Hallucinogenic nights

Sleep paralysis has tormented me since childhood. But now it’s my portal to out-of-body travel and lucid dreams

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Karen Emslie is a Scottish writer, artist and photographer. She has been car-jacked in Barcelona, lost in the Alps, and harassed by fake police in Cuba, but still loves the adventurer’s life. She is based in Spain.

Here I am, lying in bed. If you walk in now, you’ll think I’m sleeping. But I see you. Although my eyelids look shut, they are fluttering slightly. They are the only parts of me that I can move. I am fully conscious but I cannot shout out to you: my body is completely frozen.

Everybody is paralysed during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep where dreaming occurs. If we weren’t paralysed, we would act out our dreams, endangering ourselves and our sleeping partners. But sometimes, especially when sleep patterns are disrupted or we get exhausted, things go awry: REM extends into waking consciousness, our bodies become immobile and our alert brains fuse with the imagery of dreams. The phenomenon of waking up during REM, completely unable to move, is called sleep paralysis.

The experience can be terrifying. Trapped in your paralysed body, you might sense the presence of a malevolent intruder in the room or a pressure on your chest, squeezing the breath out of your lungs. Hallucinations can jangle the senses: there are ominous voices, supernatural entities, strange lights. You feel as if you are being touched or dragged, bed covers seem to be snatched from you, and you are helpless to grab them back.

I have experienced the frightening imagery of sleep paralysis since childhood, but only later did I understand that my dark journey was not unique – I share it with at least 6 per cent of people worldwide, and it has been reported for thousands of years as encounters with sexual demons, beasts, and ghosts. These reports differ by culture – but the texture and the biology is the same. From Newfoundland come tales of the Old Hag, a hideous witch who pins down sleepers by sitting on their chests. Japanese folklore gives us kanashibari, the fate of the unfortunate or cursed who have been magically tied up in their sleep by evil spirits. In Old Norse, the Mara is a malevolent spirit who straddles the body of the sleeper as if riding a horse, then tries to strangle them; mara is the origin of the English word ‘nightmare’. UFO abduction stories and alien encounters likely emerge from sleep paralysis, too.

Ever since I was a teen, I have seen shadow figures in the corner of my bedroom, and awoken to find strange entities – grinning vampires or silent watchers – by my bed. I’ve felt my hand grasped, my chest crushed by the weight of a strange beast; my body twisting and spinning in space. I’ve heard buzzing, ringing, whooshing and nasty names whispered in my ear. If the radio or TV were on, I could hear the programmes clearly and, after paralysis released me, I could report them back. If someone walked into the room, or the doorbell rang, or a dog barked, or (as happened on one occasion) there was a power outage, I was fully aware. I tried to shout out, to pull at my eyelids, desperate to snap out of it, but I could not budge.

With this ghoulish treasure trove to draw upon, sleep paralysis has naturally spawned some very scary stories and films. But as a writer and filmmaker as well as a long-time percipient, I have another story to tell. Beyond the sheer terror, sleep paralysis can open a doorway to thrilling, extraordinary, and quite enjoyable altered states. One is the lucid dream state, in which you can consciously manipulate your dreams, traversing incredible landscapes and interacting with creatures conjured in your mind. Another is the out-of-body experience – the waking sensation of separating from your physical body and floating, spinning and flying through your surroundings; often, you’d look down to see yourself lying below.

Daily Weekly

The biological underpinnings of sleep paralysis have become less mysterious in recent years. The psychologist Kazuhiko Fukuda at Edogawa University in Japan explains the likely involvement of the amygdala, a brain region that signals fear from threats in the environment and triggers our primal ‘fight or flight’ reactions. Waking up paralysed constitutes an environmental threat, yet we cannot react. The amygdala is in hyperdrive, and REM physiology has invaded our consciousness. We are left stuck in a state of overwhelming terror, leaving us dreaming awake and set upon by our deepest fears.

In 2012, University of Toronto neuroscientists Patricia Brooks and John Peever reported the physiological process behind the altered state: GABAA and GABAB, the receptors that regulate the body’s muscle tone, combine with glycine, an amino acid, to switch off motor-neurone activity in our voluntary muscles during REM sleep. Normally, they switch our motor-neurone activity back on before we wake up. But, sometimes, we wake up during REM, and the GABA and glycine keep hold of us – the scary result is dreaming awake.

I could float up to my bedroom ceiling or into the living room or out through the solid front door

One of the most probing explorations of this state, and the one that helped free me from the terror, comes from Jorge Conesa-Sevilla, a neurocognitive psychologist and shamanic artist based in Oregon who regularly experiences sleep paralysis himself. In his book Wrestling with Ghosts (2004), he takes a refreshing approach to the subject, couching sleep paralysis in scientific terms, without denying his personal, exploratory approach.

Conesa-Sevilla taught me that people who experience sleep paralysis have a unique advantage in dreaming lucidly – they can use their altered state as a launch pad for full-blown dream control. It makes sense: both lucid dreams and sleep paralysis are ‘blended states’, according to the psychologist James Cheyne of the University of Waterloo in Canada – but these states are distinct. ‘Lucid dreaming seems to consist of waking awareness intruding into dreams and sleep paralysis of dream imagery intruding into waking consciousness.’

Conesa-Sevilla has developed specific, highly honed techniques to help us move from one blended state to the other. Like many others who regularly experience sleep paralysis, I had naturally slipped into lucid dreams on occasion, but I did not understand what they were, or that I could initiate this switch. Wrestling with Ghosts explained how to do this, but most importantly, it made me understand that sleep paralysis was not a curse; it could be a gift.

Conesa-Sevilla’s system, called Sleep Paralysis Signalling (SPS), is used to acknowledge and exploit your self-awareness in order to transition from one altered state to the other: from terror to bliss. It includes focusing on particular parts of your body, imagining that you are spinning, and using meditation, controlled breathing and relaxation for managing the fear of the paralysed state. Tapping SPS, I can wilfully go from waking to the dream state, retaining just enough consciousness to influence the action within.

To switch from sleep paralysis into lucid dreaming is no mean feat; it is hard to keep a cool head with a ghost sitting on top of you. I can rarely pinpoint the moment that terror becomes lucidity but, when it does, I am launched into the vast landscapes and vivid colours of my lucid dreams.

I often return to the same places, worlds that I have created. There is a city with a complex network of streets, elaborate houses, an underground system, a harbour and swimming pools. The whites, blues, yellows and greens are far more intense than any I have seen in waking life. And there are great natural landscapes: a coastline with high cliffs and forests. I know my way around. I could draw a map of these worlds. I can choose where to go and I can walk or fly. I populate these landscapes with people; be they familiar or fantastical, living or departed, I talk to them. I am fully conscious during these dreams.

My lucid dreams are often accompanied by sensations of flying, floating or leaping across the landscape. But sometimes I have another experience, similar in that it is characterised by flying and floating sensations, yet distinct. During a lucid dream I am ‘intact’ and moving around a dreamscape, whereas during these other experiences, I seem to physically twist or stand up and ‘out of myself’ and into my immediate surroundings. This sensation feels as real to me as it would if I were to stand up now – and it is experienced as fully alert consciousness. I now understand this to be a form of out-of-body experience, or OBE.

