In 1781, the swiss artist Henry Fuseli created an oil painting entitled The Nightmare (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nightmare) which, depicting a demonic creature sitting on a sleeping woman’s chest, illustrated a phenomenon that both he and many people before and after him know only too well. The demonic creature here is known as the incubus (male), other paintings of a similar theme depict the succubus – or the female version of the demonic influence. The subject of the paintings are depicted in sleep, utterly powerless, often in a state of paralysis. And this parasomnia, this terrifying yet fascinating branch of insomnia is now known as Sleep Paralysis.
image credit: Wikipedia ‘The Nightmare‘ by Henry Fuseli 1781
A quick Google search reveals that it is estimated that less than 8 per cent of the general population suffers from Sleep Paralysis on a regular basis, or has experienced episodes at some point in their life (although this seems to fluctuate and can be as high as 34% particularly among people with a history of psychiatric disorders). Hence, it’s not something you’re going to hear a lot about in everyday conversation with your average person. I will note, however, that artists seem to experience it more, or at least may be able to articulate their experience more eloquently than others. The 2014 Doctor Who Christmas Special entitled ‘Last Christmas’ is a perfect example of the feeling one has deep inside an episode of Sleep Paralysis – particularly the ‘dream within a dream’ form that it often takes. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Christmas_(Doctor_Who)) For this reason, as much of a Whovian that I am, this episode hit a little too close to home, but acts as perfect teaching aid when it comes to explaining this experience. Do watch it if you would like to learn how this feels.
So what is Sleep Paralysis exactly? The excellent website The Sleep Paralysis Project gives the following list of what an episode of sleep paralysis looks like; (http://www.thesleepparalysisproject.org/about-sleep-paralysis/symptoms/)
The term ‘Sleep Paralysis’ can describe a range of experiences. These can be varied, though the core symptoms are consistent across cultures. In her excellent book Sleep Paralysis: Night-Mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection, Shelley Adler provides comprehensive coverage of the associated symptoms. These are summerised below. For an episode to be considered sleep paralysis only symptoms 1-3 may be present. Symptoms 4-9 may or may not be present, in varying degrees of severity.
1. Being ‘Awake’
Those affected report feeling consciously awake during sleep paralysis experiences. It is experienced as part of waking consciousness, not as a dream.
2. Realistic Perception of Environment
The immediate environment surrounding the bed is clearly perceived. Distinctive elements in the room are observed (e.g. a sleeping partner or a clock).
3. Inability to move
The sense of paralysis is one of the first elements of the experience noticed by the individual. Sometimes this paralysis is attributed to an outside force.
4. Overwhelming fear and dread
A sense of overwhelming fear can accompany the experience. This can be felt so strongly that those who experience it may later struggle to articulate its intensity. Sometimes feelings progress from a sense of foreboding to complete terror and may include feelings linked to death or dying.
5. Sensed presence
Individuals may sense an ‘evil’ or malevolent ‘presence’ in the room with them. This presence may be seen or merely ‘felt’.
6. Chest pressure
The sense of a physical weight being pressed down onto the chest. This can be purely sensual or can seem to be the result of an external presence or force literally pushing down on the chest.
7. Difficulty breathing
This can occur alongside pressure to the chest.
8. Supine position
Most sleep paralysis attacks occur whilst the individual is lying on their back, although studies have shown that generally people tend not to fall asleep in this position.
9. Additional Unusual Sensations
As well as visual hallucinations, sleep paralysis episodes may be accompanied by hallucinations of an auditory, olfactory and/or physical nature. Commonly reported hallucinations include doors opening, animals growling, approaching footsteps, scratching, internal buzzing/beeping, malevolent whispering as well as smells of rotting flesh, ‘death’, decay, damp, mould and feelings of being moved, drifting, rolling, floating, cold or heat. Out-of-body experiences are also sometimes reported.”
