lay on your side it won't happen and goes away. 
  8. 8 joselin 22 Aug
    The year 2014 thru 2016, I have had constant sleep paralysis, but the one that scared me the most is when I saw an old lady in my room. It was about 5 or 6 in the morning when i saw her. She was wearing a black gown and a black veil as well. Her nails were very long and she was very wrinkly and thin, pale white skin. At first she was in my closet, i got scared I tried to scream or move, but I couldn't, so i could only close my eyes, so I did to see if she would go away. I counted to ten and i open them again she was still there. She kept coming closer, so i closed my eyes and told myself this is not true, stop overthinking, counted to 20 and open them again. Once i open my eyes she was laying right next to me and she smile, my mind was telling me she was friendly lady, but my heart was racing so fast. Finally when i closed my eyes and open them she vanish and i could finally get up from bed. I ran to the kitchen and told my mom of what had happened and she told me it was evil that was trying to catch my soul. I needed to pray every night so it wouldn't happen and that's what i did. Since then I haven't had sleep paralysis in along time.
  9. 9 Lauren 21 Aug
    im 31, have experienced the old hag syndrome since I was 18. The first time it happened it felt like a suction all over my body, i woke up from a dream where an Asian lady in a white dress with her arms out said ,"this is what happens when you let the spirits into your dreams" I tried falling off the bed thinking it will stop the vacuum like suction all over my body but I couldn't move. One time when I felt the suction on my body it felt like I was being sucked into my closet, to the point where I was almost standing on my feet but instead was hovering. I used to try to scream "go away" but couldn't get any words out. The more times I experience the old hag , the easier it was for me to say "go away". I never could quite scream it even though that was what I tried to do. It happened last night , I was on my side & felt a evil entity staring at the back of my head. Right when I felt the old familiar suction I woke up and kicked my legs. It stopped. Closed my eyes again , felt the suction. Kicked my legs and it stopped. Happened again .. I heard two girls in the other room as if the wall was paper thin. I heard a sneeze.  For some reason I looked at my closet and got scared.. Turned around and everything was better .  It always ONLY happens when I'm alone. I've shared apartments with friends and boyfriends and never once has it happened when they were there. 
  10. 10 Darci Johns 08 Aug
    I am 52 and my brother is 47, he moved into a home that was over 100 years old, and started experiencing these horrific feelings of "something" crawling up his body, from the legs up, all the while unable to move his body AT ALL, except for his eyes. He could see the black figure with red eyes and it began choking him with it's very large arms and hands!!  Terrified and unsure what to do the first 2 times, he then began praying to the Virgin Mary, saying the Rosary, and the Lords Prayer. He has since sold that house and moved to another city, but they still happen but using his Prayer, this "Evil Thing" will subside, but it does follow him within the NEW home, he can FEEL it!!  I have been staying here for a week, and had forgotten about the episodes that he shared with me. BUT, last night, I fell asleep in his room, my cell phone beside me, I woke up, he was in my room sleeping so I just went back to where I was and lay down to try to return to my slumber...I WAS WIDE AWAKE, laying on my left side and this feeling of COMPLETE FEAR, was running from the inside of my body out, in waves!!  I tried to shake it, but the more that i did that, the less control that I started having over my movement!! I was trying to text or call my niece (in the next room) but soon I couldn't hold my phone, I was trying to scream but NOT ONE sound would come out of my mouth!! I SOON remembered my brothers encounters, and could faintly whisper "GIT" and began the Lords Prayer. The heavy feeling dissipated, (It was probably a 30 minute episode) I was still afraid & trembling but with the Grace of God, easily able to fall asleep. I remember every second of that frightening event!!!  I have been up for 5 hours, my brother at work & niece asleep...HAVE BEEN SITTING OUTSIDE!!!  I do not know how to rest assured that this will NEVER happen to me AGAIN!!!  Any Suggestions???!!!
  11. 11 Afia 14 Jul
    I ve been exepriencing odd events since I was only 7... One whole month very year would have been like hell since being only a child. I always felt the presence of someone right next to my bed but the most horrifying moment was when I used to wake up at 5 o clock due to prayer time then went back to bed... in that moment I d feel someone coming to my room an evil prensence which would bother me and would nt let me sleep by unabling my body from moving I could nt even scream... and then a sickening pain like electricity would affect me starting from the brain to body muscles it was as if someone was hitting me by tying me down also he would tried to have sexual activities... the pain was every time unbearable. Then I would have tried to hit the presence with my leg or arm  to make him go .... it was a very very tall figure entirely black and red eyes... if someone would help me giving me more info about these events Id appreciate it! :)
  12. 12 Jake 03 Jul
    I had sleep paralysis for about 4 years through high school. I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to move or make any noise.  I would see the silhouette of a woman in the door way.  Then by my bed.  Then on my chest.  She would sit there, shaking me and it felt like she was trying to choke me.  Then it would end.  It happened 3-4 times a week for 4 years...  It stopped when I met my wife and she began sleeping in my bed. 
  13. 13 Riitta 29 Jun
    I had these demon attaces for years and got rid of them by shouting in mind in dream that i believe in Jesus Christ victory. And the demon that i saw left and it was defeted at once. And it hatet me. But i had fun because i noticed that i had full controll with these words. 

