Have you ever been attacked by a demon (a vampire, witch and the like) in your sleep – your chest crushed under their weight?

Have you ever seen a dreamlike image or vision (maybe a ghost) as you were falling asleep, that seemed real?

These experiences are quite common and can be explained without reference to the occult.

A dreamlike image on falling asleep is known as a hypnagogic hallucination. The same thing on waking is called a hypnopompic hallucination. They are sensory sleep events (see, feel, smell, and hear things not there) experienced by those prone to sleep disorders.

Sleep hallucinations can include such things as experiencing an intruder, a wild animal or horrible monsters invading the bedroom. The sleeper can be terrified, thinking they are about to die. They may hear bells or see strong flashing lights. They may smell their attacker.

Sleep paralysis is a normal bodily function, where the brain stops sending messages to the muscles during the REM or dreaming stage of sleep. This prevents the person from getting out of bed and hurting themselves while dreaming.

Usually people are unaware of sleep paralysis and it’s only supposed to happen during REM or dreaming sleep. If you are aware of sleep paralysis it means you are in another stage of sleep.

Triggers for these types of sleep disorders may be as simple as drinking too much coffee, alcohol or other drugs, high levels of stress, and an overactive brain. Those with narcolepsy also experience these types of hallucinations

When sleep paralysis occurs during a hypnopompic or hypnagogic hallucination, it can be truly terrifying to the sleeper, as he or she is aware of the paralysis and helpless to respond to the ‘danger’. Some may believe the attacker is holding them down or sitting on their chest.

This may be where the myths and legends of incubus and succubus originated. The incubus is a male demon who forces himself upon (usually) female sleepers, in order to father a child. The succubus is the female demon (or hag) having forced sex with male sleepers.

It is not hard to believe that other tales of ghosts, witches, goblins, and ghouls may have originated from hallucinatory experiences of the sleep disordered. When someone regales you with stories of vampire lust, alien abductions or ghostly visitations, be sure to ask them if they were dozing off at the time.

So, we have the strange situation where the sleeper is dreaming in a non-REM stage of sleep and they are aware of their surroundings (i.e., the bedroom). The surroundings become part of the vision. I call this dreaming with my eyes open, and it has happened to me on a few occasions. I won’t go into details but one hypnagogic hallucination involved a giant possum, screams of horror, and the inability to move. Have any of my readers got tales to tell?

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This article was first published in Technorati (Lifestyle) on August 2nd 2011.