With hindsight, I realise I’ve been having OBEs for some time. In one childhood memory, I’m lying both ‘on’ and ‘under’ my bed at the same time. Later, I willed the experience out of terror during the sleep paralysis itself. If I yell, but make no sound, I thought, if I feel, but nothing is touching me, if I move my arms, but they are still, then my paralysed body is, somehow, receiving sensations of movement from my brain. What would happen if I consciously willed this phenomenal body to twist out of my paralysed body? And I found that, in my mind at least, I could.

At first there were loud noises, buzzing and whooshing. At times it felt as if my brain was being sucked out of the top of my head, or that my whole body was being pulled backwards at high speed. I would panic and fight it, but each time I became a little braver. I would ride out the scary sounds and sensations, and find that they gave way to a pleasant feeling of being completely separate from my body.

I could see my bedroom, but in altered form. The plain wooden door had beautiful paintings on it; the trees in the garden were a different species or larger than normal. At times I seemed to be dragging myself around; at others I was light and moved with ease.

During these OBEs, I wondered what would happen if I tried to push my body through my closed bedroom door, and I found that I could. I started to play with these sensations, to float up to my bedroom ceiling or into the living room or out through the solid front door. I enjoyed the feeling of spinning around my house and garden.

My lucid dreams and OBEs are delightful because I can consciously heighten my experience, and a little terror can be exhilarating

I understand the mind and body to be a complex biological and chemical entity, intertwined, yet my hallucinogenic nights suggested otherwise. What was this ‘self’ that appeared to get free? I was unnerved by a friend who suggested I stop leaving my body lest a ‘lost soul’ inhabit it while I was gone, blocking my return. But my fears were eased by talks with the experts. The neuroscience fascinated me, and set me free.

Our sense of ‘self’ as embodied, moving around space relative to gravity, comes from sensual input: spatial position and balance, touch and movement, and visual cues. These ‘vestibular’ sensations, coming from diverse neural networks in different parts of the brain, are brought together and processed at the junction of the temporal and parietal lobes (or our temporal-parietal junction), a region just above and behind the ears. When we are awake, our temporal-parietal junction is highly active, and it processes information efficiently and coherently. During dream sleep, however, vestibular sensations come not from the external environment but from within the brain itself.

During REM, vestibular sensations might be the source of those lovely flying dreams. But they can also be felt during sleep paralysis – and can be used to propel us to OBE. The jet fuel here is dissonance: from REM, we get vestibular sensations produced by the brain and from waking we get vestibular input from the outside world; both land in the temporal parietal junction. During sleep paralysis, Cheyne explains, the brain tries to reconcile the conflict ‘between movement and non-movement, between simultaneously floating above, and lying on, one’s bed’. He thinks we resolve the conflict by ‘a splitting of the phenomenal self and the physical body, sometimes referred to as an out-of-body experience’.

The notion is supported by Olaf Blanke, professor of neurology at the University Hospital of Geneva, whose studies over the past decade have helped to transform the field. Blanke has shown when he stimulates the brain with electrical current, it generates its own vestibular sensation and transports it to the temporal-parietal junction, recreating the pattern that occurs during REM. As a result, the sense of self as embodied is lost and the individual reports feeling separate and detached. Of special note is the position of the temporal-parietal junction just above and behind the ears, perhaps an explanation for the sense of a presence that seems to lurk behind or just out of sight – the very entities so many of us describe as part of the sleep-paralysis experience.

Some might think that these neurological explanations for sleep paralysis, lucid dreams and OBEs are impediments to the experience but, to me, they enrich it. My lucid dreams and OBEs are even more delightful because I can consciously heighten my experience, and a little terror can be exhilarating. To this day, I’m frightened when I wake up paralysed. After all, my amygdala is screaming FEAR! FEAR! FEAR! But, with my new-found understanding, I can overcome the terror and take advantage of being awake to explore these altered states. The transition from state to state can be slippery but, the more I understand what is happening in my brain, the more control I have and the more enjoyable the experience becomes.

Here I am again, lying in bed. If you walk in now, you’ll think I’m sleeping. But I am not: I am conscious and I am flying, bounding across landscapes coloured by dreams.

If you ever wake up unable to move, try not to panic. Remind yourself that you stand at the threshold of a fantastical world, a strange hinterland, an exhilarating space in which you are awake, but have a REM toy box at your disposal.

Read more essays on altered states and sleep and dreams

Comments

  • Sleeping Beauty

    Thank you for sharing, throughout my child hood & teen years I was afraid I was mentally unstable due to the Same experiences you've described. I taught myself lucid dreaming in self defense ( I didn't have a name for it, I was just desperate to stop being terrified of sleep).

    • Karen Emslie

      Thanks for your comment Sleeping Beauty. Like you, it was many years until I knew that these experiences had names and that they were shared by other people. I do think it would be wonderful if we could start to look at lucid dreams and OBEs as a way of managing and exploring sleep paralysis, rather than trying to ´treat´ it or suppress it by other means. It is not uncommon, but it is not often spoken of, perhaps because it is such a strange and scary (at first) experience. I do think and hope that is changing though!

  • yogodapper

    You're a lucky person. My desire is to have sleep paralysis. I only experienced that in one situation all my life(I'm 27 now).

    • Karen Emslie

      It was very scary for about the first 20 years! But, it is amazing how sleep paralysis can change when you relax. Understanding what is going on in the brain helped me too. I think that sharing stories online is raising awareness of the experience, and hopefully people who still have the terror will understand that they are not mad, or cursed, but - as you say - can perhaps start to see themselves as lucky. I hope so.

  • Ewan Duffy

    Been there done that and enjoyed the experience - although I haven't had much luck in inducing OBE's. The one other aspect that I have noticed regularly when they do occur (about twice a year in my case) is hearing a noise like a cat on heat.

    • Karen Emslie

      Interesting - I find those kinds of noises (high-pitched or whooshing or ringing etc.) often happen just before an OBE, you were probably nearly there - try stepping or twisting ´out of yourself´ next time!

      • Ewan Duffy

        I note the following from your article:

        "After all, my amygdala is screaming FEAR! FEAR! FEAR!"

        I am probably at a slight advantage in that part of my amygdala was removed (successful epilepsy surgery) so the issue of fear is lessened in my case!

        • Karen Emslie

          That´s interesting - I haven´t considered the experience without parts of the amygdala. I wonder how that changes it?

  • Missy D.

    Thank you for sharing this amazing article. This has happened to me for as long as I can remember. I have very, very vivid dreams. I am 35 YO now, and I have experienced all sorts of dreams since I was a young girl. These include: flying, leaping, scream and sleep paralysis, etc. (I used to sleep walk quite regularly as a child.) In fact, I experience sleep paralysis frequently. Just last week, during an afternoon nap, I experienced sleep paralysis. I thought my husband had come home and was standing over me and talking to me. His body was just a shadow. I tried to get off the couch, but I could not move. I tried speaking, but could only open my mouth and eyes. I was telling myself to wake up, move, but nothing happened. I then told myself to go back to sleep and that I was dreaming. I can wake up and talk to him later. I went back to sleep and woke an hour later. Remembering everything. My husband was not home.

