You stir slowly awake from a deep sleep with the sense that something is not right. As your sub-conscious mind gives way to a conscious state you experience an alarming sense of panic.
Your breath catches in your chest and, try as you may, you cannot move. Your arms and legs have been rendered immobile, your lungs refuse to fill and your eyes dart around the room as fear cripples you. You are fully awake and well aware that something is wrong.
You are aware, all five senses are working yet you simply cannot move. After a few moments you bolt upright and clutch at your chest and gulp the air as your heart hammers in your chest. The episode has passed leaving you shaken and uncertain.
Often accompanying the event are other phenomenon such as phantom smells, the sound of approaching footsteps and shadow figures.
The phenomenon is commonly known as “Old Hag” syndrome. A majority of the population at one point or another will experience the strange occurrence. The name is derived from an older time when a superstitious person would claim that a witch, or old hag, was sitting on their chest and pinning them down.
That theory is obviously frowned upon in these modern times, but because of the nature of the attack many people still believe it to be of supernatural or paranormal origin.
The event has been dramatized in film and other pop-culture mediums which lends to the stigma that the occurrence of “Old Hag” syndrome is indeed paranormal in nature. But the question begs to be asked: If it is not paranormal, then what is it?
Doctors specializing in sleep disorders have a more grounded name for the event. They call it Sleep Paralysis or Isolated Sleep Paralysis and describe it as such:
“Sleep Paralysis, or SP, occurs when the brain is in the transition state between deep, dreaming sleep (known as REM sleep for its rapid eye movement) and waking up. During REM dreaming sleep, the brain has turned off most of the body’s muscle function so we cannot act out our dreams – we are temporarily paralyzed.” –Dr. Max Hirshkowitz (Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the V.A. Medical Center, Houston, TX)
So it is a naturally occurring phenomenon, however, no one can explain why it happens or what is actually causing the disorder. Is the explanation simply an act of science trying to explain something paranormal?
People who have experienced SP assert that the experience is both real and horrifying. Accompanying an incident is a sense of anger, sorrow and of course fears. Mysterious sounds and paranormal activity are often reported with an occurrence of Sleep Paralysis.
In a continued study of the topic it has been found that people who sleep on their backs are more likely to experience the event as are heavy sleepers who are awakened unexpectedly, however SP can affect anyone regardless of position.
People taking anti-anxiety medications are three times more likely to experiences the disorder and 35% of subjects in the study report a history of wake panic attacks which are unrelated to the experience of SP.
With science and paranormal research at odds it is guaranteed that the event of SP will never be seen as anything other than a glitch in the human brain as it processes our sleep cycles. But for the millions of people each year who suffer from “Old Hag” syndrome it is all too real, way too terrifying, and seemingly otherworldly.
To learn more about “Old Hag” syndrome and the science behind it check out: