Sleep paralysis is the term used to describe a state of paralysis that grips the body usually shortly after waking, but occasionally before falling asleep. Scientifically it is thought to be a part of the natural sleep cycle known as 'REM' (rapid eye movement). The human body excretes hormones into the blood-stream whilst sleeping in order to limit locomotion, i.e. to stop you getting up and wandering around in the night (a lack of this hormone is thought to be the cause of sleep walking, etc.). Sleep paralysis is thought to occur when the brain awakes but the body is still under the influence of these enzymes. These episodes are often accompanied by nightmarish hallucinations, and a heightened sense of helplessness and fear.
This condition of sleep paralysis is well documented and is often connected with the paranormal, in Vietnam it is known as 'Ma De - held down by a ghost', in China it is known as 'Pinyin - body pressured by a ghost', in Iceland it is known as 'Mara - Devil sitting on your chest trying to suffocate you', and so on, around the globe this condition is believed by many to be associated with some form of ghostly/demonic attack upon the soul. And you never know, scientists have been known to be wrong before...
While you sleep
“The good news is”, said the doctor, “is that your are neither crazy, nor are you possessed”, which is the kind of good news that one is always happy to receive, “it’s all very simple” the doctor continued, “although I do understand your concern, but it’s all very natural you see, a slight distortion of the natural cycle, often brought about by stress”.
I hadn’t felt particularly stressed, at least, not until after the first incident, “You see, it’s all to do with enzymes and so on, a defence mechanism of sorts” The doctor informed me, “It’s known as ‘sleep paralysis’, essentially the brain releases chemicals which shut down the body, to prevent you from attempting to live out your dreams whilst you sleep, in fact…” he continued, “it’s almost the exact opposite of sleep walking, in which those inflicted don’t produce enough of said enzymes to keep them suitably bed bound whilst resting. “The problem is that your mind is waking, whereas your body is not, essentially leaving you stranded somewhere between the conscious and the subconscious.”
It was good to know that there was a sound scientific explanation, ‘sleep paralysis’ I mused appreciating the solidity of the term, and the complete lack of nonsense it projected, because the first time I’d experienced it, I’d been terrified, and the second and third time; even more so.
Each time I awoke instantly enveloped by an intense feeling of unease, a strong sense of not being alone in the darkness that sent shivers pulsating through me, a primal instinct triggered within me that would have sent me fleeing like prey from predator, shook me, but was unable to preserve me, because I was completely unable to move.
I wanted nothing more then to run for the light switch like a child scared of the dark, I could feel something without eyes watching me, and then worse still, I could feel something without hands touching me, sitting astride me, pinning me down. My body failed me whilst my eyes and mind did not, I found my self staring into an emptiness that had taken on being, and could feel the face it didn’t have mere inches from mine, mocking me, as it pinned me down tight to the bed.
Like a man with no other salvation to call upon, I began to pray to myself frantically, not with lips, but inside of my head, and I’d never considered my self a religious man, until now, as I begged for God to save me from this terrible nightmare.
And then it was over, my body rejoined me, and I ran for the light, and whether I was saved by divine intervention, or merely awoke from a terrible dream I would find it difficult to say, but the first time wasn’t the last time, and after several more episodes such as these, I no longer slept in the dark.
And the light keeps me safe, it really does, and I laugh along with those I tell, a grown man scared of the dark, they laugh, and I laugh, because I’d rather laugh and be laughed at; then face that terror again.
‘The old hag’ some call it, and it’s known the world around, in Vietnam it’s called ‘Ma De’ meaning ‘held down by a ghost’, and in Iceland it is known as ‘Mara’ meaning ‘Devil on your chest’, and it’s as old as time itself. And if you’ve ever listened to anybody recall their experience, from little girl to hulking great giant of a man, the one thing they will always have in common, is the fear, still in their eyes as they tell their story.
But science is infallible, and if the good doctor tells me that there is nothing to worry about more than perhaps the need to get a little more exercise, and eat more fruit and veg, to drink less alcohol, and smoke less cigarettes, and above all to try and get a good nights rest, then it seemed reasonable enough to believe him, “Enzymes” I said to myself as I turned off the light and climbed into bed, “Who’d have believed it”.
I tried to scream, but I couldn’t, I tried to run, but I couldn’t, ‘its only enzymes… it’s only enzymes…’ I repeated over and over inside my head, but whatever it was sat astride me; it didn’t believe me. Absolute terror flooded through me, I was helpless to fight it, pinned beneath something I could only sense and couldn’t see, and then I heard it clearly, and wished that I hadn’t, “the good news is…” it said “is that you’re not going crazy”, “the bad news is….”,
‘Help me God, help me God, help me God, help me God...’
“The bad news is…” it told me, “is that we come for you whilst you sleep”.