    I always thought everyone experienced this. However, whenever I speak to my husband about my dreams he says my dreams are "wild" and that he never really dreams or that he never experiences things that I have. It's kinda cool to know that I am part of something unique. :-)

    • Karen Emslie

      Thanks for commenting
      and for your own story of sleep paralysis, those are definitely classic
      descriptions! SP can be very terrifying, but like you say also kinda cool. I think that sadly many articles, often
      written by people who do not have the experience itself, focus on the terror - which in turn makes it scarier when it happens. It feeds the fear. I hope that more
      people will talk about the brighter side. To me, one of the amazing things is
      that because you are awake you can remind yourself what you are experiencing
      and even recall other people´s positive stories about it. All that can help you relax
      and explore with this unusual brain state and what it can open up. Thanks again for your comment.

  • Al

    Thank you for this piece. I have experienced sleep paralysis infrequently throughout my life but when it has occurred it has brought with it what have certainly been the most frightening experiences of my life. I hope that with this newfound knowledge I can alter the anxiety from being unable to scream and having to hope someone awakes me to a more controlled enjoyable state.

    I do wonder why Karen and others seem to experience these so much more frequently than myself. I generally only experience sleep paralysis a few times a year and find myself hoping it never returns.

    • Karen Emslie

      Thanks Al. I hope this information does help if you have the experience again. My SP was all terror for years, but
      it has changed so much now, I´m glad to say! There are many suggestions about
      why some people experience it more regularly, such as sleeping position, sleep
      patterns (it is has been reported as more common in people who work changing/ night shifts) disrupted sleep, genic factors
      etc. but I don´t think there is one certain and established reason. There is
      more research taking place now and I am sure that all the unanswered questions
      will eventually have solutions, especially as our understanding of the brain
      grows. For a long time is was a neglected and poorly understood aspect of sleep
      but I think and hope that is changing now. The researchers I spoke to for this
      story have done some amazing work, a lot of which you can find online if you
      are interested in reading more about it.

      • Kay H.

        I, too, had this sort of experience from young childhood to, perhaps, 45
        yrs of age and learned to control it to some degree. Age 75 now, and
        the process seems to demand too much energy to perform. I have one
        question, though, for those who would (comfortably?) assign the
        experience to brain chemistry, et cetera. What physiologic process would
        one call on to explain other people, at a distance, being disturbed or
        frightened by these seeming out of body ramblings? Also, I would like to
        ask others with
        a similar background if it ever seems connected to
        an often unwanted intrusion of a future experience or information?
        Several times, while awake and normally alert, I have been taken by
        dizziness and nausea when near some stranger in public who shortly
        thereafter (a matter of days or 2 weeks at most) was found to have been
        either violently killed or a suicide. Serious questions...am not just
        sensation-seeking.

        • Al_de_Baran

          It it is completely unsurprising that no one, including the author, would reply to this person's query, since it doesn't fall within the neat neuroscientific materialistic paradigm. Predictable as a Pavlov's dog at the sound of the bell, in fact.

          • Kay H.

            Thanks for that, Al_de_Baran! But don't be too hard on those who accept or retreat to physiology for explanations in this arena. It makes the subject less threatening for most people and I would have probably done the same if I hadn't been forced by experience to consider other possibilities. Have you had similar reasons to venture further afield? If so, would very much like to talk to you on the side..kayhh22@gmail.com

          • Al_de_Baran

            You're welcome, Kay. As you say, scientific "explanations" (in reality for the most part just a form of description using specialized jargon) are comforting to a certain sort of person, just as religious "explanations" are comforting to a different sort.

            As I mentioned, I envy the author her experiences, because I have not experienced anything comparable, nor anything like what you describe (although I have heard of such things), so I am afraid that I would have nothing to offer by way of additional insight.

          • Kay H.

            Many thanks ... am surprised anyone who had not been forced to other explanations by experience would be willing to relinquish the easier answers...

          • Al_de_Baran

            For me, it's simply a matter of common sense that little semi-evolved apes such as humans have no right to strut and preen about being the cynosure of the cosmos (the religious perspective), or about being the discoverers of ultimate, objective truth and explanation regarding the cosmos (the scientific perspective). This is where the the analogy to the Bandar-Log becomes appropriate.

            As Clark Ashton Smith wisely wrote, "All human thought, all science, all religion, is the holding of a candle to the night of the universe".

          • Kay H.

            perspective is all.,..

  • Kerouwhack

    Here's the cure that I found-- it's based on realizing that you're probably sleeping in a partially lit room and that your eyelids are actually open enough for you to see with your eyes. What you see triggers the night terror episode, likely due to the hard wiring between the optic nerve and the amygdala. Once I started sleeping with eye covers (like the ones they would give out on long flights), problem solved. I imagine that a sufficiently darkened room would have the same effect. Maybe why kids have so many episodes because they insist on sleeping with a light on?

    • Karen Emslie

      It is interesting to think how light may affect the experience.
      Our eyes are not paralysed during ´normal´ REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep).
      Hence they can flutter during sleep paralysis when the rest of the body is
      stuck and, as you say, we often see the room. During one of the my earliest
      sleep paralysis experiences I fell asleep reading a book and could see that it
      was still in my hands when I woke into the paralysed state. That was when I
      first started to think that something strange was going on - though it was many more years before I understood exactly what it was!

  • DRL

    I've experienced this phenomenon from childhood and used to think it was ghosts and other supernatural entities. Now I feel it's a back door into the nature of sense reality created by the brain which is triggered by a bug in our sleep code. One tip to hack into it: a low sound like t.v. or radio in the background while taking a nap but not loud enough to completely wake you up.

    • Karen Emslie

      Nice point about the low sound. When I first started having
      SP, and before I knew what it was, one of the things that made me sure that I
      was definitely fully awake (apart for knowing that I was, as clearly as I know
      that I am now) was being able to listen
      to, and report back, sounds in the room during the experience, and it can add
      an interesting backdrop! And yes, it is natural to think they are ghosts, because they are right there in front of you! It takes time and often lots of reading and thinking to understand why these hallucinations occur, and it is only in recent years that we are starting to get an anwser. So much more to find out and as I always say, just because we do now have some insight into what the brain is doing, doesn´t take away from it being an incredible experience. One that is often so scray, but that can be wonderful if you can manage your fear.

      • TsFlock

        All of this has described to a T some of my experiences in these altered states, and it has absolutely elated me to see it so plainly expressed. What is odd for me is that I have never actually been frightened by it, from my earliest recollection of these states. Everything (the increased activity of the amygdala in particular) suggests that a fear reaction is not only natural but nigh requisite, but I have typically only felt awe and occasional melancholy...but mostly delight when I feel it coming on. And the sound! It's a consuming sound. I'm so synesthetic that looking at certain things evokes distinct sounds in the back of my head, but the sound of the altered state is like all of these sounds at once, as if silence itself is being heard in all its fullness and potential. How could I be afraid? Oh, it has been too long since I had one!

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  • d0x360

    I experience this most nights of the week and yea it can be absolutely terrifying. The worst is when you start off knowing you are dreaming but can't move and become convinced it's real.

    Recently I've "learned" how to speak inside these dreams although its more like mumbling according to my girlfriend. Generally when I find I can't wake myself and I'm freaking out in the dream I'll start trying to "tell" her to wake me up. She does more often than not and then within a few min I'm back asleep.

