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Sleep Paralysis: Terrifying Experience or Rich Opportunity?

Karina Baffa, a journalism student at the University of Cincinnati, recently emailed me about an article on sleep paralysis that she is writing. These were her questions:

1. Have you ever interpreted an experience one of your clients had with sleep paralysis? If so, could you explain it?

2. What is your opinion on sleep paralysis?

3. People often see "demons" or dark, shadowy figures in their room while experiencing sleep paralysis, what is your opinion on this?

Here is my response to her questions:

Hi Karina! I have never experienced an episode of sleep paralysis personally, but my husband has. (He says that it is extremely unsettling. Not being able to move creates great fear. During these few minutes of paralysis he says his mind is frantically telling his body to "move, move, move!") I have also had several clients who have experienced it. I can usually tell immediately that what they are describing is a case of sleep paralysis. They usually describe a "dream" or waking experience in which they can not move and are being attacked by a demon or feel an evil presence in the room. As for my husband's experience, he did not feel a presence, he just could not move and was terrified to be "paralyzed". In my experience, there is not usually anything to interpret because from the few cases that have been shared with me, it is not actually a dream. It is an experience, a feeling. The people that have shared this with me were frightened/terrified and in dread of this happening again.

My opinion of sleep paralysis is that the body is actually paralyzed, as this is normal while we sleep. However, the person has woken up before their body has. I believe that the person is awake, but their mind is operating at a different frequency, not quite at the normal waking frequency. This is a liminal state, in between sleeping and waking, also called the "hypnogogic state". Dream expert Robert Moss calls this time a "fertile field of hypnogogia...between sleep and waking", a highly creative time when we can see images and receive solutions to problems (from his book, "Active Dreaming"). But this is also the state in which we receive these sleep paralysis episodes. Some people have shared with me that they dread going to sleep for fear that they will have another one of these episodes. I suggest to people to try to remain calm during these times and observe their thoughts and see what is coming into their mind that might give them clues to what can be learned from or through this experience. So that instead of a terrifying experience, perhaps it can be tamed into an experience more like what Robert Moss describes as a "fertile field".

As for seeing demons or shadowy figures in the room while experiencing sleep paralysis, some people say these are just hallucinations. Honestly I am not sure. I do believe that during sleep we are more receptive to visits from the deceased and other spirits (such as spirit guides, angels). Ryan Hurd has written a book, "Sleep Paralysis", that I have read to try to gain a better understanding of what is going on in these situations. Honestly, I don't rule anything out. He suggests that if we do encounter such a visitor during these episodes, ask them why they have come- what is their purpose in visiting. (Lol- I would probably be too scared!) I think I would need to look at each case individually and gather as much information as to what the person experienced before giving an opinion. I will say this: I believe that these experiences are real and there is something to be learned from them, just as with our dreams. I believe sleep paralysis needs a closer look. I am always happy to help people deal with their experiences and recommend that they educate themselves as much as possible.

Two really good resources that I recommend:

1. Ryan Hurd's book, "Sleep Paralysis". He also has a wonderful website/blog: .

2. Robert Moss' book, "Active Dreaming". His blog: .

Both of these authors help to move the sleep paralysis "sufferer" from a place of fear to a place of discovery.

I am so happy that Karina contacted me with her questions. I look forward to reading her article! (Thank you Karina!)

Do you have dream related questions? Send them to me and let's talk!

Ellen :)

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