Sounds pretty terrifying right? There is a known neurobiological reason for this phenomenon, where the conscious brain wakes up before the hormones that are responsible for allowing your body to sleep (so you don’t literally act out your dreams) dissipate. Please explore the sleep paralysis project site for more information. In the meantime, let me describe my experience. Warning – it’s going to get heavy.
I’ve lived with Sleep Paralysis for 20 years. It roughly occurred around twice/week, sometimes more, sometimes less, often randomly. It began when I was 17, during my HSC (Higher School Certificate exams) at the end of year 12. In full disclosure and some background context, I did have a history of anxiety, panic attacks, and depression that developed in my teenage years. At the time I lived with someone who was into the occult, who appealed to the all and sundry energies of the universe, and who maintained that we had a ‘strong spiritual bond’ and this is why I experienced what I did. Until a year or two before this I had walked in the way of the Word of God (YHWH) since my infancy, but had left this, as teenagers are want to do, when my family home broke down.
My first episode was as annoying as it was terrifying. I lay in bed, having just fallen to sleep, when I was awoken by a sense that there was someone else in my bedroom. I opened my eyes (or so I thought) and my room was filled with people, random odd-looking ghostly people. I screamed at them, but at the moment I screamed I realised that i was paralysed. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even open my mouth, or turn my head. I mumbled the scream through a tightly clenched jaw. I was terrified, my chest hurt, it felt like I was being crushed. I was breathing hard, my mind racing, ‘what the hell was happening to me?!’. I screamed again – a few profanities. Suddenly I woke. I really woke up. I sat up in bed, breathing hard, my head hurt and felt like it was on fire. My eyes were still adjusting to the darkness, I could still see things – on the edge of the darkness.
Confused, annoyed, scared, i got up and put the light on, and left it on for the rest of the night, as I lay there daring not to go back to sleep, trying to figure out what had just happened.
This then became a regular occurrence. Only the ‘dream’, the demonic hallucination, and the experience would subtly change, from being a whole body experience to eventually jut being localised to my head. Over time, I began to recognise when I would slip from a normal mundane everyday dream into the hallucination that the creature was creating. I became an insomniac out of fear of not wanting to experience the panic of not being able to move, the fear of dying while trapped in one’s own body, in one’s own mind. It reminded me of the voodoo use of Datura, the plant that induces ‘zombie-ism’, the plant once used as an experimental precursor to general anaesthetic, where people were literally paralysed, trapped in their own body whilst someone operated on them, and they could still feel the response of every exquisitely sensitive nerve-ending. I soon learned that I could wake myself up by crying out to Jesus/Yeshua, and then later banishing the creature, the hallucination, in His name. Around this time, I realised that I needed to remember the Walk of my youth. And so I turned my heart back to YHWH and Yeshua, and was baptised, but still the episodes continued….only now they became wilder, more intense.
I marvelled that while my husband slept next to me, I was battling against a monster intent on ripping my face off to get inside my skull, or hurling me across the room, such was the intensity of the paralysis. I feared that I would act out my hallucination, and hurt my husband, or worse, when I was pregnant, kill my unborn child. Yet he slept peacefully beside me, waking only when I would emerge from the episode, like someone who had just been saved from drowning and was gasping to catch their precious breath. My children all survived the experience, seemingly blissfully unaware, while I grew more exhausted and battle-weary from endless nights of clenched jaw and hot head and the uncertainty of not knowing when another episode would occur, as random as they were.
I sought a trigger, and discovered that I had multiple sensitivities, not only food-related, but also including EMF’s and electrical smog. As I reduced my exposure, the episodes became less frequent, but still they came. I went to the elders of my church and was anointed for healing. I fasted and I prayed, but still I was plagued with this ‘thorn in the flesh’. I wanted to give up and die, but then I decided to change my perspective. I saw it as an opportunity to stand as the warrior, to fight against the fiery darts of The Adversary. I imagined that God was training me, testing my mettle as each time I would stand by the authority of the Messiah and banish this evil. On a number of occasions I was also able to cast out other people’s demons.