    Sometimes the dream is perfectly fine but again you know you are dreaming and when you try yo wake up you can feel your body not being able to move so you freak out again.

    It truly is a surreal experience. It probably only lasts seconds on reality but in the dream it can feel like minutes. The worst part is when you die in a dream cause you don't wake up right away.

    Its got to be connected in some way with lucid dreaming because at times I can direct my dream and every single time I experience this I know I'm asleep. Not quite sure why how or it started happening but if I had to guess I'd say it began maybe 3-4 years ago. Even crazier sometimes in these dreams you can actually feel what's happening which can be extremely disconcerting.

  • Donald N. Stuefloten

    About 40 years ago (I'm now 75) I heard of OBEs and lucid dreams, and was determined to experience them. It took me about nine months of serious meditation and various sleep experiments, but I finally did. I thought they were fascinating. But they never lasted long enough, and never became easy to initiate. They required an enormous amount of time and attention, and I always envied the few people I met who had them effortlessly and regularly--tho most of these people were frightened of their experiences. How odd! I thought. I finally drifted away from these events--it was just too much work--and havent had an OBE or lucid dream for some years. Perhaps I will try again.
    And I would love to read your thoughts about what it all means--about the nature of reality, the existence of soul. I compare discovering OBEs and Lucid Dreams to physicists discovering the quantum world: reality, they found, is not quite so easy to pin down, and is much more fluid and complex than Newton ever--well--dreamed....

    • Karen Emslie

      Donald, I am
      really interested in your questions. Thanks for taking the time to write them
      and to share your personal experiences. How this all relates to reality, ideas
      of mind/ body dualism etc. fascinates me and I am keen to write another story about
      exactly that. I would like to take some time to think about those ideas and
      then reply fully and properly. But, I wanted to let you know I had read them and to
      thank you for posting them. I will reply shortly.

      • Donald N. Stuefloten

        I love to speculate...
        My own experiences raised more questions than answers, but I figured the questions were endlessly fascinating. Mind/brain, body/soul, real/unreal...ancient arguments. But the exploration of these ideas...ahh, exciting! Especially, of course, if you can go wandering in lucid dreams and out-of-body for long periods. That is what I wanted to do: explore, wander, meet these strange creatures, talk to them, interact, learn... I spent most of my life wandering around the world, our physical world I mean, and that is what I hoped to do in the dreamworld, the same curious meandering from country to country, continent to continet. Perhaps that will happen one day...
        I hope you'll let us all know when you write more! And happy wandering!

        • Karen Emslie

          Hi Donald, I agree entirely, it is all endlessly fascinating. I have been thinking about your questions, which do indeed lead to more! The mind/ body question has interested me for a long time, especially in relation to my personal experiences
          of SP, lucid dreams and OBEs. Whilst dualism, and in particular the writings of Descartes, interests me greatly, I understand the mind and body to be one and I do not hold the belief that we have a separate, nonmaterial essence or soul. Yet during SP I have apparently contradictory evidence in front of me – what is this ´I´ is that wakes before my body is released from the paralysis of REM sleep? And what is this ´something´ that seems to separate from my body during
          an OBE? By researching current thinking on what is going on in the brain during SP and OBEs, I found some answers to these questions - answers that work for me at least. For example, I think that Dr. Cheyne´s ideas about how the brain
          resolves some of the sensory contradictions of SP and, in turn, creates the sensation of being detached, are particularly relevant in this context. Hopefully the article expresses those thoughts clearly. It would appear that these is much more to learn and I am delighted to live in a time when neuroscience is opening up our understanding of what is happening in our brains during these altered states. However, and I hope I make this clear too, these answers in no way take away from the delight of exploring these states and of interacting with lucid landscapes, nor from the lessons that we can learn from doing so. Perhaps in the same way that knowing how an aeroplane works, or how our own senses function, does not detract for the exhilaration of flying to, or experiencing the smells, sights and sounds of other countries. I will be spending several months in South America later this year and look forward to considering these questions when I am there, and to looking at them from some different perspectives. I also think there are interesting connections between these altered states and current
          questions about reality, time, space and consciousness – it seems I have a whole lot more exploring, researching and wandering ahead of me! Thanks again for your comments and questions, it is all very exciting stuff.

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  • KC

    Thank you for this article. For many years I experienced sleep paralysis where I would wake, lying on my stomach, with the feeling of a moderately heavy weight on my back. The comparison that came to mind was a baby with a cat sitting on its back. It was the paralysis that made the situation distressing. A few years ago I was chatting with a group about unusual experiences and a Tibetan Rinpoche asked how I was sleeping. I always went to sleep lying on my stomach with my hand under my chest. He said his Uncle knew of his phenomena and said it was to do with the hand doing something to the heart channel. I have not slept like that again and it totally stopped that experience. I have had the sensation of repeatedly being dragged down to the end of my bed, and commonly someone bedside me. Also occasional lucid dreaming and out of body experiences. I never made a link before now. I always felt it was a good nights sleep if none of these things happened; I will try and recalibrate my attitude.

    • Karen Emslie

      Hi KC, what you say about lying on your stomach is interesting. SP is most commonly reported in the supine position, i.e. lying on your back. But, like you, I have experienced SP when lying on my stomach (as well as my back and side). The greatest weight I have felt on me has actually been when I am lying on my side, and it can be very painful. This sense of a weight on you is common during SP. However, as SP often happens in the supine position, the weight is normally felt on the chest. In turn, we have many cultural
      interpretations of SP that feature a creature sitting on top of a person´s chest, such as Henri Fuseli’s painting The Nightmare or the Old Hag. But, as
      you note, it can be otherwise. I completely understand that to stop having the experience altogether is what many people wish and aim for. I still fight it sometimes, I think it is instinctive to do so, but this always leads to fear, so I prefer to go with it and to enjoy the shift into the other altered states – if I can!

  • DutchS

    For many years I have been studying pseudoscience, as in why it exists and what it tells us. I was struck by bizarre claims made by otherwise very rational people. Very early on, I wondered how often perfectly healthy people simply hallucinated. The answer turns out to be, remarkably often. Not only cases like this author describes, but there are hallucinations associated with going to sleep (hypnagogic) and waking up (hypnopompic). A lot of UFO, out of body and supernatural apparition claims can probably be explained this way.

    • Jag Pop

      Thanks for the new word - hypnagogic. Did some reading on it.

      "The hypnagogic state can provide insight into a problem, the best-known example being August Kekulé’s realization that the structure of benzene was a closed ring while half-asleep in front of a fire and seeing molecules forming into snakes, one of which grabbed its tail in its mouth.[38] Many other artists, writers, scientists and inventors — including Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Salvador Dalí, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton — have credited hypnagogia and related states with enhancing their creativity.[39] A 2001 study by Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett found that, while problems can also be solved in full-blown dreams from later stages of sleep, hypnagogia was especially likely to solve problems which benefit from hallucinatory images being critically examined while still before the eyes.
      "
      cite: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnagogia#cite_note-39
      .

      That is interesting. Hallucinations providing insight. Sometimes the other direction - concrete, sober, explanations - can lead AWAY from insight. Or, at the very least, provide a convenient catch-all for closing one's mind.

      • Final_Word

        Congrats for learning how to copy and paste.

