You’ve just awoken in a sweaty anxiety. You can’t wait to get out of bed when you realize that you can’t move anything. You may not even be able to open your eyelids. You’re feeling cold and trapped. You can’t even look at your clock to see what time it is.
The anxiety builds as you try to turn to look at your clock, yet your body moves little, if at all. You’d like to yell out for help, but even your mouth will not open wide enough to do anything more than drool. You feel like a muted screamer as the terror of your situation sets in. You know you’re awake for this nightmare.
The anxiety gets worse as you try to simply fling a leg or arm from where it rests. You have total feeling in your legs and arms, yet no movement responses. Even if you were asleep, the anxiety levels you’re experiencing would have woken you up by now.
Your chest may feel like it is in a vice. Or, you may feel like you’re being choked. You might sense that you’re under attack. Yes, you feel like something evil is upon you. Perhaps this is an attack? Are you under attack by unseen forces? Is some sort of demon attacking you? You begin fighting back in every way you know how. But your body will not cooperate. Alas, you may be possessed. And then you wonder if this is the end.
Things start getting worse. Now your legs and arms begin to feel some of the pressure. It is as if a very large person is sitting on you and holding your limbs down. You just wish you could open up your mouth and take in a deep breath. The pressure on top of you is making it so hard to breath. You may finally feel your first bodily response to thought, as you feel tears trickling down your face. You feel like you’re stuck in an infinite situation where time no longer exists. After what seems like an eternity, you suddenly are able to open your eyes and climb out of bed like every other morning.
The Fitting Old Hag Syndrome
Old Hag Syndrome is what many people have long labeled this type of sleep paralysis experience when it occurs over and over again. It is actually a normal body function for the muscles to be in a paralyzed state for sleep. It is an important part of restricting body motion while you are in the REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, sleep phase. You may hear it referred to as REM atonia.
When something causes you to wake suddenly during this phase or there is a delay in the body’s response to you waking up that has you remaining in this phase for a short period after you wake up, you’ll find yourself awake and unable to move. If you’re not yet fully awake or in somewhat of a dream state still, you may continue dreaming, or hallucinating. You may imagine you’re being attacked or you may feel your life is in danger. This can greatly intensify the panic that you would naturally experience from the sudden, idiopathic onset of apparent paralysis. Much remains unknown about why this happens.
Ancient Theories on Sleep Paralysis
The ideas of old hag syndrome and demon violations as explanations of sleep paralysis are old and common to many regions of the world. While the older ideas were centered around demons or witchcraft, some newer twists include such ideas as alien abductions, pollution responses, and government experiments. By regions you end up with such old concepts as the African witch, Hmong demon, Vietnamese shadow, Chinese ghost, and Icelandic Succubus. The symptoms for all of these regional explanations are the same: crushing sleep paralysis.