    Finally it left for for ever. I got it disturping because i had something occultish things in my life.
  14. 14 Donna Scott 10 Jun
    If this happens once can it happen again I thought I was crazy till I saw the movie called dead awake and looked this up I have been threw this once before can it happen again can it happen on small children 
  15. 15 Melisa 15 May
    For myself...at the verry young age of  5,maby younger 
    But from what I remember it began when I experienced a
    High fever do to a ear infection....my mother had put me dowen to sleep...I was on the couch so her room wasn't so far....as I began to fall asleep I began to feel tinggelling 
    On my head and arm's,then it felt like all my hair was gone,and felt like tiny needels were growing from my scalp...as I was trying to touch my head,my arms were unable to move followed by a feeling that my arms were so
    Skinny,like twigs that would break if I tryed to move....I was
    Completely awake...I was trying to scream,but no sound would come out...at the same time this was happening,I can hear a women hag like,screaming at me saying....
    IM GOING TO GET YOU....over,and over...she was laughing the most evil cackle...I cold hear myself in my mind...screaming for my mother...MOM!!...MOM!..AS this
    Hag was mocking me!...the more I would move the louder
    The screaming would become .I didn't not feel the choking as other's would,but it was just the same as horrifying!
    The feelings I would experience on my body are not explainable...for some reson I was to embarest to tell anyone...this would happen to me for at least twice a month until the age of 17,that's when I decided to speak to my doctor...I told him the same story I had just now..he says it was hallucinations duo to a high fever.....but I wasn't sick all thouse year's....in 30 years old and just found out a few weeks back about old hag syndrome...
    And I was baffled!!has this been what was happening all these years?
  16. 16 Ankita Mishra 09 May
    Happened last night. Have been experiencing this from quite a young age. And I am 23 now. The experiences have been staying for longer duration these days, like for around 45 mins. It's an extremely painful struggle. Earlier it was for around 15 mins at max and not as frequent as it is these days. 
    I don't feel any dead weight on me, earlier i used to feel someone else's presence in the room but that isn't there anymore either. I just feel helplessly immobile.  Sometimes i want to give in to the situation and stop struggling but after a few seconds my body involuntarily fights back coz it feels like i am sinking into another portal and that i will die. Someday i will entirely give in and see what happens. I guess the body will just wake itself up on its own. It's just the brain immobilizing the muscles during sleep so that we do not act out our dreams and somewhere there occurs a slight lapse of synchronization between the mind and body when we wake up.
  17. 17 Phil Legault 17 Apr
    I have experienced this from a very young age, does not matter what position I sleep in. I'm 59, just happened last night.
  18. 18 Blake Cooper 08 Feb
    i had this happen several times from the time i was about 14. its one of the scariest feelings you can imagine. i use to hallucinate also. There is nothing quite like it.
  19. 19 Jason 27 Jan
    I used to suffer from it. Then I stopped sleeping on my back, and it stopped. It is a horrifying event, accompanied by a feeling of absolute terror, at least for me. If you suffer from it, stop sleeping on your back!
  20. 20 Tom Herrera 04 Dec
    happening to me since i was 3 or 4 yrs old.... I'm 32 now.
  21. 21 Aliya Shahum 06 Apr
    Its so sad to know people out there have such horrible hallucinations and cant sleep ever night, we should do something about it!

Comment

  1.