The Witch on Your Chest: Understanding Sleep Paralysis

Scared woman trying to sleep

Have you ever, in the early stages of waking up, found yourself unable to move and experienced paranoia and terror as a result? That experience, you might be surprised to know, is not just your run-of-the-mill nightmare, but is in fact a phenomenon experienced by 7.6% of the general population known as sleep paralysis.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

Psychologist J.A. Cheyne describes sleep paralysis as temporary immobility between periods of sleep and wakefulness that are supplemented by vivid and terrifying hallucinations, often lasting 1-2 minutes. Hallucinations may be visual or auditory and are accompanied by an overwhelming sense of threat or danger. Additionally, those who suffer from sleep paralysis have reported feeling suffocated, choked and have described an inability to breathe. Studies have found that feelings of suffocation are widespread among individuals during episodes of sleep paralysis as they simultaneously attempt to exit, but remain in, REM sleep, which is the stage of sleep that regulates your breathing  during rest. Cheyne reports that subjects observed in sleep paralysis research, given the frequency of the experience and before learning about sleep paralysis, remarked feeling as though they might be demonically possessed, and even claimed to have been abducted by aliens.

Sleep paralysis is a withstanding phenomenon in our history as beings and has often been associated with the supernatural. Mythical folklore across cultures suggests the existence of a devious Night Hag who sits on your chest while you sleep, effectively suffocating you. The Night Hag has come to represent the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, as she is a common hallucination among people who’ve experienced it.

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Who is Affected by Sleep Paralysis?

More than 3 million cases of sleep paralysis are reported in the United States each year. However, the most commonly affected subgroup of the general population are adults between the ages of 25 and 44. Most people will experience at least one episode of sleep paralysis in their lifetime.

Yikes! How Do I Avoid This?

The frequency of sleep paralysis is dependent on a number of conditions. Some ways to prevent the phenomenon may include getting to bed earlier, reducing caffeine intake, sleeping on your side, avoiding alcohol and having heavy meals before bed. You can also try downing some herbal milk or tea (which have been proven to boost melatonin), which is another awesome, simple way to ensure a good night’s sleep. However, the absolute best way to ensure that you don’t wake up with a witch on your chest is to work on reducing your stress and getting quality sleep each night.

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