    • Karen Emslie

      Sleep onset hallucinations are interesting and seem to have a strong connection to SP. They are reported in a lot of SP research/ studies. I also have them; for me they sometimes take the form of rather grotesque faces, or more pleasurable changing shapes, patterns, colours etc. I think that people are often wary of talking about such experiences for fear of sounding mad, but I don´t see them as any stranger than dreams, which we accept as natural. It´s also interesting that the content of SP hallucinations seems to draw on our local and culture beliefs. When I read alien abductions reports, which often feature strange entities, presence, sensations of being touched and strange noises etc., I am often reminded of SP and, personally, think that SP does provide an explanation. I´d be interested to research the prevalence of these reports in different countries to see whether they are more common in cultures with a popular canon of extra-terrestrial stories, films etc.

  • Coco11

    I have experienced SP about 5 times in my life and lucky for me I never hallucinated demons or evil entities... Every time the SP happened, bright sunlight was hitting my face, so it must have been induced by that bright light. I rarely panicked although every time my biggest fear was that I would't be able to wake up and would be late somewhere... Once I even hallucinated my entire family trying to help me get up but it wouldn't work.
    I know there can be positives sides to it, but i've learn that if I try to wiggle just the tips of my fingers or toes, or if I try to scrunch up my face, I will slowly be able to "pull out" of the paralysis and fully wake up on every level. Just a hint for those who don't wish to try LD or OBE.

    • KC

      I've been having fond (?) memories of lying there and willing myself to wriggle my toes. It seemed to take an eternity but I eventually could, it was the way I got out of the paralysis too.

    • Karen Emslie

      Yes, if you want to break the SP then the toe is a good one and face scrunching too! It´s interesting, lots of people focus on the toe to try and snap out of it. The first time I saw the Wiggle Your Big Toe scene in Kill Bill (do you know the one I mean? with The Bride character in the back of the car once she has escaped from hospital, but is paralysed) I thought, that is exactly like trying to get out of SP!

  • Jag Pop

    Author wrote:
    *** "I was unnerved by a friend who suggested I stop leaving my body lest a ‘lost soul’ inhabit it while I was gone, blocking my return. But my fears were eased by talks with the experts. The neuroscience fascinated me, and set me free." ***
    .

    THAT is the fear I've had most every time I experienced "sleep paralysis" followed by OBE.
    .

    Where did your friend get this idea? Where did *I* get this fear?
    Is it a common fear?
    .

    I stopped trying to have OBE many years ago when I had the horrific experience of not being able to get back into my body.
    (Hi! I eventually did get back in.)
    .

    I would really like to know how your friend came up with the idea of someone blocking your return. And your reliance on "experts" is not reassuring at all, at least not to me. AND it certainly would not help to allay my state of panic and terror during paralysis to remember: "well, the experts say...".
    .

    But I have sworn off OBE so reassurance is academic, is it not?
    .

    NOT. Past experience tells me that reading about or talking about OBE can up the odds of having a surprise awakening - paralyzed, that is.

    • Karen Emslie

      Hi, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think the idea comes from old culture beliefs and folklore.
      The idea that a separate entity, a soul, inhabits our bodies has been handed
      down through generations. It is not a belief I hold personally, which is why I
      was so keen to understand what was going on in my brain. But, it was still natural to be scared, as I am a human
      being with a huge body of stories that influence me. I deeply respect that it a belief that many
      people hold and I as I feel a strong connection with anyone who has had the SP experience
      I keep a very open mind. I would say I became more relaxed because of my own
      personal discovery and experimentation rather than because of the science, but
      I do find the science of the brain fascinating and beautiful. To me, however,
      the science in no way takes away from the extraordinary nature of the experience,
      rather it compliments it. Our brains are so complex and wonderful and as people
      who have SP, we have a very special insight into its more mysterious functioning.
      There is so much more to find out, both in terms of personal exploration and
      research.

      • Jag Pop

        Hmmm...and thank YOU for taking the time to reply.

        Had a random thought this morning. That random thought led to another. It had never occurred to me to associate a certain experience with sleep paralysis and OBE.
        Sometimes (very very rarely) when I am lying in bed waiting for sleep I hear music. It is usually a single musical instrument and usually either a trumpet or a violin (the last occurrence that I recall was a chorus of voices). The trumpet or violin is sooooo clear. I hear every nuance, as though the instrument is physically real and just a handful of feet away. But best of all, I can control the choice of notes.
        Many of my past experiences with OBE were not random-waking-in-the-middle-of-night-paralyzed but were willful, by choice. (I do NOT want to give the details of how I personally brought on OBE as I would not want to endanger anyone.) The OBE would begin within two minutes of lying down. Not sure how to phrase this... I am certain my consciousness and brain chemistry were passing through various stages as I lay there for the two minutes. (One of the stages is paralysis followed immediately by a "pins-and-needles" all-over electric feeling.) Perhaps one of those preparatory stages allows me to "go left or right". Go right and I am in OBE, go left and I am hearing music. Or perhaps I am just pausing in one of those stages to OBE and that stage, or state, allows free access to a certain part of the brain where I can produce music.......
        The hearing of music has never been reached through a defined and specific technique the way OBE was - has always been just a random and rare treat. Perhaps if they *are* related I can get to music by starting the focus technique that gets me to OBE and then pausing at just the right state for music.

      • Person as a guest

        "Inhabit" would probably be the wrong word to use describing a soul. I feel that would imply it being parasitic or not "natural"(not a good choice of words either). The lost soul idea is pretty stupid.

  • 8e6

    My dad experienced sleep paralysis in his early 50s. He described it to me and ever since then I had thought his house was haunted. It wasn't until I was 16 that I had experienced sleep paralysis for the first time. It was absolutely terrifying. The lights on the clock were large and in my face. It sounded like this demonic laughter was ringing through my head. I started praying because I didn't know what else to do. I went back to sleep. It wasn't until months later that I found out from a relative that what I'd experienced was sleep paralysis. Throughout college, I'd practiced lucid dreaming and it wasn't easy, but I loved what you said about the paralysis being like a launch pad for lucid dreaming... Every time I felt like sleep paralysis was coming on, I started to embrace it even though I still felt scared. It definitely makes lucid dreaming more likely. My problem is staying lucid in the dream. I get inundated with too much that's out of my control and before I know it, I'm back to dreaming. I've had one OBE while camping where I thought I was lucid dreaming, but I was floating over my body as I slept. I could see the tent, the woods, the sun. I woke up shortly after and everything was as I'd just seen it. How do I become more confident in my dreaming to gain control? I find that's it really hard to do certain things (even stay on the ground) and I'm always distracted. Any tips?

    • Karen Emslie

      Thanks for taking the time to write your experiences.
      It sounds to me like you have naturally and bravely done a lot of exploring of
      these altered states on your own. I think that does happen to some people who regularly
      get SP, even without knowing what it is. That was certainly the case for me. I
      still slip in and out, I can sometimes hold on, sometimes I move between all
      the stages. It is like trying to keep hold of a slippery fish in an ocean of
      water! I would really recommend Jorge Conesa Sevilla´s book Wrestling with Ghosts, he outlines practical techniques that you can
      use to maintain the lucidity when you wake into SP and then how to move into OBEs. I think you might really
      enjoy it and find it useful.

