Parasomnia and the paranormal
A lot of people report paranormal experiences at night when they are either falling asleep or actually asleep and feel they have been visited in a dream. Some behaviours at night time can often be interpreted as paranormal, when they are actually a 'parasomnia' which is a form of sleep disorder. Is it all apart of falling sleeping, or does this state allow us to become more susceptible to the other side? Let's look at some common parasomnias and how they are often tied into the paranormal. First however, we need to understand how sleep works.
Stages of sleep
When we sleep, we go through 5 stages of sleep. 4 of these are considered to be NREM - non rapid eye movement, with the final stage labeled as REM sleep - rapid eye movement. We can dream during any cycle of sleep, but it is most common and most vivid during REM sleep. It is believed that we have between 4-6 dreams every night, we just don't always remember them. Quite often, it is during this REM sleep, that these parasomnias often occur.
What is a parasomnia?
A parasomnia is something out of the ordinary that a person experiences while they are asleep. It often 'runs in the family' and children can often grow out of these disorders such as sleep walking and night terrors. Sleep Paralysis also falls under this category. As the people experiencing a parasomnia often display odd behvaiour or seem terrified by their experience, they are often attributed to something paranormal.
This is probably one of the most common parasomnia experiences that people report as being paranormal. Sleep paralysis occurs when a person is in REM sleep - Rapid Eye Movement. It is in this state that the brain has vivid dreams. It also sends a message to your muscles to relax which puts you in a state of temporary paralysis so that you don’t go and start physically acting out what you are dreaming. If you dream of punching someone, you don’t want to be punching your partner in your sleep - or if they snore like mine does maybe you do! Sometimes a person wakes up and becomes conscious before the brain sends the signal to the muscles to wake up. It means a person is lying there and is conscious but is unable to move and unable to speak. It is common to hallucinate in this state as well as you are still technically in REM and some people report seeing figures in their room or at the foot of the bed. They can feel a heaviness on their chest or a choking sensation which makes you feel like it is the figure at the foot of the bed doing this to you. It doesn’t take long for the body to catch up, but it can feel like an eternity when you are in this state. It is absolutely terrifying. It is called sleep paralysis. It can occur if someone is sleep deprived, stressed, on certain medications or if they suffer from other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea. People often associate this with what they consider negative spirits and feel it is a form of psychic attack.
Image: John Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare
A night terror commonly occurs in children during the first 3-4 hours of NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep, however can also occur with adults. It is just more common in kids. They may suddenly sit up in bed and start screaming, shrieking, panting, sweating and thrashing around to protect themselves. Soon the will eventually wake a little confused and with no knowledge of what just happened. Unlike sleep paralysis, they are not conscious as the episode is happening. It is caused by an over arousal of the central nervous system during sleep. It is generally happening as a person begins to move from the deepest stage of NREM sleep to a lighter REM sleep. As a parent, it is frightening to watch your children go through this. Both of my children have suffered, and all you can do is wait it out until they wake up. Some people think that there child must be under some sort of attack - sometimes by what they feel is a spirit, but this is a very common occurrence in children and they don't remember when they wake up. It is more painful on you than it is them.
A lot of people may not even be aware that they sleep walk. A person is often viewed as walking around and appear to be awake, but in reality they are still asleep and will have no recollection of what they are doing. You know at night and perhaps you have a conversation with someone who has woken up or they get up and get a drink and in the morning when you talk to them about it and they don't remember? Sleep walking is a more extreme version. It commonly occurs during non-Rem Sleep which is early in the sleep cycle but it can also occur during REM sleep in the early hours of the morning. While it can occur in adults, it is more common in children between 5-12 years old. One of the old wives tales out there is that you should never wake up a person who is sleep walking. If you wake them, they will likely be startled and confused, but it is often more dangerous to allow them to walk around in a sleep walking state as they could fall or bump into things. Sleep talking also falls into the category and works very much in the same way. A person can be having what seems like a conversation with no one there and have no recollection of it in the morning. When someone is walking around in a sleep walking, they often appear to be a 'zombie' and won't respond. They may even engage in some strange activities. Some people perceive this as a person being under the influence of a spirit or some form of entity. A person sleep talking may look like they are having a conversation with a spirit as they will often carry on the conversation like there is another person there.
Rhythmic Movement Disorder
Again, this disorder is more common in Children. It happens to a person just before they fall asleep. It is also known as 'head banging' as the person will often be lying down, lift their head or upper body, then bang it down onto the pillow. It can also involve movements like rocking back and forward while being in on all fours. The person is completely unaware they are doing it. It is one of a lesser known parasomnias and would be quite disturbing to witness. It is understandable why some people unaware of this condition would feel that someone showing this sort of behaviour may feel a person is under the influence of some sort of negative entity after witnessing someone having an episode.
Is it paranormal?
It is important to be aware of parasomnias as they are real disorders that can potentially explain a lot of experiences. I think it is important to look at things in context. Is there other things happening or other activity to suggest that a parasomnia experience could potentially be something more or is it just a random occurrence? Is it something that happens to a person often? Are there certain triggers that may cause a person to have a bout of this parasomnia - stress and over tiredness can be a factor. I think in a lot of cases, it is important to rule these parasomnias out when someone has a particular experience similar to mentioned above before proclaiming that they must be under attack by some sort of spirit. We know that our brain is capable of making us feel and experience different things. By introducing good sleep habits to your bedtime routine, it can help 'fight off' these episodes. Try to goto bed at the same time each night, relax before bed, try not to use your phone before bed (as this isn't relaxing your brain) and try to introduce a regular bedtime routine. If it is something that occurs regulary, seek help from your Dr who may order a sleep study to help diagnose you and give you the appropriate treatment. If after all of these you are still left with some questions, it is certainly something to explore. I do often wonder with sleep paralysis for example why it is people see the same kind of black shadow figure. I know from my own experiences some are a lot different to others and feel very real and relate to other strange things potentially happening at the time.
There is also going to be two sides of the fence when it comes to this topic. While there is a science to it, does it explain every single account? Maybe in some ways it can be a bit of both. Not every experience is paranormal, but that doesn't mean that there haven't been times when perhaps there could be something more to it. If we were to look at the possibility that in certain instances it could be paranormal, when I look at all the different ways that we can dream, there is a common denominator ..... our consciousness. It is unknown exactly what our consciousness is capable of and if it even lives on after we die. If our consciousness is not confined to our physical body, where does it go when we are sleeping? Is a dream our subconscious or perhaps is it a peek into something else. We live in a 3 dimensional world. The 4th dimension is time which we cannot see. Some consider it to be the bridge between our physical world and the spiritual world. The 5th dimension is thought to be the first major spiritual dimension where a person reaches a higher form of consciousness. It is in the 4th dimension that people claim they can astral travel and leave their body via their consciousness to visit another place or person. The 4th dimension is also made up of time. When we dream, it can feel like a dream has gone for hours, yet in reality a dream lasts for only 20-30 minutes on average. Time doesn't seem to apply in our dreams - the ones that we remember anyway. Is this an indication that perhaps during our dreams, we are entering a different state of consciousness? Is that what would make it possible for us to potentially experience something paranormal during our sleep?
Do you suffer from any of the above parasomnias? Have you had any experiences similar to the above?
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