The ‘Old Hag Syndrome’ has been experienced by people across the globe since the beginning of time. Scientists call it sleep paralysis and tell us it is a natural process that occurs during sleeping. To prevent us from injuring ourselves during the dream state, our bodies become paralyzed. Under normal circumstances, by the time we are fully awake, our bodies are no longer paralyzed and we can move normally.
But, sometimes, we can awake before our body has returned to its natural state and experience the frightening event called sleep paralysis. Many people report the sense of evil or the presence of entities in the room during the episode. Many also report that an ‘old hag’ or some paranormal being sitting in the chest or holding them down, thus giving rise to the common term “old hag’s syndrome”
Under normal circumstances, I tend to agree with the scientific explanation – although no one has adequately explained the feeling of someone or something on your chest. But, things aren’t always as they seem. Take my experience, for example.
I had my first encounter with what scientists call sleep paralysis when I moved away from home and was living in a college dorm. I woke up one morning to discover I couldn’t move. After straining to move for several minutes, I was able to move my toes. Suddenly, I was able to move again and got up.
This happened several times a week for a while, until something changed and I had a more frightening experience.
One morning, I experienced more than the inability to move. In the corner of my room was a bright, round light, so bright that I thought it must be the sun. Somehow, I managed to turn my head and look out the window and was surprised to find it was the middle of the night and still dark outside. Yet, here in my room was the brightest light I had ever seen. I laid there and closed my eyes because the light was so bright it was hurting my eyes. I was unable to move until suddenly, by once again wiggling a toe, I regained control of my body and was able to get up. The light was mysteriously gone.
I was more than a little surprised by the experience and wondered if this was connected to the paranormal. With a little research, I discovered none of this should be surprising. It does, after all, fit the classic symptoms of sleep paralysis. In fact, once I read about sleep paralysis, I accepted it as an explanation for my experience and discounted any paranormal connections; but lately I have given it some thought.
What strikes me odd now is that the episodes of sleep paralysis only happened during that period in my life, basically over a two year period, and it only occurred when I slept in that specific room. What strikes me as even odder is that my friend who lived down the hall was experiencing episodes of so-called sleep paralysis during that same time.
To my knowledge, she did not experience the bright light or any other unusual sights or sounds, but she did often awaken without being able to move. Her episodes were so intense that she began to stay up all night and only slept when dawn arrived or in the afternoon hours. I can still see her, shaken and frightened, as she ran down the hall to my room and sat in the chair with her blanket wrapped snugly around her, simply stating she “couldn’t move again”.
Many professionals claim that sleep paralysis accounts for claims of paranormal experiences from alien abductions to the presence of ghosts. According to MedicineNet, there is nothing paranormal about sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is nothing more than your body and mind getting out of sync upon awakening. The body, which normally experiences paralysis to prevent you from acting out your dreams during your sleep, simply does not return to the normal state upon waking. This state is considered an altered state where you neither awake or asleep. Lucid dreams can be part of that phenomenon and are often interpreted by the dreamer as some sort of paranormal activity.
The symptoms of sleep paralysis include “sensations of noises, smells, levitation, paralysis, terror, and images of frightening intruders“, says MedicineNet. Although sleep paralysis was once thought to be a rare occurrence, professionals believe that nearly 50 percent of people will experience it in their life time.
As I think back to the time when my friend and I both experienced these unusual occurrences of sleep paralysis, I wonder if it were indeed mere coincidence that we both had similar experiences during the same time frame or if there was something else involved. Did we have overactive imaginations that fed off each other’s experiences or was there some paranormal cause for our similar experiences?
Maybe it was merely a case of two young girls experiencing sleep paralysis in the same time and place, who were frightened by a perfectly normal occurrence. Why then did it only happen for that brief period in our lives, at approximately the same time, in the same place? How can we be so sure that the sleep paralysis causes us to have lucid dreams that are often interpreted as paranormal experiences? How do we know that ghosts or other paranormal influences don’t cause us to experience symptoms similar to sleep paralysis?
As for me, I’m undecided. I don’t doubt that sleep paralysis exists, but I’m not so sure that it accounts for all experiences when a person awakes up and cannot move or sees visions of ghosts or other entities in the room.