    • Kay H.

      May I suggest investigating classic meditation exercises? Making the "noisy monkey mind" shut up and let you concentrate has its advantages. While doing that, you might suggest to yourself that while in a lucid dream you will remember to find your own hands...hold them up so they can be seen. That's one way to instigate control but not pop out of the dream. Good luck!

  • GUEST

    Sleep paralysis is strongly linked to the neurological disorder, Narcolepsy. For those of you who experience SP on a regular basis, I would recommend having a test done, just to be sure. It's an overnight sleep study, just one night of your life. There are varying degrees of Narcolepsy, some people only experience mild symptoms. However, getting treatment may very well do wonders.

    I've experienced SP since childhood, and yes as the article states, it can be a fascinating experience that can unlock many different states. It's also important to note that frequent episodes of sleep paralysis is often a symptom of a very serious and under diagnosed disorder.

    • Karen Emslie

      Interesting. Yes, I am aware that Narcolepsy and sleep
      paralysis can go hand in hand. I have spoken to sleep specialists and do not
      have the symptoms. But I do wonder if the way in which narcolepsy disrupts
      sleep patterns and creates poor sleep-wake cycles is what gives rise to the SP?
      Disrupted sleep is definitely a common trigger. Personally, I suspect narcolepsy
      leads to SP, rather than the other way around. I know it is a terrifying experience
      that many people would like to stop having, and that by looking for connected
      disorders they may be able to do so. I respect that. However, as this is not
      always possible and as many others simply have standalone SP, I hope that some
      of the ideas in my story can be used to at least ease the fear and, hopefully even, turn it into
      a positive and joyous experience.

      • GUEST

        Absolutely Karen. I thought it was a lovely article. I've experimented with sp, just as you have. It's quite fascinating what we are able to experience through a bit of practice.

        Your article was specifically about the experience. Mentioning Narcolepsy wouldn't have been relevant.

        However, since many are not aware of the link, I thought I would mention it. After all, one person could read my comment who is unaware and it may help them seek a diagnosis and treatment for all of the symptoms for narcolepsy, not just sp.

        Yes, I'm inclined to agree that narcolepsy leads to sp. I wonder as well, unfortunately I am not a neuroscientist, so i will have to impatiently wait for the experts to come to a conclusion.

        Thank you for writing an article about sp Karen, there are too few.

  • Irmine McKenzie

    My experience of sleep paralysis is only sheer terror. Absolutely NO bliss

    • Vicki

      I agree. No bliss. Certainly have no desire to let it just happen and progress. Now when it happens, I think, "Oh, #$%&! Here we go again. Okay, how long is this going to last? Let me start trying to move muscles and get out of this."

      • Juan

        That is how I feel too. I try not to panic, and try to begin breathing..

  • Joe

    Thanks for this article, I never thought sleep paralysis could be turned into lucid dreaming. Unfortunately for me I've only experienced this 3 or 4 times in my life so won't be able to practice much, but I hope next time it happens, I can remember this and ignore that ghost of a little girl that I keep thinking in my dream is trying to suffocate me, and start conjuring a world of my own :)

  • peter

    Karen, at what frequency do you have these experiences? For me I feel like it comes in waves normal sleep for a few months then for a few weeks my dreams will increase Oddly when I sleep on the couch I have a much higher occurence of paralysis+lucid. I think last year was the first time I actually tried to go lucid in paralysis and remember one night I was able to fly to my neighbors house. Most of the time I try to wake myself up because of the terror, even though I am fully aware it is a dream, it's amazing how the amount of fear can overtake logic. Another thing I noticed is if I am paralyzed and wake myself up is if I go back to sleep the dream state will return. So I am interested in overcoming or erasing the fear and then I could really take advantage of those times. Because unlike a lucid dream that feel like I have partial control and am normally on the cusp of waking, the paralysis>lucid dreams can be drawn out and with much more control.

    • Karen Emslie

      Hi Peter, thanks for your comments. I experience sleep paralysis 1 or 2 times a month, although sometimes more, sometime less. I can go for weeks without it, then have a run of many incidents. For me, there is a strong correlation between my sleep patterns and SP. The clearest stage (for me) is SP itself, when I am fully awake and conscious, yet paralysed; the lucid and OBE states can be more mixed. I seem to move between them, sometimes with control and at others times I seem to slip in and out of them. I would say each time is quite unique and the level of control varies. The experience usually ends (again, for me at least!) either by snapping out of the paralysis, or by going back to sleep and non-lucid dreaming (after lucidity or an OBE). I would recommend Jorge Conesa Seville´s book if you are keen to try techniques to catch, hold and explore the lucidity. When you wake into SP, try to focus on the fact that you are awake, remind yourself of things you have read and thought about, and then try to make use of those to enter the other states. It can take many attempts, but defiantly becomes easier, perhaps as the brain starts to recognise where it is? As if it goes - Ah here we are, in this state again, I remember where this can take me!

      • Karen Emslie

        I´d add, I think that the very act of trying to explore the lucidity in itself helps keep the fear at bay. Your brain is focused on something else, rather than terror.

  • awakenlove

    I believe that SP is demonic and calling out the name of Jesus Christ saves me every time. I suffered with SP since childhood and was in to the occult and even learned to lucid dream but the fear was too tough for me to overcome. I got saved in 2010 and just this year discovered the power of His name.

    • Jag Pop

      How do you "call out His Name" if you are paralyzed?
      Just asking.

      (Nice handle you have, by the way. Romeo? or Juliet?)

  • Ellen Nichols

    Thanks for the detailed article. You did a great job in describing the experience, and then added a clear discussion of the science.

    I think I have had at least one or two of these experiences, although they were not frightening to me, just confusing and frustrating. I thought that perhaps I had dreamed I was awake. Someone told me it was a fugue state, but this makes a lot more sense.

    The one I remember most clearly happened about 40 years ago; I was 23 (I can figure that out because I only lived in that apartment one year). I was taking an afternoon nap on the couch, with some records stacked on the turntable. At some point, I woke up but couldn't move. I heard the last record stop at the end of the side, and wanted to go turn it over, but couldn't. I could look over toward that side of the room and see that no one was there but my vision wasn't very clear (my head was turned that direction a bit.) Then I got hot, as it was summer, and I really wanted to get up to cool off. I don't remember how I got out of it; I do remember trying to move my hands. Interestingly, that is the same summer I had a powerful OBE, although I was fully awake and seated during that epiphany.

  • Thresia Casanova

    I've experienced sleep paralysis for a couple years now. It's always been completely terrifying. Whenever it happens I experience an evil sort of presence and I've hallucinated things having nothing to do with that presence while my eyes were closed. So I would typically just wait for it to pass while praying, trying to keep a level head, because that was all I could do. Also, I always hear a low rumbling and I can definitely tell that it comes from inside my head because I can also feel it happening and I get a weird sort of headache in the front of my head that doesn't really hurt that much but feels more overwhelming than anything. It always sounds and feels like it's coming from my inner or middle ear or somewhere in that area and I can usually tell when sleep paralysis is coming on because I typically get this mildly beforehand. So I've looked it up and it seems like this has something to do with the tensor tympani muscle in the middle ear but I haven't found anything pertaining to a correlation between this muscle and sleep paralysis. Do you know if it is a common occurrence to experience this? And do you know anymore about it, like why I would experience this during SP?

