The Horror of Sleep Paralysis

You May Never Sleep Tight Again

Nose to nose Death bent over me, the sharpness of his features showing bone beneath his skin as clearly as if that skin had been transparent. Too wide open, his eyes rolled in their sockets–whites glowing, pupils broad and black, as he examined me up and down. His mouth hung open, and his breath hit my face with the stench of rotten eggs. He chewed his lower lip, sucking it and drawing it across his teeth.

 

Though he didn’t touch me, the air itself crushed me so I couldn’t move at all. I struggled to yell for Mama, but I could only make a strangled noise that sounded like it came from someone else.  

 

“But not tonight,” Death whispered.

 

Excerpt from THE TAKING

Sleep paralysis is a very real thing. How do I know? I’ve experienced it quite a few times, and hopefully I did justice to just how frightening it can be in my dark historical fantasy novel: The Taking.

What is it?

Sleep paralysis has been documented throughout recorded history

When I was taking an undergraduate psychology class, we learned about sleep paralysis, which is sometimes referred to as “the witch is riding you” (a pretty apt description, based on my first experience). It was a relief to learn I was not the only one to experience the terror of waking in a panic, frozen and sensing some invisible menace.

Sleep paralysis has been documented throughout recorded history, and has been called many things across cultures. But the common thread among these reports are tales of being sat upon by demons, ridden by witches, and haunted by spirits during the experience.

Sleep paralysis occurs when you wake up during REM (dreaming) sleep. Hey, this happens all the time . . . right? Sure, but sleep paralysis does not happen to everyone and is abnormal.

During normal REM sleep, we have no voluntary muscle control. This is evolutionarily a very valuable thing. It helps to protect ourselves and our sleeping partners from injury.

. . . is also accompanied by hallucinations – often times hellish in nature.

But, when “the witch is riding you,” you continue to have no voluntary control of your muscles after you’ve woken up. So you’re lying there in bed, unable to move, while your mind is fully alert.

It is also common for people to simultaneously feel they’re being pushed down into the bed, being suffocated, or having a heavy weight pressing down on their chest.

Sounds scary right? Well, you have no idea. Here’s the kicker. Like I said, you’re unable to move, fully alert, and have a sense of pressure on your chest . . . but you’re kind of dreaming still at the same time. As with me, sleep paralysis as described above is also accompanied by hallucinations–often hellish in nature.

In fact, the word “nightmare” originates from Anglo-Saxon for “a crushing sensation at night.”

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