term "Old Hag" was and is still used to describe a demon,
ghost, etc. that sits upon their victim's chest, causing paralysis and
sometimes making it hard to breathe, the explanations for why an
old hag would choose to do this is are as varied as the cultures on
earth who experience it. Though nowadays most people who report
experiencing SP claim to have never actually SEEN an old hag sitting
on their chest, it's not hard to imagine why or how the legend began,
and the term stuck. In the past 10 years, and especially the last 2,
more and more people are learning that Old Hag actually has a name,
Sleep Paralysis, and that is is being seriously studied by researchers
around the world. And conversely, researchers are beginning to
learn that this is not an isolated event, occurring to just a small
percent of the population. Many people have experienced Sleep
Paralysis but were just too afraid to mention it their doctor's,
psychological or medical, and even leery about discussing it with
friends or relatives. Now that the subject is becoming more
understood, people are a lot more apt to come forward and talk about
their experiences with Sleep Paralysis, and the more people that do
so, the sooner scientists and researchers can find out about just what
it is that's going on during an episode of Sleep Paralysis. And who
knows, maybe the parapsychologists will need to be called in as well,
because we all know, 'stranger things have happened."
paralysis is a phenomenon that is known, to some extent, by all
cultures throughout the world. Some people say attacking aliens
are the cause of sleep paralysis,
others credit the "Devil" himself and/or his minions, and if
not that, then the classic "old hag" who sits on an
unsuspecting sleeping person's chest, and upon their waking realize
they are powerless to move. For what ends a hag would do this are as
varied as the cultures on the planet.
The old hag does not always
appear as a grotesque elderly matron. For more on the legends and lore
of similar 'old hag' experiences, see the bottom part of this page.
in the last couple decades, and especially the last 10 or so years,
have researchers begun to seriously study this bizarre happening.
Nothing is as of yet in concrete, but we at least now have a solid
place to begin. And I would like to further add, that although we may
now have an explanation of the mechanics involved, it does not mean we
know WHY or WHAT causes this strange phenomenon to occur, but only
explains what is going on physically during an episode of sleep
paralysis, or SP.
Sleep paralysis is a condition in which someone about to fall asleep,
or just upon waking from sleep, realizes that they are unable to move
or speak, but can still breathe and move their eyes. I like to call
this "half-asleep/half-awake" stage the "twilight"
stage. Your conscious mind has begun to drift into sleep but is not
yet there, therefore you still retain a small amount of your waking
conscious. It is a very transitory stage indeed, and one that seems to
leave you "open" to certain experiences you would not
otherwise be receptive to when fully conscious or fully asleep. It is
also accepted by most researchers that although this can happen in any
sleeping position, it most commonly occurs in the supine position
(laying on your back).
Once the person realizes they are unable to move, they usually, but
not always, leave this "twilight" stage and become fully
awake, but still paralyzed. At this point the experience can go either
way. The person may only experience a temporary paralysis, and after
several seconds or up to a minute or so would then regain their
movement and the event would be over. Researchers believe many people
experience this at one point in their lives.
But the other scenario is much more frightening. Upon realizing one is
paralyzed, a whole gamut of hallucinations may occur. Many people
report hearing, seeing, and/or sensing a person or people in the room
with them while they are paralyzed. There is also the common
experience of a usually sensed, malevolent presence (or SMP). Note
that not all sensed presences are felt as being malevolent, but very
frequently they are. These SMP's usually seem to be just out of view
of the person experiencing the SP, who from here on in I will refer to
as the 'subject', for the sole purpose of easily identifying the one
experiencing the SP. As a frequent sufferer of sleep paralysis, I know
that for me its relatively rare to have an episode complete with the
SMP, but t does happen, and when it does, it is terrifying. The SMP is
so incredibly intimidating and I feel that this very evil, terrible
"thing" is just right outside my field of vision, and if I
weren't paralyzed and was able to turn my ahead just an inch or so, I
would be able to see this horrid thing. At least, that's the feeling I
get, and other sufferer's of SP have reported the same.
Sometimes it is reported that the subject feels crushed, smothered, or
pushed into the bed. There are auditory hallucinations as well. A
voice or voices may be heard, as well as footsteps. A loud buzzing
noise is sometimes reported.
experiences are also frequently reported with SP, along with the
sensation of floating and sometimes of "falling" through the
SP a person may try to cry out or "fight" the presence they
believe is responsible for causing them to be paralyzed. This has
never helped me nor anyone else I've ever heard of, but somehow we
have the innate feeling that we must "fight" this feeling.
Usually movement returns slowly, usually within a minute or so.
These hallucinations are called hypnagogic and hypnopompic
hallucinations. These hallucinations are given these names because
they occur at the onset of sleep, and the period just before waking,
the period I call the 'twilight' stages of sleep. They can be
auditory, visual, tactile and proprioceptive. A proprioceptor is
a sensory receptor found mainly in the joints, muscles, tendons and
inner ear that detects motion and can also can detect the position of
a limb by responding to internal stimuli. This means when a person
feels smashed into the bed or a creature is sitting on their chest
that it really can be a VERY convincing hallucination. So I'd say that
is possibly one of the single greatest arguments for a pro-"it's
all in your mind" stance on SP. Because of proprioceptors we can
feel as though we're falling through the bed, even though we
actually are lying quite stationary, it can be among the most
convincing of all hallucinations.
my 'research into other people's research' I have found a few
people ('people' meaning doctor's studying sleep research and/or
their students contributing to the research) that agree that there are
or can be several outside contributing factors to SP. Stress,
emotional or physical, and one you have no power over, adolescence.