  • MintDragon

    That is really cool. I've had occasional sleep paralysis, but not much fear accompanies it. I did dream quite lucidly as a child, and "flew" some. Interesting that it's possible to move from paralysis to flying!

  • Vicki

    Sleep paralysis was the bane of my existence for years. There was little literature -- if any -- on this horror when I first experienced it in the sixties around fourteen years of
    age. Terrifying. I remember that first experience vividly -- I sensed an unwelcomed
    presence in the room while not being able to escape. A living death. I am not a
    religious person, but I do remember having voiced internally or externally, "I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to leave!" I suffered through these experiences throughout my twenties and thirties, but the paralysis has waned considerably for the past two decades. Some cues that would signal paralysis danger were cartoon-like hallucinations while my eyes were closed when I was initially nodding off as well as the realization that I was falling asleep too quickly. If I could catch myself in time, I would get up immediately and walk around to change my brain mode. When the paralysis does occur, my entire being struggles to throw myself out of it. Sometimes I think I have succeeded only to realize that I'm still conscious and can't move. I NEVER once have considered giving in and not fighting in order to experience what may come.

  • 013090

    I also grew up with sleep paralysis being a normal and common part of my life. I don't have any memory of there being a 'first' time, it was just something that seemed to have always happened to me.

    I have them less now (in my mid-20's; I think them occurring less has to do with changed sleeping patterns) then when I was younger, but interestingly there are circumstances that make them more likely, two of which in particular stand out.

    1) If I am hot/sweaty when I sleep. Accordingly, I have them more in the summer, and when I am taking a nap during the daytime (which also means they happen more on weekends for me).
    2) If I am taking a nap after a big meal.

    I'm not sure why these make it more likely (some sort of increased stress on the body?), but for me at least, they absolutely do.

    Also, for me, fear was not a natural response for the most part (maybe it was when I was very young, but I have no memory of it). I have only twice in my life had experiences that one may view as 'fearful' (both during my teenage years), the rest of the time I have viewed it more as an annoyance, since I hate the feeling in itself of being paralyzed. This could be tied to what I said above though, in that I grew up having them and they were always perceived as fairly normal to me. My memories of SP are mostly me waking, realizing it is happening, and being like, 'Darn, well, let me try to force myself out of it', and doing so in a relatively calm manner. Sometimes I'd fall back into a more dreamlike state, but it seemed to be relatively normal dreams.

    My two 'fearful' experiences actually match up pretty well with the stereotypical situation. Both times I perceived evil spirits being the cause during the moment (one time the ceiling fan was on above me, and I thought the shadow of the fan was a demon flying above me in circles rapidly), but once I awoke, dismissed it as a dream even though it had been quite scary. It was incredibly vivid and I will never forget it.

    I've never thought of this leading to lucid dreaming or an OBE. That seems really interesting. This is a long post so I'm not sure if you will read it, but thank you for the enjoyable read, Karen.

  • Evan Thompson

    Thanks for this article, which I enjoyed a lot. I've had similar experiences and I write about them from the perspective of neuroscience and philosophy of mind in a new book coming out this fall, "Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy. https://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-13709-6/waking-dreaming-being

  • DNter

    Thanks, I never imagined that paralysis could be transmuted into lucidity. I've only had a few controllable lucid dreams, one where I was a secret agent and another where I practiced flying (or more accurately, swooping). But, I've had regular sleep paralysis with all the evil feelings,whispers and terror everyone has mentioned. Only triggered when sleeping on my back, and often when under a heavy duvet. My technique for snapping out of it became less effective a few years ago, so I've preferred to spend the occasional night shivering :) Thanks again, this will lessen my fear of it re-occurring!

  • timeswhat

    I've had very realistic dreams my entire life. Similar to something you described, there are cities, landscapes, buildings and streets that I have had recurring dreams about my entire life, since I was a little kid! There is very, very rarely anyone else around, but my imagination adds to the dreams all the time. I love it and love that I can remember it all. I've never had any control over it though.

    About 7 years ago I began having a lot of trouble falling asleep. Once asleep I stayed asleep, but getting started was very hard. It was an incredibly stressful time in my life. I began experiencing sleep paralysis, although at the time I had no idea what was happening to me. This was the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to me. My entity was blue. Dark blue like night sky with blue material stretched over him, outreaching arms and hands with spread fingers. Splayed on top of my body or hovering above it. He whispered in my ears and caressed my face and hair. There were things under my bed, outside the window and/or in my closet. Lots of things just out of site. Chittering and scuffling around. I would "wake" from this relieved and begin to move about only to realize I was back to dreaming when strange things would begin to happen. The most frightening part was this "waking". Sometimes I would "wake" 4-5 times back into a dream. When I finally really woke up I would lay in bed crying because I didn't really know if I was actually awake or not.

    I remember the only way to get out of it was to try to move. I would begin with the tip of one finger. When that began to move I'd try the whole finger, then the arm. I sometimes woke violently thrashing my arm(s) and/or leg(s). I woke up upside down in the bed and on the floor a couple of times! It got so bad I was afraid to go to sleep at night, compounding my insomnia. The everyday stress, regular insomnia with this on top of it was more than I could take. I started taking sleeping pills or alcohol to try to knock myself out.

    Then I came upon a website during my research to find out what was wrong with me. That is how I learned about sleep paralysis! I had never been more relieved in my life! I wasn't crazy! I wasn't going to die! A couple of nights after I read that first enlightening article, the sleep paralysis completely stopped. It had been going on for about 2-3 years on and off before that. It's like, as soon as my brain had an answer for what it was, it just stopped. Unfortunately the awesome, scary, beautiful dreams I have had all my life have mostly stopped as well.

    I LOVED reading about your experiences! If sleep paralysis ever comes calling my way again, I will definitely give this a try. Dreams are beautiful and amazing even when they are scary.

  • Teo

    I wonder what are the connections between DMT use and lucid dreams.

  • http://jansdottir.tumblr.com/ Anna

    Thanks so much for this great piece, Karen. I've been telling people of how my own somewhat-regular episodes of sleep paralysis had allowed me to train myself to consciously dream, but I've never heard of anyone else who'd done that until now. So, high five!

    I've been having frequent episodes of SP since I was a child, and hated the feeling of utter terror associated with them. In my early twenties I got a job as a software tester and I'm pretty sure that that was what had allowed me to access my conscious mind in my sleep so easily — the habit of constantly making sure that things made sense and were logical in the software I was testing during the day had somehow changed the way I perceived things, making me constantly examine the details of 'reality' around me, which allowed me to see when it was anything but.

    Example: my first episode of SP turned LD. It was my usual SP hallucination wherein my mind awakes, and I hear a man mumbling to himself in my kitchen about killing me, followed by the unmistakeable sound of him sharpening knives. I can't really describe the magnitude of the horror that made me feel, exacerbated by the fact that his movements seemed to defy all laws of physics: one second I could hear him in the kitchen, the next he was right by the foot of my bed, pulling the covers off of my body.

    But then, instead of letting my panic wake me as usual, I looked at the bedroom windows and realised that they were all wide open — to the outside, which is not how my windows work; my windows open to the inside. I immediately realised that it must've been a dream, and immediately the evil man dissolved. I was immediately completely calm and left to explore my dreamscape. Almost all of my lucid dreams since then started through some variation of this.

