You lie in bed awaiting sleep, but just before you fall asleep, you feel the air around you become heavy. It grips you in such a way that every pore in your body feels smothered by it. You hear whispers you can’t decipher. Your heart pounds like a herd of horses trampling a field. And the heavy thumping waves of whoosh whoosh whoosh thunder in your ears.
Oh no! It’s happening again!
But what is IT?
You decide it must be a spirit, because you feel a presence in your room. You cry out for help, but no words escape your mouth. Fear engulfs you, and though you try to get up, you can’t move. You are awake in your own nightmare.
I have relived that horrible nightmare over and over again, and only recently did I learn that it had a name – Sleep Paralysis. But is that really all it is, a feeling of being paralyzed? That simple answer doesn’t address the feeling of a presence in the room.
In the moments before we fall asleep, when the air around us closes in like a vice, can we really attribute that feeling to Sleep Paralysis? From what I’ve read and heard, everyone’s experiences seem similar, and many people attribute these events to spirit visits, alien abductions, or nocturnal visits from beasts (incubus, succubus). In my case, because one of these events ties in so closely to the death of a friend who promised to contact me when she died (read The Pact), I tend to think more in terms of spirit visits than anything else.
Explanations for this phenomenon exist in documentaries, on YouTube, and in articles on the web. The best explanation I’ve read about Sleep Paralysis is Karen Emslie’s article, Awake in a Nightmare, written for The Atlantic.
For me, Sleep Paralysis events appear just before I fall asleep. The transition between being awake and falling asleep is the most vulnerable time for me. Perhaps my fear that IT will happen again is why just the process of falling asleep often awakens me. Insomnia rules many of my nights.
Because I attribute my experiences to spirit visits, especially because of the close ties I had with my friend, Katherine, I think that the veil between the worlds of life and death lifts during that transition. Loved ones long gone try to reach us in those moments when we drift into sleep. When their attempts to reach us fail, they appear to us in dreams. I prefer dream visits to the ones attributed to Sleep Paralysis.