Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sleep Paralysis: Demon on your Chest or Door to Overcoming Fear?

Continuing the theme of explanatory power of the consciential paradigm, we turn to an interesting phenomenon that has bugged humans throughout the world for ages: sleep paralysis.  Considered a benign experience by conventional scientists, sleep paralysis refers to the sensation of being briefly unable to perform voluntary movements either at the onset of sleep (during what is known as the hypnogogic state) or upon awakening (during the hypnopompic state). Although many people have the feeling that the paralysis lasts an unbearably long time, in reality, these experiences are generally no longer than a few seconds’ duration.

Sleep paralysis, although not an uncommon phenomenon, is generally not well understood. Individuals who have reported experiencing sleep paralysis commonly describe being fearful of the condition. The phenomenon, however, is harmless and can have no effect on one’s health. The only potentially negative repercussion is the psychological impact that may result from ignorance of the actual processes related to this experience. It is ironic that this experience often precedes the out-of-body experience: a phenomenon that can eradicate fear of death and of superstitions like "evil spirits."

Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare (1781) depicts the ancient
fearful interpretation of projective catalepsy which is
overcome with knowledge and experience

Projective catalepsy (the sensation of paralysis) occurs when an individual becomes aware of departing from or returning to the physical body with the astral body, and at the moment at which the two bodies are not fully aligned. In this case, the individual feels himself to be inside the body, however the physical brain does not respond to his command due to this non-alignment. The most beneficial posture to adopt in such moments would be to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the non-alignment of the two bodies and completely detach from the physical body. This would allow the person to have some perceptions of the non-physical reality of life. Such experiences can have very positive ramifications as they provide irrefutable personal proof of the existence of life beyond the physical body. Besides this unique opportunity, the individual may also undertake a series of observations and experiments aimed at learning more about the multidimensional nature of human life.

Illustration of Beginning or End of an OBE,
which may correlate with projective catalepsy

The phenomenon has been known around the world since time immemorial, however, it has often been shrouded in fearful superstition. The uninformed individual's brain will attempt to make sense of this circumstance by creating an oneiric interpretation, usually drawing from his or her cultural tradition.  Some interpret a demon or evil spirit of some kind or an old woman (leading to the moniker of Old Hag Syndrome in Medieval Europe), while others still envision an unfriendly extraterrestrial. 

This erroneous, but understandable mental construct has been immortalized in a 1781 work of art entitled "The Nightmare" by Gothic painter Fuseli, illustrating a demonic horse watching an incubus seating on a helpless woman's chest.  Other terms include "the dark presser" (Turkey), "devil riding on your back" (Africa), "the crushing demon" (Hmong people of southeast Asia), “Kanashibari” (Japan), “The witch riding you” (USA), “Kokma” attacks by the spirits of dead unbaptised babies (St Lucia), “Phi um” the feeling of being enveloped by a ghost (Thailand), “Hexendruchem” or passing witches (Germany), “Ha-wi-nulita” or being squeezed by scissors (Korea), “Pesadilla” (Mexico), and “Stand-stills” (UK).

Whilst a number of cases of sleep paralysis are associated with narcolepsy (a neurological condition in which the sufferer involuntarily falls asleep, with no warning, at any time of the day, even whilst performing an activity), a high percentage of occurrences are not. It is these cases (which have no relation to narcolepsy) that are of particular interest to researchers of the out-of-body experience (OBE or astral projection) who have established that sleep paralysis is a sensation that sometimes accompanies the separation of the astral body from the physical body.

The technical term for this sensation of not being able to move the body, when unrelated to the pathological catalepsy, i.e. when related to the OBE, is projective catalepsy. Projective catalepsy is a benign phenomenon that even has the potential to catalyse one’s extrasensory perceptions. Some experiencers who naturally and frequently have sleep paralysis have utilized it as a convenient transition into the conscious OBE.

Once fear of projective catalepsy is overcome,
it becomes an effective segue into lucid projections

To achieve this detachment of the astral body from the physical body, it is sufficient to galvanize one’s willpower and decision, concentrating on breaking free from physical constraints and aiming at floating above physical body. In the case of those who prefer to completely re-enter the physical body, the most advisable technique is to relax and concentrate on making a slight movement such as breathing more deeply or moving a finger or the tongue.

A global survey on the OBE conducted by the International Academy of Consciousness (IAC), a leading research organisation in the fields of out-of-body experience - also known as astral projection - and paranormal phenomena, revealed that 52.57% percent of individuals who have had an OBE claim to have experienced sleep paralysis in association with this phenomenon. These individuals who reported having had OBEs also attested to having no known existing health condition that would trigger sleep paralysis. A widely-publicized study led by U of Kentucky's Kevin Nelson confirmed this correlation, but it erroneously confounds correlation for causation, claiming that a physiological process involved in sleep paralysis causes the OBE. This is not logically sound, as discussed in another blog entry, but instead an understandable metaphysical or epistemological bias.

It is important to note here that in the case of those who suffer from narcolepsy, sleep paralysis is an actual incapacity to move the body. However, in cases of projective catalepsy, the paralysis experienced is not an actual incapacity to move the body, but only the sensation of being unable to do so. It is worthwhile for those people who experience sleep paralysis to understand the causes related to the sensation of paralysis.

