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

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  • Parasomnias

By Thomas Heffron  |  Jul 28, 2009
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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.

36 Comments

  1. 1 Maddalena Di Gregorio 30 Nov
    In my family, myself, my mom and one of my sisters have all had this experience. I had it for many years and it is very much as many before me have described. Honestly have never quite decided whether it was paranormal or not. I'm glad it doesn't happen any longer. However I now no longer remember my dreams as a result, it seems. I used to remember all my dreams and have 16 yrs of dream diaries.
  2. 2 Sharon Sandlin 24 Nov
    Several times I have felt the cat jump on my bed and snuggle next to my legs only to look down at the bottom of the bed to find nothing there. I also rolled over to find of all things a person resembling the dough boy standing over my bed. Both events are scary.
    Being a Christian, I know things that frighten me is of the devil so I quoted the verse 2 Timothy 1:7 "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love, and of a sound mind". When I walk into my room now, I say that verse and tell any spirits that might be lingering "You have no power over me, you are not welcome here. You will leave in the name of Jesus." Almost always, this works. I occasionally have to through that verse out there and again command him to leave.
    It might seems strange, but I do know that God's word is true and Satan or demons cannot stand up to His word. It may seem strange, but I can assure you God's word is the only thing that can keep bad spirits at bey. At lease in my case.
  3. 3 Wendy 20 Nov
    I believe many of these experiences are paranormal. I have never had an episode in my life and I’m a 54 year old woman. My boyfriend and I went on vacation and stayed in an old cabin in MN. I thought everything was fine until I woke up at 3 am to hear walking across the kitchen and to see a very tall thin man or being creeping into our bedroom and creeping up on my side of the bed between the wall and bed peering at me. I was absolutely frozen with fear and was trying to scream to wake up my boyfriend. All I could do was making choking sounds. When I did that the being quickly left the room. My boyfriend woke because he heard me making sounds of trying to scream. Everything was very real and I knew exactly were I was and that I needed to wake up my boyfriend. I have never been so terrified. I tried to tell myself it was some kind of terrifying nightmare. Then the next night I woke again at 3 am to feel pressure on my chest and saw a dark entity in my face. As it would come closer to my face I heard and felt energy like a sound I can’t describe. It came closer to my face twice and again I was trying to scream because I knew I had to wake my boyfriend. He heard me making noises again and woke up and the entity left. I have never experienced anything like this in my life before or since. The cabin was built in the 20s so even though it was updated it was old. I had no preconceived ideas that I was afraid to stay there or anything. This was a haunting plain and simple. There was paranormal activity going on there so I don’t believe all these sleep paralysis episodes are purely a biological phenomenon 
  4. 4 Dawn 15 Nov
    This is not "sleep paralysis" or any medical condition. It is a demonic entity taking your energy. I have experienced this and it's terrifying! My kids also have had it, all while living in a certain house where countless unexplainable occurances happened. Our experiences ended when we moved out!
  5. 5 Sheri Cummings 31 Oct
    I have had this several times throughout my life from early twenties to thirties. All of them evil and terrifying. Heart pounding and eminent danger. Mostly auditory whispers of small beings in my ear, moanings of several which sounded like from hell.. I am curious as to why they are always terrifying in content? Has anyone climaxed from the pressure on body? Any positive experiences. Do you suppose it has to do with the nature of adrenaline and the flight or fight response? I will say that first time it happened with being whispering in ear I was drinking heavily and thought for years was alcohol induced psychosis. Or yes, alien visitation.. I feel because of sleep paralysis I have experienced a little hell and decidedly it is not for me.. lol 