    I wish I could say that the lucid dreams that follow are as amazing as what you describe, but sadly, I can never sustain them for long. I always become consumed by the amazing detail of the space that my mind's created — I look closely at the furniture that is unmistakably that of my bedroom but looks completely different; or I examine the amazingly detailed brush strokes on the bedroom wall (my bedroom wall isn't painted; it's wallpapered). It always shocks and amazes me. It also never lasts very long; I always start feeling 'the pull' too quickly, and it's very disappointing.

    I should read the book you mention in the article, hopefully it'll have some good tricks for my particular problem.

    There was only one episode that was somewhat different than my usual scenario. One night I woke up to see that I was hovering some 5 feet above my bed, with my whole body rigid, and with my feet significantly higher up than my head, as if sloping backwards. I looked around the room for the usual signs of unreality, but they weren't there.

    It was my bedroom, just as it was back then, every detail perfectly in order. My dog was snoring happily on his dog bed, there was no one else there, it was clearly very early morning hours; nothing at all seemed unusual apart from my levitating body.

    I could also feel all the sensations that one would expect to feel in such position — a slight rush of blood to the head, slight tingling in the feet, no sensation of the bottom parts of my body being touched by any kind of surface. It was all perfectly convincing. I kept thinking to myself: 'Please, please remember that this happened, because it's extraordinary.' In that moment I was completely convinced that it was real.

    When I woke up, I immediately remembered what happened, together with the stark reality of how it felt. But I also immediately knew it could not have been real — my body was fully covered and the blanket that I put over the foot side of my bed in winter was there, tucked in on all sides, my feet under it. If I'd really hovered over the bed at night, I would've woken up on top of my blankets. I was so, so, so disappointed.

    Anyway, sorry for the lengthy comment. It was great to read about your experiences!

  • Aurora

    I had my first SP experience at age 15 (I'm now 37) and used to have them regularly throughout highschool and university (largely due to the irregular hours I kept with studying and going out at night). At first, I found them absolutely terrifying - and I must admit, sometimes I am still caught off guard and will find myself reacting the way I did as a 15 year old (trying to scream, struggle, etc, which obviously only makes things worse!). Strangely though, now that I don't have them as often, a part of me finds that sometimes I miss them - not the terrifying part, but the part afterwards where I manage to calm down and sometimes turn the fear into a lucid dream (always by accident, I have never mastered the art of intentionally switching into lucid dreaming mode, but when it happened it was nice). Except - and I'd love to hear whether others have experienced this - I always seem to have a problem with the flying component. I'll be flying along having a lovely time, and then all of a sudden, I'll start to fly too high off the ground and the panic will set in again and I'll experience the terrible falling sensation. Would love any tips on how to avoid this!
    The other thing I have been known to do is to try to 'stand up' to the evil presence (like you would stand up to a bully) by attempting to 'roar' back at it, which is quite pathetic really, given that I can't make any noise! I've noticed though, that my fury seems to give more energy to the evil presence and the level of its fury also seems to intensify. I guess this is because the evil presence is me also, when you think about it. It's all really fascinating.

  • Al_de_Baran

    A fascinating article, in parts, and I envy Ms. Emslie her experiences, but I can't get past, or stomach, all the "Golly gee, isn't Science neat, because it's the Master Perspective that explains everything to us?" nonsense. To Ms. Emslie and her god-like neuroscientists, I offer Havelock Ellis's unanswerable observation:

    "Dreams are real while they last. Can we say more of life?"

  • rosalynrmanuel

    as Thelma
    explained I cannot believe that a stay at home mom can make $7420 in four weeks
    on the internet . more info here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  • http://theatomicreview.blogspot.in/ Donny Duke

    I’ve sat with your article for some time, and it’s good to see that aeon is, as is a hesitant mainstream science, beginning to include lucid dreaming and O.B.E.’s as legitimate rational experience – of course, since they’ve been at part of our experience since our remote origins, and both aeon (and ‘science’) stabs at being open-minded –, but I imagine it took aeon some time before they found someone that could present the matter from the reductionist worldview, and you do a good job both at describing a difficult matter to get in hand and explaining ‘the science’ behind it. The thing is though, you’ve only gotten your toes wet, have not gotten out of your room, speaking of an O.B.E., still think it’s such a grand discovery that you can go from O.B.E. to lucid dream or the other way around, have not by accident or
    otherwise found yourself out of body in your mother’s, lover’s, brother’s, or best friend’s room calling their name trying to get them for all the world to see you’re there (it’s not so much a location or sterile numbers or such you’re going to find yourself before out of the body; it’s the people you love) and then the next day or thereabouts get a phone call or email from them out of the blue telling you (at the time you were calling their name) they heard you calling their name like you were in the room, “and it was the strangest thing”, something that tends to expand somewhat the reductionist viewpoint regardless if any scientist or magazine editor validates your personal subjective experience – you know, especially if it happens a few times in your ‘experimenting’. Nor have you, guessing by what you write here, yet discovered that that blank falling place you find yourself in when you close your eyes in a lucid dream is actually a passageway somewhere, and if you’re able to overcome all the obstacles that present themselves when you do get the idea, obstacles that for all the world seem very much like an intelligence not your own, not something to believe in but something you have to deal with that have a lot of feeling-toned resemblance to those ominous shapes that come often in sleep paralysis, guardians of the threshold the ancients called them, overcoming those, you find yourself no longer in dream, or the creative reflex let’s call it, but in another existence entirely, one basically formless but more real than ours of form, what people have come to call spirit or soul for lack of better words, but whatever it is neither does it fit comfortably into reductionist materialism, speaking of your experience of it, not on how it sounds written down. Nor I would doubt you’ve either found yourself in the future (or past) out of body or have opened to the degree your creative reflex is active not only in sleep but whenever you lay back in yourself a little bit, and you come to ‘see’ the future (or a better understanding of the present or past) to the degree that it’s happened so often and been confirmed by your senses you’d be crazy not to believe what you’re inner senses are telling you, but of course you’re wise enough to realize you’re letting the genii out of its bottle, the one we locked up in there after who knows how long we wandered lost between our inner world and outer, superstitious ostriches that would’ve made fundamentalists look like the most rational and broadest minded creatures in the cosmos, those million of so years before recorded history, though I’m sure there were some masters of their environment (inner and outer), and that genii can only be let out by the light of reason, with a good dose of skepticism until, like I said, you’re nuts not to believe, and you take everything inner with a good dose of salt, throwing away most of it.

    You must pardon me, I’m a creative writer, but you all joking aside, it’s about time.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/salondesimone Macarons & Sakura Tea

    I do not know with others here who have had the same experience but sleep paralysis has never been and will never ever be a blissful one for me! I could literally see my body every time it happens and it aint very funny! For my part, it usually happens in the afternoon during a light siesta and it is for this reason that I never rest a bit in the afternoons anymore no matter how mentally or physically exhausted I am. Upon waking up after a sleep paralysis, I find myself very exhausted as a result of the struggle to move and/or to wake up. Holding on to my faith had always worked for me in waking myself up---like saying my prayers or calling on Jesus' and the Blessed Virgin Mary's name.