The ideal means by which to control sleep paralysis and the range of psychic phenomena associated with dreaming and the out-of-body experience (astral travel or astral projection), is to be able to master one’s own subtle energies, also known as bioenergy, chi or prana.

Note:  Many of the phenomena discussed in this article are often misunderstood. These are naturally occurring experiences that can be controlled and developed as effective tools for the development of one’s self-awareness.  Techniques for having out-of-body experiences, bioenergy exercises, and other related topics researched and taught by the IAC.  You can find an office close to you here.

This post is adapted by Nelson Abreu (IAC California - USA) from an article in the IAC website Introductory Articles section by Nanci Trivellato (IAC Campus - Portugal) and Sandie Gustus (IAC London, author of Less Incomplete)


  1. I "suffered" from these episodes throughout my life, until I realized these experiences were in fact a "gift" in the sense that they represent a natural gateway to a fuller realization of reality. Once I stopped "fighting" them and just went along with it and willed myself beyond the body, I started using them to have great (out-of-body) experiences. I no longer fear it, I love it whenever I get them. My mind used to play tricks on me and I'd feel like there was someone keeping me down. I've actually seen a painting depicting that, showing me that it's an ancient experience but that was just my brain trying to make sense of this situation. Great article, Ms. Trivellato, thank you!

  2. Great article! , and interesting Ancient painting experience. It took me a while to
    Understand the possibility of SP being a gate way as well. In my case it was an entrance instead of an exit... . So it seemed . Over all I like to consider the experience
    To be a regeneration Of sorts for my physical body was filled with great ecstasy and when my concentration broke from a noise outside my window , I had trouble walking to
    Shut the window. Even after I laid back down , my body felt pretty incredible.The journey with in was celular .I was in space with nebula etc. , or I was Visualizing my cells and Other Other microscopic parts of my body. As above so below . Micro macro?
    All in all I'm left in awe . I am glad to have made some self realization of my inhibiting fears. Can't wait till the next opportunity .

    1. Wonderful! We wish many more explorations.

    2. I have these dreams quite frequently, but sometimes it feels as someone is pulling me, sometimes off the bed. What is this?

    3. Hello. The sensation of getting pulled out of bed is one way to interpret the "take off" sensations associated with the projection of the consciousness (out-of-body experience, astral travel, astral projection). Sleep paralysis or projective catalepsy often precedes an OBE, so it is quite natural! If you manage to remain calm and go with it, you will discover that you can be awake while your body is asleep, you can tune into other consciousness realities, and see for yourself where you were before you were born, where you may exist after your body meets its end, etc. You can overcome the fear of death - that mother of all fears - and live a more enlightened and purposeful life.

  3. Nice article Nelson. Another researcher doing good work on this is Chris White. You can see a nice documentary he made about it at if you're interested.

    1. Dear John

      Thank you for visiting.

      With all due respect, claiming demons exist and that they cause sleep paralysis is part of the problem, not the solution. IAC helps individuals understand that they are less vulnerable, more empowered by becoming more aware of multidimensionality. This includes demystifying phenomena like sleep paralysis, OBE, and myths such as demons. There are non-physical persons, but they are not evil entities separate from other beings and they certainly do not cause sleep paralysis as the article explains.

  4. Thanks for your reply -- you never know whether you're going to get one on some blogs! So what do you make of the fact that Chris has over 50 testimonials on his site from real people who have been cured of their sleep paralysis by calling on the name of Jesus Christ?

    1. Dear John

      Sleep paralysis or projective catalepsy is not an illness - even conventional scientists agree. As such, it is not something that necessitates cure. It is something, however, that can indeed be suppressed. Sometimes people evoke certain historic or mythical personalities to give them courage and the power of their own intent to stop their re-occurrence is not to be dismissed. Many people, due to religious or materialistic inculcation do end up suppressing their psi abilities, especially as children. I suppose this is better than suffering due to the misinformation they have been fed. However, the ideal is to learn that there is, in fact, nothing to fear. This frees one to see actually enjoy multidimensionality, to de-mystify the whole thing and to have their own, healthy, productive experiences. We speak from personal experience, hundreds of our colleagues have overcome these fears sparked by the religious status quo. It is not convenient for institutions that control minds for people to overcome fear and to find answers without them mediating and filtering the process. It is a personal choice: to live in fear and be spoon-fed, dogmatic, per-masticated information or to face and overcome fear of the unknown - realize your culture and your brain play tricks on you to try to make sense of something that goes beyond the brain - and live a richer, more fulfilling life of Wonder.

      - Nelson

    2. Hi, I used to have these experiences and I called on Jesús and all of His friends and no one ever came to help me with my issues of freight. Had I known then, what I know now,
      everything would have been so much lighter and easier.

    3. I can't stand people like John. I have had sleep paralysis my whole life I am now 30 and have been astal projecting from as far back as I can remember because the fact that I have SP... wouldn't trade it for the world and surely wouldn't call on Jesus to ruin my good time out of body.

  5. I love sleep paralysis, it means an OBE is imminent. I prefer the term mind awake/body asleep and I'm just fine with my body going to sleep and my mind staying awake. Nice article.

  6. Over 20% of the worlds population suffer from Sleep Paralysis at least once in their lives.

  7. Great article!
    Anyone can have an out of body experience.
    Thanks for sharing.