  6. 6 Nightmare lady 29 Oct
    It just happens twice in an hour my gf was having a sleep over her friend was there and her friends mother who had a dog I felt I could not move. I was wearing  a night cap over my eyes in my dream but once I felt the fright I kept trying to take it off but one became two and so on I could not see oncevi could see I realized I could not move  I opened the house door to escape a creepy woman long black hair just parallel  to her breast walks out the door leaving the house I had just left only to start laughing oddly with her dog following oh shut the door went inside to see her ghostly friend eyes fogged out like some blind person and I looked out the rainy window to see flashing  lights of police and ems with a body on a stretcher I finally woke up. The second time  very recent after I doze off again my arm is under my gf  mind we just had a baby boy born on the 21st if this month. Back to the dream we were some where in the maternity ward and i was suddenly  alone by myself I turn to the right to see a woman long black hair like before  wearing a hospital gown holding a baby I then look at her arm and notice puncture wounds from needles I grab her arm to see if she is ok and I all of a sudden realize I can't wake she turned to me and I will never forget this sense of being totally frozen and paralyzed in my dream she was ugly her hair covered  her face I can't remember I think she grabbed  my arm restraining escape
  7. 7 Augustine 27 Oct
    this thing is a demon
  8. 8 Bhaskar 21 Oct
    I encounter this unpleasant thing quite often, I have had different types of experiences including:
    - Someone pushing me down hard into the bed while sleeping.
    - Someone choking me so heavily that I felt like crying and had acute pain in my throat even after waking.
    - Someone kicking me down from bed.
    - Someone sitting on my chest.
    Every time it happens I am unable to move or talk. I start praying to god and then it would leave me. If any of you know any solution or can give any information, please email me at bgmish@gmail.com
  9. 9 annette 18 Oct
    i to had these since about the age of 25. I always felt like i was going to stop breathing, because of the weight on my back.As i got older i could tell when it was going to happen and always tried to see what was on me but could not open my eyes.I tried to turn my head with all my might and the saw a dark shadow figure that time i was able to get my eyes to stay opened.I started to pray  over and over again and just like that it was gone.JUST START PRAYING WHEN IT HAPPENS.Even though you cant speak pray in your head.I am 58 now and it has not happened for about ten years now.I always felt like it was the devil one time i even heard whispering or like chanting it as so scary.Remember JUST PRAY!
  10. 10 Floyd 16 Oct
    Yeah I'm happy cuz I was thinking I'm the only one whoho cursed by this sundrome. Oh God I feel like something heavy on my chest and I can't move and scream, I was seeing birds, my self moving to ask help and when I get the help I find out myself still asleep and I see my tries over and over and I cry and then finally when I wake up  I saw a big glowing spidee
  11. 11 senette 13 Oct
    The very first time was when I was 11. I felt like I was held down and surrounded by moonlighted figures and 1 I remember clearly by the foot of the bed and the image seemed to be a male presence who was bald. 2nd time was this past summer, 2018, at a friends house in the master bedroom. Where I was sleeping on the bed which was left there from the original owner many years ago. Now it happened in Oct,10th 2018 in my bedroom in Florida but this time it grabbed my hands and scratched my left hand with long pointy fingernails. I couldn't move or scream loud. I have a tiny scab on my middle finger from this event. This time I am so spooked... I did see moonlighted images again around me.
  12. 12 Sophie 26 Sep
    I have had the feeling of immobilisation occur throughout my life. However, I can recall not too long ago an episode and the recurrance of that same experience a week or so later, finally followed by three episodes in one night...
    I was sleeping on my back each time but each time it happened it was as though it was building up to when there was three in the same night. That night in particular, my boyfriend fell asleep on the sofa downstairs while I had fallen asleep upstairs in his bed (on my back and fully clothed). The first time I fell asleep, the evil like demon made his appearance but I never saw him it was always an overwhelming feeling of energy... also his name was Neil, which I established in an earlier episode and it seemed to always be the same demon. So Neil appeared and was piling objects on to my throat which disabled my speed and I was unable to move while desperately trying to and like somebody else commented, I tried so hard to scream that I thought at somepoint I heard the faintest of sound come from me. 
    Anyway, as I forced my way out of this I eventually woke up and ran to the stairs calling my boyfriend to come up to bed (which he didn’t).. so I hopped back in to bed well not in to but on top of the covers still clothed and fell back asleep. 
    This time, Neil not only weighted my throat, he - what felt like - clothed me. Now I have heard of a demon undressing somebody but never dressing them so at this point I realised I was fully back in this state and aware I had woken up from it not long before so I tried to play this to my advantage and tell him I wasn’t scared. I suddenly woke up but I was terrified and noticing my boyfriend was still not beside me, for a second time I went to the top of the stairs and shouted for him. 