The first time I heard this I automatically thought about the
correlation between poltergeists and adolescent children,
pre-pubescent or pubescent. Of course my train of thought ended there
because I have no specialized skills in psychology, parapsychology or
is very hard to believe it is a hallucination, but, after all, that's
what a hallucination proper is. This, however, does not make the
experience any less terrifying. While it is happening it feels pretty
damn real! And remember, this is not written in stone. This is
scientific theory, not scientific fact. Who's to say these experiences
aren't real? Or for that matter, more real than anything we've ever
experienced? Maybe they can be so terrifying because it's a reality
experienced on a totally different level. So who's to say these
aren't angels here to show us another place? Maybe our fear is the
totally normal and understandable fear of not wanting to leave our
physical bodies. Maybe it's NO ONE showing us anything, maybe we are
doing the looking and the searching all on our own. And then again,
maybe it's just all in our heads.
conversely, something altogether more sinister. Maybe it is something
so innately evil, even if we want to 'go with the flow' and see where
the experience takes us, the deepest part of our minds will not let
us, perhaps because we somehow already know of this nemesis. Who
knows, maybe it's just gas. And maybe it's not, hmmm.
researchers at Waterloo University have done some of the most intense
research on SP. They have studied the REM dream states and compared
them to SP with hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, (or HHE's)
and have found some interesting results. While we are dreaming in a
normal REM state, our minds send out a message to our body's to cease
our normal motor functions, our muscles "turn off" in a
sense, so that we do not act out our dreams. This keeps us from
possibly doing damage to ourselves or those around us. While in an REM
state, we are experiencing stimuli manufactured from within our own
minds, effectively "tuning out" the world around us.
REM SP with HHE's differ from a normal period of REM in two
significant ways. 1.) There is little or no blocking of external
stimulation, and 2.) the sufferer of SP regains full conscious,
whereas they were in the "twilight" stage of sleep, i.e.
sleep onset or sleep offset, and instead of falling into a deeper
sleep state, regain consciousness but continue to 'dream'.
Researchers believe the paralysis is due to the failure of the brains
neurons to "remind" the body it is now awake so it is unable
to move (called muscle atonia). And remember, not only is the person
unable to move, but they are also "dreaming while awake", a
condition that is very confusing and frightening. The hallucinations
they encounter seem every bit as real as you sitting in front of the
computer right now. This theory seems wrong to me, or at least it
doesn't seem to apply to my SP. Dreams are very distinct, they have an
obvious 'surrealness' about them, whereas my SP is a totally different
thing. It's hard to explain, but if you've experienced SP, I KNOW you
know what I mean. (right?!)
During these episodes of hallucinogenic SP, the mind is not only
accepting outside stimulation, but is also 'warping' it in much the
same way as our dream states warp information. Its a melding of the
two worlds, only the subject is not asleep.
It is not hard to see why demons, devils, and other beasties of the
night have been blamed for these nocturnal 'attacks'. Virtually all
cultures with a written or oral history has some kind of form of SP
they have reported, and with that a usually very colorful explanation
as to why these things happen. But if you're of an occult mind, or
just an open one, it's also not hard to see why scary folk of the
night would take advantage of us while in such a vulnerable position.
Either way, legend and lore abounds. SP is more commonly known as Old
Hag, and the origin for this title may have roots as far back as the
Sumerians. Ardat lili or Lilitu, an evil hag-demon, was said to have
the power of flight, which she preferred to do at night when she would
attack men in their sleep. This seems a very obvious reference to the
original Lilith, who refused to lay on her back when laying with Adam,
and was therefore thrown out of Eden for a more suitable (docile) mate
for Adam. After she was thrown out of Eden a myriad of things
happened, depending on who you hear tell it, but a few things remain
constant, Lilith flew away and is now the eater of children, hers and
others alike. (If they be her children, we at least know which
position they were not bore. Ha.) She is a disgusting old hag, (aren't
all women who do not marry and obey they're men?!!) who now flies over
the land at night seeking revenge for being thrown out of
But this myth is hardly unique, as many she-devils and hag-demons
have, over time, made their presence known in mythology. They take
credit for the nocturnal assaults for one reason or another.
Surprisingly, though, is the consistency of such reports made by
societies and cultures with no previous knowledge of each other or
their lore. The main details remain constant. A man or woman is
attacked during the night, usually lying on their back, when an evil
entity sits upon their body, causes paralysis, and even sometimes
chokes or smothers it's victim. Though their motivation may differ,
(possession, revenge, or just wanting to upset the living) the attack
remains strikingly similar. And these stories are not limited to
Western cultures, in fact, quite the contrary. In Thailand people
refer to being Phi um (ghost covered) and phi kau (ghost possessed),
and these experiences include a feeling of pressure, paralysis, and
something black covering the body. In Japan, kanashibara ("to tie
with an iron rope") is a common known and accepted experience. In
the Far North one speaks of agumangia (Inupik) or ukomiarik (Yupik) in
which "a soul" tries to take possession of the paralyzed
victim. In Laos, da chor is described as follows: "You want to
listen, you can't hear; you want to speak, you are dumb; you want to
call out, you cannot; you feel you are dying, dying; you want to run
away. You piss with fear in your sleep"
Truly, the area of research dealing with SP is in it's infancy.
Researchers are always on the lookout for sufferers of this bizarre
yet not too uncommon condition. If you feel you suffer from SP, there
are a number of websites on the internet that have surveys you can
take. By just answering a few questions you could possibly help
researchers attain a deeper understanding of this bizarre phenomena.
And you never know, maybe there IS some truth in the old legends!
I would like to give massive credit to Waterloo University and
especially Dr. Al Cheyne. They are the sole people who shed some light
for me on this veritable unknown frontier. They provided me with
answers when I had none and knowledge in area's where I was once
ignorant. It was because of them I had a place to begin in my search
for answers and now the sky's the limit. Thank You X 100! Visit them
This link is also on my homepage.