Many people will experience sleep paralysis at least once in their lives, but despite its common nature, it can still be one of the most terrifying situations we can find ourselves in.
Just the thought of suddenly being unable to move is a horrible one. Combine that with horrendous, creepy hallucinations and sound effects, and you’ve got yourself a horror movie come to life.
Sleep paralysis can happen when you’re on the brink of falling asleep, or when you’ve just woken up, and is characterised by the inability to move or talk while being completely aware of your surroundings.
Many people are unable to take deep breaths, and feel as if their chest is being crushed. Often sufferers feel like there’s another presence in the room with them; one that wants to hurt them. But when you’re unable to move, there’s very little you can do other than wait for it to pass – even though it might feel like you’re waiting for your imminent murder.
It’s not considered a harmful experience from a medical point of view, but I imagine those who experience the truly terrifying hallucinations would argue sleep paralysis is far from easygoing.
UNILAD spoke to an 18-year-old from Australia, going by the pseudonym Alice, who experiences sleep paralysis so regularly that she’s taken to naming the ‘presence’ she feels during her episodes.
Alice first had sleep paralysis when she was just eight years old, and in the following five years she would have more than five episodes in the space of a week. They became less frequent for a couple of years, but it wasn’t long before sleep paralysis came back with full force.
The ‘presence’ she felt first appeared in 2015, but at that time it was just a voice. However, when it began making regular, visual appearances, she decided to name it – or rather, him – ‘Nox’.
Alice described Nox as a man in a purple vest and white lab coat, with shadowed eyes and brown hair. While his visits sound unpleasant – and occasionally murderous – she said he’s only really scared her once.
He was only a voice at first – a cocky one at that. This was when I was having a hard time waking up from sleep paralysis and I thought I was dying in my sleep. He encouraged me to wake up, telling me that I’m still breathing and that alone is a sign of me being alive. It worked and I woke up.
He has terrified me only once, and that was when he strangled me the second time he appeared.
He has done quite a few things. He talks to me. Once I had a short conversation with him about the fact that yes, I’m aware that I’m having sleep paralysis.
He’s attempted to kill me a few times, two through strangulation, and one through drowning. And he has told me that I can’t follow him to wherever he is heading.
If sleep paralysis is the state between being awake and at the same time asleep, and the things you see are your dreams… why are they always negative? Why does no one say; "Aw it was so nice. I saw a unicorn making cupcakes!"
— MewDenise (@MewDenise) May 21, 2019
The 18-year-old went on to say that as long as she stays calm, the experiences come to an end without too much bother, and I’m sure it helps she’s become familiar with the presence she feels.
But Nox hasn’t been the only one to visit Alice during her sleep paralysis, and one episode left the teenager ‘close to crying in fear’.
The Aussie described on Reddit how the paralysis began in a similar way to usual, with white noise and a tingling sensation creeping through her skin.
Alice was curious to see if Nox would be appearing, so she opened her eyes, but in doing so the episode intensified. The white noise became ‘deafening and painful’, and she could barely breathe – as if someone was strangling her.
#NightHag: In Latvian folk culture sleep paralysis is called a torture or strangling by #Lietuvēns. It is thought to be a soul of a killed (strangled, drowned, hanged) person. When under attack, one must move the toe of the left foot to get rid of the attacker.#Latvian #Folklore pic.twitter.com/tcnsVSdAni
— Arnolds Jānis Vītiņš (@Burtenieks) January 14, 2019
While this was all happening, I could hear a disembodied voice echoing in the darkness that kept repeating “play with me.”
I tried calming myself down. I took deep, slow breaths and would alternate between breathing and trying to bite my tongue or move my toes since they usually snap me out of sleep paralysis. That did not happen.
Instead, while I was able to move certain parts of my body, I still couldn’t wake up.
Despite her best efforts, Alice was stuck, and the experience only got worse from there. Instead of the brown-haired, lab coat-wearing Nox she usually saw, the 18-year-old was met with a terrifying child, who probably wouldn’t have been out of place in The Ring.
She went on:
Now that wouldn’t have been too terrifying, if it wasn’t for the appearance of a child with bulging eyes and a sickly thin body crawling its way up my body.
She would glitch and her appearance would distort for a moment, then piece itself back together.
Her words spooked me the most. She knew I was trying to wake myself up and failing miserably at it. So she taunted me, and she started saying, “You’ll never wake up so you’ll have to play with me forever,” and “It looks like he’s coming for you soon.”
She’d disappear and reappear at random, saying the same thing over and over again while glitching as she did so.
The sleep paralysis episode felt like it lasted forever.
The episode was so vivid that the 18-year-old genuinely feared she’d die in her dream.
Speaking to UNILAD, Alice explained it was the most terrifying experience she’d ever had, adding ‘I don’t think anything could top it’.
WHY AM I NOT ASLEEP. goodnight, everyone. wish me luck & no sleep paralysis nightmares of people strangling me.
— Chrysanthe Tan (@ChrysantheTan) June 8, 2015
Having learned from the terrifying ordeal, Alice advised other sleep paralysis sufferers not to open their eyes when experiencing an episode, and to instead focus on taking deep, slow breaths.
Though it was unsuccessful during the appearance of the ‘glitching girl’, the 18-year-old added she’s sometimes able to snap out of the paralysis by biting her tongue or wiggling her toes. Alice pointed out those techniques may not work for everyone, but it could be worth a try for anyone struggling to wake themselves up.
Thankfully, not all sleep paralysis episodes are made up of the stuff of nightmares; sometimes sufferers are able to open their eyes and see their normal surroundings, but are simply unable to move.
i think i had sleep paralysis for the first time yesterday night. my eyes were open and i could see, my breathing stayed the same from when i was asleep, and i literally couldn’t move. can anyone confirm that who’s experienced it?
— ashley liao (@ashleyjliao) May 21, 2019
Obviously that would be preferable to having a horrible, glitching child crawling up your body, but still being immobile can be scary.
To help avoid sleep paralysis, the NHS recommends getting a good night’s rest, trying to stick to a regular sleeping pattern, creating a comfortable environment and avoiding big meals, smoking, alcohol and caffeine before bed.
However, if you experience regular sleep paralysis, like Alice, and it makes you anxious to go to bed, it could be a good idea to speak to your doctor about ways to improve your rest.
I dread to think about some of the horrific hallucinations our brains can conjure up when we’re at our most vulnerable – Alice’s ‘glitching girl’ being just one terrifying example.
Let’s hope the creepy child doesn’t go making any more appearances.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.