    So for a third time I stumbled back to the bed and this time I got comfortable and took off my tracksuit bottoms because by this time I was also dripping with sweat. I fell back to sleep and knowing straight away I was being weighted again and again knowing I had previously woken up, I took control and felt Neil drift into the spare bedroom and taunt me from behind the walls. I could now speak, whether or not I was actually speaking out loud I have no idea but I was shouting at him to come to me as I was curious and as I looked beside me (still not awake) my boyfriend sat up and grabbed my arm holding it so tightly and stared at me with luminating red eyes and said in a possessed voice “It’s Neil, he’s here. It is him”. This was the moment I immediately woke up and surprise surprise, my boyfriend wasn’t there. 
    Obviously I then started crying and screamed for him to come to bed and not stopping until he did. I told him what had happened straight away and about him being possessed and as I told him that final part, the biggest volt of lightening outside occurred and it wasnt even raining or thunder to my recollection that night.
    Crazy! I haven’t heard from Neil since but he definitely was real, it was not a nightmare. I grew up suffering from nightmares from the age of six to fourteen. These episodes were not nightmares. 
    (P.s sorry if I bored anybody :|)
  13. 13 Cheryl 25 Sep
    Happened to me minutes ago...I won't go back to sleep. I fell asleep in my recliner on my left side. I remember aeeing the room get instantly black which is odd seeing the street lights outside shine through. This happened once before so it was like I knew what was about to happen. All of a sudden it's like this force spun me onto my back and was holding me down. I couldn't speak or move but I tried to fight it off but it was so strong. I was clawing and trying to push it off but it seemed almost like a squishy feeling everytime I tried to use force against it like it caved in on itself before it got even stronger. Then it felt like something was going into my left side by my stomach and was oh so very painful. All I could manage to do was say a prayer to myself in my head. Finally it released me and I sprung off that chair like it was on fire. I never sleep on my back!! So it can happen even while sleeping on your side
  14. 14 Brandon Austin 11 Sep
    I just had a weird thing happen just a couple of seconds ago I felt like i was being squeezed like a women wrapping her inter body around me and squeezing my body I also felt like I was being sexualy assualted cause it just wasnt around my chest it was around my inter body my man hood fwlt like it was being squeezed and I couldnt breath I wake up i look to my left I see a small figure it was a outline it looked like a man with a tigers head it started to glow gold .
  15. 15 Brandy 26 Oct
    It's crazy to see all these comments. I too have experienced this a few times in my life however I've never seen an old hag. I've experienced being held down while on my stomach @ 3:12-3:18am.
    I've slept on my stomach and felt as if someone was choking me in the middle of the afternoon. I've felt something grab my leg in the middle of the night. And the most recent of events while sleeping on my back I woke up to feeling a weight on the end of my bed (thought it was my toddler about to get into my bed with my husband and i) I went to move my leg and realized what was happening as I laid there it felt as if something crawled up my body laying on me and laying it's head between mine and my husband's. It was whispering something but I couldn't understand. When it stopped I was weak as ever it was 3:48am. The last episode I had was a couple days ago I was laying on my side facing my husband and I could tell it was about to happen I tried waking my husband but failed something felt like it crawled in our bed and laid straight behind me. So it don't happen if u only lay on your back as I've had it happen a lot in every position it is real and it is scary. I'd say if this is happening all the time to someone and it feels evil id research spirit attachments. But that's just me
  16. 16 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. 
  17. 17 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!
  18. 18 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.

  19. 19 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.

  20. 20 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,
  21. 21 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 
  22. 22 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. 
  23. 23 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.
  24. 24 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. 
  25. 25 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???!!!
  26. 26 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! :)
  27. 27 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. 
  28. 28 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.
  29. 29 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 
  30. 30 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?
  31. 31 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.
  32. 32 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.
  33. 33 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.
  34. 34 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!
  35. 35 Tom Herrera 04 Dec
    happening to me since i was 3 or 4 yrs old.... I'm 32 now.
  36. 36 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!

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