Then one day, our everyday life changed. We were forced to embark on a sojourn, wandering in the wilderness, and the stress of it all became too much. After about 4 years of this, there came a turning point in my personal battle with the demon of Sleep Paralysis. I faced it head on. I looked at it and saw what it really was, and I laughed at it, such as the world will look on, unbelievingly at the insignificance of the defeated adversary in the time to come. I laughed and told it that it was nothing, that it had no power over me. I awoke from that episode feeling confidant, and thankful.
The next time it happened, I was staying at a friends’ place, sleeping in their family room surrounded by wi-fi and their home theatre system. I fell asleep and slipped straight into an episode, but I was too tired to battle this one. I had been living in a tent and my heart was mourning with the uncertainty of our situation. I cried out to the Abba Father and the hallucination changed, I stood in a barren wasteland, just me facing the creature. I opened my mouth and the voice of God Himself spoke through me. He rebuked the demon, and that was the last I ever saw of it. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night praying in the Spirit in praise and gratitude.
Interestingly, the episodes continued. The creature was gone, but that old familiar feeling of sinking into the paralysis, the dream within a dream, continued, very occasionally. I didn’t have to fight now, but it still happened.
It was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a time when we put all leavened goods out of our lives, as a symbol of our part in the covenant we make with the Messiah as we endeavour to remove pride and sin from our hearts. The stress of the last few years had taken it’s toll and my body was not happy. Peri-menopause became obvious, my food allergies were going berserk, my gums were receding at a rate of knots, and I’ve written of the adrenal fatigue before. I just didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I went to the elders and asked for anointing. I had been praying and i knew that God was healing me. He had removed the demon once and for all. He had healed my teeth (when they should have been decayed from the years of grinding and clenching), and he was healing my stress response. One night while I was pondering why the sleep paralysis continued, a still, small thought came to me; ‘candida’. It sounds a bit naff, I know. Once upon a time in the kingdom of Naturopathica everything that ailed us was a result of Candida, but we are smarter than that now…or are we?
I decided to listen to the still, small voice. When I looked at the evidence, it was obvious. I was born by c-section, had numerous courses of antibiotics over my life, had been on the Pill (at one very naiive point), had been vaccinated to the hilt, and was stressed out to the max. My gut integrity was shot to pieces, my gut flora was in chaos. All of my accompanying symptoms were congruent with systemic candida. I praised YAH, & immediately put myself on a protocol of herbs and nutrients, and eliminated all refined sugar along with my allergens, which I knew, with God’s blessing, would work and which i’ve used successfully in my previous clinical experience.
The approach is both systematic – working on not only reducing the candida load, but restoring the microbiome, and healing the gut wall, as well as working on the adrenal response; and timely, given the synchronicity of my previous posts on gut health. I love that.
So as YHWH lives I will praise Him and give Him the glory for His compassion and healing. He heals in ways that aren’t always spontaneous. I am no longer having any episodes of sleep paralysis, my overall health has improved, I no longer feel anxious, and if I’m depressed it is mild and something I overcome very quickly, my hormones are balancing, I’m no longer exhausted, I have energy again. I sleep!! He has slain the succubus.
And so the scientist in me is curious. We know that dysbiosis influences brain function and mental health. We know that dysbiosis leads to multiple allergies and sensitivities, and over the long term it can lead to auto-immune conditions. We know that an alteration of the mind occurs in dysbiosis, particularly with a sensitivity to opiate-like (narcotic) foreign proteins (such as gluten and casein). Can this then act as a portal?
Is there a a direct correlation between the parasomnias such as Sleep Paralysis and gut dysbiosis? Is sugar a trigger in and of itself? Do those who experience Sleep Paralysis more commonly have a background experience in religion or spirituality? I know not everyone faces spiritual attack or experiences the hallucination of one during episodes, but I’m curious nonetheless. It does seem to be quite a common occurrence.
But I’m very interested in doing research around the connection between gut integrity and sleep paralysis, and to see what patterns emerge.
In the meantime, I would love to hear other’s experiences. Demons or not.