Sleep paralysis is a seriously scary sleep disorder that affects somewhere between eight and 40 percent of people.
It occurs when a person feels awake and can breathe but is otherwise unable to move. The upsetting phenomenon happens when someone does not correctly transition from sleep to full consciousness, and the brain functions that usually take over when they’re awake don’t kick in.
“Normally, during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, our consciousness is in the ‘off’ position and our ability to move our muscles is also in the ‘off’ position,” said Jan Dirk Blom, assistant professor of psychiatry at University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “Sleep paralysis means that our [muscles] remain in the ‘off’ position while our consciousness switches to an ‘on’ position.” People who suffer from sleep paralysis may experience it just once in their lives or on a recurring basis.
Some people who deal with sleep paralysis experience something even more terrifying. They see what paranormal enthusiasts call “shadow people.”
Shadow people are hallucinations that take shape as demonic or supernatural creatures. And even though they aren’t real, scientists agree that these figures feel very real, especially when the viewer is incapacitated.
“They may involve hearing footsteps, experiencing levitation and autoscopy, and seeing, hearing, and sensing the presence of menacing intruders in one’s bedroom,” wrote Baland Jalal, a researcher at UCSD’s Center for Brain and Cognition.
“The mind literally casts a shadow, just like the body does,” he said. “As the barrier between ‘self’ and ‘other’ dissolves, the person mistakes his own shadow or body template for a separate entity.”
Redditors with and without sleep paralysis report seeing shadow people. Will-o-the-wisp shared their sleep paralysis encounter with a shadow person, and it’s seriously creepy.
Here’s what they had to say:
“First time I saw one, I had sleep paralysis and it was standing there over me. When I awoke, fear took me over [and] I started yelling at it to go away. It then moved around behind my head which freaked me out even more since it was out of sight. My paralysis broke and I jumped up and went through the house looking for it and found nothing.”
Other Redditors with sleep paralysis responded by saying that this experience sounded like their own.
“Sounds similar to an experience I had as a child. I woke up feeling like somebody was staring at me. I looked at the doorway, the door was open halfway and a shadow of a man was watching me,” — Redditor NozE8